$60m fund for plastics recycling technology opens

Brandon How

The federal government has launched a $60 million grant program to support recycling technology innovation and advanced recycling techniques targeting hard-to-recycle plastics.

The plastics technology stream of the Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) opened on Tuesday, offering matched grants of up to $20 million to industry.

The program was initially announced in 2021 and was funded in the former Coalition government’s final Budget in March last year.

Grants will be available to new recycling projects, including the commercialisation of trial technology that keeps hard-to-recycle plastics in use, as well as upgrades to existing facilities.

Other supported projects include the extraction and processing of plastics from e-waste, converting plastic back into oil for re-use in food-grade packaging, and using optical or robotic machinery to separate and decontaminate plastics from waste being sent to landfill.

But projects will need to be selected by the state or territory government in each respective state. The state and territory body will then administer funding on behalf of the Commonwealth, if successfully awarded.

While the federal government’s guidelines for the program don’t require co-contributions from state or territory governments, projects that include larger co-contributions will be preferred.

For successful projects in Queensland, the state government will provide matched funding with the federal grant. This is conditional on the project proponents at least matching the total value of the federal and state contributions combined.

Manual presorting of waste from recyclable material. Image: Sustainability Victoria

Announcing the fund on Tuesday, Environment minister Tanya Plibersek said the grant program would help diminish the large amounts of plastic waste not recycled.

“Australians use about 3.8 million tonnes of plastic a year and dispose of about 2.7 million tonnes,  that’s about 50 times the weight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge being thrown out each year. And we’re only recycling about 13 per cent of it,” Ms Plibersek said.

“We can do better. That’s why we’re investing $60 million to boost Australia’s recycling and recovery rates for hard-to-recycle plastics. The funding will invest in exciting technologies that could help solve challenges in recycling plastic waste like soft plastics going into landfill.”

Overall. investments through the RMF are expected to add one million tonnes of processing capacity.

In November 2021, then-environment minister Sussan Ley said the RMF was on track to leverage more than $800 million in investment across the Commonwealth, state and territories governments, and the private sector.

Under the 2025 National Packaging Targets set by the previous Coalition government in 2018, four targets were introduced to improve the sustainability of product packaging. This includes the 2025 target to recycle or compost 70 per cent of plastic packaging and to have an average of 50 per cent of recycled content in packaging.

However, a review by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation in April found that the country is not currently on track to meet the 2025 targets.

Minister Plibersek also launched a discussion paper on Tuesday to invite feedback on the development of a framework for recycled content traceability.

The framework will provide information on the origin of recycled material to manufacturers and consumers as well as information on how recycled material is used to recycling operators. This could include a ‘digital product passport’, to collect and share data on a product’s sustainability across the supply chain, as is being considered in the European Union.

The federal government also announced co-investments in 21 new recycling projects worth $24.3 million in New South Wales and Queensland on Tuesday.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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