CISIRO on a mission to end plastic waste

Less than 12 perr cent of plastic waste is recycled and about 85 per cent ends up in landfill.

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, will tackle Australia’s plastic pollution challenges, pledging to help Australia reduce its plastic waste by 80 per cent over this decade.

An initial $50M will be invested in CSIRO’s Ending Plastic Waste Mission funded through contributions by CSIRO, industry, government, university, and other organisations and will develop cutting-edge science and innovation to change the way Australia makes, uses, recycles and disposes of plastics. 

Australians consume one million tonnes of single use plastic each year – with just 12 per cent recycled. Three-quarters of the plastic found along Australia’s coastline is single-use plastics.

With global use of plastic expected to double by 2040, CSIRO’s Chief Executive Larry Marshall said the challenge was far bigger than any one institution and needed a Team Australia approach. 

“The Ending Plastic Waste Mission will bring together the whole innovation system, from government, industry and academia to turn science into solutions that will benefit the environment and create economic opportunities for Australia,” Dr Marshall said.

“By working together, by aligning our efforts, and by pushing each other further for a common cause, we can tackle seemingly impossible challenges – like protecting our environment while making sustainability profitable for business. And we can achieve it faster.”

The plastic waste industry is valued globally at about $87 billion and developing circular economy plastic initiatives for recycling is expected to provide US$67 billion in value globally by 2025. 

CSIRO and Murdoch University are developing 100% compostable bioplastics which can break down in compost, land or water, without leaving a trace. Credit: Murdoch University

“By turning plastic waste into a renewable resource, the Mission will deliver collaborative scientific and manufacturing capabilities to drive new technologies across the entire plastics supply chain and grow Australia’s circular economy,” Dr Marshall said.

Mission Lead Dr Deborah Lau said it would take a combination of solutions to address the plastic pollution problem.

“Our mission will be the national catalyst for systematic change to tackle plastic pollution,” Dr Lau said.

“It will drive a significant co-ordinated response across the innovation sector and bring science and technology to the forefront to help deliver a myriad of solutions to end plastic waste.” 

Research under the mission includes:

  • Changing the way we make, use, and recycle plastics by developing innovative technologies, materials, products and processes.
  • Supporting a sustainable plastics circular economy by utilising plastic waste to deliver economic benefits, while reducing the detrimental impacts to human health and the environment.  
  • Revolutionising packaging and waste systems; generating effective solutions for recycling; advising on the development and implementation of standards; analytics and machine learning to inform decision making; and creating systemic change.

The Mission includes a collaboration between CSIRO and Murdoch University to establish a new Bioplastics Innovation Hub. 

Murdoch University Professor Daniel Murphy said the Hub would develop a new generation of 100 per cent compostable products like bottles, caps and wrappers, which currently contribute to the plastic pollution problem.

“Compostable bioplastic demand is predicted to increase rapidly as global concerns around plastic waste and fossil fuel resources increase the importance of bio-based plastic alternatives,” Prof Murphy said.

“Some bioplastics are already in the market but most need UV light to breakdown. Our compostable bioplastics will breakdown in compost, landfill or in water, without leaving a trace.” 

The first key project for the hub will be working with Ecopha Biotech Pty Ltd to develop a new process for water bottle production using compostable bioplastics derived from waste products from the food industry.

“New bioplastics innovations will provide industry with new commercialisation opportunities and build sustainable and economic opportunities to grow Australia’s bio-manufacturing industries,” Prof Murphy said.

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