ACT should find better solutions for burnable trash, expert says
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ACT should find better solutions for burnable trash, expert says

The ACT should dump plans to burn rubbish and instead focus on technologies to transform trash into value-added products, a University of New South Wales academic says.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, the director of the university’s sustainable materials research centre, said incineration was an ineffecient waste disposal method, especially with the ACT's goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045.

Instead, the territory should look towards innovative ways of turning trash into value-added materials such as metal alloys.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who says burning recyclable materials is not an efficient waste management strategy.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, who says burning recyclable materials is not an efficient waste management strategy.

Photo: Supplied

“I applaud the ACT government for its very proactive stance on environmental sustainability and waste management, as well as its target to increase its already laudable rate of recycling from 70 per cent to 90 per cent,” she said.

“However, part of the solution is not to incinerate waste for energy but instead should be to reform the components of waste into valuable materials as inputs for manufacturing for existing and new products, which then also provides a boost for the local manufacturing industry and economy.”

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On Monday submissions closed for the ACT government’s waste feasibility study, which outlined four recommendations to improve recycling and resource recovery in the territory.

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One recommendation was to investigate options for a facility which would turn some forms of non-recyclable waste into solid fuels, which could then be burnt by industry in place of fossil fuels.

“[Such a] facility can operate with flexible volumes of waste and would reduce local community concerns around emissions associated with large-scale incineration in the ACT,” the ACT government’s consultation document read.

Professor Sahajwalla said there were better options to make the best use of waste.

“Incinerating plastics, glass, timber and other materials that have already been highly engineered, mined and processed is extracting the lowest value from them, whereas the way to achieve the highest value is to reform and then re-use them,” she said.

“The process of burning waste to create energy means that recyclable materials are lost forever as renewable resources. Metals can be repurposed over and over and even many plastics can be reformed and reused a number of times.”

Instead, the ACT should trial technologies to convert waste into “reformed materials” such as plastic for 3D printing, glass panels and metal alloys, Professor Sahajwalla said.

Plans for a rubbish-burning power plant in Canberra's east were formally dumped earlier this year, with the company behind the proposal hitting out at residents who opposed the project.

Capital Recycling Solutions director Adam Perry said the company dropped plans to build an incinerator on Ipswich Street in Fyshwick after coming to the conclusion the government would never approve it.

The Greens, who hold the balance of power in the ACT's parliament, have previously said burning waste was "no better than burning dirty fossil fuels", and it would not help achieve the territory's ultimate goal of carbon neutrality.

The ACT government’s waste division has also been highly critical of a revised recycling proposal from the company.

ACT No Waste director Michael Trushell recently blasted claims space is running out at Mugga Lane as "incorrect and misleading", and described the expectation that the territory will maintain the tip as a back-up should the plant fail as "ironic".

Government advice on the company's draft environment impact statement, obtained by Fairfax Media, also reveals ACT No Waste believes "no significant opportunity will be missed in the event the proposal is not approved".

Steven Trask is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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