Published on 07 November 2022

Recycling done right

The Southern Materials Recovery Facility (SMRF), located at Seaford Heights, is keeping pace with its commitment to process at least 31,000 tonnes annually of ‘yellow bin’ recyclables from more than 360,000 residents across southern Adelaide.

The SMRF—South Australia’s largest household recyclables facility—is 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.

Officially opened in October 2021, the SMRF celebrated its first birthday by winning Australia's prestigious "Outstanding Facility Award" at the 2022 Waste Innovation and Recycling Awards last month, with now a better time than ever to reflect on its success during National Recycling Week (7-13 November).

Since the SMRF started receiving loads from partnering councils in July 2021 , an average of 120 tonnes of material arrives five days a week aboard kerbside trucks and walking floor trailers.

The delivery of a $5.35 million federal government Community Development Grant in early 2021 boosted the state-of-the-art 4400m2 plant’s capacity to handle more than 60,000 tonnes of household paper, plastic, metal and glass coming from the three partnering councils as well as other regional councils and commercial business customers.

A further $3.14m in joint state and federal government funding via the Recycling Modernisation Fund has helped to install additional innovative optical and robotic glass sorting systems. The use of the resultant glass sand in council road and civil construction projects is supporting the City of Onkaparinga’s role in the development of a recycling circular economy in South Australia.

Re.Group plant manager John Kathiniotis says his team of 18 full-time staff are “the best at what they do” in using advanced manufacturing skills to operate the machinery and produce excellent quality recovered materials.

“As sophisticated as the machines are, though, they’re not perfect. Our team works alongside the technology to ensure the maximum amount of recyclable material is being collected, and to pick out as many things as possible that shouldn’t be in the recycling stream,” John says.  

A few things still sneak past the keen eyes of the staff on the pre-sorting line. In the year since the SMRF opened, several conveyor belts have been torn because of undesirable objects coming through the system, costing around $15,000 each to repair and up to 16 hours of lost production.

“Metal, for example, is an interesting resource. We somewhat encourage metal because it’s a great product for recycling. Unfortunately, though, metal items come in various shapes and sizes and have caused significant damage at the facility. Just one object such as a star dropper, gardening tool—a shovel head or pickaxe—a steel pipe, length of chain or a car part can lodge itself and destroy our optical sorter conveyor belt,” John says.

Other unwanted items in inbound material that are of significant concern include textiles such as clothing and bedding which wrap around the spindles of the machinery; timber, wood, building materials and hoses which create blockages; LP gas and helium cylinders which have the potential to explode and cause small fires when compressed in bales; and batteries, especially those containing lithium which leak fluid and generate heat when crushed or compressed, causing small smoulders or fires.

Lessening the degree of contamination in resources entering the recycling stream will help to reduce the volume of materials being sent to landfill, currently calculated at 13 per cent.

Council’s Waste and Recycling Education Officer Lynda Wedding says yellow bins aren’t a catch-all for every kind of recyclable material.

“We’re still getting the message through to the community that the yellow bin is for household packaging. There are other avenues for recyclable materials outside of kerbside collection,” Lynda says.

The latest upgrade at the SMRF is the installation of robotic arms to better facilitate the collection of container deposit legislation (CDL) beverage containers that arrive on the conveyor belt. An audit of household bins conducted by the City of Onkaparinga in 2019 estimated that each year, $600,000 worth of containers capable of fetching a 10-cent refund each are disposed of in yellow bins, along with $400,000 worth in red bins going directly to landfill, and $20,000 worth in green organics bins which contaminate the resource.

Individuals, community groups, sporting clubs and charities are encouraged to collect CDL containers and take them to local bottle depots to claim the refund for themselves.

Council will conduct another audit of household bins in November this year, coinciding with National Recycling Week from 7-11 November. The results of the audit will drive operational and service outcomes and feedback to the community on what’s being done well in terms of recycling.

“The audit will also direct council’s efforts to increase education about how residents and businesses can improve their choices about what’s going into their yellow bins,” Lynda says. 


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An aerial view of the new SMRF showing its high tech machinery.