Fifty tonnes of glass from the Hunter ends up offshore or in interstate storage every day, as recycling facilities around the country struggle to deal with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of excess waste.
The ABC’s investigative program Four Corners aired revelations on Monday that masses of used glass were being transported from NSW to Victoria and stored in warehouses, because it had so little value as a recycled product.
Australian companies have instead turned to importing glass products from overseas, a cheaper option than recycling glass domestically, resulting in major stockpiling.
The company processing, transporting and storing the glass, Polytrade Recycling, is subcontracted by the Maitland-based Hunter Resource Recovery, which manages recycled waste from the Cessnock, Lake Macquarie, Maitland and Singleton councils.
Hunter Resource Recovery chief executive officer Roger Lewis stressed that Polytrade Recycling was a “professional and honourable company” and that no recycled waste from the Hunter is sent to landfill.
“I’d like to give an iron-clad guarantee that no product from our four councils ends up in landfill in Australia,” he said.
...this is a major problem. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of tonnes of glass stockpiled throughout Australia waiting for a solution.”
Mr Lewis said the domestic market for recycled glass had crashed due to cheap imports from overseas.
“Mums and dads want affordable groceries,” Mr Lewis said of local businesses’ decision to use imported glass.
Since stockpiling large amounts of waste is banned in NSW, Polytrade Recycling bags tonnes of glass and transports it for storage in nine warehouses in Victoria, Four Corners reported.
It also reported that the company shipped glass overseas under the premise it would be recycled there.
Mr Lewis predicted that the four councils serviced by Hunter Resource Recovery contributed about 50 tonnes of glass a day.
“It’s something that needs to be talked about because councils throughout Australia are struggling with it,” he said.
He said that Polytrade Recycling serviced about half of the councils in Australia and fellow industry heavyweight, Visy Recycling, faced the same issues.
“State and federal governments need to recognise this is a major problem. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of tonnes of glass stockpiled throughout Australia waiting for a solution.”
Mr Lewis said the NSW government’s container deposit scheme, in which drink containers can be returned for a 10 cent refund starting in December, would place further strain on a system that’s already battling to cope.
“It’s only going to add more product to the stream, putting more pressure on a system that’s already struggling,” he said.
Paterson MP Meryl Swanson said there was “clearly some issues further up the chain which might require investigation”.
“I think the local governments do a good job within the confines of their budget and powers,” she said.
“Waste is a big issue and I think at a federal level we do need to look into it.”