Waste of the nation

Waste Management Review speaks to Australia’s first Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans about his future priorities.

The Liberal Government’s May re-election saw a shakeup of the Department of Environment and Energy. While Energy Minister Angus Taylor retained his position, Melissa Price, who served as Environment Minister from August 2018, was replaced with Sussan Ley.

Cabinet shakeups aren’t uncommon following an election, and as such, the appointment of a new Environment Minister was not particularly noteworthy on its own. What was significant, however, was the introduction of an entirely new parliamentary portfolio, the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management.

The role was awarded to Queensland Member of Parliament Trevor Evans, who has held the seat of Brisbane since 2016. He is one of the youngest MPs elected to the House of Representatives.

Waste Management Review spoke to Trevor in June.

According to Trevor, Minister Ley will still hold final responsibility for all matters inside the portfolio. His role as assistant minister will be to assist in the fulfilment of waste targets and policy drafting.

“As my title suggests, I have a particular focus on the government’s initiatives and funding around waste reduction and recycling, and some of our environmental management,” Trevor explains.

“This new role is a really exciting one for me personally, as I’ve always been an incredibly passionate advocate for Australia’s unique environment.”

As a child, Trevor says he wanted to be a zookeeper because of his love of Australian animals.

“Instead, I find myself in the house of animals that is Parliament House,” he jokes.

“I’m taking the passion that I’ve always had for our local environment, building on a lot of local work I’ve done in my Brisbane electorate on conservation and bringing those passions to this role.”

Highlighting the importance of industry led initiatives was a common thread throughout Waste Management Review’s conversation with Trevor, who before entering politics served as National Retail Association President.

“I’ve done a lot of work at the coalface when industry meets consumer demand,” Trevor says.

“I was there at quite an interesting time, where industry and the retail sector were starting to react and plan for the first product stewardship schemes.”

Trevor says it’s this background that informs his belief that private sector is best placed to deal with the complexities of individual product areas and international supply chains.

Trevor plans to use his new position to grow conversations around waste reduction and recycling.

“I believe there is a huge information and awareness gap at present, where many members of the public are incredibly passionate and want to be as involved as they possibly can,” he says.

“I think one of the key aspects of the role will be helping to bridge that gap. I’ll be doing everything I can to help everyone have the best information at their fingertips.”

In the lead-up to the federal election, the waste industry saw unprecedented bi-partisan support.

An ‘election score card’ created by multiple industry associations showed that both major parties had outlined substantive commitments to recycling infrastructure, establishing local markets for recycled content and developing solutions for plastic waste.

So after the election, the waste industry was not asking, ‘what policies will the Liberal Party propose?’ but rather, ‘will they make good on their promises?’

Trevor says the central responsibility of the assistant minister portfolio will be the rollout of the government’s $167 million package of initiatives and funding programs.

Programs include the $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund, $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund and $20 million for plastic recycling through Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) grants.

“On top of that, I have responsibility for the Federal Government’s role in the new National Waste Policy,” Trevor says.

“The first priority in that space is to work with the states and territories on the action plan.”

The National Waste Policy, which provides a framework for collective action on waste by industry, government and communities, was updated in 2018 after the failure of the 2009 policy.

The policy highlights the importance of interjurisdictional collaboration and proposes targets such as reducing total waste generation by 10 per cent by 2030. Other targets include an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all resource recovery streams by 2030, 30 per cent recycled content across all goods and infrastructure procurement by 2030 and phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2030.

During the election cycle, the Labor Party proposed mandatory targets for all government departments to purchase products made from recyclable material.

When asked by Waste Management Review whether the Liberal Party has plans to implement similar measures, Trevor says the biggest opportunity for government to pursue that idea would be through the National Waste Policy.

“Different states and territories and different levels of government will bring different things to the table there,” he says.

“You can expect that governments’ own procurement processes will be a big part of the negotiations in terms of how all levels of government come to the table to achieve the National Waste Policy.”

While Trevor didn’t confirm specific procurement figures, government has committed to working with state, territory and local government on getting more recycling content in road construction – building on the $2.6 million 2019 budget allocation to the Australian Road Research Board.

Trevor says developing the National Waste Policy implementation plan, securing appropriate funding and setting robust targets will be his core concerns over the coming year. He adds that the policy is still in the planning stage.

“The most important priority in that space is to work with the states and territories on the action plan to underpin the strategy.”

LOCAL INDUSTRY

According to Trevor, the Federal Government is heavily invested in improving recycling rates and growing the local recycling industry.

“For us, the centrepiece for our efforts to grow a local recycling industry is the $100 million in funding we are proving to support proposals and more local industry in the recycling chain,” he says.   

The Australian Recycling Investment Fund is a new initiative, which Trevor says is designed to support the manufacturing of low-emission and energy-efficient recycled content products, including recycled content plastics, paper and pulp.

The fund will be administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which according to Trevor, will receive guidelines from government about the mandate and how to best invest in new industry.

Whether there were any specific projects in the investment fund pipeline, Trevor says not yet.

“There will be a period of time where we will ensure that scheme is set up and properly instructed with key criteria from government. Then there will no doubt be invitations put to industry to participate in that process,” he says.

Trevor says government have also provided a further $20 million to the pre-existing CRC grants program, to support plastics innovation and research.

“CRCs are a place where the tertiary education and research sector come together with government and business to look at challenges in a shared way, and collaborate when it comes to ideas and innovation,” Trevor says.

“The grants are already delivering great results in many key industries to Australia’s future, so funding CRC work specifically to encourage research, in and around plastics, will lead to some really world-leading solutions here in Australia.”

Trevor says growing industry will be a central priority for his government, particularly given stresses caused by changes to international import regulations.

China’s National Sword policy is the obvious cornerstone. Other restrictions have taken place in India, which banned solid plastic imports in March, and Malaysia, which launched an investigation into international plastic imports in June.

“It is important to note that Australians want, and should expect, that our country supports international recycling supply chains,” he says.

According to Trevor, it is beneficial for Australia to be involved in international recycling chains, both on an economic and environmental level.

“What we have to be conscious of is that there are strict rules around the quality of waste streams being traded around the world,” he says.

“Where companies do the wrong thing, it’s very reasonable for us to expect there to be appropriate compliance and enforcement efforts. Companies that do the wrong thing let down not just their industry, but all Australians that want to see those recycling chains succeed.”

HARMONISATION

Talking about challenges that arise from a lack of centralised policy, specifically around waste levies and interstate transport, Trevor says harmonisation was one of many competing policy goals.

Additionally, Trevor says he will address considerations of the proximity principle at the meeting of environment ministers later this year.

“I can say – at this stage – I do see a case for harmonisation, or increased harmonisation, in many aspects of the waste and recycling industries,” Trevor says.

“There is a case to be made there, however, at this stage, while we are negotiating with the states and territories on the action plan, I’m not going to get too prescriptive about where that needs to be.”

In reference to the effectiveness of banning problematic waste streams, Trevor says state level initiatives have seen positive benefits.

He adds that changing consumer behaviours requires cooperation between government and industry, along with awareness at the small business level.

“I think blanket bans are a clunky policy tool. What’s better is to look at proactive ideas around true cost and substitution,” he says.

“There is certainly some scope for harmonisation between the different approaches between states and territories, and that’s something I hope to influence.”

Trevor makes notes of early state actions around single-use plastics. He adds rather than straight out banning plastic bags, which would come up against genuine questions of consumer convenience, commercial industry worked closely with consumers and government to move towards substitutes.    

“Now the attention, rightly, focuses on some of the heavyweight plastic bag substitutes that have come in, along with some of the definitions of compostability and biodegradability.”

In reference to the Product Stewardship Act review, Trevor says the act is very important piece of work.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity for government to work more closely with industry and look forward to finding ways to achieve real tangible outcomes for something that is very complex and serious,” he says.

Trevor says that while government is not in a position to reveal whether it is looking to introduce more mandatory schemes, it has put $20 million on the table to support the creation of new schemes via the Product Stewardship Investment Fund.

“There is always a debate around the nature of a scheme, in terms of whether they are industry-led, voluntary or mandatory. It is very much a ‘horses for courses’ approach,” Trevor says.

This article was published in the August edition of Waste Management Review. 

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Sustainability allies: Veolia

Waste education, awareness and engagement are taking centre stage at major sporting events, as Veolia takes its relationships with stakeholders to new heights.

As a nation devoted to sport, the Australian sporting events industry showcases some of the world’s best athletes.

Tapping into this enthusiasm, forward thinking waste management organisations are using sport as a platform to demonstrate leading recycling practices and promote sustainable behaviours.

The scale, location and complexity of events means developing and implementing an appropriate waste management strategy can take months of meticulous coordination between stakeholders to ensure seamless operations on the big day.

Added to this, there are growing expectations around responsible waste management at events. It’s no wonder organisers increasingly rely on the expertise of forward thinking operators.

Companies such as Veolia are not only tasked with delivering a solution for general waste management, recycling and landfill diversion, but also providing value-added services like waste education and increased source segregation.

DRIVING CHANGE

For more than 20 years, Veolia has been working closely with event partners such as Incognitus to implement effective sustainable solutions. One aspect of this is incorporating waste reduction and recycling programs to improve diversion at major sporting events around the nation, such as the Melbourne Cup Carnival and the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix.

Veolia and Incognitus have been tackling issues like waste contamination and improved source segregation head on. These include introducing a range of proactive measures to increase awareness among event attendees, organisers and employees. However, the success of this approach is heavily reliant on its customer’s full support and shared vision for sustainability.

Anthony Roderick, Veolia Group General Manager – Victoria & Tasmania, says that one of Veolia’s strengths in the events space is its ability to build long-term partnerships with customers, allowing for a dynamic and flexible approach.

“Trust and transparency provide us with the ability to challenge each other for continuous improvement as we grow together,” Anthony says.

“We’re conscious that our customers are motivated by a range of operational factors, but it all boils down to value and wanting to partner with a ‘safe pair of hands’ that can facilitate effective and compliant waste disposal.”

SPORTING A NEW APPROACH

Francesca Stafford, Veolia Sustainability Coordinator, has a long-term passion for sport and its ability to bring people together and inspire collective outcomes.

“Sporting events are a platform for people to come together at any point in time and if we can capture that passion and sense of community, and communicate positive messaging that goes beyond the event, I think that is really important,” Francesca says.

“We work with businesses to help them understand the importance of best-practice recycling methods and how they can use these to reduce the environmental footprint of their operations.”

Francesca adds that by leveraging their enthusiasm, energy and business strategy to promote change, Veolia develops a long-term approach to sustainability and it grows from there.

THE RACE THAT STOPS THE NATION

The 2018 Melbourne Cup Carnival was a great example of stakeholders working together towards a common goal. As South-East Asian countries were tightening contamination tolerances around the same time, Veolia was spurred into action.

“One of the challenges is that people have lost faith in the industry and I think tackling this is about sharing a story that shows people that if they do engage in this correctly, there will be real outcomes and an impact,” Francesca says.

Veolia and Incognitus developed a collaborative approach working with James Reid, Executive General Manager Operations. Over six weeks, a specialised events team, equipment and source separation systems were deployed onsite at Flemington Racecourse.

Nine drivers, two-full time operations staff and 20 “Sustainability Champions” tasked with facilitating education sessions ensured maximum diversion was achieved for the 800 tonnes of waste generated at the event.

Francesca says extensive efforts were placed on educating cleaning and kitchen staff at the event to recycle food waste using aerobic digesters provided by ORCA, glass crushers by Bottle Cycler, as well as correctly sorting general and cardboard waste streams.

Over a four-day period, Veolia’s team of Sustainability Champions were able to build on staff knowledge and provide feedback on recovery figures from the previous day and any issues encountered. Francesca says immediate feedback was important to instilling behavioural change.

At the conclusion of the event, a comprehensive and instructive waste management report was prepared by Veolia, which provided an analysis of the success of the program and key learnings.

James says installing glass crushers onsite significantly reduced transport costs, particularly as Flemington has seen an increase in glass use with the site serving and using more premium beverages.

Food waste is also recycled on site using ORCA units, which break food down over a 24-hour period. The residual waste water is captured and used to produce biogas.

A VEHICLE FOR CHANGE

Earlier this year, Veolia and EventCorp commenced a five-year partnership with the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix.

Francesca says the timing of this event allowed Veolia to apply key learnings from its most recent Melbourne Cup Carnival service delivery.

“To maximise recycling at the Grand Prix, it was really important to offer patrons the ability to segregate their waste front-of-house.”

Veolia’s experience with other large-scale clients in the retail and commercial property sectors allowed it to educate retail, cleaning and kitchen staff on best source separation practice.

She says that quite often, Veolia is working with staff where English is not their first language.

“This, coupled with the transient nature of the event industry means we need to ensure our education strategy overcomes these barriers effectively. This was achieved by making sure that staff were empowered to feel as though they were part of the solution.

“We explain what happens to each waste stream and by equipping them with that information and supporting it with adequate signage, we can modify behaviour,” Francesca states.

Anthony says that if consumers go to the right efforts to separate the material, the onus is then on the recycling company to close the loop.

From an operational perspective, Anthony says that when it comes to waste collection, best practice is eliminating as much waste as possible and then driving collections with lean operations that minimise labour. He hopes to leverage Veolia’s global experience and advance Australia’s processes in areas such as waste to energy, water reuse and plastics recycling and remanufacturing.

LESSONS FROM THE FIELD

Craig Lovett, Principal/Partner at Incognitus, says understanding the infrastructure in the surrounding environment and tailoring a service around that is crucial.

“I think the answer is total control of waste streams, engineering the outcome right from the outset and working out what ends up inside the venues front-of-house,” Craig says.

He recalls planning for the Sydney Olympic Games of which Veolia was a contractor. Despite being almost 20 years ago, the learnings gave recognition to the value of sustainable waste practices.

Craig says that basic questions were asked such as the amount of newspapers arriving on site and how products were being delivered to the kitchen. PET was the only accepted front-of-house single-use packaging, with Styrofoam boxes banned from the kitchens of the Olympic venues and replaced with cardboard. Two bins were established front of house with signage stating PET cups, cans and food packaging were recyclable.

He says that the key to a successful collaboration with waste contractors is understanding each other’s skillset, capabilities and infrastructure. Engaging all stakeholders with simple messaging, including caterers, is also crucial.

“We’ve had a 23-year history of working with Veolia and although not exclusively, most times we did because they were prepared to be collaborative.”

Anthony agrees sport plays a role in inspiring the community to take ownership of their waste.

“Melbourne is synonymous with hosting world-class events. If we’re fortunate enough to be in a position to service these clients we have a responsibility to help them reduce their environmental impact and ensure the events are remembered for the right reasons,” he says.

He notes that Veolia is more than just a waste management company – it’s a global resourcing company with sustainability capabilities across municipal and hazardous waste, water and energy.

“We’re creating solutions that allow us to lead in that space. We tend to narrowly focus on waste and recycling [as an industry], but the globe demands something bigger and Veolia is in a position to change that.

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Cutting-edge technology: FOCUS Enviro & Biomix

Biomix is investing heavily in innovative technologies and taking a bold approach to managing more than 100,000 tonnes of green organics per annum.

Measuring, monitoring and understanding soil properties is a nuanced undertaking, as biological, chemical and physical indicators all play a role in the success of what we put in the ground.

The ongoing business of providing high quality compost is another area conducive to the outcomes of soil health, and thus EPA guidelines and industry regulations govern a best-practice approach.

Soil nitrogen and appropriate levels of water improve soil longevity, in addition to providing valuable nutrients and organic carbon through high productivity farming practices.

It is within this burgeoning landscape that innovative organics recycling practices are bucking the trend.

Vanessa Lenihan has been at the coalface of industry progress, working with farms to identify ways to overcome the soil challenges they face. Her more than 15 years’ experience in the water industry, including sewerage quality management at South East Water, is laying the groundwork for innovation as she leads the composting business Biomix.    

Vanessa has for the past few years performed consulting work for Enviromix – a parent company of Biomix. In 2016, Vanessa was asked to project manage the construction of Biomix’s Stanhope facility, managing the design, construction and approvals process over 14-months.

After successfully project managing the construction and commissioning of the new site, Vanessa in February this year joined the company as CEO – a natural transition given her past experiences. Biomix processes 100,000 tonnes per annum of garden and food organics, selling its compost to the broader amenity market, broadacre, viticulture and horticulture industries.

“Biomix is in the industry of organics resource recovery and so is the wastewater industry. Sewage is just a different form of organics so there’s actually a lot of synergies between the two and the lines between the two industries have become blurred,” Vanessa says.

Understanding the biological process of wastewater created synergies to administer this to the biological process of composting, including managing inputs and quality controls.

BREATHING LIFE INTO COMPOST

Biomix at the end of 2017 unveiled its premium compost facility at Stanhope. The company designed an EPA-approved in-vessel composting system, engineering its own vessels to better manage air flow and odour. Its compost is produced to AS4454-2012 specifications and regularly sent off for independent and accredited lab testing.

“The thing that is unique about Biomix is the composting vessels were designed by us. We worked with the mechanical engineering firm that designed them and we own the intellectual property around the vessels,” Vanessa says.

She says that one of the challenges Biomix had is that when it opened the vessels in late 2017, the business began to grow exponentially at a rate it had not anticipated. Likewise, low rainfall onsite and high evaporation presented a challenge to processing compost at the site.

To support its next transition, the company turned to integrated processing supplier FOCUS Enviro for support – a supplier of EDGE Innovate shredding, screening, separating, stacking and sizing equipment. From November last year through to January this year, Biomix acquired three unique new products from EDGE Innovate.

Nick Marshall

The EDGE MPS48 Picking Station, EDGE FTS Mulch Master (deep stacker) and EDGE TRT622 Trommel replaced a series of conventional machines traditionally used for composting.

“Because we grew so fast we had to manage parts of the business quite differently to what we’ve had previously,” Vanessa says.

“The EDGE Picking Station is really focused on removing contamination upfront and the Mulch Master has allowed us to process our windrows and get water to them in a way that is highly beneficial.”

The EDGE Picking Station was designed to improve safety for waste management sites by reducing the effects of dust, noise and climate conditions for workers. It helps eliminate contaminants such as organics, hard plastics, glass and other deleterious materials.

Vanessa says that Biomix has seen a significant reduction in water loss through windrows by using the Mulch Master, halving the number of times to turn a windrow.

“Every time you turn a windrow you lose at least 20 per cent moisture.

“The Mulch Master allows us to halve the number of turns during the process.”

She says that the Mulchmaster has increased volumes through deep stacking of compost, having previously used excavators and loading circles with a higher cost and slower processing time.

Vanessa says that the machine has allowed Biomix to increase the moisture content of its compost as the auger softens the materials and water jets allow the spread of moisture.

RE-THINKING THE PROCESS

The Mulch Master combines traditional flipping and rotation with constant material flow to overcome traditional challenges of compaction, contamination, material bridging and the risk of combustion.

Designed for low density, bulky materials such as mulch, compostand soils, the EDGE FTS Mulch Master boasts a large hopper capacity of 15 cubic metres.

A 25 per cent additional buffer capacity over the standard EDGE FTS units with a bespoke hopper design prevents material bridging. A variable high speed conveyor enables an even spread of material further regulated via a double screwed forward/reverse auger.

Biomix’s new EDGE trommel also allows it to produce a 14-millimetre-minus product. Vanessa saysthe screen has doubled throughput and comes with an on-board vacuum system attached that pulls out contaminants such as light plastics.

“We’re filling a front lift bin a day of light plastics and there’s no way we’d be able to specifically pick them out by hand – that’s how effective the vacuum system is.”

Vanessa Lenihan

The TR622 Trommel screen is ideal for multiple applications such as topsoil, recycling, composting and construction and demolition waste. The TR622 comprises a 180-degree radial conveyor, a unique load sensing hydraulic drive system, eco-power saving functionality and a user-friendly HMI control panel to suit varying applications.

A hydraulic sliding feature allows for a speedy drum exchange and enables operators to easily lift out the existing drum to replace it with various drum types available.

Its 22-foot-long drum allows it to produce enhanced screening results and top quality fine materials such as compost, gravel, sand and topsoil easily.

Ronan McKenna, State Manager of FOCUS enviro, says the company last year trialled the machinery to ensure it met Biomix’s tonnage requirements.

He says that many of EDGE’s products have been tried and tested in other major markets such as North America.

“The Mulch Master is a brand new piece of technology that no-one else has used before, so once customers see it and get it round on their site it speaks for itself.

“The machines are fast becoming a popular replacement for traditional windrow turners for multiple reasons, including reduction in maturation pad areas and machinery capital outlay.”

Robbie McKernan, FOCUS enviro Director, says the company considers it an honour to be working with Biomix – a forward-thinking organisation open to a fresh approach to compost.

“There is a lot more evidence mounting to support new processes such as big stacking as opposed to traditional windrow methods,” he says.

“As a supplier, we value opportunities like this where businesses look at their processes as a whole and work out where savings can be achieved, as opposed to a ‘business as usual’ approach.”

Ronan says that FOCUS Enviro is continuing to see demand from organics recycling companies across Australia.

“We have been in a fortunate position to support the food and garden organics (FOGO) aspirations of customers across the country over the past two years. This has shaped our product knowledge to offer a purpose-built solution to meet processing challenges with safety and material quality front of mind.”

The new EDGE equipment is starting to pay dividends for Biomix, and the company is now looking at accelerating its output.

Ronan McKenna

Biomix is currently working with farmers to incorporate compost into traditional fertiliser program. With funding from Sustainability Victoria, Biomix is working with SESL to determine a protocol that outlines an optimum blend of compost and fertilisers.

This will inform a three-year application program for farmers. The first round of trials on farms was completed earlier this year, with the second now underway. Vanessa says it demonstrated the need for a balanced approach to compost.

Biomix is also working with La Trobe University on the application of compost for pastures.

“We’re becoming a lot more scientific and precise in how we’re selling our compost. We’re moving away from just selling compost to incorporating it into the broader agribusiness sector,” Vanessa says.

“We see compost as being really important to the future of improving soil health and its structure and then being able to retain moisture in it and reducing the amount of watering farmers need to do.”

Vanessa says that moisture is so important for the composting process that Biomix designed its vessels to minimise water loss during processing.

Odour management and controlling the processing period to kill off any pathogens and weed seed is an important part of the Biomix process.

Vanessa says that one of the unique attributes Biomix has is its capability to process compostable packaging, films, coffee cups and pods.

“One of the biggest changes coming through the industry is the introduction of compostable materials into the waste streams and we’ve set ourselves up to be able to process that.”

As for the future, Vanessa predicts improving FOGO infrastructure, gaining a higher nitrogen compost, embracing compostable packaging and tackling contamination will be key to improving the uptake of compost.

“We have a step change in the Victorian Environment Protection Act coming in 2020.

“This will force us to focus on how our business is being managed and innovative further to embrace this change,” Vanessa says.

She says the changes to the Environment Protection Act will hopefully address some of the grey areas currently experienced in organic waste acceptance and management.

With a strong uptake of FOGO collections from councils, along with a changing regulatory environment, the need to embrace new technology and processes is more important than ever.

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Shoalhaven Council’s Australia-first Bioelektra technology

Shoalhaven City Council’s West Nowra landfill facility will use an Australian-first technology to preserve its landfill and achieve a 90 per cent red bin recovery rate.

Along the coastal plains, about 200 kilometres south from Sydney, lies the City of Shoalhaven, a local government area bordered by mountains and 100 sublime beaches.

Home to almost 100,000 residents, the total waste collected at the kerbside per capita had been growing steadily.

Over the past two decades, resource recovery investment had been increasing, but there had still been no solution to the council’s landfill problem. Concerns of dwindling airspace had escalated and a long-term strategy was required.

While the council had invested heavily in forward landfill disposal capacity and planning for missed waste, Shoalhaven had been evaluating its options since the early 2000s. In 2006, an investigation into reducing waste disposal demand to maximise Shoalhaven’s Nowra Landfill facility showed limiting airspace and increasing waste was an issue.

A number of trials were conducted in 2008 on domestic waste processing, including green waste, in addition to a cost benefit analysis into a resource recovery park. Over these years, an economic analysis of domestic waste processing costs and an alternative waste treatment facility was conducted. By 2013, council resolved to call for expressions of interest for establishing a resource recovery park and alternative waste treatment facility.

The calls for tender arose as Shoalhaven City Council’s West Nowra landfill facility was tipped to reach capacity by 2031 or earlier, prompting an industry-wide consultation phase.

TENDERING FOR TECH

David Hojem, Waste Services Manager at Shoalhaven City Council, says council was looking for a novel approach to solve its landfill problem.

“We went out to tender in a fairly open process that was available to experts in the industry to find a solution to recover our waste,” David says.

David says expressions of interest occurred around 2014, taking some years to find the right technology and site and go through the relevant approvals, including environmental impact statements.

Shoalhaven discovered Bioelektra Group’s mechanical heat treatment process – an innovative technology used in Poland that sterilises and dries the mixed waste streambefore sorting it into individual fraction and then recycling. The solution would allow for the recovery of mixed waste from its red bin that was going to landfill.

The most common system for treating municipal solid waste using mechanical heat treatment is an autoclave, according to a UK Government document on the process. The 2013 document explain that it is common for sanitising clinical wastes, prior to being sent to landfill, but its application in municipal solid waste is a relatively recent innovation.

As the technology would become an Australian-first, David says the council had to do a lot of background research.

“We travelled to the only currently operating plant in Poland, spoke to their customers, downstream recyclers and regulators and did thorough research on it,” he says.

NET ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Shoalhaven in particular was looking to avoid having more vehicles on the road that could have occurred by introducing a third bin, in addition to diverting 90 per cent of its red bin waste from landfill and safeguarding its bins from contamination.

The additional cost to provide each household with a green bin would have been about $150 a year and by taking a different approach, the council would avoid having to increase its rates. As a result of reducing its waste to landfill, the council’s waste levy bill to the NSW Government is projected to reduce by nearly $7 million ($4 million for domestic waste) per year.

“We are really swimming against the flow as the NSW EPA are actively promoting the food and garden organics (FOGO) bin,” he says.

“Our philosophy is that more bins require more rules for residents to follow, and we know many people don’t follow those rules so we needed to make it simple.”

In January this year, Shoalhaven City Council announced it was entering into a long-term contract with Bioelektra Australia after the company had successfully won the tender. The new resource recovery facility will be constructed on council-owned land adjacent to the current West Nowra Landfill site. Works will commence in 2019 and the facility is expected to be fully operational by late 2021.

The facility will be funded and built by Bioelektra Australia. The 20-year contract allows for 130,000 tonnes per year of processing capacity, but the initial design capacity is 100,000. Bioelektra will apply to the EPA for an environmental protection license to operate the facility.

While council’s projected landfill will be extended from 12 years to more than 50, Shoalhaven boasts that 100 per cent of everything householders place in the red bin that can be recycled, will be. The facility will also have capacity to process material from neighbouring councils and reduce waste across the region. It will capture all recyclables, including green waste and convert them into biomass that can be used as an additive for brick manufacture and cement rendering.

THE TESTING PHASE

Fred Itaoui, Managing Director of Bioelektra Group, says he aims for the technology to act as an adjunct to good source separation. Following a more than 30-year career in facilities management, Fred’s passion had been to find a solution to landfill. In 2006, Fred embarked on a research and development phase and came across a Polish engineer that had built the mechanical heat treatment technology.

Bioelektra 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.

“My whole passion is to reduce our reliance on landfill and the amount of single-use plastics we use. I feel this will provide opportunities for people to think about what they’re buying from the supermarket and make the right decision,” he says.

Bioelektra entered the Australian market in 2017 as part of a global strategy mirrored in Chile, Argentina, India, Iran and Turkey. It followed numerous testing and commercialisation of the technology over a five-year period.

“There were a lot of skeptics that said mechanical heat treatment had been tried in the UK and US and failed miserably, so we wanted to ensure we covered those aspects and answered those questions that did come up,” Fred says.

He adds that other autoclaves had been larger and therefore it was harder to dry the material.

“Since then, Shoalhaven Council have applied their own forensic analysis of the technology. It was pleasing they did that, as it showed what was scientifically proven, was also proven operationally.”

He says that as the technology makes waste inert, whatever material is sent to landfill will have no pathogen. Over the long term, this means environmental risks such as leachate, landfill gas, odour and litter associated with putrescible waste will be significantly reduced. Fred says this makes it not only easy to compact, but makes the land more usable to rehabilitate into parks and gardens post-closure.

“Sending the material to a facility like ours further enhances the recyclability of the product and extracts resources. Even if people make a mistake in the yellow bin, that waste has an alternative rather than sending 20 to 30 per cent of it to landfill because of wrongful contamination.”

He says that Bioelektra wants to solve the global challenge of landfill shortages.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The process involves several stages. Yellow bin recyclables will continue to go to a materials recovery facility, with the residuals sent to the mechanical heat treatment facility and landfilled if required. Red bin materials will be sent directly to the site.

The process of treating mixed municipal solid waste 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 autoclave, known as the RotoSTERIL BEG7000, which sterilises the material. The material remains in the autoclave for up to three hours at 150 degrees and five bars of pressure, which evaporates the waste by subjecting it to steam under pressure, and significantly reduces its volume.

The moist material then goes through an air dryer conveyor belt and the sanitised waste is separated. After the natural sterilisation process is complete, waste is unloaded to a buffer zone. Through a lifting feeder integrated with a magnetic separator, waste is transported to a set of mechanical pneumatic screens equipped with an eddy current which isolates any metal. Organics, metals, glass, plastics and paper are processed on site and recycled into various end products. Refuse-derived fuel, produced from combustible wastes such as non-recyclable plastics and paper, is isolated by near-infrared sensors. Glass is meanwhile separated and broken down in the form of a cullet.

Fred says the process complements recyclers as the dry waste allows for sorting lines to be able to separate the material more accurately.

Among the cost savings offered to councils are not paying waste levies, in addition to lower operational costs through an automated process and improved safety by not having to employ picking staff.

“My aspiration is really to have more sites around regional areas, as well as metropolitan. We are looking at two to three plants around NSW, as well as in Queensland and a similar plant in Victoria,” he says.

For David, the main goal for Shoalhaven City Council is waste avoidance. Having worked at council for the past 15 years, he has worked on numerous strategies to boost resource recovery, including the Waste Reduction Management Strategy. With all the right conditions at play, David says the only real challenge now is getting support from state agencies.

“Technology all comes with some hype and you have to cut through it to see what will really work. But having looked at the facility, I think it really will,” he says.

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