More than 18 months ago China implemented it's infamous China Sword Policy which effectively banned the import of plastics and other materials for recycling. Supply chains that had been in place for decades were suddenly thrown into chaos.
Australia's plastic recycler's scrambled to find new international destinations that had the jurisdictional approvals needed to process the materials. For the most part the recyclables found there way to the right places.
Unfortunately a small quantity of materials sent overseas did not go to reputable destinations and the contamination present in all baled recyclables was not dealt with correctly.
This led to toxic gasses from burning plastics and runaway plastic pollution ending up in water ways and in many places it should simply not be.
Countries all over the world are now moving to ban the import of these materials as the contamination and processing pose to great a risk the their developing economies.
The Australian Government is now moving to ban the export of recyclables such a plastic and other materials so that we must process this material within our borders.
Even the purest recycled plastic feed stock will not be pure enough to meet the China Sword Policy requirements of less than 0.5% contamination.
With Countries now adopting this same policy we must either work to change supply chains that are bringing virgin packaging into Australia or we must find new uses for this recyclate.
Thinking longer term, packaging and our consumption habits will need to change to adapt to the new economic forces a play.
China no longer relies on using cheap feed stock rejected by other nations for use in applications that don't require high quality materials.
China now has it's own internal sources with enough volume of these materials to handle their supply chain requirements.
There is now a range of pathways for those looking at implementing recyclables processing facilities beyond the MRF.
These may include processing plastics back into oil so that it can re enter the purification and processing cycle.
Additionally colour separation and pelletisation may produce feed stock that can be used to re-manufacture various packaging or other consumer goods.
At any rate the end markets for the materials or consumer goods must exist for there to be a commercial appetite to undertake the businesses being suggested.
Boosting our local manufacturing sector to utilise these materials to produce products here in Australia is going to be the key to making the circular economy turn.