Co-mingled recycling in the City of Ballarat once made sense. There used to be a market for the materials we recycled. It was simple and easy to understand for residents. The council was paid for the materials it collected - and we all felt we were doing the right thing.
In recent years, however, the price we pay for the ease of putting all recycling into the same bin has become clearer - and glass is one of the trickiest of all the materials we currently put beneath the yellow-lids.
It was recently described by one industry leader as "the biggest contaminant in recycling".
Most obviously, it is prone to breaking - a trait that can contaminate the other materials collected too. Breakages, of course, have always been an issue, but the situation has deteriorated in recent years.
Since China began its national sword policy, which dramatically reduced prices for recovered plastics, many collectors began to compress co-mingled material more, leading to more breakages - and more contamination.
According to an analysis published last year by the Federal government's Department of Environment and Energy: "This has led to more plastic, paper and cardboard contamination further reducing the value of these materials."
THE MARKET FOR GLASS
The other issue is what we can do with glass after it has been collected. Bottles can be reused, although with Victoria the only mainland state without a container deposit scheme, the process is not as efficient here as it is in many other places around Australia.
Recycling too can be more costly than importing new bottles, leading to glass stockpiles in places.
Aside from that, the market is relatively limited. It can be used as base material for roads.
This means glass has a low commodity value, certainly when measured by weight, compared to paper, cardboard and some plastics - which themselves have declined in value in recent years.
That may change. To give one example, Deakin University has recently run a project showing how ground recycled glass can replace sand to create a 'polymer concrete'.
As it stands, however, it remains perhaps the most problematic material in our recycling.
A CONTAINER DEPOSIT SCHEME
Currently Victoria does not have a container deposit scheme, but the state government is under considerable pressure to introduce one. Details of the state's circular economy policy are released later this year, which may include more guidance. Notable exemptions from the scheme elsewhere are wine bottles, which are not included in any container scheme around the country, despite making up a significant slice of glass recycling - about 15 to 20 per cent according to some estimates.
For La Vergne Lehmann of the Grampians Central West Waste & Resource Recovery Group, the scheme will not be a silver bullet - but part of a suite of things that should form part of our kerbside collection reforms.
So now the recycling crisis has come to a head, what next for our glass and bottles?
In response to the pressure created by the collapse of SKM, which had previously collected more than 50 per cent of recycled materials in Victoria, many tons of materials have gone to landfill despite some councils introducing short-term fixes.
Places like Hobsons Bay City Council in Melbourne have begun a service so residents can drop off their pre-sorted recyclables, including glass, to avoid them going to landfill.
In Ballarat, a temporary materials recovery facility is up and running in Wendouree, set up for the same reasons. However, council has acknowledged that it is a short term fix.
It has also confirmed recycling options have been considered in council and it would be in a position to advise of a direction in the near future.
Discussions continue too for the All-Waste Interchange at BWEZ. On Friday, the City of Ballarat published a photo on social media with the CEO and deputy mayor meeting with the state environment minister Lily D'Ambrosio and Wendouree MP Juliana Addison, reiterating the importance of the interchange in the council's plans.
Today the Deputy Mayor and CEO met w/ @LilyDAmbrosioMP, @juliana_addison, @michaelasettle and other Mayors & CEOs from across the region.— Ballarat Council (@cityofballarat) September 13, 2019
A productive meeting where the importance of establishing the Ballarat All-waste Interchange was confirmed and supported by regional councils. pic.twitter.com/QJKO1y9up0
Council has set aside $5 million for its development and have strongly lobbied for state support. This too could have implications for the quality of the recycling - including glass - if a more sophisticated materials recovery facility is installed at the site.
So the system is still very much in flux. Given the pressure on the system, the one certain thing is change. In other words, what goes in our yellow-lidded bins is unlikely to remain the same.
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