Waste to high value products: New technology to stop recycling going to landfill and create regional jobs

Dubbo based business Regional Enviroscience, headed by NSW Regional Woman of the Year, Juliet Duffy is in early discussions with Prof Veena Sahajwalla and the UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Centre’s team, for research into utilising Green Microfactory technology to sustainably produce a new product that will provide a solution for hazardous waste management.

Initial discussions involve recycling the clothing and textile waste stream as the raw materials to manufacture this product, and there is plenty of it.  Australians are the world’s second largest consumers of textiles, buying an average of 27 kilograms of new clothing and textiles each year per capita, twice the global average.  In addition, the Australian National Waste Report 2016 said that clothing and textile waste per capita was double that of glass and just pipped at the post by plastics.  Textile waste also had one of the lowest resource recovery rates of any waste stream.

It’s not surprising then that 6000 kg of clothing is dumped in landfill every 10 minutes and only 15% of donated clothing is sold again in opportunity shops such as Salvos and Vinnies. The result is charities having to pay $13 million to send 60,000 tonnes of unwanted items to landfill every year.

There are not only environmental and economic benefits with this technology, we also have the opportunity to create jobs – where they are needed most in regional NSW – to manufacture, manage and market a high value end product.’ says Juliet Duffy.  She estimates 25 direct jobs are on offer and plans to focus on indigenous training & employment when the microfactory technology is implemented.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla says: ‘There is much that can be done right now (to reduce waste) given that scientifically-developed and proven methods are currently available through the green microfactory technology’Green Microfactory technology consists of small & modular machines that can be easily transported or relocated to where a stockpile of waste exists.  They can fit into a small room. The first e-waste microfactory transforms the components of mobile phones, laptops and printers into high value metal alloys, carbon and products such as 3D printer filament.   Research is currently underway to create the same for clothing and textile waste.  Costings show an investment in some microfactory modules can pay off in less than three years.

‘The investment in this technology means we can see tangible and sustainable benefits on the ground in a very short period of time.  We have a waste problem that can be turned into a sustainable solution for hazardous waste. It is a win in both social and environmental terms, we just need to get the numbers and research right, it is very exciting times.’ says Juliet.

Infrastructure projects will be the primary user of this new product and with $97 billion worth of projects currently engaged in the Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) rating scheme, demand for this new sustainable product is likely to be high.