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Ray Cox from Landair Surveys offers an aerial solution to identifying landfill hotspots with drones and thermal cameras.
Waste Management Review explores the impact of NSW’s dwindling putrescible landfill space and its effect on long-term infrastructure planning.
Following the lead of Victoria and South Australia, the NSW EPA (EPA), in partnership with Infrastructure NSW, announced it was developing a waste strategy.
The strategy aims to set a 20-year vision for reducing waste, drive sustainable recycling markets and identify and improve the state and regional waste infrastructure network.
It will also aim to provide the waste industry with certainty and set goals and incentives to ensure the correct infrastructure decisions are made to meet community needs.
Stakeholders, including local government, industry experts and the broader community, will work with the EPA over the next six months to provide an evidence base and address the key priorities for the waste and resource recovery sector. This will include examining similar waste strategies in Australia and around the world.
The NSW EPA had released a Draft NSW Waste and Resource Recovery Needs Report 2017-21 in 2017 but the document never went past the consultation stage. The document in itself forecasts the population of NSW will grow to over 8.2 million and it is expected the state will need to process nearly 20 million tonnes of waste. According to the document, there is a known capacity of 31.8 million tonnes of putrescible landfill space per annum, with a gap of 742,000 tonnes per annum.
“Assuming the 2021 resource recovery diversion target is met, NSW will have sufficient existing (or planned and approved) landfill capacity,” the report says.
According to NSW Government’s half-yearly review at the end of 2018, treasury will collect an extra $133.4 million in the current fiscal year alone from its waste levy and an additional $726.7 million over four years. The extra finance suggests additional waste is being landfilled. According to the National Waste Report 2018, core waste (MSW, C&I, C&D) in NSW has grown over the past 11 years by 14 per cent.
Colin Sweet, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Landfill Owners Association, says that as old landfills filled up, they weren’t replaced with new ones. He recalls the last approval for a putrescible waste landfill was Veolia’s landfill at Woodlawn was well over a decade ago.
“A number of people have tried to get new landfills up and running, but they were either refused or the applicant run out of patience through the planning approval process,” he says.
“You could argue that waste companies looked at how difficult it was to get an approval and how much money was spent to try and get approval and be unsuccessful and that they had very little appetite to commence their own application.”
As a result, Colin says there are no putrescible landfills that receive waste from the Sydney metropolitan area other than SUEZ’s Lucas Heights facility and Veolia’s landfill at its Woodlawn site, despite an appropriate regulatory environment.
The most recent putrescible landfill, that services the Sydney metro area, to be approved was the Woodlawn Bioreactor in 2000 (commissioned in 2004).
Colin says that regional areas lack the capacity to fill the void, with many facing airspace shortages.
He says that the problem is compounded in the event of a bushfire, derailment for Woodlawn, flood or other problem that places either landfill temporarily out of action.
“If one of those facilities shuts down, the other facility doesn’t have the capacity to accept the waste that can no longer go to the facility that is shut down.”
A spokesperson for EPA NSW said natural disasters and other serious incidents can occur at any time or location and the NSW Government has plans in place to respond to such events.
“That planning includes alternative emergency waste management processing and disposal options are available,” they said.
The spokesperson highlighted plans for a 20-year waste strategy for NSW.
“The strategy will set a roadmap towards an integrated waste and resource recovery network across metropolitan and regional NSW, set setting medium-term targets to enable certainty and guide investment by government and industry and strengthen data collection to inform future reform,” they said.
Colin notes that cascading plans exist in Victoria that provide the waste and resource recovery industry with certainty. Sustainability Victoria (SV) has a Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Plan (MWRRG), while the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group also has the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan.
Colin explains that the fact that the EPA is designing an infrastructure plan is not without its flaws.
“The EPA will probably come up with a very good plan from a technical perspective, but it’s the planning department who will effectively decide whether those projects proceed or not,” he says.
A government agency responsible for land use planning across the metropolitan area known as the Greater Sydney Commission has responsibility for planning, but Colin says it does not even come close to Victoria’s quality of waste infrastructure plans. As landfills could take up to 10 years to approve, Colin says the issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
“If you’re going to spend that kind of money over that period of time, you need to have some confidence you will get approval for an environmentally compliant facility which the community needs,” Colin says.
Colin cites Dial-a-Dump’s The Next Generation proposal as one example of the challenges facing NSW landfill planning.
“The Malouf facility made sense because he was going to put his waste to energy facility next to his landfill and could have sent the ash to the landfill via a conveyor belt.”
“Other waste companies would look at that and how much money he spent on trying to get an approval and then ask themselves if they want to spend X amount of dollars,” he says.
Colin says there is virtually no suitably zoned land allocated in NSW for waste management facilities.
As far as the interstate transport to Queensland issue is concerned, Colin questions whether a $70 levy will stop waste from flowing to NSW, which has a $140 levy and higher gate fees for non-putrescible waste. He notes that Sydney will have a gate fee of about $250, including a $140 waste levy versus QLD’s $100 gate fee, including a levy of $70. He says carting waste to NSW may therefore slow waste movement down, but he could not foresee it stopping completely.
“The ideal scenario is that areas within NSW and metropolitan Sydney need to be identified as potential waste management facilities. That also means that within NSW, there needs to be areas marked which are going to be future landfills and those areas would obviously be former or current mining sites.”
“There are other mine sites across NSW, including coal mining, where there are enormous voids, which could be safely used for landfilling.”
Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council says that the difficulty in getting planning approvals over the line is timing.
“The most recent approval was granted in 2017 for the expansion of the Lucas Heights facility. This took between four to five years to get approved.
“Based on past experience approval, the construction of a new landfill would take around eight years allowing for four to five years planning approval and two to three years construction.”
Rose says that the NSW Government has completely dropped the ball on waste and recycling in the state.
The NSW Waste Less, Recycle More initiative aimed to increase recycling from 63 per cent (2010/11) to 75 per cent (2021/22) diversion from landfill.
“At 2016/17 the diversion rate is 62 per cent even though the government through its Waste Less Recycle More initiative has invested over $500 million from June 2012 to July 2017.
“In 2017-18 alone the NSW Government received $769 million dollars revenue from the waste levy. Why is there so little of the waste levy going back into waste and recycling – an essential community service?”
Rose notes that a needs analysis completed in 2017 by the NSW EPA clearly shows a lack of capacity across the current waste infrastructure to achieve the diversion targets for 2021.
“What has been the government’s response? In 2018, NSW actually reduced it’s capacity to divert waste from landfill by stopping the applicatio
n of mixed waste organics and putting a hold on any progress to establishing energy recovery capacity within the state.”
She says these are two key resource recovery processes essential to diverting more waste from landfill and extending the life of the current putrescible landfills servicing Sydney.
Rose notes that only recently has the NSW Government flagged it will prepare a 20-year NSW Waste Infrastructure Plan that won’t be complet
ed until the end of 2019.
“This is on top of the impacts of China’s National Sword, the impending introduction of the Queensland levy and the vast amount of construction going on in NSW will put substantial pressure on landfill capacity in NSW.”
The main planning challenge that needs to be addressed is the commitment to protecting existing, and identifying new, locations for waste management and resource recovery.
Rose says that while the performance particularly over the last two years of the NSW Government in waste avoidance and resource recovery does not instil a lot of confidence with industry, NWRIC is ever hopeful and committed to working with government.
“NSW has the potential to transform waste management and resource recovery. It has the funding through an annual waste levy of more than $700 million per annum.
“It has a sound Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy and it has a sound planning strategy for the Greater Sydney Region Plan “A metropolis of three cities”. What it currently lacks is leadership and a commitment to actually implement these strategies and deliver on its targets and intentions in a timely manner.”
A spokesperson for SUEZ said that modern and highly engineered landfills play a necessary role in managing New South Wales’ waste, now and in the future.
“SUEZ has an extensive waste management network servicing Sydney which has allowed us to always accept waste to our landfills. However the waste hierarchy also acknowledges the role that energy recovery can play in waste management,” they said.
“In regards to contingency planning, SUEZ maintains business continuity processes at all our facilities as part of our standard operating procedures.”
Marc Churchin – Group General Manager, NSW – Veolia Australia and New Zealand, says that policy certainty and building a collaborative regulatory framework which focuses on extracting and returning value at all stages of the waste lifecycle will make or break NSW’s sustainability leadership.
“In the last ten years, Veolia has committed some $150 million in the development of waste technology and infrastructure to lead the creation of a circular economy including mechanical biological treatment, bioreactor technology, leachate treatment, organics recovery and materials recovery.
“In order for this to continue, and to drive the best outcomes for community, business and municipal sectors, the NSW Government must create optimal conditions for private and public investment in long-term infrastructure which reduces the social and environmental impact of waste.”
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Planning and Environment refuted claims that it had been historically difficult for proponents to gain approvals for putrescible landfills in metropolitan Sydney.
“Approvals for putrescible landfills in NSW can be granted by either a council or the minister for planning (or his/her delegate). The minister has been the consent authority for only one putrescible landfill in the metropolitan Sydney area in recent years, the Lucas Heights Landfill, which was approved in about 14 months,” they said.
The spokesperson also responded to questions regarding the lengthy approvals process for landfills, whether there was suitably zoned land and the impact of the Queensland levy.
“The department is not aware of a putrescible landfill approval which the minister for Planning (or his delegate) was the consent authority taking 10 years.”
“The State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007 permits waste facilities, including putrescible landfills, in a range of appropriate zones across the state, including some rural, industrial and special purpose zones.”
“The department is working with the EPA and the waste industry to assist in addressing the impacts of the Queensland levy where appropriate. Representatives of the department are also active members of the National Sword taskforce which is a whole of government group addressing a range of issues brought on by the limits imposed on the export of waste.”
Position Partners highlights the multiple productivity and safety benefits of its Carlson LandfillGrade machine guidance system.
Shoalhaven City Council’s West Nowra landfill facility will use an Australian-first technology to preserve its landfill and achieve a 90 per cent red bin recovery rate.
Along the coastal plains, about 200 kilometres south from Sydney, lies the City of Shoalhaven, a local government area bordered by mountains and 100 sublime beaches.
Home to almost 100,000 residents, the total waste collected at the kerbside per capita had been growing steadily.
Over the past two decades, resource recovery investment had been increasing, but there had still been no solution to the council’s landfill problem. Concerns of dwindling airspace had escalated and a long-term strategy was required.
While the council had invested heavily in forward landfill disposal capacity and planning for missed waste, Shoalhaven had been evaluating its options since the early 2000s. In 2006, an investigation into reducing waste disposal demand to maximise Shoalhaven’s Nowra Landfill facility showed limiting airspace and increasing waste was an issue.
A number of trials were conducted in 2008 on domestic waste processing, including green waste, in addition to a cost benefit analysis into a resource recovery park. Over these years, an economic analysis of domestic waste processing costs and an alternative waste treatment facility was conducted. By 2013, council resolved to call for expressions of interest for establishing a resource recovery park and alternative waste treatment facility.
The calls for tender arose as Shoalhaven City Council’s West Nowra landfill facility was tipped to reach capacity by 2031 or earlier, prompting an industry-wide consultation phase.
TENDERING FOR TECH
David Hojem, Waste Services Manager at Shoalhaven City Council, says council was looking for a novel approach to solve its landfill problem.
“We went out to tender in a fairly open process that was available to experts in the industry to find a solution to recover our waste,” David says.
David says expressions of interest occurred around 2014, taking some years to find the right technology and site and go through the relevant approvals, including environmental impact statements.
Shoalhaven discovered Bioelektra Group’s mechanical heat treatment process – an innovative technology used in Poland that sterilises and dries the mixed waste streambefore sorting it into individual fraction and then recycling. The solution would allow for the recovery of mixed waste from its red bin that was going to landfill.
The most common system for treating municipal solid waste using mechanical heat treatment is an autoclave, according to a UK Government document on the process. The 2013 document explain that it is common for sanitising clinical wastes, prior to being sent to landfill, but its application in municipal solid waste is a relatively recent innovation.
As the technology would become an Australian-first, David says the council had to do a lot of background research.
“We travelled to the only currently operating plant in Poland, spoke to their customers, downstream recyclers and regulators and did thorough research on it,” he says.
NET ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS
Shoalhaven in particular was looking to avoid having more vehicles on the road that could have occurred by introducing a third bin, in addition to diverting 90 per cent of its red bin waste from landfill and safeguarding its bins from contamination.
The additional cost to provide each household with a green bin would have been about $150 a year and by taking a different approach, the council would avoid having to increase its rates. As a result of reducing its waste to landfill, the council’s waste levy bill to the NSW Government is projected to reduce by nearly $7 million ($4 million for domestic waste) per year.
“We are really swimming against the flow as the NSW EPA are actively promoting the food and garden organics (FOGO) bin,” he says.
“Our philosophy is that more bins require more rules for residents to follow, and we know many people don’t follow those rules so we needed to make it simple.”
In January this year, Shoalhaven City Council announced it was entering into a long-term contract with Bioelektra Australia after the company had successfully won the tender. The new resource recovery facility will be constructed on council-owned land adjacent to the current West Nowra Landfill site. Works will commence in 2019 and the facility is expected to be fully operational by late 2021.
The facility will be funded and built by Bioelektra Australia. The 20-year contract allows for 130,000 tonnes per year of processing capacity, but the initial design capacity is 100,000. Bioelektra will apply to the EPA for an environmental protection license to operate the facility.
While council’s projected landfill will be extended from 12 years to more than 50, Shoalhaven boasts that 100 per cent of everything householders place in the red bin that can be recycled, will be. The facility will also have capacity to process material from neighbouring councils and reduce waste across the region. It will capture all recyclables, including green waste and convert them into biomass that can be used as an additive for brick manufacture and cement rendering.
THE TESTING PHASE
Fred Itaoui, Managing Director of Bioelektra Group, says he aims for the technology to act as an adjunct to good source separation. Following a more than 30-year career in facilities management, Fred’s passion had been to find a solution to landfill. In 2006, Fred embarked on a research and development phase and came across a Polish engineer that had built the mechanical heat treatment technology.
Bioelektra Group ran a pilot program in Poland for its heat treatment facility from 2010-12, located in the western Poland village of Róžanki. The success of the pilot led to the plant’s commercialisation in 2012 and it has been fully operational since.
“My whole passion is to reduce our reliance on landfill and the amount of single-use plastics we use. I feel this will provide opportunities for people to think about what they’re buying from the supermarket and make the right decision,” he says.
Bioelektra entered the Australian market in 2017 as part of a global strategy mirrored in Chile, Argentina, India, Iran and Turkey. It followed numerous testing and commercialisation of the technology over a five-year period.
“There were a lot of skeptics that said mechanical heat treatment had been tried in the UK and US and failed miserably, so we wanted to ensure we covered those aspects and answered those questions that did come up,” Fred says.
He adds that other autoclaves had been larger and therefore it was harder to dry the material.
“Since then, Shoalhaven Council have applied their own forensic analysis of the technology. It was pleasing they did that, as it showed what was scientifically proven, was also proven operationally.”
He says that as the technology makes waste inert, whatever material is sent to landfill will have no pathogen. Over the long term, this means environmental risks such as leachate, landfill gas, odour and litter associated with putrescible waste will be significantly reduced. Fred says this makes it not only easy to compact, but makes the land more usable to rehabilitate into parks and gardens post-closure.
“Sending the material to a facility like ours further enhances the recyclability of the product and extracts resources. Even if people make a mistake in the yellow bin, that waste has an alternative rather than sending 20 to 30 per cent of it to landfill because of wrongful contamination.”
He says that Bioelektra wants to solve the global challenge of landfill shortages.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The process involves several stages. Yellow bin recyclables will continue to go to a materials recovery facility, with the residuals sent to the mechanical heat treatment facility and landfilled if required. Red bin materials will be sent directly to the site.
The process of treating mixed municipal solid waste begins after the material is loaded into a reception hall. From there, it is reviewed to ensure there is no construction waste, metals or hazardous materials the system is unable to process. It then gets placed into a shredder and autoclave, known as the RotoSTERIL BEG7000, which sterilises the material. The material remains in the autoclave for up to three hours at 150 degrees and five bars of pressure, which evaporates the waste by subjecting it to steam under pressure, and significantly reduces its volume.
The moist material then goes through an air dryer conveyor belt and the sanitised waste is separated. After the natural sterilisation process is complete, waste is unloaded to a buffer zone. Through a lifting feeder integrated with a magnetic separator, waste is transported to a set of mechanical pneumatic screens equipped with an eddy current which isolates any metal. Organics, metals, glass, plastics and paper are processed on site and recycled into various end products. Refuse-derived fuel, produced from combustible wastes such as non-recyclable plastics and paper, is isolated by near-infrared sensors. Glass is meanwhile separated and broken down in the form of a cullet.
Fred says the process complements recyclers as the dry waste allows for sorting lines to be able to separate the material more accurately.
Among the cost savings offered to councils are not paying waste levies, in addition to lower operational costs through an automated process and improved safety by not having to employ picking staff.
“My aspiration is really to have more sites around regional areas, as well as metropolitan. We are looking at two to three plants around NSW, as well as in Queensland and a similar plant in Victoria,” he says.
For David, the main goal for Shoalhaven City Council is waste avoidance. Having worked at council for the past 15 years, he has worked on numerous strategies to boost resource recovery, including the Waste Reduction Management Strategy. With all the right conditions at play, David says the only real challenge now is getting support from state agencies.
“Technology all comes with some hype and you have to cut through it to see what will really work. But having looked at the facility, I think it really will,” he says.
More than 300 waste management and resource recovery operators have descended on Brisbane this week to discuss landfill and transfer station innovation, design, operation and regulation at the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia’s (WMRR) 2019 Australian Landfills and Transfer Stations Conference.
WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the organisation and its sponsors invested in the conference because they recognise that landfills play an important role and are integral to both environment and community safety.
“We must continue to ensure that Australia’s landfills are world’s best practice in order that we continue to maintain a network of high-quality engineered facilities that effectively manages our residual waste while ensuring human health and the environment are protected at all times.
“The role of landfills goes beyond the responsible disposal of residual waste. Landfills and transfer stations play a fundamental role during periods of service and economic disruption and post-disaster emergency waste management,” Ms Sloan said.
Queensland Minister for Environment Leeanne Enoch, who opened the conference, noted the groundswell of community support for effective waste management and resource recovery, and reiterated the Queensland Government’s commitment to transitioning to a circular economy.
“Queensland now has a waste levy after years of getting by without an effective market signal. The levy will bolster the recycling and resource recovery sector without a cost impact on community. It will lead to job creation and new industries that manufacture products using recycled content.
“The levy is just one vital component. The draft waste management and resource recovery strategy, which is currently out for consultation, sets the course for Queensland to become a zero-waste society where the waste we produce is reused and recycled as much as possible,” Ms. Enoch said.
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The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) has called on the NSW Government to direct waste levy funds collected in the region to sustainable waste management programs for western Sydney.
According to WSROC President Barry Calvert, the NSW Government has reinvested only $20 million of the $225 million collected from western Sydney waste levies over the last five years.
“Each year councils pay the NSW Government a significant levy on waste sent to landfill, the aim of the levy is admirable – to discourage landfill and encourage recycling and reuse – however, only a small percentage is actually used for this purpose.
“Government should be using waste levy money for the purpose it was collected – to promote a more sustainable waste sector,” he said.
Levy rates for NSW are $81.30 per tonne in regional areas and $141.20 per tonne in metropolitan areas like western Sydney.
Mr Calvert said given that western Sydney processes the majority of the cities waste, improving recycling and resource recovery in the area is critical.
“We should be seeing $234 million invested in helping councils adapt to the new market conditions caused by the China National Sword Policy, investing in the development of local recycling markets and waste processing infrastructure, and implementing measures to reduce waste generation,” Mr Calvert said.
The state governments half yearly budget review, released late last year, showed the treasury collected $769 million in 2017-18.
At the Save Our Recycling Election Summit earlier the year Local Government NSW voiced similar concerns, calling for 100 per cent of waste levy funds to be re-invested into sustainable waste management initiatives for the state.
A new process turning waste glass into everyday products could save millions of tonnes of glass from landfill every year.
University of Queensland PhD candidate Rhys Pirie and Professor Damien Batstone developed a method to extract liquid silicate from waste glass.
The process can be used to make thousands of products ranging from concrete sealers to toothpaste.
The method creates little waste with almost all glass being turned into saleable products.
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Mr Pirie estimates the process will be more than 50 per cent cheaper than conventional silicate production methods.
“It requires less energy, raw materials and capital, and that’s before you consider the reduced social and economic costs,” he said.
Pirie began looking into the possibilities of glass recycling after working with Batstone who specialises in converting waste into high-value products.
“My PhD has highlighted how we need to make use of both the raw materials in waste streams and the energy embodied in them during manufacture,” Pirie said.
The pair believe the process will create positive, far-reaching and virtuous economic cycles.
UQ’s commercialisation company, UniQuest, has filed a patent covering the process and is now looking for commercial partners.
The research was co-funded by the Cotton Research and Development Council and Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
Shoalhaven City Council has improved machine efficiency, maximised airspace and extended its landfill site after turning to Position Partners for support.
Waste management company Bingo Industries has offered to sell its Banksmeadow processing plant to ease ACCC competition concerns regarding its $578 million purchase of Dial-a-Dump.