With the construction of Hitachi Zosen Inova’s first Australian waste to energy plant, Waste Management Review explores the role of innovation in the budding sector.
Dealing with large-scale infrastructure projects in Melbourne has led to a need to minimise disruption by using non-destructive digging, but this approach is prompting new and innovative solutions to clean up the resulting waste.
Sydney has been ranked Australia’s most sustainable city in 2018, according to the Sustainable Cities Index from Arcadis.
The index ranks 100 cities on three pillars of sustainability which it defines as people, planet and profit.
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Australian cities were mostly located in the centre of the list, with Sydney and Canberra reaching 34th and 35th place. Brisbane was listed as the 44th most sustainable while Melbourne trailed behind at 56.
All of the cities on the list performed well on people focused measures, scoring high in health, education and digital enablement. Cities performed moderately well when it came to profit due to employment and ease of doing business.
However, each Australian city scored worse in the planet pillar, with greenhouse gas emissions and waste management common issues across all four cities.
London was ranked the most sustainable city, with eight of the top ten spots being European cities.
The 2018 Sustainable Cities Index emphasised the impact of how digital technologies have impacted on citizen’s experience of the city, but it found that technology is not yet able to mitigate things like traffic jams, unaffordable transport options, the absence of green space or the uncertainties caused by ageing infrastructure.
Arcadis Australian Cities Director Stephen Taylor said with no Australian city cracking the top 30, there is a need to improve the long-term sustainability, resilience and performance of our cities.
“Across our cities, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, we’ve seen a real shift over the last few years beyond green sustainability to social sustainability. Both government and private developments are increasingly focusing on how projects can better improve communities, including financial gains and community wellness,” Mr Taylor said.
“Despite the middle of the road rankings, the nation’s strong focus on developing integrated transit systems, addressing affordability and embracing sustainability in construction are all positive signs for future improvement across the three pillars,” he said.
Visy is opening a new corrugated cardboard plant in Melbourne’s west with backing from the Victorian Government – creating 85 new jobs and boosting production.
Victorian Government Minister for Industry and Employment Ben Carroll in mid October toured the $99 million facility in Truganina to meet workers and inspect progress of the build.
Corrugated cardboard produced at the plant will be manufactured from 100 per cent recycled paper and cardboard for the local food and beverage market supporting primary producers, manufacturers and retailers.
“Manufacturing in Victoria continues to go from strength-to-strength thanks to the backing of the Andrews Labor Government,” Mr Carrol said.
“We’re backing Visy’s massive expansion because it’ll boost our economy, create 85 new jobs and give work to former auto-workers.”
The Western Australian Government is planning to roll out a campaign that targets littered cigarette butts and packaging after it was found they made up more than a third of the state’s litter.
Keep Australia Beautiful WA’s 2017-18 National Litter Index (NLI) has found discarded butts were responsible for pushing up the state’s litter statistics with a 21.9 per cent increase in cigarette litter. The butts and packaging accounted for 3376 of the 9550 litter items recorded by the count.
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Littering had increased by 2.6 per cent across WA compared to the previous year’s results, but overall littering was still 21 per cent lower than what had been recorded in 2015-16. Takeaway packaging litter in WA had been reduced by 11.3 per cent, according to the NLI with beverage containers also down by seven per cent.
The NLI is measured twice each financial year each state and territory. Litter across 151 sites within 50 kilometres of Perth’s CBD is measured as part of the index, looking at highways, beaches, retail and shopping areas, car parks, recreational parks and residential and industrial areas.
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said cigarette butts are the most littered item in Australia.
“Littered cigarette butts do not break down and are often washed into waterways, causing contamination,” Mr Dawson said.
“They can be mistaken for food by our wildlife and are a blight on the beauty of our state’s natural environment.
“The efforts of the majority are being undermined by the selfish acts of the few who litter. If you are a smoker, please dispose of your cigarette butts responsibly into waste bins. Failing to do this is an offence,” he said.
Nominations for the widely anticipated Women in Industry Awards are now open for 2019.
The Women in Industry Awards recognise outstanding women from across the mining, engineering, manufacturing, road transport, logistics, infrastructure, rail, bulk handling and waste industries.
Nominations are open in the following categories:
European Parliament has endorsed a proposition to ban 10 single-use plastic products which are commonly found on Europe’s beaches and seas, including drinking straws, cutlery and abandoned fishing gear.
The 10 products targeted also include plastic cotton buds, plates, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons and form up to 70 per cent of all marine litter items.
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Single-use drink containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.
Under the rules proposed in May, member states will be obliged to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drink cups. This can be done through national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale or ensuring that there is a charge attached to single-use plastic products.
Certain products will require clear and standardised labelling that includes how to dispose of the waste, the negative environmental impact of the product and the presence of plastics in the product.
The European Commission has also teamed up with the United Nations Environment Programme to launch a coalition of aquariums to fight plastic pollution.
Aquariums around the world will organise permanent activities and be invited to change their procurement policies for their canteens and shops to eliminate all single-use plastic items.
The coalition aims to have at least 200 aquariums on board by 2019 to raise public awareness about plastic pollution.
EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said the European Commission has been working for 18 months to instigate and build this global coalition.
“Aquariums are a window to our ocean. With their collections and their educational programmes, they show us what we need to protect, and they inspire the ocean lovers of tomorrow,” he said.
“Millions of people visit aquariums around the world every year. This will mobilise them to rethink the way we use plastic.”
The NSW Government has released a draft of its Asbestos Waste Strategy, which aims to make it tougher to illegally dump asbestos and safer to remove it.
The strategy outlines new measures to close loopholes for transporters and increasing transparency of waste generators.
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This includes tracking waste vehicles that transport asbestos with GPS tracking devices and increasing the risks and consequences of being caught illegally dumping asbestos.
Penalties for not complying with directions from the NSW EPA could be increased within a six-month timeline, with additional regulatory actions implemented to deter unlawful behaviour. Sentencing provisions would also be strengthened under the changes in the draft, with courts able to determine the monetary benefits gained through illegal business models and included within their sentencing decision.
To make legal disposal of asbestos easier, the draft outlines investigating the removal of the waste levy from separated bonded asbestos waste and implementing additional ways to properly dispose of wrapped asbestos.
The NSW EPA would also work with local councils and the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Activities to provide education and raise awareness to help change behaviours of householders and licensed asbestos removalists.
NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said the government wants to make it easier and cheaper to do the right thing, strengthen regulation and penalties, close loopholes and disrupt illegal business models.
“The NSW Government is committed to reducing illegal dumping by 30 per cent by 2020 and this strategy is just one of the actions to fulfil that commitment,” Ms Upton said.
“In particular, we want to make the legal disposal of bonded asbestos cheaper and easier in NSW so the community and environment are safeguarded.
“Research commissioned by the EPA revealed the cost and inconvenience of legal disposal as major why asbestos is being illegally dumped,” she said.
Ms Upton said it is important that the community, local government and industry have a say on how asbestos waste is dealt with.
The draft of the NSW Asbestos Waste Strategy is available here, with consultations closing on 20 November 2018.
The NSW EPA is stopping the restricted use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land and is ceasing use on plantation forests and mining rehabilitation land until further controls can be considered.
In a statement, NSW EPA said the decision followed comprehensive independent studies, but the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) is calling for greater involvement in consultations in what it describes a “surprise announcement”.
Mixed waste organic material is predominantly made from organics in general household waste. Application on agricultural land ceased from Friday 26 October and use on plantation forests and mining rehabilitation land will be suspended until further controls can be considered.
NSW EPA Acting Chair and CEO Anissa Levy said there was a robust scientific basis for the EPA’s decision to stop the use of the material.
“The restricted use of the mixed waste organic material had been permitted on the basis that it provided beneficial reuse of waste. Extensive independent research commissioned by the EPA found that it no longer passed that test,” Ms Levy said.
“The research found there were limited agricultural benefits from the application of mixed waste organic material at the regulated maximum levels of application, but there were potential risks to the environment from the presence of some contaminants, such as small pieces of plastic and glass, as well as concerns about soil quality degradation.
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Ms Levy said that as a result, the NSW EPA is revoking the Resource Recovery Exemption and Order – the regulatory instruments that permitted the material to be applied to specific land uses.
“As part of the EPA’s regulatory role, we commissioned an independent assessment of possible health risks related to the use of this product on agricultural land. The assessment used very cautious assumptions to estimate how much exposure a person might have to chemicals present in the material.
“Based on a review of the findings of this health risk assessment the use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land is unlikely to present any health risk to the general public.”
The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health have reviewed the initial findings of the health risk assessment and expert scientific advice, and further work is being done, overseen by an independent panel formed by the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer. This is expected to be completed in the coming months.
The EPA is contacting all councils affected by the change to their waste management services and all landholders who have previously used the material to let them know, and to support them as they manage these changes.
WMAA in a statement argued that the waste and resource recovery industry was informed some six weeks ago that the EPA had completed research into the impacts of mixed waste organics and the expectation was that the regulator would then release its findings for wider consultation.
“Industry has after all had a long history of transparent and constructive consultation on the issue, dating back to 2008 when Hyder Consulting (now Arcadis) completed an extensive project into the chemical contaminants of alternative waste treatment (AWT) organics – the “AWT DORF” project – that was sponsored by industry, WMAA, and numerous state governments and departments, including the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.”
WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan said that it is imperative that industry is given a chance to review the findings particularly as the EPA has confirmed in today’s statement that the use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land is unlikely to present any health risk to the general public.
She said this is consistent with research and assessments conducted by industry.
“We are calling on government to openly and collaboratively work with industry to ensure that NSW’s resource recovery industry’s future is not undermined and that industry and local government are not adversely impacted by this decision,” said Ms Sloan.
“Industry and local councils have invested significantly in AWT in NSW over many years with the support of the EPA. The EPA itself, in its review of waste and resource recovery infrastructure, noted in 2017 there was in fact a one million tonne shortage of AWT processing capacity across the state.”
WMAA acknowledges that there must be continued leadership by the EPA to drive positive resource recovery outcomes based on robust consultation and said it is looking forward to working with government on the future of recovery in NSW.
“We await the release of the technical report but in the interim, we need to ensure that collections do not cease because of this decision and that we do not lose the community’s confidence in resource recovery in NSW. It is also important that industry does not suffer losses because of this decision,” Ms Sloan said.
“It is vital that we maintain public confidence in our industry particularly given the challenges of late. Industry and government have a shared responsibility to work together to find long-term sustainable solutions. We appreciate government is willing to look into financial relief packages for industry and local government that may be severely impacted by the revocation of this exemption and order.”
A new research hub is focused on transforming organic waste into marketable chemicals that can be used for a variety of uses, from medicinal gels to food packaging.
Monash University has launched the Australian Research Council (ARC) Hub for Processing Advance Lignocelluosics into Advanced Materials.
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A total of $6.8 million over five years will be invested into converting biomass and plant-based matter into materials such as cellulose-based hydrogels for personal medicine, nanocellulose films to replace food packaging and nanogels to help farmers maintain their crops.
An industry consortium composed of Visy, Amcor, Circa, Leaf, Orora, and Norske Skog will join Monash, the University of Tasmania, the University of South Australia, the Tasmanian Government and AgroParis Tech as part of the ARC hub.
The research could significantly impact pulp and paper companies, turning them into potential bio-refineries.
Three objectives have been specified to achieve this industry transformation, which involve deriving green chemicals from Australian wood and lignocellulosic streams, engineering new nanocellulose applications and developing ultralight paper and novel packaging. Potential packaging could have significantly improved physical properties, such as including radio-frequency identification technology to integrate with transport or retail systems.
Bioresource Processing Research Institute of Australia Director Gil Garnier said the research will help the Australian pulp, paper and forestry industry transform their production waste into high-grade goods.
“This hub will leverage world-leading Australian and international research capabilities in chemistry, materials science and engineering with the express aim of creating new materials, companies and jobs for our growing bioeconomy,” Prof Garnier said.
“With ongoing support and vision from our government, industry and university partners, we will identify new applications and products derived from biowaste to transform the pharmaceutical, chemicals, plastics and food packaging industries in Australia and across the world.
“In fact, one of the goals is for our industry partners to generate, within four to 10 years, 25-50 per cent of their profits from products that don’t exist today,” he said.