Waste 2018 wrap-up

Government representatives were out in full force at this year’s Waste 2018 to discuss the challenges facing kerbside recycling.

From National Sword to the future of waste, this year’s Waste 2018 tackled all the big issues, while providing a constructive discussion of solutions to the problems facing kerbside recycling.

As one of the industry’s long-running conferences, established in 1996, the Coffs Harbour waste management conference has become a staple event for the waste sector. This year’s conference was no exception, with high profile presenters, networking functions and exhibitors showcasing the latest technologies.

Some of the highlights included Sustainability Victoria’s (SV) data analytics specialist, Guy Pritchard, Manager, Data Investment and Procurement, who had a foretelling presentation. SV has a publicly available data portal, which shows actual and projected waste quantities and recovery rates in Victoria – broken down by material. It has established this using a circular economy model to integrate its 15-years’ worth of trend data. The presentation showed how modern data and predictive analytics can be used to drive operational directions and be proactive rather than reactive. Guy explained traditional data was used to measure past performance, but now the industry can leverage data to a greater extent in their planning.

“One of the things that’s apparent almost immediately when we did this – we’ve got very good data on the collection, we’ve got pretty good data on the generation, we’ve got good data on sorting and landfill,” Guy told the audience at Waste 2018.

“But as we go further around the circle, our data becomes less and less reliable and we actually don’t have anything in design and production stages…but we started out with 12.6 million tonnes of waste being generated. We’d actually like to add in material flows so we know how much material is actually remaining in the economy, not just that which is coming through as waste and we’re working on that.”

Guy said materials such as plastics could be measured by volume, instead of tonnes going forward. This includes polystyrene, which has significant amounts still going to landfill.

“What we really need to do with plastics is probably map value, rather than tonnes.”

Throughout Waste 2018, councils and consultants showcased their progressive projects, from Victoria’s Albury City Council five-local government strong collaborative project – enabled halve waste, to northern Tasmania’s Justwaste Consulting, which has looked extensively into food and garden organics collection.

But a prevailing conversation was China’s National Sword policy – the nation’s ban on 24 categories of solid waste with strict contamination rules.

A noticeable presence of government representatives took the reins to explain how they were responding to the crisis, which has plunged numerous council contracts into renegotiations. These discussions took place over several panels, including Wednesday’s panel dedicated to the impact of China and Thursday’s talk, focusing on waste policies and regulations across the states and territories.

The discussions were met with constructive feedback from a couple of waste industry stalwarts, who frustratingly argued that they were ready and willing to establish new facilities, namely waste to energy, but raised the question: when will they finally have the investment certainty and the confidence to proceed?

Wednesday’s panel saw a lively debate on the impact of National Sword.

“What I’ve been impressed with is there’s enormous goodwill from local government, the community, state and businesses to find a solution. Not once have I heard people pointing fingers or blaming each other. In fact, they all recognise the size and the complexity of the problem,” said Stan Krpan, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainability Victoria.

“A million dollars is to support a transition. Bearing in mind, that a million dollars doesn’t go very far in the waste sector, but that’s in addition to $30 million of additional investment in resource recovery.”

Tony Khoury, Executive Director, Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW, said the industry has long regarded kerbside as a free service, but China has now thrown that out the door. He also cautioned against putting recyclables into waste to energy.

States such as Victoria, NSW and SA have all provided some short-term assistance for the sector in response to National Sword, with other states also investigating the impacts to develop a solution.

On Thursday, SUEZ’s Justin Frank, Director of Marketing, Communications and National Key Accounts, spoke of the future of waste in Australia. Justin mentioned that a decade of economic growth in Australia and a short term approach has led to cheaper material imports. The key consequences in the industry have been investment in recycling facilities, a commodity price shock and an inability to react quickly. He argued that we need to play to our strengths and mandate glass in construction. This includes setting a minimum recycled content in products and using construction material as road base. It fed into discussions of a national approach to waste management.

Thursday’s panel included representatives from the ACT, Victorian, Queensland, NSW and South Australian government departments, chaired by Re.Group’s Chief Development Officer Garth Lamb. Topics covered ranged from waste to energy, container deposit schemes, the recent meeting of environment ministers and the National Waste Policy.

Despite the fluid situation in Queensland, Geoff Robson, Executive Director, Environmental Policy and Planning, Department of Environment and Science, pointed out that Queensland this year had a positive story to tell – with plans for a waste levy and new strategy.

Geoff said it was now time for the government to create the policy setting to boost its less than 50 cent recycling rate. He said it is useful for Queensland to learn from other states in developing policies, and the government is looking for alignment in this area where possible. He said the government is discussing the single-use plastic bag ban and container deposit scheme with other states. On waste to energy, Geoff noted the state’s local government association has expressed a strong interest in this space.

Dominik Nicholls, Manager, Waste and Resource Recovery, Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, noted the huge opportunity from April’s meeting of environment ministers and plan for an updated National Waste Policy. She mentioned the noticeable absence from the federal government on the Waste 2018 panel and praised national bodies such as the Australian Council of Recycling and the Waste Management Association of Australia for their leadership. On matters of container deposit schemes (CDS) in Victoria, Dominik said the government was watching NSW closely and wanted to see if a CDS scheme would stack up economically in the state.

Gayle Sloan, Chief Executive Officer, Waste Management Association of Australia, said we need to start thinking like the European Union when it comes to circular economy policy. She mentioned that if the 16 key deliverables were adopted from the 2009 National Waste Policy, then the panel would not be sitting there having this discussion.

On the quality of exhibitions, Lacey Webb, Commercial Strategist at Mandalay Technologies, told Waste Management Review, that Waste 2018 offered a great opportunity to catch up with the industry and discover some of the regulatory and data challenges they’re facing. She said there’s been an interesting focus on Queensland and what’s to come as a result of the planned landfill levy and the data capture required, including what will need to be tracked and how.