The recycling market has become more complex than ever in the last few years.
While some sectors such as manufacturing have benefited from the increase in commodity prices, others have been hit hard.
A new report shows the recycling industry has not been able to keep up with the increasing demand.
The report is the first to analyse how the industry is changing, and the extent to which they are meeting the demand for recycled materials.
The authors say recycling is becoming more and more expensive and that it is not sustainable for consumers to continue to use what they can recycle.
“If we are going to have a sustainable economy in the future, we need to find ways to make recycling as cost-effective as possible,” said Dr Joanne Cappelletti, the senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.
The researchers looked at the costs of recycled materials in Australia.
They compared the cost of recycled material in 2016 to that in 2020.
“In a few months, the market is expected to grow by 30 per cent,” she said.
“There’s been a huge boom in the amount of recycled waste, but we’ve also had a lot of money invested in the recycling of material.”
The study also looked at how the prices for materials have changed over time.
The most expensive material, aluminium, has gone from $13 per tonne in 2012 to $18 per tonnes in 2020, but the price of recycled aluminium has increased by 25 per cent.
Dr Cappellietti said the market has not changed dramatically in the past decade and is still not in the “low-hanging fruit” of high-value materials.
“The fact that aluminium prices have gone up at the same rate over the past few years is a little bit troubling because it suggests that the market may be moving in that direction,” she explained.
“I do think the market for aluminium is going to be more resilient in the longer term because we are seeing the market continue to grow, even if it’s at a very slower pace.”
The report also looked to what has happened to the demand.
“As recycling costs have gone down, demand for materials has also gone up,” Dr Capple said.
The research found the demand has shifted from low-value material to high-cost materials such as paper and cardboard.
“Over the past five years, the amount that is being recycled is actually up from around 20 per cent to over 40 per cent of the total demand,” she added.
The biggest cost drivers were energy and water.
While energy has become cheaper in recent years, water and water treatment plants are still expensive to build.
Dr Carr said the research suggested the market was not being able to adapt to the increasing need for recycling.
“We’re seeing that demand is not being met by existing materials, which is a very big problem because that would have been the best way to meet demand for the material in the first place,” she noted.
“So, I would say that the fact that there is no longer a strong demand for that material is a huge problem.”
The paper and paperboard sectors are also in the spotlight.
The paper industry has seen its paper prices skyrocket in recent times.
The cost of paper has risen by 30 to 40 per year since the 1980s, but paperboard prices have also increased.
“It is hard to see how these prices are sustainable,” Dr Carr noted.
The study was based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and was released on Tuesday.