The Executive Officer Of The Australian Organics Recyling Association (AORA), Peter McLean, explains how three key factors need to be overcome to stimulate increased organics recycling.
The Australian recycled organics industry processes more than 6.5 million tonnes of organic resources annually, invests over $2 billion in the Australian economy and employs over 3,500 people. It is likely that a further 6 million tonnes of organic material currently finds its way to landfill.
When governments at all levels, the general population and the organics recycling industry have all indicated a desire to increase recycling, why is so much potentially beneficial material being dumped?
At the recent AORA 2016 National Conference, keynote speaker Dr Sally Brown from the University of Washington explained that the tables were turning in America. The focus has changed in some areas there from simply removing organics out of landfill to using it to maintain healthy soils for food security and production.
At the same event, Professor Jonathan Wong of the Hong Kong Baptist University told the audience that organics recovery was no longer considered a waste process in Hong Kong, but recycling to recover the resource value. It is difficult to reconcile this in some Australian states, where parties claim to want resource recovery, then label these organic products as waste and regulate their distribution and use at great cost to the industry and, therefore, the community.
Both speakers were describing cultural change and a major turning point in their countries, which Australia has not reached. Part of the pathway to change is public education.
Since the first cities formed 6000 years ago we have been putting all of our unwanted material into what we now call landfills. People smoked for 200 years and drove cars without seatbelts for 100 years due to being uninformed of the consequences. It has taken more than a generation to change community attitudes to these issues, so it would be unrealistic to think that the community will become avid source separators in the short term.
Three drivers to change
Nevertheless, public education about removing contamination and explaining ‘the reasons’ is a key driver to encouraging improved organics recycling. Some of these reasons and benefits include improved soil health, water efficiency, emissions reduction, pathogen destruction and even energy production, all of which need to be explained in a way people can understand as part of their daily life.
Increasing markets for recycled organics is the second key driver for growing the industry. Ultimately, surplus organic material is a limited resource. Local markets increase the potential benefits for both processors and end users through developing localised efficiencies and products. However, regulation that genuinely promotes market development will also be paramount. We have not yet reached a position where regulation fits with the philosophy of resource recovery when a mature compost is still classified as a waste. It is difficult to create strong value and demand for a waste product, which limits market development.
The final key driver to the growth in organics recycling is provision of suitable production facilities where composters can operate economically. There is a strong case for product stewardship to be introduced to the management of surplus organic material.
The nodal point in the supply chain lies with local governments who generally collect and dispose of this material. These councils should be encouraged and supported to show leadership in the management of the organics they collect, including the provision of suitable local sites for recycling materials.