A new online survey introduced by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) intends to discover resolutions to the country’s waste management issue, by soliciting the viewpoints of waste and resource recovery experts regarding how technology can address the problem of  growing rubbish accumulation—and related issues such as rubbish stockpile fires, the end of a prominent recycling company, diminishing export markets, and the effect of plastic on wildlife.

The ATSE has initiated a research project to examine the capability of the waste management and resource recovery companies to adapt, adopt, or devise technologies that will empower it to address the challenges and opportunities of the next 10 years.

ATSE’s executive director – policy, Dr Matt Wenham, says that technology has revolutionised recycling in Australia, referencing as an example the procedure of glass bottles now being more efficiently processed at optical sorting facilities.

He notes that, while Australia produces about 67 million tonnes of waste annually, this ‘waste’ can be recovered to create cardboard boxes, high-end building materials, etc.

Bringing technology into the management of waste, he says, will cultivate an economic opportunity, opening 9.2 jobs created for every 10,000 tonnes of material recycled.

ATSE has pinpointed four technology-based solutions that could optimise these opportunities over the next 10 years:

  • Enhanced product stewardship, in which the consumer, manufacturers and the waste sector collaborate to cut down on waste. This might involve manufacturers lengthening the useful life of their products with platforms that empower hiring, sharing or second-hand sales.
  • Design for disassembly, which facilitates the easy repair, recycling and repurposing of products.
  • Smart waste management systems, which call upon advanced technology to sort and process materials, or technologies that directly involve the consumer, like ‘pay as you throw’ automated levies.
  • Advanced resource recovery solutions that employ technology to recover energy to generate electricity, heat, gas and fuels from waste.

The survey will be open through March.