Events, News

AORA 2019 National Conference wrap-up

The Australian Organics Recycling Association brought together recycling suppliers, researchers and packaging associations all under the one roof to identify cost-effective and sustainable solutions to organics. 

The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) recently laid out its strategy to 2022, with a view to making recycling and reuse an accepted management practice for surplus organics.

In an age where the cost of compliance, financial guarantees and end markets have posed challenges to some small and medium compost operators, the research being done to stimulate the organics recycling market represents a significant opportunity.

As such, the AORA Annual Conference, with its theme of renewal and regeneration, provided an opportunity for stakeholders to share important updates on their efforts to facilitate the beneficial reuse of surplus organics.

The three-day conference from 1-3 May saw more than 150 delegates touch down in Fremantle, Perth, discussing topics spanning certified compostable packaging, soil health and commercial farming.

Keynote speakers included Dr Sally Brown, from the University of Washington, who advocates for compost as a simple solution to multiple problems, including reducing carbon emissions from waste.

Marco Ricci-Jurgensen, another international speaker, of the Italian Composting and Biogas Association, also shared 20 years worth of lessons from successful organics recycling in Italy.

Day one included a demonstration day with grinders, screens, turners and other equipment up close and personal.

On day two, Warwick Hall, of the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA), highlighted the importance of ensuring bioplastics are certified in the organics recycling industry.

A common assertion throughout the conference was the need to avoid the term “biodegradable” as it does not denote when and where materials break down. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has in the past fined companies for not making truthful claims surrounding the biodegradability or compostability of their products.

The ABA provides verification in the form of a certificate of conformance after an independent auditor has reviewed the requirements.

Dr Helen Lewis, Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, also represented the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation. As a close partner of the co-regulatory organisation, Dr Lewis is working on 2019 projects as part of the National 2025 Packaging Targets.

“We don’t see [certified] compostable packaging being a massive part of the market. It is generally only going to be used in niche applications and we need to roll this out very carefully in a systematic way,” Dr Lewis told the audience.

On day two, AORA also handed down its Student Research Awards, delivered in partnership with CROWN at University of Queensland and Komptech. Three students were recognised for projects improving agronomic outcomes and each presented their research findings.

Dr Daniele De Rosa, of QUT, highlighted his research project that optimised the use of organic amendments in sub-tropical vegetable cropping systems. The aims of the south-east Queensland study was to develop a long-term profitable, agronomical and environmentally sustainable alternative to organic synthetic nitrogen to reduce nitrogen losses.

Shao Yap, of the University of Queensland, presented on anaerobic treatment of solid manure residues. Spent bedding, a mix of bedding stubble, faeces, urine and other products is a major by-product of Australian livestock farming. The uncontrolled risks are greenhouse gas emissions and odour. Mr Yap’s project looked at how a leach bed anaerobic digestion approach suitable for high solids waste such as spent bedding could be cost effective to construct and operate.

Christopher Malan and Shao Yap.

Aidan Chin, of the University of Queensland, highlighted how sorbents can tailor nitrogen release from organic wastes to match the uptake capacity of crops. Delivering nutrients from mineral or organic fertilisers out of sync with crop uptake can cause inefficiencies and pollution. For this reason, the study looked at identifying suitable sorbents within the landscape of crop nutrient physiology to formulate organic wastes as next generation fertilisers.

On day two of presentations, Marcus Geisler, Chairman of the WA Waste Authority, unpacked the state’s Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy and Action Plan to 2030. The strategy includes a new target to ensure all Perth and Peel households have a third kerbside bin for food organics and garden organics by 2025.

Dr Darren Perrin, of Ricardo Energy & Environment, discussed a circular approach to the role of food organics and garden organics using a number of examples in the UK. One project organised by WRAP UK saw funding and technical support provided to 19 local authorities between 2007-09 in England and two in Northern Ireland for food organics and garden organics trials. The trials showed that significantly more food waste was captured in weekly food only collections, as opposed to mixed weekly or fortnightly garden and food waste collections.

Sam Oakden, of Food Innovation Australia (FIAL) Limited, also highlighted an important project through the National Food Waste Strategy which is aiming to help meet the Federal Government target to halve Australia’s food waste by 2030. FIAL represents about 180,000 companies in food and agribusiness across the supply chain. It is drafting an implementation roadmap to meet the target through a voluntary commitment program.

Diana De Hulsters, National Executive Officer and Peter Wadewitz, Chair, both agreed the conference was a resounding success.

“Combined with the launch of AORA’s new strategic plan we are set for steady growth of the association and organics recycling industry over the next few years. We look forward to welcoming everyone to the 2020 Conference in the Hunter Valley ,” Mr Wadewitz said.

Featured images: Marcus Geisler – Waste Authority, Dr Sally Brown – University of Washington, Peter Wadewitz – AORA Chair.


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