The opportunity of an expiring contract allowed Mackay Regional Council to include refurbishment of its dated MRF within the tender for operating and maintaining it, and introduce innovative technology to boost resource recovery.
Mackay Regional Council officially opened its upgraded materials recovery facility on 7 October. The project cost $2.6 million and incorporates Australia’s first regional optical sorting machine and a glass-processing plant.
Its realisation demonstrates what can be achieved through a combination of strategic forward planning for waste management facilities, the desire of a dedicated team to achieve more diversion of materials from landfill and a strong partnership with an experienced external contractor.
The original MRF at Paget started operating in 2005, after being constructed through a design, build and operate contract.
An essential facility for resource recovery in Northern Queensland, it receives recyclables from kerbside collections from around the Mackay region. It also accepts product from the neighbouring Isaac Regional Council and commercially-collected recyclables from Whitsunday to the north. These commingled materials include paper, cardboard, plastics, aluminium and steel cans, aerosols, glass bottles and jars, and milk and juice cartons.
The council decided to update the Paget depot as it was nearing 10 years old and sorting technology had advanced significantly since it was built.
Jason Grandcourt, Mackay Regional Council’s Manager – Waste Services, said: “The improvement to the facility was envisaged in advance of the last contract expiring, and as part of the council’s waste strategy in improving diversion.”
A key consideration for the council was diverting suitable recyclable material to extend the life of its landfill.
“As part of our integrated waste management system, we have an engineered landfill that is expected to have a 50-year lifespan. The council is prepared to invest in resource recovery facilities to preserve airspace within it,” explains Jason.
The design and build for the refurbished plant was realised through an agreement with the new contractor operator, Recycling and Design Technologies (RDT). When the council awarded the eight-year contract for the MRF, this entailed the renewal of the facility, as well as operation and maintenance.
Mackay Regional Council had several specific requirements for the new plant. It wanted to bring in a better glass recycling solution. The waste services team had identified that out of 2,800 tonnes of glass coming into the MRF through kerbside collections, around 2,400 was being sent to landfill because it didn’t meet market specifications.
“The council decided to include the requirement for a recycled crushed glass (RCG) plant in the new facility design within the specifications of the contract with RDT,” explains Jason.
Bringing in the glass-processing plant was made possible thanks to a $600,000 grant jointly provided by the Australian Packaging Covenant and the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
RDT took over the existing MRF on 1 March and operated it until 5 June, at which point it was decommissioned temporarily for the upgrade works.
The refurbishment involved implementing a new layout for the plant, installing new machinery and updating the building, including a new storage area at the rear of the facility to hold the crushed glass product.
RDT used several key international suppliers for the new equipment, including UK-based Krysteline for the glass processing machine, and Alchemy in New Zealand (part of Compac) for the optical sorter. The conveyors and most of the steel structures were fabricated locally in Mackay.
The revamp also introduced several safety features. The equipment is raised off the ground on platforms, making it easier to access for maintenance.
The platform ramps running around the machines also provide protection for those operating them. The glass processing plant also has an extraction system to reduce dust.
“The new, larger receiving area also provides for safer vehicle access in unloading materials, as the previous layout meant collection trucks needed to reverse up a steel ramp,” says Jason.
The refurbishment was completed on 30 June, with the plant recommencing operations on 1 July. The Paget MRF is now operated by RDT on weekdays 8.00am to 4.00pm. It employs three people to manually sort materials and three plant operators.
During the upgrade, all kerbside-collected recyclables were stored on site, reaching 700 tonnes of material.
“We put it through the new plant when it was commissioned, so managed to avoid having to send anything to landfill during the upgrade,” says Jason.
As the Mackay MRF is the first plant that RDT is operating after design and build, they are using it to showcase its capabilities in this area.
“The plant is doing a great job,” says RDT’s Allard Bernhofen. “It’s the culmination of learnings from designing and building 40 projects for others, but this time we’ve done it for ourselves.”
Outcomes & benefits
The modernised MRF allows the council to recover more recyclable material. It is capable of processing 20,000 tonnes of recyclables annually, 11,000 tonnes more than the previous plant.
Since it was commissioned in June, the council has seen a 60 per cent reduction in recyclable material going to landfill. Two neighbouring councils, Isaac and Whitsunday, are sending close to 100 tonnes of recyclables to the new MRF each month, including an increase of 10 per cent from Isaac alone.
To other councils considering investing in a new recycling plant, Jason says the key is discussing what they want to achieve with suppliers and finding out what equipment is the best fit for the scale of their MRF.
“It’s vital to undertake some market sounding because there is so much new technology out there, but it would be easy to end up with machinery too big for the anticipated volumes,” Jason says.
RDT Director Stuart Garbutt thinks local and regional councils could realise a number of benefits by building their own resource recovery plants.
“I would suggest that councils look at investing in capital infrastructure for recycling facilities in their own local regional communities, rather than the unsustainable bulk hauling of material to metro areas for processing,” he says.
“Investment in these types of infrastructure projects injects much- needed capital works into the local economy, as well as providing valuable jobs for the residents.”
The glass-processing plant is a particular point of pride for the council. The machine is actually an imploder, which shatters the glass into a crystalline form instead of crushing it. Broken glass that couldn’t be recovered previously is now being processed and produced into RCG on site. The end product is similar in texture to sand.
Instead of landfilling thousands of tonnes of broken glass each year, the council will be using it as bedding material for footpaths, drains and culverts. It may also be applied as subsoil drainage in civil works projects, and there is interest in its suitability as a filler in asphalt.
The new MRF also incorporates Australia’s first regional optical waste sorting machine.
The optical sorter takes photos of the items and sends them to the appropriate cage – mixed plastics, HDPE, PET, aluminium and steel cans. The plant then keeps recirculating materials to optimise recovery of recyclables.
“It separates commingled materials more efficiently and effectively,” says Jason.“As a result, there is minimal cross contamination of products for market and waste to landfill is reduced, as materials are circulated around the plant until sorted appropriately.”
Jason is delighted that using the optical sorter has cut material being sent to landfill to 10 per cent – meeting the KPI set by the council in the contract.
RDT sends the baled products mainly to businesses within Queensland. It sends paper and cardboard to two Australian paper-recycling companies and the international market. Most of the plastics recovered are sold to local plastic manufacturers in Brisbane and Sydney, while local metal recyclers in Mackay buy the aluminium and steel.
The income from the baled product sales is divided between RDT and the council in a revenue-sharing arrangement specified in the contract.
Stuart Garbutt says he and his team have been delighted to be able to build a mutually beneficial, “terrific” professional relationship with Mackay Regional Council.
“We work closely with the team that looks after the waste portfolio,” he says. “This is a great example of how the private sector and regional councils can work together for the good of the local community and the local environment.”
The council is seeing a number of benefits due to the revamped MRF.
“Due to the new layout of the receiving area, we are able to receive all types of collection vehicles. The previous plant was limited to side-lift trucks only,” says Jason. “We can now accept 30-metre bins from transfer stations, so we can receive considerably more volume.”
An ideal opportunity to boost community engagement with recycling, the council held an open day for the local community to inspect the upgraded MRF on 14 November as part of National Recycling Week. The Paget site is also home to Mackay’s waste education program, incorporating a dedicated education room, which hosts school and community visits.
“I’m very proud of this project. It’s the best one I’ve delivered,” says Jason. “Mainly, because it was delivered on time within a really challenging timescale. But also because RDT delivered on what they were contracted to do and the plant is operating to the levels we envisaged.”
The investment in the plant looks justified for Mackay Regional Council, as it is presenting new possibilities for the future of recycling in the region.
“We hope to increase the volume of incoming product over time by growing the commercial recycling market and inviting other local councils to bring their material to the MRF,” says Jason.
The council is also looking to leverage other opportunities in diverting materials from landfill, like agricultural plastics, commercial and industrial glass, and commercial cardboard.
As part of its wider waste management strategy, Jason explains that it is currently evaluating tenders for a construction and demolition waste facility, with a decision due by early 2016. It also launched a tender process in November for a contract to process green waste delivered to its waste facilities into mulch. This tender will enable the option to use the material as part of a composting process.