Only a viable high-tech waste management industry can turn ‘rubbish mountains into business opportunities’ says the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (known as ATSE), and they want information from the front line to help make it happen.
The academy, known as ATSE, has launched a project to investigate the readiness of Australia’s waste management and resource recovery sector to adapt, adopt and develop technologies to address the challenges and opportunities of the next decade.
Members of the sector are invited to give their opinions and ideas through an online survey.
“Technology has already transformed recycling in Australia,” said Dr Matt Wenham, ATSE’s Executive Director, Policy.
“For example, glass bottles were once sorted by hand. Then from 2014, optical sorting facilities started sorting glass automatically, using light to identify the glass type and colour.
“Australia generates about 67 million tonnes of waste per year, but ‘waste’ is the wrong word: recovered materials can be used to make everything from cardboard boxes to high-end building materials.”
Wenham says that technological change also means rubbish is an economic opportunity, with 9.2 jobs created for every 10,000 tonnes of material recycled.
ATSE identified four technology-based solutions that could help the sector optimise these opportunities over the next decade:
- Improved product stewardship: where the consumer, manufacturers and waste sector work together to reduce waste. This might involve manufacturers extending the useful life of their products with platforms that enable hiring, sharing or second-hand sales.
- Design for disassembly: which makes products easier to repair, repurpose, and recycle.
- Smart waste management systems: which use advanced technologies to sort and process materials, or technologies that make it easier for consumers to play their part, such as ‘pay as you throw’ automated levies.
- Advanced resource recovery solutions: that use technologies to recover energy to produce electricity, heat, gas and fuels from waste.
The investigation is part of a three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council to examine the technology readiness of different industry sectors. The report generated from the consultations will provide a blueprint for waste management planning to 2030.
Respondents to the ATSE survey are asked to rate the waste and resource recovery sector’s readiness for each of the four solutions in terms of skills, infrastructure, economic feasibility, regulation and social acceptance.