Can technology be the solution for Australia’s worsening waste crisis?

A new online survey launched by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) aims to find solutions to this waste management problem in the country by seeking the views of people at the frontline of waste and resource recovery on how best technology can tackle the challenge of the growing rubbish mountains.

There is an increasing sense of urgency in the country about finding a solution to existing waste management problems including fires at rubbish stockpiles, collapse of a major recycling company, shrinking export markets, and public concern over plastic affecting wildlife.

The ATSE has launched a research project to investigate the readiness of the waste management and resource recovery sector to adapt, adopt, or develop technologies that will enable it to address the challenges and opportunities of the next decade.

ATSE’s executive director – policy, Dr Matt Wenham observes that technology has already transformed recycling in Australia, citing the example of glass bottles, which were once sorted by hand but are now being processed using optical sorting facilities.

“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 noted.

Introducing technology into waste management, he believes, will create an economic opportunity, with 9.2 jobs created for every 10,000 tonnes of material recycled.

ATSE has identified four technology-based solutions that could help the sector make the most of these opportunities over the next decade:

  • Improved product stewardship, where the consumer, manufacturers and the 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 survey is open until the end of March 2020.

Image: The Conversation