Waste Management Review talks to some of Australia’s largest waste management companies about the role of scalability in the future of the waste sector.
This article is the third in a three part series featuring Bingo Industries, Cleanaway, Corio Waste Management and SUEZ.
SUEZ Australia and New Zealand has developed its own action plan internally. It focuses on circular economy and driving partnerships and innovation across new technologies.
CEO Mark Venhoek calls for a fundamental change in the market through new infrastructure with WtE one part of the bigger solution underpinning broader initiatives.
As part of this paradigm shift, he wants the packaging sector, federal government and state and territories to step up and show more leadership in taking responsibility for their material processing.
When it comes to the broader structure of the industry, Mark says it’s not for SUEZ to comment on the specifics of others out there, but strong leadership is key.
“I do believe if you have a strong sector with various leaders it’s probably easier to make some changes.
“We have quite a bit of industry fragmentation around the industry but I guess the leadership for me is so not so much about market share or revenue, but what the changes we are going to make in terms of say, building new infrastructure and innovation.”
He says the fundamental changes required in the marketplace will not necessarily be supported by the size of one’s business, but strong leadership in areas such as safety and compliance.
Importantly, long-term visibility by the regulator and certainty of volumes is required to commit to sites and large-scale capital investments such as in WtE. In this vein, decisions such as the mixed waste organics ban in NSW are not helpful and undermine planning and confidence.
Mark says a WtE solution could support markets such as plastics that have fallen victim to the laws of supply and demand or don’t meet contamination standards.
“It would be a very good support and potential backup plan to ensure those volumes don’t end up in a landfill,” he says.
He says that SUEZ Australia and New Zealand is looking at a range of WtE projects. Some that have already been announced include the East Rockingham facility in WA as well as a joint venture with Australian Paper in Victoria.
With the growth of population and the fact that planning new facilities can take five to 10 years, SUEZ is also committed to expanding its Elizabeth Drive Landfill in NSW.
“In the interim, typically in the NSW, Sydney and greater region, we’ll still have a level of dependency on landfill I’m afraid, and a result of that we will have to expand that facility. It’s in the interest of the public to be able to secure a proper outlet.”
Mark says that resource recovery parks such as Lucas Heights are likewise only one part of the solution, covering only a small percentage of Sydney’s waste and not the residual stream.
“It will solve part of the problems that we might have but only on a small scale,” he says.
“Most of those facilities are capable of treating a small percentage of the waste that is being generated even if there are niches, so you need solutions for the mainstream volumes.”
Mark says that where relevant, SUEZ will partner with companies that have an appropriate site and permit and align with the company’s vision and strategy. In some cases it may also reduce investment uncertainty, he adds.
SUEZ is driving a number of unique projects overseas. The company has opened one of Europe’s most advanced packaging sorting facilities for lightweight packaging in Ölbronn, Germany with an annual processing capacity of 100,000 tonnes.
In this case, Mark says the commercial environment in Germany is conducive to building a facility on a long-term contractual basis.
“There’s nothing stopping us from opening these kinds of facilities,” he says.
“If I look at the one in southern Germany, it is the most modern across the globe but it is governed by a very special system around the Green Dot, meaning plastics, paper, cardboard and metal are collected separately and treated by these levels of infrastructure.”
In the Bang Phli district near Bangkok, the company plans on building a recycling plant that turns plastic waste into circular polymers, strengthening its presence in South-East Asia.
Mark says that in Bangkok, there is not nearly the level of scalability of Australia to support the conditions.
In terms of whether a four-bin system of food and glass could be the answer to Australia’s recycling concerns, he says that anything that can be done to support source separation at a higher level would make an impact on generating better quality raw materials.
“We are very supportive of the COAG initiative [waste ban] and planning they put ahead, but I do believe we can do it,” he says.
“There will be a bit of pain in the coming years, but I am also sure with collective passion and energy, we can see some magnificent outcomes.”