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    Chris Sounness.

$50-million plastics potential to reduce waste


A $50-million national project to tackle Australia’s plastic-pollution challenges might help open the door for further exploration into agricultural value-adding opportunities across the Wimmera-Mallee.

A CSIRO Ending Plastic Waste Mission, which includes a proposal to pursue compostable plastic from food waste, has caught the attention of regional development leaders.

Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said the CSIRO’s program aim to reduce Australian plastic waste by 80 percent in the next decade had the potential to open future new agricultural-product doors.

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“In agriculture we rightfully talk about production of food, but producing plastics from food-waste by-product could well represent a new frontier that includes a variety of value-adding products,” he said.

“As research delves further into what we can produce, we’re expecting more value-adding food-crop opportunities to emerge – but also with the potential for these opportunities to expand further afield.

“Often it’s about taking ideas and working with entrepreneurs and farmers and starting with little projects and supporting initiative. Then over time, it’s about building scale and generating pathways.”

Industry, government, university and other organisations are investing an initial $50-million in the Ending Plastic Waste Mission, designed to change the way Australia makes, uses, recycles and disposes of plastics.

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said global expectations were that plastic use would double by 2040 and a response 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,” he 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.”

Mission work that might offer broadacre farming opportunities is 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 percent compostable products.

“Our compostable bioplastics will break down in compost, landfill or in water, without leaving a trace,” he said. 

The hub’s first key project will be working with Ecopha Biotech 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.

An idea of creating biodegradable plastic from crop waste or oilseeds through plastic-extrusion technology surfaced at Horsham’s Grains Innovation Park about 30 years ago.

Mr Sounness said a new CSIRO roadmap into how Australia could produce a wider range of high-quality protein products to help feed the world and capture a $13-billion market also reflected the region’s value-adding potential.

“It’s important to realise that we’re manufacturing, in our region, only one percent of the primary commodity we’re growing, into food and other products. If we could lift that to as little as two percent it equates to hundreds of millions of dollars. But it takes time for an idea to become reality,” he said.

“The growth of Australian Plant Proteins in the Wimmera is proof of what can evolve from a relatively small regional project. And there are further opportunities arising out of this. With the CSIRO working with government and industry at a national level it is helping to galvanise the philosophy surrounding value-adding opportunities for our broadacre productivity.”

The CSIRO report ‘Protein: A roadmap for unlocking technology-led growth opportunities for Australia’ identifies opportunities that include new plant-based products, turning lesser cuts of red meat into value-added protein powders and nutraceuticals, developing higher-protein and better-tasting legume crops, creating a new sustainable white-flesh fish industry and exploring cultivated meat and edible insects.

The entire March 23, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!