'Imagine having to walk kilometres every time you needed water; would you be so willing to leave the tap running?'
Plastic Forests managing director David Hodge put this to his nine-year-old as he explained what he does for work and why.
Ten years later, Australia's complacency towards waste is even more clear to Mr Hodge, as he leads the first company in the world dry-cleaning and recycling plastic films.
"Everything's become so easy for us, and the easiness has created a wastefulness," he said.
"People should be saying, 'Do I need this plastic thing for 10 seconds to keep my kids happy while they eat, which will then become landfill?'
"The world's production of plastic is 300 million tonnes and in the next few years that's going to increase by 40 per cent.
"We need to be looking at how to re-purpose it."
While there are "natural markets" for recycling hard plastics like milk bottles, Mr Hodge said "nobody wanted film plastics" and even less wanted films dirty with fodder or food.
And so Plastic Forests was created in 2010 to recycle contaminated plastic films.
The business moved at the end of 2017 from Strathmerton to North Albury, where plastics from across the country are dry-cleaned, broken down, and processed into resin which is either sold or used in-house to make products such as underground cable cover and garden edging.
One of Plastic Forests' inventions is a 'mini wheel stop' to help you park in the garage, made from nearly 200 plastic bags and other mixed materials.
Mr Hodge said talks were underway with major retailers about the item.
"We make products people want to use," he said.
"The big difference with us is we don't use water.
"A normal wet-wash plant uses anywhere between 3 to 6 litres of water to clean each kilogram of plastic.
"With the technology we created, we became the first dry-cleaning plant in the world."
A 'multi-layer extruder' that once made Ford fuel tanks is among the machinery used to process resin.
The NSW EPA covered half the cost to buy the machine and have just opened the next round of $7 million in product improvement grants.
Mr Hodge said the EPA's support had been crucial to keep up with demand as a result of China's restrictions on recycling imports.
"We started experimenting with the distressed plastic material from China in about March last year after the ban came out in January," he said.
"It was out of control by June; everybody was in full-on panic mode as they'd hit their stockpile limits.
"That's when they started sending material to us for processing."
Mr Hodge is among those who have a solution to the plastic problem.
But what's stopping Plastic Forests' supply taking off is gaps in the end-market.
"We have one off-taker who makes builders film, but they only use about 4500 tonnes a year and there's 500,000 tonnes a year processed," Mr Hodge said.
"That's why we've been on this journey to make more products.
"And when people go to Bunnings, they need to be picking the Australian-made product that costs $21 over the one from India that costs $19."
Mr Hodge will be speaking at a Waste Summit about what needs to change to create a circular, rather than a linear, economy.
"There's things the government can do to help; they could make Australian products GST-free," he said.
"But the big thing is every everybody's buying choice determines an outcome.
"If everybody didn't buy the fruit wrapped in plastic, they wouldn't be sold."
Ban on electrical products in landfill from next month
Border residents will no longer be able to bin their unwanted electrical goods from July 1.
A Victorian government ban on e-waste going into landfill is coming into effect, and as messaging and infrastructure is largely shared in this region, Halve Waste councils on both sides of the border are participating.
North East councils have been accepting some forms of e-waste - mostly TVs and computers - since 2010, with about 140 tonnes going to Sydney for reprocessing.
But now residents must take anything with a plug, battery or cord to an approved collection point.
Sustainability Victoria Resource Recovery director Matt Genever said $15 million was being spent to upgrade collection points, including at all our councils.
"E-waste is growing three times faster than general municipal waste and there is a lot of valuable material in e-waste we can recover like copper," he said.
"There are also parts that can be harmful to human health that we want to keep out of landfill.
"The vast majority of e-waste gets processed in Melbourne and that's not unlike most recycling streams.
"We'd hope the ban will throw up opportunities for additional re-processers to come into the market, including in the North East.
"The South Australian experience told us councils and the recycling industry were able to cope very well with the ban coming in, but it also told us councils needed some help to make sure they had the right infrastructure in place," he said.
All seven north east councils have received infrastructure funding, mainly to build sheds and ensure safe collection of products.
Wodonga Council received a $99,000 grant through Sustainability Victoria for an e-waste shed at the transfer station, and will be taking e-waste items for free (excluding refrigerated goods and solar panels).
Most appliances will be accepted at Albury Waste Management Centre for free for the next year.
There are also a number of businesses that accept products for recycling programs including Officeworks.
EPA Victoria will be responsible for compliance of the ban, and Mr Genever said it would be "up to each council" to decide whether there would be additional charges to consumers to drop off e-waste.
"It's not about running around checking household bins; the compliance is about the point where e-waste is aggregated at a recycling facility of a council transfer station," he said.
"What we're trying to do is, rather than threaten Victorians with compliance activity, make sure they know there is a place they can go to drop off their waste so it can be recycled."
Waste target to be achieved on time
The Border region is edging closer to achieving the Australian-first target of reducing the amount of waste buried in landfill by 50 per cent.
The Halve Waste initiative involving Albury, Wodonga, Towong, Indigo, Greater Hume, and Federation councils was created in 2010.
Albury's waste management team leader Andrea Baldwin said a new ban on e-waste would assist the target.
"We are currently sitting at 48 per cent (reduction in waste going to landfill) and our goal is 50 per cent by June 2020," she said.
"That equates to about 15,000 or 16,000 tonnes we still have to divert from landfill.
"We're burying around 88,000 tonnes in landfill at the moment, just over half of the waste coming in."
All of the kerbside waste collected through the three-bin system goes to the Albury Waste Management Centre in the first instance, where it is weighed and goes through pre-reprocessing.
The organics materials from the green bin are shredded and bulk-hauled to the closest compost facility, and currently it is sent to Wagga.
About half of the region's recycling is sent to Cleanaway's materials recovery facility in Lavington, one of two MRFs in the region.
The Lavington MRF takes more than 13,300 tonnes annually of recyclable material such as plastics, steel and cardboard, which is sorted, cleaned of contamination and transported to local and offshore markets.
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Ms Baldwin said the product provided from council had a low contamination rate of eight per cent.
"Most have a 15 per cent contamination rate and it would be ideal to continue to improve that," she said.
"We have about 240,000 tonnes a year of organics product that is sent to the nearest compost facility.
"It would be fantastic to have a facility within our Halve Waste council areas that could accept large tonnage."
A spokeswoman said Cleanaway "was continuing to work with council and local businesses to explore alternate uses for the food and garden organics collected".
"We currently process more than 22,000 tonnes of food organic and garden organic material from the Albury, Wodonga, Indigo Federation and Corowa regions to turn this material into compost," she said.
The need for "increased capacity for organics processing" was also identified by the North East Waste and Resource Recovery Group in their 2017 implementation ban.
A number of actions identified in the plan are progressing; both Wangaratta and Wodonga have started with hard and film plastic collections in the last two years and the viability of such collections in surrounding shires will be investigated within a year.
NEWRGG predicts that with China's ban on certain imports and the e-waste ban, there is "a good chance that industry will set up along the Hume Highway and create regional or state-significant hubs".
Engagement and project manager Kim Mueller said other areas of waste continued to be a focus, including textiles.
"The community can assist by thinking before they buy and considering better choices in terms of quality materials, which will last longer than cheaper products," she said.
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