Australia has an ENERGY CRISIS! Australia also has a PLASTIC WASTE PROBLEM, with thousands of tons of plastic in our waters, and majority plastic export market, China, now closing its doors. How ironic then, that one problem could help solve the other – Plastic waste transformed into everyday energy.
Waste to Energy is as it sounds – turning general waste into a useful fuel, be that a gas, liquid or power an electricity generator. Plastic can even be made into road-ready fuel by smart technology as patented by Australia’s Integrated Green Energy Solutions Ltd.
Waste to energy is not a new concept, however, despite successful operations globally, it has yet to register in the Australian debate as an option to support some of our energy needs in the wake of the decommissioning of coal-fired generators. This needs to change.
Waste is a self-replenishing resource
Until we no longer produce waste, waste is an abundant resource that must be managed. While Waste to Energy is not as clean as renewable energy, it comes from a self-replenishing waste stream and is cleaner than ‘clean coal’.
Waste to Energy is not an alternative to recycling. Resources should always be sent for recycling and higher value added options when those are readily and efficiently available in proximity to the waste sources. However, Waste to Energy is a valuable option for those materials that rarely (or never) make it to recycling and end up in landfill or the environment. Roughly 85% of Australia’s plastic fails to be recycled (slightly below the global average of 90%). It also removes waste from our communities, environment, waters and landfills, reducing the methane created in landfills along the way (Methane is 23 times more damaging than CO2 itself).
Waste to Energy conjures up images of old backyard incinerator spewing out hideous substances. However, today’s Waste to Energy plants are sophisticated and clean and nothing like the incinerators of bygone years. Overseas practice shows that controls can be put in place to appropriately manage emissions and byproducts.
Australia, like many countries, needs infrastructure to manage waste resources. If infrastructure investments are to be made, then now is the time to do it, ahead of investments in aged power plants, such as Liddell.
Adding to the plastic waste tipping point
Of the small volume of plastics recovered in Australia, roughly half is reused locally, and 90% of the remaining being exported to China. Australia has become reliant on exporting low value used plastic to China.
This reliance has been disrupted, as the Chinese Government recently announced their National Sword Policy to eliminate the importation of scrap plastic to China. Australia now has over 90% of waste plastic at its disposal to create energy.
Call to action
Waste to Energy needs to be part of the Australian energy crisis debate. We have an abundant supply of scrap plastic and only some is suitable for the current limited viable end-markets. The remaining scrap plastics are a resource to be exploited not buried.
Exploiting scrap plastics as a resource for new products and packaging, along with the options for converting it to road-ready fuel (including the technology developed by Integrated Green Energy), will be at the centre of the conversation at the Plasticity Sydney conference on 31 October 2017, with a sole focus on creating a world with business-practical solutions that avoid plastic pollution.
According to ABS data released in 2014:
160,000T of plastics were recycled and reused in a year,
150,000T of plastics were recycled and exported (88% to China)
1,889,000T of plastics when to landfill (86%)
Fugitive plastics (those that enter the natural environment) are in addition to these numbers