CSIRO on a Mission to End Plastic Waste

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, will tackle Australia’s plastic pollution challenges, pledging to help Australia reduce its plastic waste by 80 per cent over this decade.

Less than 12 per cent of plastic waste is recycled and about 85 per cent ends up in landfill. Advanced recycling technologies can help process hard to recycle plastics. Image Credit: CSIRO

An initial $50M will be invested in CSIRO’s Ending Plastic Waste Mission funded through contributions by CSIRO, industry, government, university, and other organisations and will develop cutting-edge science and innovation to change the way Australia makes, uses, recycles and disposes of plastics.

Australians consume one million tonnes of single use plastic each year - with just 12 per cent recycled. Three-quarters of the plastic found along Australia’s coastline is single-use plastics.

With global use of plastic expected to double by 2040, CSIRO’s Chief Executive Larry Marshall said the challenge was far bigger than any one institution and needed a Team Australia approach. 

“The Ending Plastic Waste Mission will bring together the whole innovation system, from government, industry and academia to turn science into solutions that will benefit the environment and create economic opportunities for Australia,” Dr Marshall said.

“By working together, by aligning our efforts, and by pushing each other further for a common cause, we can tackle seemingly impossible challenges – like protecting our environment while making sustainability profitable for business. And we can achieve it faster.”

The plastic waste industry is valued globally at about $87 billion and developing circular economy plastic initiatives for recycling is expected to provide US$67 billion in value globally by 2025. 

“By turning plastic waste into a renewable resource, the Mission will deliver collaborative scientific and manufacturing capabilities to drive new technologies across the entire plastics supply chain and grow Australia’s circular economy,” Dr Marshall said.

Mission Lead Dr Deborah Lau said it would take a combination of solutions to address the plastic pollution problem.

“Our mission will be the national catalyst for systematic change to tackle plastic pollution,” Dr Lau said.

“It will drive a significant co-ordinated response across the innovation sector and bring science and technology to the forefront to help deliver a myriad of solutions to end plastic waste.” 

Research under the mission includes:

  • Changing the way we make, use, and recycle plastics by developing innovative technologies, materials, products and processes.
  • Supporting a sustainable plastics circular economy by utilising plastic waste to deliver economic benefits, while reducing the detrimental impacts to human health and the environment. 
  • Revolutionising packaging and waste systems; generating effective solutions for recycling; advising on the development and implementation of standards; analytics and machine learning to inform decision making; and creating systemic change.

The Mission includes a collaboration between CSIRO and Murdoch University to establish a new Bioplastics Innovation Hub. 

Murdoch University Professor Daniel Murphy said the Hub would develop a new generation of 100 per cent compostable products like bottles, caps and wrappers, which currently contribute to the plastic pollution problem.

“Compostable bioplastic demand is predicted to increase rapidly as global concerns around plastic waste and fossil fuel resources increase the importance of bio-based plastic alternatives,” Prof Murphy said.

“Some bioplastics are already in the market but most need UV light to breakdown. Our compostable bioplastics will breakdown in compost, landfill or in water, without leaving a trace." 

The first key project for the hub will be working with Ecopha Biotech Pty Ltd to develop a new process for water bottle production using compostable bioplastics derived from waste products from the food industry.

“New bioplastics innovations will provide industry with new commercialisation opportunities and build sustainable and economic opportunities to grow Australia’s bio-manufacturing industries,” he said.

Available for interview:

  • Dr Deborah Lau (Ending Plastic Waste Mission)
  • Denise Hardesty (Marine Debris and Information for decision making)
  • Sarah King (Advanced Recycling and Waste innovation)

Other projects also underway as part of the Mission:

National Plastic Pollution Survey

CSIRO is conducting a national plastic pollution survey to understand what types of rubbish end up where. Through the project so far, 270,000 items have been recorded and 9,000 kilos of rubbish removed with the help of volunteers from Conservation Volunteers Australia.

The project focuses on data collected to understand the scope, scale and types of litter lost to the environment. This can help identify hotspots, problem areas and items, and importantly, identify methods to stop our litter ending up in the environment in the first place.

Plastic Innovation Hub Indonesia

CSIRO and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are working with countries across the Indo-Pacific to reduce plastic waste, a critical challenge being faced by the region. 

The new Plastics Innovation Hub Indonesia was launched on 1 March with innovators, investors, community leaders, government, industry, and researchers coming together to address the plastics issue and solutions specific for Indonesia. 

The Hub will develop regional innovation capability and support the scaling of deep-tech solutions to tackle plastic waste. 

River Rubbish Traps

Stormwater drains and gross pollutant traps are used to prevent waste and sediments from flowing into the environment. But maintenance can be costly and time-consuming.

CSIRO has developed sensor technologies to improve waste management on the front line. The autonomous sensor network monitors the traps to prevent rubbish ending up in the ocean. 

The sensors and accompanying decision support system will provide near real-time reporting on how much rubbish is in stormwater traps. It will also help councils optimise their management actions, by telling them which traps are nearly full, so they can save time, increase efficiency and stop waste from leaking to our waterways. 

Further innovations include researching the digestive processes of certain insects to understand if they can be used to breakdown waste, advanced recycling technologies to tackle hard-to-recycle plastics, PVC recycling to save it from landfill, and testing seaweed-derived polymers as a substitute for petroleum-based plastic.

Partners and Collaborators

The Ending Plastic Waste Mission brings together CSIRO with government partners Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment, Parks Australia, NSW Environmental Trust, Sustainability Victoria; along with industry partners Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, Chemistry Australia, C Sea Solutions, Kimberly-Clark Australia, Circle 8 Clean Technologies, Ostrom Polymers and Phantm; and a number of universities including Monash University, Murdoch University, University of Technology Sydney, University of Queensland, RMIT University, University of Tasmania, and University of Western Australia. 

The Mission is also partnering with a number of international organisations including the National Science Foundation, University of Texas at Austin and U.S. Department of Energy's BOTTLE Consortium.

More about CSIRO’s Ending Plastic Waste Mission here.

Source: https://www.csiro.au/en

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