Cubed stacks of processed paper and cardboard sit in neat piles in a storage shed at the Southern Materials Recovery Faciliity.

Published on 27 July 2023

Onkaparinga's War on Waste

Seaford Heights’ award-winning and cutting-edge recycling facility, which processes the yellow-bin recyclables of more than 360,000 southern residents, featured on the new season of ABC’s War on Waste this week.

Host Craig Reucassel visited the Southern Materials Recovery Facility (SMRF) earlier this year to get a peek behind the curtain at what happens once our recyclables reach “one of Australia’s best facilities”, and discuss how we can play our part to recycle as much as possible.

You can check out the episode—the first of the new season—on ABC iview now, with the SMRF featuring from about 21 minutes and 25 seconds in.

The SMRF, which opened in October 2021, is SA’s largest household recyclables facility and it’s a joint initiative of the Southern Region Waste Resource Authority (SRWRA), a subsidiary of Onkaparinga, Marion and Holdfast Bay councils, and Australian recycling and resource recovery specialist Re.Group. It won Australia's prestigious “Outstanding Facility Award" at the 2022 Waste Innovation and Recycling Awards last year.

Recycling reminders

The War on Waste segment features a lengthy chat between Reucassel and Re.Group’s Chief Development Officer, Garth Lamb, offering some timely insights into the dos and don’ts of recycling while showcasing the high-tech capabilities of the SMRF.

While the SMRF has cutting-edge technology such as robots and seven optical sorters that can differentiate between paper, cardboard and five different types of plastic, Reucassel notes that “before the recycling is sorted, the frustrating task of weeding out contaminants is done by hand”.

He points out supermarket bags, polystyrene boxes and other items among the piles of recyclables that can’t be recycled, while Lamb offers some useful reminders about things not to put into your yellow bin such as loose plastic lids smaller than a credit card.

Soft plastics, which were once recyclable under the REDcycle scheme, are not currently accepted at the SMRF, though SRWRA is open to exploring their collection once there’s a viable end market for the material.

Other items mentioned in the show include large metal items (keep an eye out for the large ironing board and construction waste pulled from the conveyor belts), which can damage the SMRF’s equipment, and gas bottles/butane cans, which are highly dangerous when compacted.

For more information on how you can play your part, including what you can and can’t recycle, and other options for disposing everyday products and household items, visit the A-Z disposal guide on the City of Onkaparinga’s website.

How the SMRF is helping to fight the War on Waste

Reucassel also winds back the clock to discuss how Australia once sent a lot of its recyclables overseas for processing until China made the decision in 2018 to all but ban their importation.

“[This] forced us into finding solutions for recycling our own rubbish here in Australia,” he says.

Enter the SMRF as an innovative and home-grown solution to the China National Sword policy. The facility not only takes the yellow-bin recyclables from Onkaparinga, Marion and Holdfast Bay councils, it services the councils across the Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island too, processing more than 40,000 tonnes each year.

And, as the facility’s capability increases, recycled materials from the SMRF will be used increasingly by the councils in civil and road construction works.

“The bans [from China] were a fantastic idea…” says Lamb of the decision that sparked the idea for the SMRF. “They are absolutely pushing us and everyone to make higher quality products and to invest locally, and that’s what’s happening.”

The SMRF received a $5.35 million federal government Community Development Grant in 2021, as well as a further $3.14 million in joint state and federal government funding via the Recycling Modernisation Fund.

While the SMRF isn't currently open for public tours because it's an industrial site, SRWRA is looking at ways to showcase it digitally in the future.

Onkaparinga’s War on Waste

The City of Onkaparinga is fighting the war on waste on many fronts, on top of its involvement with SRWRA and the SMRF.

The council has a waste education team that provides a range of resources, advice, educational support and practical guidance to residents, community groups, schools and businesses.

It also provides sustainability rebates, composting subsidies, the Waste Nott recycling store, litter clean-up kits, free green organics drop-offs and hard waste and mattress collections, among a range of other ways it diverts waste from landfill.

For more information visit council’s website.