Rottnest Island Authority overcame its remote location and limited resources with a project to reduce glass waste and its associated transportation and disposal costs.
Have you heard of the Recyclosaurus? This beast is native to Rottnest Island, a short boat ride from Fremantle.
This isn’t, however, an ancient remnant of the Jurassic period. It’s a very modern solution to the tourist isle’s problem of a glut of waste glass.
Rottnest Island is regarded as Perth’s paradise playground, with a landmass of 19 square kilometres and a permanent population of just over 100. But with half a million tourists attracted to its beaches and bays each year, it has unique waste challenges. Rottnest Island Authority’s (RIA) environmental policy undertakes to “take responsibility for waste derived from island activities by implementing waste avoidance, reuse and recycling strategies”.
In 1996, Rottnest Island introduced the first public place recycling program in Western Australia, which included more than 70 recycling stations across the island for the separation of glass, plastic and aluminium. These were sorted and processed on the island’s transfer station then ferried to the mainland.
As the island’s economy revolves around tourism, it has lots of hospitality businesses. All those servings of beers, wines, spirits and sodas lead to a plethora of glass in recycling bins. Glass accounts for an estimated eight per cent of Rottnest Island’s waste stream – 100 tonnes a year – which used to be ferried to the mainland for disposal or recycling, costing RIA around $45,000 annually to manage.
As a result, RIA set about introducing the “Glass Crusher Project”. The goal was to introduce glass crushing and reuse on Rottnest Island, reduce the glass waste sent to Perth, with its inherent transportation and handling costs, and offset importation of aggregate material.
Funding and preparations
The project was co-funded between RIA, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the Australian Packaging Covenant, and the Waste Authority through the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Account.
Environmental Manager Shane Kearney is the project manager and led the team for the glass crusher implementation.
“We applied for the APC grant because we felt it was a good return for both agencies, based on a 50/50 investment,” he says.
The grant was for $62,500, based on RIA providing the additional 50 per cent of the funding. The project contract was approved for go ahead in July 2014. Preparing the beast RIA bought the Italian-manufactured Komplet Mill Track M 5000 glass-crushing machine for around $100,000 from New South Wales-based supplier Jaws Crushers. It arrived on Rottnest Island 27 August 2014 and was sited at the transfer station for storage and operation.
“We used some of the funding to build some infrastructure for it, including a storage shed to shelter the plant from salt spray, rain, sun, wind and dust, and a water system,” explains Shane. “We also brought in two pre-fabricated concrete storage bays, one for the raw recyclable glass and for the crushed glass product.”
Once it was installed, RIA held three induction and training sessions, in late August and then again in March 2015, or the operational staff. Mechanics were then given a separate induction on plant orientation and maintenance.
Operated by remote control, the machine comprises a mill with swinging hammers, an unloading conveyor belt and a feeding conveyor built in a wide loading hopper. It can process the likes of rubble, concrete, marble, gypsum and glass into a reusable fine material.
“We started stockpiling the collected glass in August 2014 so we could use it as part of the training. After that, we left it to accumulate again over the busy summer tourist period to see how long it would take for the storage bays to become full.”
As training and induction on the glass crusher started, RIA started a publicity campaign to drum up public and media awareness in the project, as well as fulfilling grant commitments.
The RIA marketing team ran a “Naming the Beast” competition. The person providing the chosen name for the glass crusher would win an island day trip for two, including activities and tour of the transfer station.
Promoted on the Rottnest Island website and Facebook page between 30 September and 13 October, the campaign reached over 4,000 people and attracted 52 competition entries. The winning name was “Recyclosaurus”, which was printed on stickers and affixed to the machine.
“It was a good campaign,” says Shane. “We ended up with various names and the winners came along to the island and had their photo taken with the marked-up Recyclosaurus. It worked well.”
Implementing the project
RIA set about implementing the project with Hotel Rottnest and The Rottnest Lodge, whose bars created large quantities of glass waste. The venues created dedicated glass separation facilities within the bar and kitchen areas. They reduced and reconfigured the number and type of bins within the yards to increase efficiency and reduce effort. This included replacing their yellow 240-litre recycling bins with blue 1,000-litre, clearly labelled bins, which were marked at intervals so that staff could quickly and accurately see how full they were.
Changing the bins also led to a more efficient collection service, as a maximum of only four bins need to be handled and emptied each time, compared with upwards of 12 previously. This reduced labour costs.
The venues both started collecting glass on 1 September 2014, with the first delivery to the transfer station a fortnight later. The RIA concurrently introduced a monitoring program to improve understanding of the glass output to see how it was affected by seasons, events and the venues. To test the capacity of the storage bays and to inform appropriate scheduling of the crushing operations, RIA delayed bulk crushing during the peak summer period.
“By April, the storage bays had reached capacity and we needed to crush again,” says Shane. “This told us that in future it would be useful to empty the bays before peak season, and undertake a bulk crushing by April at the latest to avoid overflow and waste.”
Collection results and contamination events
Between starting collection and 10 May 2015, RIA collected 22.6 tonnes of glass from both venues, the most (14.25 tonnes) from Hotel Rottnest, which generated approximately 20 cubic metres of recycled crushed glass.
January and April were peak months for glass waste by weight and volume, with more than four tonnes collected in those months, while 27 per cent of all glass generated occurred in December and January, with production of waste glass increasing by 100 per cent in the December to April peak tourist period.
RIA is now hoping to expand the glass collection scheme from more points across the island. However, contamination is an issue that needs to be addressed first.
During the first phase, just under 5 per cent of the glass waste stream was contaminated with the likes of plastic bottles, wine bottle caps, wood and cardboard. In February 2015, a contamination incident resulted in some glass waste being sent for landfill disposal, as RIA did not have the capacity to sort the product once collected.
“Contamination clogs up the machine and slows the operation down,” explains Shane. “So we’ve been working with the hotels to manage that, to do more education with staff and provide indoor bin separation systems that work.”
Shane says improving this issue is all about behavioural change, bringing people to a point where, for example, they don’t throw plastic bottle caps or corks in the bins.
Making the process more efficient is also high on RIA’s agenda before rolling it out to more commercial businesses and the public litter bins.
“We need to look at how often we operate the glass crusher and in what way. For example, we’re investigating more efficient and cost-effective ways of handling and processing the waste,” adds Shane.
With RIA now in the peak summer collection period again, it has yet to confirm an ongoing schedule for collection and crushing, although waste glass still comes in every week in varied amounts. The 2015/16 experience will help to inform a way forward for when additional venues join the collection program.
End markets and broader roll-out
RIA is currently investigating ways to use the recycled crushed glass product and potential end markets.
“So far, we’ve only processed 23 tonnes, which isn’t a lot of material. We’ve trialled it by mixing RCG with various ratios of crushed limestone in walking trail and surfacing applications,” says Shane.
RIA is looking for innovative ways to use the sand-like end product in the island’s small, light civil works projects, such as footpaths.
Within a year of launching the project, RIA is starting to realise significant savings, with return on investment expected to be achieved within years, thanks to the initial APC grant.
“We’re saving up to $20,000 a year in transporting the material off the island,” Shane says. “We’ll then be able to offset the cost of the sand or aggregate materials we’d normally need to buy and bring to the island.”
The glass crusher project is the latest step in a strategy to close the loop on waste streams on Rottnest Island. Shane says that the trial and following broader implementation of glass recycling is a precursor to moving to a food and garden organics recovery program, which RIA is currently planning as it works towards adopting targets for zero waste to landfill.
In the meantime, the focus is on adding more of the island’s hospitality venues to the collection service, which could generate another estimated 10 tonnes of RCG product annually, before expanding it further to its public litter bins and residents.
“We’re really quite proud of the project, and there have been a lot of learnings,” reflects Shane. “It’s an operational and culture shift. The technical side is easier than instigating the behavioural change in people. It’s part of a change in how people view waste as a resource and not a redundant product.”
The APC has a full report on the project on its website.