Composting remains our biggest recycling opportunity

With all the recent discussion about plastic exports, it’s easy to forget that organics remains our single largest recycling opportunity, writes Rose Read CEO of the National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The numbers speak for themselves, according to the National Waste Report, Australia generated 30 million tonnes of organic material in 2016-17. Of this mass, about 6.7 million tonnes went to landfill (or 22 per cent) of which around 43 per cent is food waste according to the National Food Waste Baseline Report.

What are the benefits of composting?

There are many benefits to composting organics over sending them to landfill. Firstly, composting helps to recover nutrients and organic material that can regenerate soils, critical to agricultural productivity. Secondly, diverting organics from landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions, odour and leachate.

Composting can also save council’s and ratepayers considerable expense. In the case of councils and shires that already have a kerbside garden organics recovery services, food can also be added at little cost, which currently can make up as much as 40 per cent of a kerbside rubbish bin.

Where is composting today?

Currently, about 42 per cent of households nationally have access to kerbside organics collection service according to the National Waste Report and 15 per cent have access to food and garden collection Services (FOGO).

South Australian households have the highest access to organic kerbside collections at 92 per cent, NSW 60 per cent and Victoria 56 per cent as reported by the federal Department of Environment and Energy in its report ‘Analysis of Australia’s municipal recycling infrastructure capacity’.

Strategically, each jurisdiction has a different approach to advancing their organics recovery and only Victoria has a dedicated organics resource recovery strategy. Overall, each state government has resource recovery targets for the next decade in the order of 65 per cent to 75 per cent for commercial and municipal streams. To achieve these targets the majority of tonnage will have to come from diverting organics including food waste to composting.

In terms of investment, NSW has the single largest funding program for organics recovery, with around $9 million per annum from 2017 to 2021 as part of the Waste Less, Recycle More. Victoria recently completed a $3.3 million organics recovery program and is currently focused on implementing its e-waste landfill ban and recycling challenges.

While Queensland does not have a specific organics’ program, funding is available through its Resource Recovery Industry Development Program. A key element of Western Australia’s new 2030 waste avoidance and resource recovery strategy is to have a consistent three bin kerbside collection system, including separation of food and garden organics from other waste categories, to be provided by all local governments in the Perth and Peel region by 2025.

How can we accelerate the diversion of organics from landfill in Australia?

While there is clear intent by each state and territory government to divert food and organics from landfill, the NWRIC, in consultation with the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has developed a four-part plan on how best to advance the composting sector.

1. Develop markets for compost

Further development of urban municipal and commercial markets has the potential to utilise large volumes of compost. Key markets include mine site rehabilitation and urban redevelopment such as highways. However, long term, agriculture has the potential to be the largest market for compost, improving soil carbon, providing healthy soils and promoting sustainable food production. Coordinated research and action that links organics diversion with the direct benefits of compost and soil carbon in agriculture is required to develop this market.

2. Long term planning for siting and protecting organic recycling facilities

In order to meet the recycling targets proposed in the state and national waste policies, Australia will need many new organics recycling facilities. The creation of organics recycling facilities requires appropriate sites and surrounding land buffers that are protected for the life of their operation. It is important that these sites are provisioned for in local and state government plans.

3. Reduce contamination in municipal and commercial waste derived compost

Compost derived from household and commercial bins can be contaminated with plastics and other undesirable materials. Through improved education and product stewardship, contamination can be reduced, and clean compost produced. Equally important will be ensuring that all compostable packaging used complies with Australian Standards for home composting AS 5810-2010 and or industrial composting AS 4736-2006 and is clearly labelled.

4. Enforcement of nationally consistent standards for the outputs from organics processing.

While most operators manufacture high quality organic products the presence of substandard products and facilities can undermine the market and damage consumer confidence. Therefore, the enforcement the existing standard for composting output AS4454 – 2012, Composts, soil conditioners and mulches is critical.

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World’s first composting hackathon

The aim for Yarrabilba in south east Queensland to become Australia’s first ‘sustainable food city’ has given rise to the world’s first compost hackathon.

As part of the Food Agility CRC project, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Lendlease invited tech-savvy groups to develop a prototype for community composting.

Centre for Recycling of Organic Waste and Nutrients Director Johannes Biala said the event was organised as a hackathon to bring coders, developers and designers together around a common cause.

“Hackathon competitors were asked to develop high-tech organics recycling and food production systems, where in-situ monitoring and data collection facilitates a ‘green credit’ reward and incentive based circular economy for organics,” Mr Biala said.

“Fun, food and connections was the motto of the hackathon, which was hosted and facilitated by Substation 33 — an e-waste recycling and digital innovation social enterprise in Logan, south of Brisbane.”

The event included peer-to-peer skills exchange, roving technology, innovation and business mentors and the opportunity to meet Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur Leanne Kemp.

“Team names such as Rawesome Foursome, Rumble Tumble, Green Cycle, Throw’n’ Grow and Wastey Boyz is a good indication that everyone had a good time,” Mr Biala said.

“It was also hard work for all competitors, for example, one group developed a fully integrated network of existing and start-up companies to make a circular economy for organics work.”

Mr Biala said other examples included a prototype for a sensor driven rotary home composter and a sensor enabled organics collection bin that rejects non-organic materials.

“Prize money of $1000 for the winning team was incentive enough for competing teams to put on the thinking cap and burn the midnight oil,” Mr Biala said.

“In the end, the judges selected the Wastey Boyz as the winning team. The presentation of the prize money in form of an old fashioned cheque gave most of them the opportunity to see a fossil of our payment system for the first time in their lives.”

Project leader and QUT Lecturer Dr Carol Richards said the winning team would be invited to work with Substation 33 to further develop the prototype, with the aim of piloting the innovation at the Yarrabilba master planned community.

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Peats Group opens new composting and renewable energy site

Organics recycling, composting and renewable energy manufacturer Peats Group have opened a fourth compost and renewable energy site in South Australia.

The site, located in the Upper Spencer Gulf Region, is the first of many planned for the region as part of the Regional Jobs and Investment Packages grant incentive – awarded to Peats Group in September 2017.

Peats Group Managing Director Peter Wadewitz said the site will produce renewable energy and valuable soil improvement products.

“Redirecting organic recyclable materials from homes and businesses away from landfill means ozone depleting methane gas is redirected into captured biogas for renewable energy production, without affecting the production of the valuable soil improvement products,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“The official opening aims to be a celebration of both growth in renewable energy technologies in the Upper Spencer Gulf region and the expansion of a proud South Australian company with a great vision for the future.”

Mr Wadewitz said the new site will also expand the company’s practice of converting grease and liquid waste into biodiesel fuel.

“The biodiesel plant installed at Peats Brinkley site separates fats from water using Peats proprietary technology and converts it into biodiesel to fuel its vehicles,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“Call it a mix of old fashioned “Flintstones” basics with futuristic “Mad Max” fossil fuel.”

The production of compost product has commenced, with the renewable energy plant expected to be fully operational by 30 June 2020.

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International Compost Awareness Week kicks off in May

International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW) will see global organisations band together to build awareness of the benefits of compost.

Activities and celebrations will take place in Australia, the United States, Canada, Europe, Ireland and the Czech Republic in the first full week of May.

Starting in Canada in 1995, ICAW has grown into an annual international event as more people, businesses, municipalities, schools and organisations begin to recognise the importance of compost and the long-term benefits of organics recycling.

Australian Organics Recycling Association National Executive Officer Diana De Hulsters said the goal of the program is to raise public awareness of how the use of compost can improve and maintain high quality soil, grow healthy plants, reduce the use of fertiliser and pesticides, improve water quality and protect the environment.

“Globally we have seen that innovative programs and successful efforts have improved organics recycling and sustainability,” Ms Hulsters said.

“International partners are coming together to broaden the understanding of compost use and promote awareness of the recycling of organic residuals.”

Ms Hulsters said while details vary amongst countries, a number of the facts about organics recycling and compost use transcend political and cultural boundaries.

“Soil health and productivity are dependent on organic matter in the form of compost or humus to provide the sustenance for biological diversity in the soil,” Ms Hulsters said.

“Plants depend on this to convert materials into plant-available nutrients and to keep the soil well-aerated. Additional benefits include the reduced need for pesticide usage to ward off soil-borne and other plant diseases.”

Ms Hulsters also highlighted the climate change mitigation benefits of composting by explaining how compost soil returns serve as a carbon bank.

“Diverting food and yard waste from landfills reduces the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty-five times more powerful than carbon dioxide,” Ms Hulsters said.

“The use of landfill space and incineration can be reduced by at least one-third when organics are recycled. Focused attention on recycling organic residuals is key to achieving high diversion rates.”

The ICAW program includes tours of compost facilities, school gardening programs, compost workshops, lectures by gardening experts and compost give-away days.

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Zero-waste event for VWMA’s international composting week

The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) will be running a “zero-waste event” as part of International Composting Awareness Week (ICAW), including site tours and an industry breakfast, from 6 to 12 May in Melbourne.

ICAW is a week of activities, events and publicity to improve awareness of the importance of compost, a valuable organic resource and to promote compost use, knowledge and products.

The week is designed to generate awareness about the importance of composting and promote its wider use.

VWMA will be running a series of events to raise the profile of composting and organic resource recovery, profile the waste hierarchy and support the people and businesses innovating in the sector. Both members and non-members are invited to attend.

VWMA Chief Executive Officer Mark said that the VWMA believes this will be its first zero waste event, made possible through its partnerships with City of Port Phillip, Corio Waste Management/Western Composting, STREAT and BioPak.

Zero waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused working toward a goal of no trash to be sent to landfills.

Mr Smith said that this effectively means everything the VWMA, event caterer and partnering organisations bring into the St Kilda Town Hall for Monday’s ICAW Breakfast will be recyclable or compostable and should become a standard request by anyone organising events of similar scale/features.

VWMA is also working in conjunction with organisations such as Compost Revolution, Yume, Cleanaway, Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne Cricket Ground to promote business composting efficiency and positive environmental outcomes.

So where will this event’s organic waste from the breakfast end up?

The waste will be processed in Western Composting Technology’ best practise facility in Shepparton Central Victoria.

Working with Corio Waste Management and Western Composting Technology, the VWMA will deliver several 120-litre food waste containers and bioplastic bags to the City of Port Phillip kitchen within the venue space. After which time the bins will be removed and material transported to Shepparton after consolidation in Altona.

The food waste will then be processed into quality certified 4454-2012 compost and on sold to our customers within the Goulburn Valley region. The only requirement is that the material placed into the bins is food waste only in approved compostable bags.

Mr Smith said VWMA have organised behind the scenes access to a number of sites and facilities for its members and others interested in the industry.

“It’s so important that we build on national and international weeks of relevance to bring a positive profile to the great work happening in this space,” Mr Smith said.

“We believe these events will do that and I encourage anyone that has an interest in this space to come along. I hope tours showcasing the sector will become a standard activity for us in Victoria.”

In addition to breakfast on Monday the VWMA is also working with the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group, CERES, Melbourne Zoo, MCG, South Melbourne Market and Cleanaway to take a behind the scenes tour of how different organisations manage organic waste.

Featured events:

Monday 6 May:

Breakfast and program showcase:
A working breakfast will take place at the St Kilda Town Hall. Hear from leaders in sustainable packaging, food rescue, FOGO and more. The breakfast will include prizes and competitions for the attendees as well an outline of the City of Port Phillip’s waste strategy. Attendees at this event will include waste industry, local government, state government, councillors and MPs.

Thursday 9 May

Site tours:

The VWMA has created a unique opportunity to showcase the technology and approaches adopted by different businesses, entertainment venues/sites and operators working to better manage organic waste. The tour will include pick up, travel and drop off with prices including catering for the day.

Sites include: MCG, Melbourne Zoo, Cleanaway organic facility (Dandenong), CERES and South Melbourne Market.

For more information please visit the VWMA website. You can read more about ICAW here.

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Raising the bar for composting in Australia

The compost industry in Australia needs to improve its self-regulation to secure its ongoing social license to operate, writes Angus Johnston, Principal Consultant at Jackson Environment and Planning.

Read moreRaising the bar for composting in Australia

CEFC finance composting facility for Melbourne councils

Organic waste from eight Melbourne councils will be sent to a new composting facility, to be built by international waste management company Sacyr Group.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) will commit up to $35 million towards the new composting facility.

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The $65 million South Eastern Organics Processing Facility will be the most advanced of its type in Victoria and will produce approximately 50,000 tonnes of high grade compost each year.

The compost will be made from processed household garden and food waste from council kerbside green waste collections in Melbourne’s south-east, which will then be used on local parks and gardens.

Food and green waste makes up an estimated 42 per cent of landfill for Australia’s municipal and commercial waste streams.

The Melbourne councils include Bayside, Cardinia, Casey, Frankston, Glen Eira, Greater Dandenong, Kingston and Monash.

Sacyr expects the fully-enclosed, in-vessel aerobic composting and maturation plant will be operational by mid-2019. It will aim to operate for 15 years, with a potential five-year extension.

The new facility will have an annual processing capacity of 120,000 tonnes of waste each year, the equivalent of 12,000 truckloads of waste. It is expected to abate more than 65,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. This would cut the greenhouse gas emissions from landfill by 85 per cent if it were to be landfilled, which is equivalent to taking 13,900 cars off the road.

Sacyr Group has built 48 plants around the world and handles more than three million tonnes of waste each year. It currently operates in Australia through its subsidiary, Sacyr Water, which has built and operates the Binningup desalination plant.

The technology used in the plant has been developed over two decades, ensures plant storage reservoirs are completely closed, and uses efficient and reliable deodorisation systems.

Federal Government  Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said converting waste to compost can play a part in Australia’s long-term waste solutions.

“This facility alone, which will be the most advanced of its type in Victoria, can process around 12,000 truckloads of waste per year,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“It means food and organic waste produced by south east Melbourne residents will not end up in landfill and will instead produce high-grade compost for our gardens and parks.”

CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said the corporation is looking across the economy to identify finance opportunities to reduce Australia’s emissions.

“We’re pleased to be making our first project investment to help councils and communities tackle emissions from their organic waste,” he said.

“When organic waste such as food and green waste ends up in landfill it breaks down and produces methane. With this technology, councils can avoid those emissions by turning their organic waste into reusable compost, while also reducing our unsustainable reliance on landfill as a waste disposal option.

“We strongly endorse the principle of avoiding and reducing waste at the source. Our finance is about effectively manage the remaining waste, so that it doesn’t end up as landfill and we make a meaningful difference to our greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Learmonth said.

CEFC Bioenergy Sector lead Henry Anning said the CEFC finance model for the Melbourne project was an industry first, providing councils with access to a project financing structure that has rarely been leveraged across local government.

“Australia’s waste sector is facing enormous challenges, because of the growing amount of waste we produce as well as increasing community concerns about the way we handle that waste. This new Melbourne facility provides us with a practical and proven way to turn organic waste into a reusable commodity at the same time as avoiding harmful emissions,” Mr Anning said.

“We expect to see more councils and communities consider innovative ways to manage all forms of waste. This innovative project finance model offers opportunities for other groups of councils considering investing in substantial waste management infrastructure to reduce landfill waste.”

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