New tech tackles plastic farm waste

La Trobe University researchers will tackle the urgent issue of plastic waste on farms as part of a new partnership with Victorian start-up company Ritchie Technology (Rtec™).

Funded by a Circular Economy Markets Fund grant from the Victorian Government through Sustainability Victoria, the project will investigate how agricultural plastic waste can be recycled.

Using Rtec's technology, plastics such as baling twine, nets, covers and fertiliser bags will be melted down and used to make products such as fence posts and shipping pallets, which will then be tested by La Trobe experts for end-market use.

Lead researcher at La Trobe University, Associate Professor Ing Kong, said that the project could offer a solution to Australia's current recycling crisis, helping move Victoria a step closer to a Circular Economy.

"This technology can take plastic that we previously sent off-shore for processing, melt it down locally and extrude something we can use to make new products," Associate Professor Kong said.

"We will then test the various applications of this recycled plastic - for example simulating how a fence post will stand up to 30 years of sun exposure or 10 years of heavy rain - to ensure its fit for purpose."

Rtec Founder Dr William Ritchie said the new technology is a win for both the environment and the agriculture sector.

"Disposing of plastic waste can be a significant additional cost for farmers, and we know that many in the industry either send plastic to landfill or even burn it because they don't have another option," Dr Ritchie said.

"The technology will allow farmers to not only recycle this plastic, but potentially benefit from selling the recycled product back to plastics manufacturers."

As part of the project, a prototype of the machine will be built and tested in the lab at La Trobe University's Bendigo campus, melting down plastic waste and exuding it in a granular form that can be moulded into new products.

More about the Circular Economy Markets Fund: Materials

  • This project is supported by the Circular Economy Markets Fund. The Fund is delivered by Sustainability Victoria under the Victorian Government's circular economy policy, Recycling Victoria: a new economy.
  • The Fund provides grants to support research institutes, industry and business to develop and commercialise innovative, new products and processes that incorporate recycled materials.
  • 22 projects will share in $4.96 million in grants under the Fund.
  • The La Trobe project with Rtec received $145,000 in funding from the Circular Economy Markets Fund and will run for 18 months.
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