NSW EPA’s compost training ground

The NSW EPA has developed a free online training course for councils, regulators and organics recyclers to improve their knowledge around best practice compost facility management.

well-managed composting facility is crucial to producing a quality product with minimal environmental impact.

Through the $105.5 million Organics Infrastructure Fund under Waste Less, Recycle More, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has supported organics market development in the state, while providing funding for food and garden organics collections and new and enhanced infrastructure. These programs span funding for collection services, new facilities and upgrades and organics market development, right through to community education through Love Food Hate Waste and Food Donation Education.

To upskill the industry as new jobs are created and facilities expanded, EPA began further research in 2015 to explore training options. An industry survey undertaken by the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) in 2016 identified training needs and a working group, comprising AORA,  local government and EPA compliance, regulatory and training experts and was set up to oversee the development of an online course. 

The culmination of three years of research and organics industry collaboration led to the launch of an Australia-first free-to-use online Compost Facility Management course. The five-to-eight hour course comprises seven modules and has been designed for regulators and people in all roles working in organics facilities. It uses interactive content, animation and video to engage learners, with the aim of embedding high-level skills and knowledge for best practice facility management.   

Amanda Kane, Organics Manager Waste and Resource Recovery at the NSW EPA, says the training course supports the industry growth and expansion being driven by other components of EPA organics programs.

“We also know through our support for market development that product quality is critical when it comes to ensuring a good price and demand for recycled product,” Amanda says.

Amanda says that as a regulator, EPA NSW also wants to make sure that those new facilities, as well as existing ones, understand their environmental responsibilities and are managed well to minimise environmental risk.

“With content developed from expert industry input, the course brings together for the first time training on every aspect of managing an organics processing facility, meeting compliance requirements and producing a quality product,” she says.

From understanding the feedstock to managing contamination and process control to record keeping, Amanda says the online platform for the course makes it accessible to everyone, particularly facility workers in remote areas and new staff in an industry which often has a high staff turnover.

“It caters for the range of facility worker roles, from pickers to managers, as well as state and local government regulators. We’ve also had feedback that it’s useful for council waste officers to understand the detail of what happens to the content of the green lid bin once its gets to the facility.”

The seven modules include an introduction to composting, composting processing control, managing operations, managing environmental risks, operational responsibilities, products and uses and applying recycled organics to land. 

Amanda says each module features videos with facility operators, workers and regulators discussing issues they’ve experienced and how they dealt with them.“Drag and drop features provide interactive learning to make it interesting and effective as a tool, while self-assessment questions at the end of each topic confirm you’ve understood the issues. 

“The managing environmental issues module includes click and show animations and an explanation of each issue – such as odour, noise or air management and how to identify and manage it.”

Amanda notes that best practice management is a key component of the EPA’s broader program to increase organics recovery and recycling in NSW.

She says the EPA is already looking to complement the training with advanced skill development and is working with AORA to develop a series of webinars to link back to the training with additional learnings on those topics. 

“We’re also working with IMC in Melbourne, a provider of digital learning, to develop smartphone nuggets – follow-ups from the course that you can use onsite to reinforce the online learning, for example around record keeping or testing for temperature control.”

Amanda says there is also scope in the online platform to develop a forum where users can ask questions and share knowledge on issues they are facing.

“While the online course is a really good opportunity and is accessible to everybody at any time, there are also other ways of learning and skills that suit the industry, such as knowledge sharing, workshops or field visits. So this is very much a start in this new space that we intend to build on and expand to take it a step further.” 

“We’ve also been talking to other jurisdictions to make the training available to them initially free of charge to establish a national standardised training approach. 

“Although it has been developed for NSW and a lot of the content is state-specific, particularly the regulatory requirements, there is also a variety of useful content on composting fundamentals and operational management that cross boundaries and apply to any facility anywhere.”

You can register on the EPA’s learning management system here: https://learning.epa.nsw.gov.au

This article was published in the November issue of Waste Management Review.