Stimulating organics recycling

Amanda Kane, Manager Organics, NSW Environment Protection Authority, speaks to Waste Management Review about its influential organics market development grants and the agency’s priorities for 2018.

Through the multimillion dollar Waste Less, Recycle More initiative, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) continues to drive organics recycling outcomes.

According to the NSW EPA, almost half of household waste going to landfill in NSW consists of food and garden organics waste.

Through its $100.5 million Organics Infrastructure Fund, the EPA has supported numerous programs, from its Organics Market Development grants, which stimulate growth in the sector, to its Love Food Hate Waste education support program focused on reducing edible food waste.

Amanda Kane, Manager Organics, NSW EPA, says an additional $4.5 million will be dispersed into organics market development from 2017-21. It builds on previous funding which has already helped stimulate demand for an additional 90,000 tonnes of recycled organics into NSW markets since the program began.

She says that it’s all part of the EPA’s multipronged approach to dealing with organics under the NSW Government’s Waste Less, Recycle More grant programs.

“We’re tackling food and garden recovery from every angle,” she says.

“We are looking at avoidance through our Love Food Hate Waste program: increasing kerbside collections and funding infrastructure to boost processing capacity. The market development grants are focused on markets for the recycled product.”

She says the previous round of grant funding proved the benefits of recycled organics products to the agricultural, sporting, horticultural, roads and other sectors. This understanding within the sector has driven an increased demand for recycled products in 2018. Building on the previous $2.5 million round, Amanda says the goal of the EPA will be to expand existing markets and create new ones.

Applications for the next round are closing at the end of March. She says one of the aims of the funding will be to support projects that bring processors and a potential customer base together to showcase the benefits of compost in that market. She says this could include a project that works with graziers around improved pastoral health, which demonstrates the effectiveness of recycled organics. Amanda says she hopes it would generate local sales, taking the findings to as a wide an audience as possible.

In the previous round, the EPA funded an array of projects across the agriculture and horticulture sectors.

One project, supported by the NSW Football Association, saw the development of compost to enrich the soil health of sporting turf. AgEnviro Solutions was provided with $350,000 to apply the compost as topdressing. With 2620 hectares of council-managed sporting fields in greater Sydney alone, the project has the potential to build markets for up to 83,800 cubic metres of this compost product annually.

“In 2015, the NSW Football Association nominated 408 playing of fields in NSW which required attention to improve resilience and the length of the playing season,” Amanda says.

AgEnviro provided a comprehensive report on each field, recommending to councils where application of compost in top dressing or underlay would improve the field’s performance.

Amanda Kane stands next to a compost tunnel at Soilco’s facility in Kembla Grange, Wollongong, NSW.

“Compost works particularly well on turf because it provides most of the nutrients that that turf needs. It can also save money, reducing the need for irrigation and patching, which can be an expensive way of fixing damaged turf,” Amanda says.

She says part of expanding markets for organics is also reducing any barriers to extensive use. The previous round of funding allocated $46,836 to MRA Consulting Group to address the restrictions of recycled organics use within the horticultural industry in its Freshcare code of practice, a voluntary quality assurance code of practice for the fresh vegetable industry.

The code is used by the major supermarket chains in developing their own approved supplier compliance systems. The project brought key stakeholders together in a working group to identify the market barriers, and demonstrate how recycled organics are safe and effective inputs. A set of guidelines is now available which show how recycled organics can meet code requirements for users and producers.

“Companies like Coles and Woolworths require growers to meet Freshcare standards. Until now, vegetables grown in recycled organics wouldn’t be eligible under the code so we changed that. There are a multitude of benefits for growers, including greater water retention, soil health and crop yield,” she says.

In a separate project with MRA Consulting, a recycled organics specification was also developed for vegetable and fruit production. Two existing product specifications were upgraded to include organics for use in the vegetable and orchard industries. It was also promoted to the recycling processing industry and horticulture sectors to encourage the manufacture and application of products tailored for use in fruit and vegetable production.

Amanda says going forward there will be further specifications developed for sporting fields and weed suppressants.

In the area of weed health, the first round grants began this work following a trial for the control of African Lovegrass, a drought-tolerant perennial grass species growing in the Monaro region in NSW. The weed covers more than 80,000 hectares and threatens the long-term viability of farms in the region. The EPA provided $50,000 to Australian Soil Management to develop the specification for an amended compost application to rein in the infestation.

Snowy Monaro Regional Council provided the compost, sourced from its new kerbside food and garden waste service, collected from the town’s 8000 residents and supported through other components of the EPA’s Fund.

So what are the next steps for the EPA’s organics market development grants?

When it comes to reforming the organics recycling industry, Amanda says the EPA will let the market do the talking.

She says the production of specifications is the ultimate step in opening up these markets for the agricultural, horticultural and other industries.

“The main market barriers are knowledge and awareness. Our research shows there is very low awareness among the key markets for recycled organics, specifically agricultural markets and their understanding of compost in general.

“The more aware people are of the product, the more likely they are to buy it. The agricultural and rural markets in particular need to see how it works before they become interested in buying, so it’s about demonstrating multiple uses in different circumstances.”

Innovation is at the forefront of the EPA’s decision making, as the agency hopes to discover how organics recycling applies to a range of applications.

Off the back of the EPA’s successes, Amanda adds that NSW is very well placed to meet the federal government’s target to halve the nation’s food waste by 2030.

“We’ve had this funding since 2013 under Waste Less, Recycle More, so we’re already stimulating the investment in food recovery and these grants build on that. They are a crucial component. Unless there’s a market for the end product, organics recovery is not going to be sustainable.”

Applications close 28 March, 2018. More information here.