No more empty promises: ACOR

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel provides a four-point plan for an Australian recycled content product reboot.

Promises and keeping them are important. Really important. In the form of norms and laws, kept promises are what keep our society glued together and functioning.

The same is true of Australian recycling. Every time someone participates in recycling – from presenting material at the kerbside or the city office building, to collecting and sorting and reprocessing and remanufacturing that material – we’re basically part of a promise. It’s a promise that that material will be made into a new product – a recycled content product (RCP).

In recent times, as Asian societies have changed their material import rules and some virulent mainstream media reports have followed, there have been many in Australian society who have been testing the promise. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Anyone involved in recycling – whether you’re running a company, a council waste educator or a one armed bandit – has heard the same question many times over: “So, is it really being recycled?”

This is evidence that regular punters, including those who make decisions about whether to hire recycling contractors at their businesses, are questioning the social licence of our industry to operate. It’s serious stuff – even if it’s based on perceptions and emotions than data and rationality. Narrative matters.

Those of us closer to the real numbers and the real facilities know the empirical reality. The vast majority of what’s collected, is in fact, recycled. Whether you run a material recovery facility (MRF), scrap metal site, glass beneficiation plant or a paper mill, you know the truth. More than 35 million tonnes is recycled, with only four million of that heading overseas.

At MRFs themselves, due to community-generated contamination and “wish-cycling”, loss rates generally don’t exceed 10 to 15 per cent as a result of good technology and good operators. Moreover, 50,000 recycling sector jobs and some $15 billion of GDP value just didn’t magically appear.

But ultimately, at the same time that waste awareness is very high, community confidence in recycling outcomes ain’t in great shape. Our industry needs that goodwill for business health and for the ongoing support of public policy decision-makers, especially as we make the tough but inevitable transition to domestically sustainable recycling.

Therefore, it’s time for us to get much more serious about RCPs – both as a method to meet our public promise and as a key part of domestic transformation. Fortunately, there are some good “green shoots” like Coca-Cola’s commitment to recycled content PET bottles (and let’s hope they’re Australia-sourced), and similar RCP initiatives from PACT, Asahi, Nestle, Unilever and others.

These are all good news, but the risk remains that without an overarching strategy, RCPs won’t become the norm they need to be. Us grey beards remember the demise, for example, of the Buy Recycled Business Alliance, and local government-based RCP purchasing initiatives like Eco-Buy in the early 2000’s.

An overall plan is especially necessary as we have to increase plastics take-up by 400 per cent, according to the SRU report for the Federal Government. Without this, the report found we won’t meet APCO targets and policy parameters such as the environment ministers’ directive to the packaging supply chain to get 20 per cent recycled content in PET and HDPE.

So, here’s a quick four-point plan for the “Australian RCP reboot”:

ONE: Results not rhetoric: The nice words from the Federal Government and the states, including at the last two meeting of environment minister meetings, need to become done deeds in developing RCPs and measurable targets. Councils, in fact, are probably doing better than the other tiers of government in areas such as secondary glass and mixed plastics into roads.

TWO: Follow the money: The economics of virgin material use compared to recyclate use – when using standard rationalist metrics – is not in favour of recycled products in some material categories. That’s partly a result of structural factors, including Australia’s comparatively high labour and energy costs, as well as increased amounts of historically inexpensive fossil fuel for virgin plastics resin manufacture. Therefore, if we want RCPs made here and all the social and environmental benefits that come with that, we have to pull economic levers here.

Options include UK- and France-style GST discounts for RCP manufacturers, European-style EPR schemes (if consumer costs can be contained) and energy rebates based on the energy-efficient nature of RCPs. Or, perhaps, given that secondhand goods such as those going through Vinnies and Lifeline are GST exempt, what’s so different about a “secondhand” plastic bottle?

THREE: Rules of the road: Agreed and recognised specs and standards around RCPs – be they for recycling collection, sorting, remanufacture or export – create confidence. There’s been a failure of leadership and communication in this area – and we’re all to blame. As Equilibrium’s recent report for the Commonwealth spells out, we need real standards and now. And we shouldn’t let any development processes drag on and become a delaying tactic by some self-interested players. It’s great to see industry innovators using RCPs including in roads using existing information; all it takes is normal risk mitigation and initiative.

FOUR: “Once you think you’ve communicated enough, communicate again”: RCPs become more viable when the supply chain is humming. For it to do that, there’s a case for better “vertically integrated” communication and education. For ratepayers that’s “recycling right” and helping them understand the RCPs their efforts help make. For procurement managers, civil engineers and other product specifiers, that’s on RCP availability and performance. For the community, it’s what brands are making RCP commitments and merit support at the cash register.

Or as one of my colleagues says: “If you’re not buying recycled, you’re a recycling bystander.” It’s time for those in a position to buy recycled – governments, councils, consumers, corporates – to get off the sidelines. And it’s time for our industry to strive for the best possible processes and RCPs that beat virgin on performance and confidence. That’s the promise we need to keep.

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Applications open for $149M environmental science program

The Federal Government is investing $149 million in environmental science targeting plastic waste, climate systems and a range of key environmental issues.

Applications are open for the National Environmental Science Program’s second phase, with interested organisations urged to submit proposals by 30 June.

According to a Department of Agriculture, Waste and the Environment statement, the program is designed to support decision-makers from across the Australian community build resilience, while achieving positive environmental, social and economic outcomes.

“The program represents a critical cross-cutting enabler that provides the evidence base for the design, delivery and on-ground monitoring of core government environmental commitments, and the basis for long-term environmental programs,” the statement reads.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said phase two will build on past achievements through multi-disciplinary and applied research, consolidated into four hubs.

“The Sustainable Communities and Waste hub will deliver cutting-edge research on how to improve the liveability of our urban and rural environments, while delivering critical advice on how to reduce the impact of waste, chemicals and air pollutions on the environment, communities and the economy,” Ms Ley said.

According to program guidelines, the Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub will deliver research that supports targeted information and management tools to reduce the impact of plastic and other materials, and applied scenario modelling to support sustainable people-environment interactions in communities including liveability analysis.

Further criteria include projects delivering effective management options for hazardous waste, substances and pollutants throughout their lifecycle, and cross-hub coordination to support decision maker policy development, program management and regulatory processes in both marine and terrestrial environments.

Additional hubs include the Resilient Landscapes hub, Marine and Costal hub and Climate Systems hub.

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Fed Govt urges continued recycling

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley is urging Australians to correctly sort their recycling, in an effort to support the waste management industry as it fulfils its role as “an essential environmental service.”

“With a national focus on hygiene, the role of waste and recycling companies and their workers servicing homes, hospitals, building sites and supermarkets underlines the Prime Minister’s declaration that everyone who has a job in this challenging economy is now an essential worker,” she said.

According to Ms Ley, waste companies are working with state and local governments to ensure services continue to meet the needs of all Australians in the wake of COVID-19.

“Help where you can by recycling and reducing waste. It’s our waste, it’s our responsibility,” she said.

Ms Ley’s statement follows earlier calls for industry support, with the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) calling on state governments to provide waste and landfill levy relief to the sector.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said levy relief is an obvious and necessary measure that can be implemented quickly.

“Specifically, we are asking state governments to waiver landfill levy doubtful debts, put on hold all planned levy increases for at least six months and where appropriate consider waiving current waste and landfill levies for the next three months,” she said.

“We are also asking state and local governments to be more flexible on certain facility license conditions so that social distancing to protect staff can be maintained, and collection time curfews be lifted so that bins can continue to be collected.”

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Leading the recycling revolution: Moyne Shire Council

A year after state-wide disruptions to Victoria’s recycling industry, a small municipality in the state’s south west has quietly taken matters into its own hands, Annette Cannon, Moyne Shire Council Waste Education Officer explains. 

Moyne Shire Council was among the first in Australia to introduce a four-bin waste collection system as part of a long-term solution to the recycling crisis.

Weeks before the Victorian Government announced plans to roll out a state-wide, four-bin system from 2021, Moyne Shire had already taken delivery of its first glass recycling collection.

The council took the bold decision to introduce a fourth bin for glass in September 2019, at a time when just a handful of municipalities were considering the idea.

Just 16 weeks later, the first kerbside glass recycling collection took place across Moyne Shire in early February 2020.

Moyne Shire Mayor Daniel Meade said glass accounted for about 40 per cent of recyclables in Council’s kerbside collections.

“China’s 2018 ban on importing a range of recyclable materials sent our waste management industry into a tailspin,” he said.

“Like a lot of other councils, we were forced to send all recyclables into landfill from about July 2019. Our council and our community decided we just couldn’t sit by and allow that to continue to happen.”

Aside from the serious environmental implications, Mr Meade said the cost of sending recyclable materials to landfill could not be sustained.

Moyne Shire, which takes in coastal Port Fairy and extends inland to the townships of Macarthur, Hawkesdale and back to the Great Ocean Road at Peterborough, has a track record for leadership in waste management.

It has provided a food and organic waste collection service since 2009, many years ahead of other municipalities. This includes provision of a benchtop caddy for food waste.

A NEW REGIME

Under Moyne Shire’s new four-bin regime, glass is collected monthly, recycling and FOGO fortnightly and landfill collected weekly.

In the first month over 40 tonnes of glass was collected with a less than five per-cent contamination rate. This is equivalent to more than 195,000 glass bottles.

Moyne Shire’s initial plan was to conduct a trial within the township of Koroit. However, with mounting concern over the re-routing of recyclables into landfill, council moved quickly to implement a more universal solution.

The formal council decision in September 2019 to implement a Shire-wide, four-bin collection service triggered a frenetic round of contract negotiations with new recycling suppliers.

Under the revised contract, recyclables are now processed by Australian Paper Recovery at Truganina, near Melbourne. Australian Paper Recovery can process recyclables that are not contaminated by glass.

Glass is processed locally for use as a substitute for sand in road construction. The contents of green FOGO bins are still composted for use as mulch across the Shire, while contents of red-lidded bins are directed to landfill.

BETTER4MOYNE

Community engagement and education proved to be key to the program’s early success.

A change in processor has meant that only certain plastics can be placed into the yellow recycling bin. Polyethylene terephthalate (marked with the recycling symbol 1) and high density polyethylene (recycling symbol 2) are both permissible. All other plastics must now be placed into the red bin destined for landfill.

A branded campaign, Better4Moyne, was developed to comprehensively engage with and educate the community about this and all other aspects of council’s new waste management regime.

Activities included regional media articles, frequent website and social media updates, letters to all residents, FAQ sheets, posters displayed in public spaces and displays of the new, purple-lidded bins in high traffic public spaces, including outside local supermarkets.

Council also created displays at regional community events, and officers spoke directly with numerous business and community groups.

A new Kerbside Waste Management Collection Guide was published detailing how to use the four-bin system. Together with a collection calendar, a hard copy of the guide was delivered to all residents with their new, purple-lidded bins.

WIN/WIN SOLUTION FOR DELIVERY LOGISTICS

The logistics of delivering 6000 new glass recycling bins across Moyne Shire’s 5500 square kilometres in time for the first collection was council’s next challenge.

The solution proved to be an innovative ‘win/win’ solution for both council and community.

Eight community groups were engaged to work with council to simultaneously hand deliver the new purple-lidded bins to each household.

These included the Koroit Cricket Club, MacArthur Men’s Shed, Woorndoo Mortlake Football Netball Club, Woorndoo Cricket Club, Nirranda Football Netball Club, Panmure Football Netball Club, Grassmere Primary School Parent and Friends and Port Fairy Football Netball Club.

Those groups received $5 for each bin delivered, creating a new fundraising stream for the groups.

MONITORING OUR SUCCESS

A rigorous inspection regime is an important facet of Moyne Shire’s new waste management program.

Kerbside inspections provide intelligence about recycling behaviour and contamination levels, while also presenting opportunity for more community education.

Where glass or recycling bins are found to be contaminated by incorrect items, a ‘bin reject’ sticker with a hand-written explanation to the householder is placed on the bin. The contents may or may not be collected, depending on the type of contamination.

Inspections during the first glass recycling collection showed relatively low levels of contamination. The primary concern was lids not being removed from glass bottles and jars.

External consultants will be engaged in the near future to conduct detailed kerbside audits. The results will help to evaluation the success of the new, four-bin system and will also inform ongoing community education messaging.

A LONG-TERM SOLUTION

The Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry into Recycling and Waste Management, tabled in November 2019, noted in part that one of the key ways to reduce contamination was by reducing glass in co-mingled recycling bins.

It called for greater source separation as a key measure for the long-term sustainability of Victoria’s waste management system.

Mr Meade said that as an early adopter of glass separation in Victoria and, indeed, the nation, Moyne Shire Council was playing an important leadership role.

“We hope other municipalities can learn from our experiences here at Moyne and ultimately follow suit,” he said.

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AORA Annual Conference rescheduled to November

In consideration of rapid COVID-19 developments, the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has rescheduled its 2020 Annual Conference to 25 – 27 November.

According to an AORA statement, the venue will remain the same, with the conference taking place at the Crowne Plaza in NSW’s Hunter Valley.

“The health and safety of our members and attendees is our top priority, and after speaking to many of our partners, exhibitors, speakers and attendees, the overwhelming consensus is that postponing the event is the preferred outcome,” the statement reads.

“The program and arrangements made so far will remain in place. For attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, we will automatically transfer your booking to the rescheduled event. If these new dates pose a problem for you, AORA will provide a full refund of your booking.”

If delegates have booked accommodation at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, the hotel will automatically cancel the existing booking, with delegates encouraged to rebook at their convenience.

The Annual AORA Conference will feature workshops, presentations, a gala dinner, networking functions and an equipment demonstration day.

Plenary sessions will cover a common vision for the future of the industry, community engagement and informed opinion sessions on food organics and garden organics, carbon, in the field and what’s next.

For further inquires contact conference@aora.org.au.

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City of Parramatta trials Reconophalt roads

City of Parramatta Council in NSW is trialling two innovative sustainable road solutions aimed at reducing waste materials and combatting heat.

In the first of these trials, Chelmsford Avenue in Epping and Honor Street in Ermington were resurfaced with Reconophalt.

Manufactured by Downer, the product contains recycled soft plastics from plastic bags and packaging, waste glass and waste toner from used printer cartridges.

According to City of Parramatta Lord Mayor Bob Dwyer, single-use plastics and other waste materials are a growing problem for the region.

“Finding new ways to recycle and reuse materials means we can reduce the amount of waste that ultimately enters landfill,” he said.

“By taking tonnes of plastic and glass from local recycling plants and using it to create roads, we are able to turn trash into treasured infrastructure.”

Downer Pavements General Manager Stuart Billing said the equivalent of approximately 500,000 plastic bags, 165,000 glass bottles and 12,500 toner cartridges are diverted from landfill for every one kilometre of a two-lane Reconophalt road.

“Together with the City of Parramatta, we are creating new avenues to recycle and repurpose waste materials into new streams of use, and reducing the community’s reliance upon increasingly scarce virgin materials,” he said.

The project is partially funded through the NSW Planning, Industry and Environment Department’s ‘Waste Less, Recycle More’ initiative.

The second trial, which is being conducted in partnership with Blacktown and Campbelltown councils and Western Sydney University, will examine how lighter coloured roads can help reduce the amount of heat being absorbed and retained by roads on hot days.

“As Western Sydney can be several degrees hotter than suburbs in the east, it is crucial we explore ways we can keep our streets cooler – especially in the summer,” Mayor Dwyer said.

“Parramatta is going through an incredible period of growth and transformation, and council is dedicated to building a sustainable and innovative city that will meet the needs of our community well into the future. These road projects are just two examples of how we are achieving this.”

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NSW EPA recommends business continuity plans

As the COVID-19 situation unfolds, the NSW EPA has assured industry it will continue to fulfil its responsibilities as the state’s primary environmental regulator, while maintaining the health and safety of staff, communities and other partners.

According to an EPA statement, the authority has a business continuity plan in place, which is being reviewed regularly in light of the most up-to-date advice.

“That includes planning to allow staff to work remotely where appropriate so that we maintain our compliance, enforcement and pollution response activities as best we can to prevent environmental and community harm,” the statement reads.

“We will continue to require compliance with licence conditions and issue clean-up notices and prevention notices where necessary. The EPA may however, consider requests for exemptions on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.”

The EPA is strongly recommending waste and environmental management businesses implement their own continuity plans, if one is not already in place.

“That plan should take into account the updated advice being provided by NSW and Commonwealth health officials, including any sector-specific advice,” the statement reads.

“Now is also the right time to check you have everything in place to enact your pollution incident response management plan.”

A continuity plan will help businesses meet responsibilities for any environmental impacts from activities, as according to the EPA, licence conditions and other regulatory responsibilities remain in place.

“These include the priority responsibilities of maintaining and operating pollution control equipment, and storing, transporting and disposing of waste appropriately,” the statement reads.

Licensees in the waste industry should maintain good communications with clients and the EPA, the statement suggests, particularly around predicted service disruptions.

“Licensees must continue to notify the NSW EPA of pollution incidents and other regulatory or compliance issues or events,” it reads.

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Cleanaway forecast remains in line with FY20 earnings guidance

In a statement to the ASX this week, Cleanaway has assured stakeholders it has not seen any material change in volumes across any of its operating segments to date.

Cleanaway’s current financial performance for FY20 remains in line with its internal forecasts and FY20 earnings guidance, it said. However, the impact of COVID-19 means Cleanaway considered it prudent to suspend its earning guidance.

Cleanaway Managing Director Vik Bansal said the company has not observed any decline in overall trading in any of our operating segments to date.

He said that however, as the COVID-19 situation evolves, Cleanaway expect the SME part of our C&I waste volumes to be impacted.

“At this stage, we expect the demand for other services, such as health, municipal collections and related post-collections services to remain strong,” Mr Bansal said.

“Cleanaway provides a range of essential services to a diverse customer base which includes municipal councils, government infrastructure, hospitals, resources, manufacturing, commercial and industrial customers.”

“We are taking measures to help ensure the safety and welfare of our employees and customers and we remain confident in the resilience of our business.”

Following the collapse of SKM Recycling Group, Cleanaway Waste Management acquired the senior secured debt in the group for around $60 million with the exception of its glass recovery services business. This includes the property, plant and equipment from a network of five recycling sites, comprising three materials recovery facilities (MRFs), a transfer station in Victoria and a MRF in Tasmania. SKM also has two sites in South Australia.

Cleanaway’s Footprint 2025 strategy went from strength to strength as Cleanaway in October announced a joint venture with Macquarie Capital’s Green Investment Group to develop a waste-to-energy (WtE) project in Western Sydney.

UN urges governments to recognise waste as an essential service

In the wake of COVID-19, the United Nations (UN) is urging global governments to recognise waste management, including medical, household and other hazardous waste, as an “urgent and essential public service.”

According to a UN statement, treating waste as an essential service has the potential to minimise the secondary impacts of COVID-19 on human health and the environment.

“During such an outbreak, many types of additional medical and hazardous waste are generated, including infected masks, gloves and other protective equipment, together with a higher volume of non-infected items of the same nature,” the statement reads.

“Unsound management of this waste could cause unforeseen “knock-on” effects on human health and the environment. The safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is therefore a vital element in an effective emergency response.”

Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretary Rolph Payet said all branches of society must work collectively to minimise the human and economic impacts of COVID-19.

“In tackling this enormous and unprecedented challenge, I urge decision-makers at every level: international, nationally, and at municipal, city and district levels, to make every effort to ensure that waste management, including that from medical and household sources, is given the attention – indeed priority – it requires in order to ensure the minimisation of impacts upon human health and the environment from these potentially hazardous waste streams,” Mr Payet said.

Effective management of biomedical and health-case waste requires appropriate identification, collection, separation, storage, transportation, treatment and disposal, according to the UN statement.

“The safe management of household waste is also likely to be critical during the COVID-19 emergency,” the statement reads.

“Medical waste such as contaminated masks, gloves, used or expired medicines, and other items can easily become mixed with domestic garbage, but should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of separately.”

Furthermore, the UN statement suggests medical waste be separately stored from other household waste streams and collected by specialist municipality or waste management operators.

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BINGO provides an update on impacts of COVID-19

BINGO has withdrawn its FY20 earnings guide as a result of the impact of COVID-19, but highlighted it remains well positioned over the medium term to capitalise on positive future regulatory and market tailwinds underpinning the business.

In a statement, BINGO highlighted as a result of measures announced by both state and federal governments to close non-essential gatherings, commercial and industrial waste volumes are likely to be impacted.

The greatest impact is expected to be in the commercial, retail, hospitality and shopping centre end marks.

“Although we have seen minimal disruption to existing construction projects, disruptions to the supply chain arising from the COVID-19 as well as economic dislocation are expected to result in some delays to the commencement of new projects,” the statement said.

“We expect this will continue in the short-term and will likely impact volumes and market pricing in the building & demolition (B&D) sector. As and when activity recovers, BINGO would expect to benefit from government stimulus packages aimed at fast tracking infrastructure and construction activity.”

The company highlighted its strong balance sheet, backed by significant property assets, noting it was confident it can meet all future cash requirements.

“We are taking proactive measures to ensure the safety of our people, sustained services to our customers and the preservation of cash flow to ensure the business is in the best position possible.”

BINGO Managing Director Daniel Tartak said the company had a strong first three quarters of FY20 and is in a solid financial position.

“Our customers are our partners, and we will continue to work with them to ensure safe and ongoing collections and waste services during this time,” he said.

“First and foremost, we are taking all the necessary precautions to safeguard the safety of our people. We have also proactively implemented business continuity plans to ensure our business continues to operate efficiently during this time of great uncertainty.”

“Despite the immediate challenges from COVID-19, BINGO remains well positioned over the medium- term to capitalise on the positive future regulatory and market tailwinds underpinning the business.”

Last year, Bingo Industries acquired Dial A Dump Industries (DADI) and set its sights on building a resource recovery park as part of the acquisition.

BINGO Industries agreed to divest its recycling facility in Banksmeadow, NSW to ease ACCC competition concerns regarding its $578 million acquisition of DADI. The ACCC required Bingo to divest the facility to maintain competition for B&D processing in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

Following this, the ACCC announced it would not oppose the acquisition after accepting a court-enforceable undertaking from BINGO to divest its Banksmeadow processing facility. CPE Capital was announced as the buyer for $50 million in September.

In announcing the company’s full-year results in August, Daniel noted that the asset base secured through the acquisition would transform the business for many years to come. Some of its most recent redevelopments include Bingo’s first recycling centre in West Melbourne, Victoria, having first entered the market in 2017 through several strategic acquisitions.

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