South Australia’s “circular economy” of recycled waste is set to receive a $45 million infrastructure injection following a joint announcement by the Federal and State governments today.

Key points:

  • Industry must commit $15 million to receive $30 million in joint funding
  • Governments are focussed on technologies that make recycling more energy and cost efficient
  • South Australia presently diverts 83.8 per cent of generated waste away from landfill

SA Environment Minister David Speirs said both governments would each contribute $15 million towards expanding the state’s recycling infrastructure, with industry expected to provide an additional $15 million.

He said applicants could use the grant money to expand existing businesses or set up new ones, with the hope the money would be in the “hands of developers” by Easter.

“We’ve got this opportunity to say to the private sector — and it’s often councils that form those conglomerations around recycling and waste management — tell us your ideas,” Mr Speirs said.

The Federal contribution has been drawn from its $190 million Recycling Modernisation Fund, announced in mid-2020.

With the intent of bolstering the country’s waste and recycling capacity, the RMF followed what was described as a wake-up call by industry in 2017 when China announced a ban on importing the world’s rubbish.

It meant Australia at the time had to find alternative destinations for about 619,000 tonnes of recyclable material a year, worth about $523 million.

A plastic recycling yard in Adelaide’s inner north is among those dealing with recoverable waste.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Spence Denny)

Using less energy

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley today lauded SA’s long history of recycling, such as its container deposit scheme, which has been in place since 1977.

She said the RMF fund would drive a “$1 billion transformation of Australia’s treatment of waste and recycling”, with a particular focus on creating sustainable processes that did not consume more energy to recycle than to create.

“People often think of transforming plastic into new plastic as requiring a lot of energy,” Ms Ley told ABC Radio Adelaide.

She said increased capacities in feedstock volumes would also make investments worthwhile.

Expressions of interest are being sought from industry, local government and non-government organisations, but they will have to commit at least one third to the project’s cost.

SA’s single-use plastic ban will start with plastic straws and cutlery.(SA Government)

No ‘big waste mountain’

According to the SA Government, the state diverts 83.8 per cent of its waste from landfill and more than 4,800 people are employed by the sector.

“About a year-and-a-half ago the Prime Minister [Scott Morrison] made an announcement that he wanted to ban waste being sent overseas,” Mr Speirs said.

“South Australia has never done a great deal of that anyway.

“We have quite an advanced recycling sector her — there’s no big stock pile, no big waste mountain in SA — but we can always get better.”

From March 1, SA’s single-use plastic ban will also start coming into effect, with plastic straws and cutlery targeted first, followed in early 2022 by polystyrene cups, bowls, plates and clamshell containers.