Collaborating for a cleaner future

Waste Expo Australia has wrapped up for another year. Over 3000 visitors attended the 2-day conference and exhibition in Melbourne.

Waste Expo Australia has wrapped up for another year. Over 3000 visitors attended the 2-day conference and exhibition in Melbourne. They all took away valuable thoughts and actions towards creating a sustainable future in Victoria and Australia.

Last week’s event was hailed a success by attendees, speakers and exhibitors alike. That sentiment went from the standing-room-only sessions at the conference to the bustling exhibition floor. The conference, themed “Advancing Towards Sustainable Resource Recovery”, picked up on the industry’s most important topics across four streams. Those streams were Local Government and Policy, Commercial Demolition and Commercial and Industrial (CD&CI), Circular Economy and Waste Innovation, and Waste to Energy/Energy from Waste.

Conference MC Sally Williams, or Sustainable Sally, chaired the Local Government stream across two days. She said the tone of the conference and the enthusiasm of the attendees was outstanding.

“Waste Expo Australia is about collaboration, sharing information and learning from industry leaders. It’s the perfect environment to meet and talk with people who have tried and tested incredible innovations and to learn from their experiences. The increase in numbers this year says it all. It’s the perfect forum for the waste and resource recovery sector to showcase how it works towards developing circular solutions for a better, more sustainable future.”

Container deposit scheme standing room only

On the eve of the launch of Victoria’s Container Deposit Scheme (CDS Vic), Sebastian Chapman, Executive Director of CDS of Recycling Victoria, spoke on a panel. Leaders from TOMRA Cleanaway joined him, Return It, Visy and MRA Consulting. He says the highlight of the conference was seeing people think about product stewardship schemes. Chapman also enjoyed seeing the growing awareness of the circular economy in Victoria and elsewhere.

“It’s always an exciting opportunity at Waste Expo Australia for people to come together. There are lots of people doing amazing things across the whole circular economy and our waste and recycling systems. It provides those opportunities to network, connect and innovate. There’s also support from the government’s point of view. It’s valuable because it allows us to speak with the sector, from academics to business, community groups and experts. Those connections are important if we successfully build Victoria’s circular economy.”

Circular economy grabs focus

The circular economy was a hot topic across conference streams. Dr Sarah King, Technical Director, Circular Economy for GHD, says the conversation around circularity and waste is certainly progressing.

“The landscape of the circular economy has changed dramatically over the last 5 years. It is challenging us to reconsider waste as a valuable resource. Waste Expo Australia is helping engage companies and shift the concept of waste from being a cost burden to a resource with value, highlighting innovative solutions that give waste resources a higher purpose.”

The conference also tackled new and emerging issues in recycling and waste. It included a panel on the hidden cost of battery disposal. Non-profit CEO Shannon Mead of No More Butts joined that panel alongside representatives from the Battery Stewardship Council, EPA Victoria, Re Group and Solo Resource Recovery. The discussion covered a multitude of issues regarding battery disposal. However, Shannon particularly tackled the hidden danger of single-use vape disposal and the flow-on effects on landfills and the environment.

“Based on consumption, we estimate nearly one million ‘single-use’ vapes per week are thrown away in Australia. That’s one million batteries ending up in landfills. They can start bin fires, truck fires, or deadly facility fires. Beyond just the health effects of vapes, there’s now a myriad of regulatory issues emerging around their safe disposal. Vapes present a ‘triple-threat’ of environmental issues: the hardened plastic casing, the copper coil and circuitry components and then the highly flammable lithium-ion battery.”

Innovations provide interesting insights

While solutions to some of the wicked problems in waste management are not yet present, companies are making moves to offer practical products and solutions. One of these companies is international provider Eldan Recycling, which is now moving into PV and EV recycling to combat the growing problem of solar panel waste and recycling, plus the challenges associated with EV batteries. Carsten Nielsen, Product Manager at Eldan, says their team had a busy few days at Waste Expo Australia.

“We’re looking at automated solutions for solar panel recycling. That means disassembling the units on an automatic line to re-use the silica components for new solar panels. We’ve had a lot of great conversations with people interested in seeing what we supply and talking about the ideas we bring to the table.”

Exhibition Director Samantha Martin says that post-COVID, the industry is back stronger than ever – a trend reflected in visitor numbers over 30% higher than in 2022.

“The waste management and resource recovery industry is on the precipice of significant industry change, which will drive growth. We love hearing from multiple exhibitors and speakers about the encouraging conversations they’ve had at Waste Expo Australia 2023 and the fantastic turnout points to the industry’s strong future.”

Waste Expo Australia 2024 will be held on October 23-24 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

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