Let’s Be SMaRT About Waste

Resource Recovery Australia is excited to announce our partnership with the UNSW Sustainable Materials and Research Technology Centre (SMaRT), as the latest member of their Green Manufacturing Hub.

Nine months ago RRA’s John Weate, Sarah Chisholm and Andrew Douglas undertook a fantastic tour of the SMaRT Centre, including recently installed equipment that is supporting SMaRT to become a world leader in creative, new recycling solutions.

Prof. Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the SMaRT Centre, and her team provided an introduction to the work of the Centre and how RRA and Soft Landing might be able to collaborate with them moving forward.

So, what exactly is going on at the SMaRT Centre?

Well, imagine if we could derive many of the raw materials and resources our industries need from waste? Instead of viewing waste as a growing global burden, we could reap huge cost and environmental savings by ‘mining’ the world’s landfills and waste stockpiles.

Led by ARC Laureate Prof Veena Sahajwalla, the SMaRT Centre is doing just that. In the process the Centre is revolutionising recycling science to provide previously unimaginable solutions for complex, problematic and even toxic waste stockpiles that are building up in our environment, in Australia and worldwide.

It’s called ‘green manufacturing’ because waste is directed back into industries as a valuable input, saving money and reducing pressure on both virgin resources and landfills. The underlying principle is ‘waste to value’. That is, nothing is ever wasted.

Unlike conventional recycling that, for example, turns glass back into more glass, Professor Sahajwalla is investigating waste at its elemental level. The world’s waste mountains are packed with useful elements like carbon, hydrogen, silicon and metals. By using precisely calibrated high temperature reactions, and establishing the new science that underpins them, waste can be transformed in the production of previously unimaginable value-added materials and products. See the SMaRT Centre website: http://www.smart.unsw.edu.au/

For example, Professor Sahajwalla’s internationally renowned ‘green steelmaking’ process has been commercialised in Australia and internationally; transforming over two million used tyres to date in Australia alone. Recently, Professor Sahajwalla unveiled a new process to safely transform toxic e-waste into valuable metal alloys, a unique solution to one of the world’s fastest growing and most challenging waste burdens. Likewise, complex wastes like laminated, colour and heat treated glass, fabrics, plastics and even construction waste are being turned into cost-effective, high quality new products ideal for interior fit-outs, building and even furniture.

The SMaRT Centre’s ‘micro factory’ model means waste solutions are specifically designed for small scale businesses, or even mobile facilities, so that waste can be transformed into value added products locally, creating new jobs and income streams for any community. We are extremely excited that the first micro-factory, outside UNSW, is being investigated by one of RRA’s sites.

“We are very excited to be able to work with a social enterprise like RRA because this way we can ensure our solutions deliver the greatest possible benefits to the community” — Professor Sahajwalla

Over the past year, the SMaRT Centre worked with MIDWASTE Regional Waste Forum and RRA in a unique research partnership to investigate solutions for some 4,300 tonnes of combined metal and plastic waste that arrives at landfills every year in the Mid North Coast of NSW alone!

This is a tremendous amount of waste that could be converted into value-added resources and products, boosting economic development and reducing environmental impact. The key is collaboration. RRA provided household waste — a mix of metal and plastic — from our site in Tuncurry. SMaRT then investigated the possibilities of using high temperature transformations to turn our rubbish into valuable metallic alloys. As a result, an entirely new process for producing metallic alloys was created.

Investing in this kind of research and development can provide a new opportunity for local councils to save money and clean up their local environment (the NSW Waste Levy is $135.70 per tonne in metropolitan areas like Sydney, and $78.20 per tonne in regional areas like the Mid North Coast). With waste, we can create new materials for new products, without needing to mine or extract virgin materials in the process.

This is a big deal!

Following the success of our recent project for MIDWASTE, and with the acquisition of Soft Landing mattress recycling last year, RRA has signed up with the SMaRT Centre’s Green Manufacturing Hub to further collaborate on their latest research projects.

In 2017, we will begin investigating all the materials and components of the mattress retrieved at our Soft Landing facilities. Soft Landing already has a diversion rate of up to 90%, depending on the mattress, but we recognise that more can always be done. We are keen achieve 100%!

Our new project with SMaRT will focus on transforming latex and textiles into ‘green materials’ ready to be used in new manufacturing processes.

The SMaRT Centre’s determination to ‘add value’ fits perfectly with both Resource Recovery Australia and Soft Landing’s ideals. Whether it refers to the people we seek to support by providing quality jobs and training, or our ability to divert resources from the waste stream and transform them into value-added resources — our principle is to value-add at every step of the way.

These are exciting times and we are thrilled to be working with such a great initiative comprising such intelligent and collaborative partners.

Stay tuned for the materials of a cleaner future!

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