Remanufacturing in Victoria

Last updated: 27 April 2021

By Sustainable Resource Use

Originally published as part of the August-October 2020 Recovered resources market bulletin

Over many decades Victoria has been generally been well served by the scale and variety of its remanufacturing opportunities. Over time, the expansion of materials for recycling has seen us rely more heavily on export markets for our remanufacturing.

Beyond kerbside collected materials, Victoria has strong infrastructure for processing major materials such as concrete, bricks, steel. The deficiencies lie in the lack of capacity for materials such as organics, textiles, timber non-packaging plastics and rubber.

For kerbside sourced materials, the following is a summary of the current state of remanufacturing.

Paper & cardboard

For a long while Victoria had five or six major plants to process paper and cardboard. This has now been reduced to three. Visy Recycling at Coolaroo takes large quantities of fibre packaging into their operations for packaging production. Opal, (formally Australian Paper), a division of Nippon Paper, operates the Latrobe Valley site producing both packaging grades and printing and writing grade paper.

Huhtamaki operates the nation's largest moulded fibre plant in Preston producing egg cartons and a range of other moulded fibre products.

With the closure of the Norske Skog Mill in Albury less than a year ago, the production of newsprint and magazine papers has ceased. Large volumes of cardboard are imported each year and the current sites are not able to absorb all of our end of life paper and cardboard into production.

Glass

There is one Victorian facility that remanufactures glass packaging back into new bottles. The Spotswood glass plant has recently been acquired by Visy Glass from Owens Illinois. Its production allows it to take a large proportion of used glass packaging (cullet), subject to the quality and the right mix of colours.

Prior to being used at Spotswood, the collected glass needs to be processed removing contaminants and colour sorting through a process known as beneficiation. There have been three beneficiation plants in Victoria, but this was reduced to two in the middle of last year, currently making it difficult to achieve high recycling rates. Large volumes are sent to Alex Fraser and other sites for processing into sand for road construction, and landfill cover. A third beneficiation plant is seen as crucial to allow the majority of Victorian glass back into bottles and jars, rather than being downcycled.

Plastics

Despite having a much higher level of plastics recycling capacity than other states, Victoria is deficient in reprocessing capacity for almost all plastic polymers. Some recently opened or planned facilities will help to redress this but will not go close to the capacity required to meet plastic packaging targets or reasonable levels of non-packaging plastic recycling. Of greatest need is plants to process consumer packaging, mainly polyethylene and polypropylene. Recycling of durable plastics in the form of automotive parts, carpet and clothing will need major feedstock specific remanufacturing facilities. As the home of the two remaining virgin plastic plants, recycled material has a stronger market competitor in Victoria.

Metals

Currently Victoria has no facilities that can remanufacture tin plated steel packaging or aluminium cans. These are all exported.

So what's required?

The most needed remanufacturing capacity in Victoria (with a kerbside material focus) appears to be:

  • Glass packaging beneficiation.
  • Rigid polyethylene reprocessing.
  • Flexible polyethylene reprocessing.
  • Polypropylene reprocessing.

The state could also benefit from expanded remanufacturing of:

  • Newsprint and magazines reprocessing into moulded fibre.
  • Mixed paper reprocessing into cleaned pulp products.
  • PET reprocessing.
  • PVC reprocessing.
  • Polyurethane reprocessing.
  • Tin plate steel can recycling integration into local steel smelting.
  • Aluminium can recycling integration into local aluminium smelting.