Bioelektra Group is aiming to dramatically improve national recycling rates, with plans to launch its unique source separation system to the Australian market.
In 2014-15, Australians produced about 64 million tonnes of waste, with almost 60 per cent recovered. Based on data from the federal-government commissioned National Waste Report 2016, waste generation is linked to population size, particularly for municipal solid waste (MSW).
When comparing 2006-07 to 2014-15, Australia’s population grew at an average of 1.5 per cent per year. The data shows waste generation is creeping up at a growth rate of 11 per cent of the nine-year period, or about 1.2 per cent per year. Looking at MSW, Australians generated about 13 metric tonnes, with about 51 per cent of this recovered.
The report says this is the lowest resource recovery rate of the three main waste streams – construction and demolition, commercial and industrial and MSW.
In one example of the challenges of waste management, the report notes in South Australia, contamination of kerbside bins continues to be a problem faced by composters and recyclers.
The challenges of reducing contamination have led some organisations to develop technologies that can deal with unsorted municipal waste in a clean and responsible way. Polish organisation Bioelektra Group is spearheading an international movement through its RotoSTERIL technology, which separates untreated organics, metals, glass, plastics and paper and recycles it into materials which can be sold onto end markets.
Fred Itaoui, Managing Director of Bioelektra Group, explains that the company has been operating in Poland for the past five years.
The innovative technology is based on a separation method known as mechanical heat treatment, which involves sterilising waste streams with steam, before sorting it into individual fractions and then recycling the materials.
Biolektra Group ran a pilot program in Poland for its heat treatment facility from 2010-12, located in the western Poland village of Róžanki. The success of the pilot led to the plant’s commercialisation in 2012 and it has been fully operational since.
The Polish facility now processes around 65,000 tonnes of waste per year and has the capability to divert up to 96 per cent of its municipal waste to landfill. In addition to MSW, the business also takes waste from the major generators, including commercial buildings, shopping centre and airports. The company has been contracted to process waste from some of Poland’s major waste collection companies, while also supporting materials recovery facilities by taking contaminant materials such as organics that go beyond their capabilities.
It’s now set its sights on Australia, with a plant pre-contracted in Sydney and awaiting approval, and it is expected to be fully operational by 2018.
“2017 has been the global launch of Bioelektra Group. At the moment, we’re talking to countries like Chile, Argentina, India, Iran, Turkey and Australia,” Fred says.
Fred explains the Australian facility will be set up as a recycling facility, with its main focus being waste to energy. It’s all part of an ambitious strategy to improve diversion rates for MSW, as Bioelektra Group hopes to help reduce the contamination rate of local government.
Fred says mechanical heat treatment technology gives waste companies greater confidence to ensure the material they process isn’t going to landfill. He argues some kerbside recycling schemes can experience difficulty reaching their targets, as not all residents are guaranteed to follow the rules.
As one example, a 2015 report by statutory authority Sustainability Victoria into statewide kerbside recycling behaviours showed 47 per cent of 456 people surveyed were not always aware plastic bags can contaminate garden/food waste.
“Segregation is very much reliant on everyone doing the right thing. If you get a street of 23 homes and two or three don’t do the right thing, then it contaminates all of the waste on that street and it can end up going to landfill,” Fred says.
“Instead of leaving it to the resident to decide what’s recyclable and what isn’t, we let the technology decide.”
In the United Kingdom, a 2007 report by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs argued mechanical heat treatment can help divert MSW from landfill when operated as part of a wider integrated approach with additional treatment stages.
As part of its integrated approach, Bioelektra Group’s process involves several stages. At its heat treatment facility in Róžanki, the process of source separation begins after the material is loaded into a reception hall. From there, it is reviewed to ensure there is no construction waste, metals or hazardous materials the system is unable to process. It then gets placed into a shredder and an autoclave, which sterilises the material. The material remains in the autoclave for up to three hours, which evaporates the waste by subjecting it to steam under pressure, and changes its volume.
The moist material then goes through an air dryer conveyor belt and the sanitised waste is separated. Organics, metals, glass, plastics and paper are processed on site and recycled into various end products.
“We get the waste up to about 180 degrees in temperature and about five bars of pressure so the outputs are clean,” Fred explains.
Organics are developed into biomass. Biomass is used for fuel and heat, as well as a fertiliser through compost. Out of every 100,000 tonnes of waste Bioelektra Group processes, the facility has the capacity to generate 20 megawatts of electricity.
“Because it’s clean and sterile, there are no emissions or fumes that emerge out of it and facilities can safely use it.”
Refuse-derived fuel is produced from combustible wastes such as non-recyclable plastics and paper, and Fred says discussions are already under way with Australian companies interested in purchasing the alternative fuel.
Glass is meanwhile separated and broken down in the form of a cullet. Fred says the glass can be used as an additive in brick walls.
“Once it’s clean and sterile it becomes a valuable source. There’s no stones and contaminant in it,” he adds.
Fred says 30–50 per cent of paper is separated mostly from multilayer packaging and turned into cellulose, with much of it being recycled as biomass. Metals, which include aluminium, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, are all magnetically separated and recycled, where they become clean and free from any paints or glues. The company also separates, washes and granulates a range of plastics for sale onto end users, including polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene, polyethylene and polystyrene.
With plans to enter the Australian market, Fred says the main challenge is now liaising with the environmental regulator.
“At the moment, within the New South Wales legislation, you can’t have a recycling facility that processes mixed waste, as there’s the perception that there’s no technology for it,” he says.
“It’s about changing how the legislation is interpreted and that’s something we’re talking with the Environmental Protection Authority about.”
Fred says the company has ambitious plans to influence the local waste management sector.
“Our goal as a company is to introduce our technology within the whole country and be able to change the way governments, waste companies and consumers think about recycling,” Fred says.
“We as a country are investing heavily into segregation, separation and educating the public about doing the right thing. But at the end of the line, we still have dirty waste we don’t want. Companies also end up stockpiling waste due to market conditions.
“With our technology we hope to change the policies of some of the government. We have the technology to achieve a 96 per cent diversion rate.”
Once the facility is operational, Fred says the end result will be a game changer.