Fertile networks: Australian Organics Recycling Association

The Australian Organics Recycling Association’s Diana De Hulsters and Peter Wadewitz outline the steps required to boost the uptake of recycled organics.  

With a strong business and association management background, Diana De Hulsters is poised to connect organics processors and recyclers with the agricultural industry, federal, state and local governments. 

Diana took over as National Executive Officer of the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) earlier this year. Alongside Chairman and composting industry leader Peter Wadewitz, the team has spent the past few months advancing efforts to boost AORA’s agricultural networks, while representing the industry on critical policy consultations.

“Our plan is to get workshops in every state meeting the growers and getting out and explaining what compost is all about and the benefits of compost and what we can do with it,”  Peter explains.

Peter Wadewitz.

“Part of that is our strategic plan which we have in place and will review in November to make sure we are communicating with the growers, farmers and horticulturists, which is one of the key drivers of our strategy.” 

Diana says that part of AORA’s strategy will involve collaboration with other associations, in addition to leveraging members’ current network of processors and growers and large associate membership. 

According to the National Waste Report 2016, Australians generated 542 kilograms of organic waste per capita, with 51 per cent of this recovered mostly through composting and some energy recovery. When it comes to food waste, the recovery rate sits at 41 per cent. In states like South Australia, organics are the second largest contributor to the overall value of resource recovery, according to the Recycling Activity in SA 2015- 17 report. 

The push to increase the nation’s recovery rate of organics comes at an opportune time for AORA, with the Federal Government, through the National Food Waste Strategy, setting a target to halve Australia’s food waste by 2030. The National Waste Policy will also be updated at the end of the year to include circular economy principles. 

AORA provided its views to the Federal Government on the updates earlier this year. It noted the importance of the government giving due consideration to a target of a 25 per cent reduction in organic waste to landfill by 2025 (on 2018 benchmark levels) laid out in the government’s discussion paper. Since just over 50 per cent of organic waste is diverted from landfill, this means about 63 per cent diversion by 2025. AORA supported a 50 per cent reduction or 75 per cent diversion as both practical and desirable. Peter says that historically, the national interest in organics recycling has been mixed, with some progress in states like NSW through the EPA’s Organics Market Development Fund, but lacking in other states like Queensland which historically hasn’t had the right price signal in the absence of a waste levy. 

“One of our biggest problems to this day is contamination and that requires education and training and getting some of that levy money that is put in general revenue out back into the market,” Peter says.

Diana says that as a newcomer to the industry she was surprised by the level of contaminants in the food organics and garden organics waste stream.

“I’ve been out to some processing sites and it is amazing how much plastic is stuck in garden waste that is collected. You see broken toys out of the garden that have ended up in the green bin,” Diana says. 

Peter adds that consistent standards are of particular importance. For example, he says agencies in some states seem to be taking a hard-lined stance against PFAS with some incidents occurring of the chemical ending up in biosolids, which he argues hasn’t been conclusively proved as harmful if treated properly.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s that or plastics or fluoride. We need some real risk versus probability analyses and to work with the industry to get sustainable outcomes,” he says. 

AORA also supports a ban on all single-use non-compostable plastics, including plastic bags of all gauges, agricultural films and packaging that cannot be reused, recovered or recycled in any way. Peter says that one of the issues with traditional plastic bags which carry the food waste is that they’re not certified compostable or biodegradable. For example, Adelaide council Holdfast Bay has trialled compostable bags across Foodland shopping centres.

AORA also encourages all regulators to ban unprocessed organic resources from landfill so long as the necessary infrastructure, education and regulation have been given due consideration. 

“Bans are a good thing but a lot of foresight has to go into them. For example, NSW did a good job with 10 years of messaging around its landfill levies and price increases which gave the opportunity to go and invest and make sure the infrastructure was there,” Peter says. 

He says a lot more composting infrastructure has to be developed across the country, including in regional areas like Griffith and Mildura, to minimise landfill and boost its demand in agriculture. 

And as AORA lobbies for change, the organisation has hosted a number of events across the country showcasing the benefits of compost, including its Compost Benefits for Soils on the Mid-North Coast at Coffs Harbour and the annual AORA conference in May. 

Peter and Diana also remain optimistic about developments such as the Soil CRC for High Performance Soils, which brings together scientists, farmers and industry to find practical solutions for the nation’s underperforming soils.

This article was published in the November issue of Waste Management Review. 

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