Regional recycling opportunity

Living in a regional area poses challenges when managing waste, but with those challenges also come opportunity, according to JustWaste consultant Isabel Axio. 

In 2007, Isabel Axio left Sweden in search of new challenges. A sense of familiarity eventually drew her to the island state of Tasmania, and it wasn’t long before she found an exciting role.

Since 2015, Isabel has engaged in audits, site assessments and Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approvals, employed as a waste consultant and environmental manager for JustWaste, based in Launceston.

She says it offers her an opportunity to solve many of the problems facing regional communities.

With a background in environmental management, Isabel says she quickly picked up an understanding of the local issues facing waste management in regional communities nationwide, including transportation costs and the substantial price of environmental compliance.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 71 per cent of Australia’s population lives in a highly urbanised area, while 27 per cent of the population live regionally.

Isabel says that the ratio of urban to regional population has resulted in many business-led management solutions, which are less applicable to regional landscapes due to the reduced level of waste generation, sparse density and low population. As a result, this leads to higher transportation costs.

A distance from key markets reduces the viability of mainstream recycling options, Isabel says, prompting the need for alternative solutions.

Isabel notes that a key aspect driving alternative solutions is that current requirements set by the nation’s EPA bodies would likely be unviable for regional councils or private sector operators entering into new arrangements.

These include EPA regulations covering the design, operation and post-closure of landfills, and that a number of landfills in the state operate under licences granted prior to much of the existing environmental legislation.

“Currently landfilling is cheap. But when the existing operational licences and approved sites expire, the new environmental ones will make that service less viable,” Isabel says.

Isabel explains that in Tasmania it can take up to 10 years to set up a new landfill site from idea to conception.

One option, she says, is incineration, which offers a relatively inexpensive way of disposing of residual waste in the event of exorbitant transportation and construction costs.

“JustWaste conducted a study into the feasibility of small-scale incineration for a small island council in Tasmania. We compared this option to the cost of off-island transportation and building a new landfill, in line with predicted environmental compliance and with consideration for future capping. Out of those options, we found that small-scale incineration was by far the cheapest option. Of course, the cost is dependent on each individual scenario.

“The small scale incinerator has an upfront cost which is quite significant, but after that the council owns that operation. They’re independent from contractors fees and any potential landfill levies. So, having that independence and reliability proved to be the most cost effective.”

Isabel explains the facility would be operated in conjunction with an existing landfill to dispose of ash left from the processing, which may be inert or toxic depending on the input. She adds that an incinerator would be able to process putrescible waste from households and commercial and industrial premises.

She anticipates small-scale incineration would take at least six years to receive environmental approvals due to the risk of ash and emissions.

To read more, see page 20 of Issue 12.