China's recycling policy sparks changes for Lismore residents

Tuesday, 06 March

Lismore residents are being asked to make some simple changes to their recycling habits as the effects of China’s National Sword policy are felt across the country.

The National Sword policy is the Chinese Government’s mechanism to limit contamination rates of recycled products to less than 0.5%.

Up until last year, the majority of the first world’s recycling was sent to China for remanufacture, however, most Australian Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) simply cannot comply with the 0.5% threshold. This applies to plastics, paper and cardboard products, which make up the majority of what goes into our kerbside recycling bins.

The policy shift has placed pressure on recycling industries across many countries, and is forcing local councils – including Lismore – to clean-up its act, look at ways to start processing on-shore and close recycling loops.

As Lismore City Council’s Business Development Coordinator Danielle Hanigan explains, Lismore is doing better than most.

“In July 2017 Council installed an optical sorter at our MRF and a structure to keep incoming recyclables dry. It was certainly prescient,” she said.

“The optical sorter allows us to sort and separate the two main plastic streams – PET (water and soft drink bottles) and HDPE (milk bottles, laundry detergent etc) – which means it is easier to find a market for them in Australia than it would be otherwise.”

Danielle said staff now spend more time sorting materials to achieve clean recycling streams and the end product has dropped in price, impacting the MRF’s overall profitability. However, she said while China’s National Sword policy is having an impact on recycling both locally and globally, it was also forcing much-needed change within the industry.

“We are managing to find markets for most of our recycled materials, and anything that we cannot find a home for we are stockpiling as we are confident that the market will change,” Danielle said.

“There is now a focus on on-shore processing of materials rather than sending it overseas, which ultimately is a better result for the environment and local jobs. Long term we are investigating how we can completely close the loop on recycling in the future.”

Danielle said that Lismore remains at the forefront of developing new ideas and solutions – glass recycling being a prime example.

“We crush all of our glass bottles and jars into sand for use in pipe bedding, drainage and road bases,” she said.

“A few years ago glass recycling was the big problem that the industry was facing, and Council found a solution.”

Just recently, the Lismore MRF became the nominated Northern Rivers processor for the NSW Government’s Container Deposit Scheme. Danielle said it couldn’t come at a better time.

“These containers are a cleaner recycling stream, easier to sort and easier to market as they have extremely low contamination levels,” she explained.

“Whilst there is additional staffing costs to deal with this added influx of material, it is something that there is a market for, and that is a bonus for our MRF.”

Lismore City Council is now asking residents to make some small adjustments to household recycling habits to help cope with the change.

  • Keep your recycling as clean as possible.
  • Do not put anything into your recycling bin that cannot be recycled. Keep it simple: aluminium, steel, glass, hard plastic, bagged up soft plastic, paper and cardboard.
  • Do not put anything smaller than a business card size into your recycling bin.
  • Keep stuff like hoses, pipes and anything that has many different types of materials in it (e.g. a plastic toy with bits of steel) out of your recycling bin.
  • Keep contamination out. The main offenders are: dirty nappies, clothing, shoes and anything that can get tangled up such as rope, hose and fairy lights.

At the main drop-off centres in Brewster Street, the Lismore Recycling & Recovery Centre and the Nimbin Transfer Station, Council will also no longer be accepting paper and cardboard as a mixed stream. The skip bins will be for cardboard only, as there is no longer a market for paper.

Paper can be placed into the mixed recycling skips and will still be sent for recycling, however it attracts a much lower price than a pure cardboard stream.

“These changes are not difficult but we implore residents to please follow them,” Danielle said.

“Our community is one of the most aware communities in Australia when it comes to recycling and right now we need everyone to help solve this problem. We are confident that in time we can find a recycling solution that will be better for the environment, and once again we can set an example for others to follow.”


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