The decision by China not to accept our plastics waste was always going to create difficulties within Australia where, it would seem, we are far behind in developing our own solutions to home born waste treatment problems. However at least one forward-thinking entrepreneur recognised it as a business opportunity.
With an insight into China’s new, strict waste processing policy changes in 2018 restricting the import of waste for recycling, local businessman, Harry Wang realised that there would be a huge demand for a specialised solution to Australia’s waste treatment problems.
After some 18 months of exhaustive research and development, Wang, founder of an Australian financial company, invested $20 million including a $500,000 commitment from the state government and his personal resources in establishing a state of the art plant in Somerton, Victoria with an initial processing capability of 70,000 tonnes of plastic waste materials per year, equivalent to nearly half of all plastics recycled in Victoria.
Prior to the recent opening of AC Polymers, most of Australia’s waste plastics were shipped overseas for processing to return to us as imported products.
Harry Wang imported the very latest specialised machinery from the USA that uses technology including robotics and laser identification. Precision compressed air jets sort the different types of plastic, and artificial intelligence is utilised to further refine the process.
The business sources mixed plastics from materials recovery facilities. Much of the feedstock consists of plastic beverage containers as well as containers for cleaning products and foodstuffs.
Unfortunately, while there is plenty of product available, much of the plastic that should be recycled is still going to landfill. Better education about what can be recycled and how it should be separated before being put out for collection would help make even more plastic available for reuse.
Once items are sorted and grouped according to their particular polymers, they are thoroughly washed then chopped into small plastic flakes that are sold on to manufacturers to make products.
Most of the products made using the flakes are the same as those fed into the plant: water and soft drink bottles. The next biggest use is for food containers and plastic trays, followed by fencing, packaging, outdoor furniture, pipes and other construction materials and clothes.
“As long as they are in the recycle system they can be recycled again,” says Wang. “It really depends on the strength and the quality of the raw, virgin material, how many times you can recycle. The circle is endless.”
“We are big supporters of reducing plastic pollution as a first step, but while there is still plastic to be recycled we should be doing our best to capture what we can. We should treat plastic like gold. It is a precious resource that can be used in production again and again,” says Wang.
The recycling plant will be powered by renewable energy produced from Goldwind Australia’s wind farm near Ballarat.