Beating the stewardship drum: Agsafe

As drumMUSTER celebrates its 35 millionth container return, Dominique Doyle, Agsafe General Manager, outlines Agsafe’s multipronged approach to safety and stewardship.

While the discourse around single-use plastics often conjures up images of empty drink bottles and discarded shopping bags, in the bush, resource recovery-minded farmers face an additional challenge.

Namely: what to do with empty agricultural and veterinary (agvet) chemical containers.

drumMUSTER, a product stewardship program operated by Agsafe, has been working to address the problem for over 20 years – recycling upwards of 40,000 tonnes of agricultural plastic waste that would otherwise have been sent to landfill, buried or burned on farms.

According to the 2017-18 Australian Plastics Recycling Survey, only seven per cent of agricultural sector plastics are recovered.

Of that seven per cent, drumMUSTER is responsible for 3.5 per cent, meaning approximately half of all agricultural plastics recycled in Australia is done so through the program.

In March this year, drumMUSTER, saw its 35 millionth agvet chemical container collected. The container was delivered to the Renmark Refuse Depot in Renmark, South Australia, marking an important milestone for one of Australia’s oldest product stewardship schemes.

Remark Council has been working with Agsafe since 2000, recycling over 163,000 drums.

According to Dominique Doyle, Agsafe General Manager, 349 regional and rural councils across Australia operate drumMUSTER collections, at over 800 sites.

Funded through an ACCC authorised levy, drumMUSTER provides Australian agvet chemical users with a recycling pathway for eligible empty agvet chemical containers.

The program collected its first agvet chemical container in Gunnedah, NSW in 1999.

The Trustee for the levy program is AgStewardship Australia.

The levy is imposed at the point of sale, thereby coming into effect as soon as the container enters the supply chain.

“Manufacturers of the agvet chemicals voluntarily sign up to the levy program. The industry is leading the way in stewardship” Doyle says.

She explains that AgStewardship Australia is a trustee organisation.

“This works as an assurance to farmers that the funds are being held appropriately and only used for the drumMUSTER and ChemClear stewardship programs,” Doyle says.

SAFETY AND STEWARDSHIP

Agsafe was formed in 1993 as an industry-led non-profit organisation. The purpose: to ensure safe supply, use and disposal of agvet chemicals and containers across the supply chain.

“I’ve served as Agsafe General Manager for just over two years, having previously worked with CropLife Australia,” Doyle says.

As Agsafe operates a number of programs including training, premise consulting, drumMUSTER and its sister program ChemClear, Doyle’s role involves ensuring all those programs work effectively.

What makes Agsafe unique, she adds, is that the organisation doesn’t look at product stewardship in isolation.

“A lot of the discussion of stewardship in the waste sector talks about packaging recycling, which means that when people are thinking about stewardship, they are generally thinking about packaging and recycling issues,” she says.

“Agsafe is unique because we are looking at those issues, but also believe that safety issues are key and can’t be considered in isolation from each other.

“We’re not just focusing on the packaging of the materials, but also ensuring safety along the whole supply chain,” Doyle explains.

As part of its commitment to addressing safety and stewardship holistically, Agsafe operate a range of agvet reseller training programs designed to ensure best practice adherence.

Agsafe training programs are recommended for people working in the agvet chemical supply chain.

This includes sales representatives, agronomists and warehouse managers.

Doyle says Agsafe training provides participants with the knowledge to safely and legally transport, handle and store chemicals in their state or territory.

“Chemical manufacturers wanted to ensure that retailers and anyone along the distribution supply chain understands that many of the chemicals are dangerous goods and need to be handled appropriately,” she says.

While the transport and use of the products is federally regulated by the APVMA, Doyle says it’s equally critical to ensure that state regulations are understood across the entire supply chain.

Roughly 1400 retail premises are engaged in the program.

“We train their workforce, which is around 6000 people every year,” Doyle says.

“We also work with operators that warehouse chemicals, ensuring they understand that they need to segregate incompatible chemicals.

“You can’t have an alkaloid and an acid chemical stored together, for instance, as it could end up in something as serious as an explosion.

“This is why the chemical manufacturers industry set up Agsafe, to deliver these programs and minimise any critical incidents along the way.”

COLLECTING CONTAINERS

While Agsafe training addresses chemicals pre-use, drumMUSTER is responsible for the collection and recycling of agvet chemical containers post-use.

The drumMUSTER logo and program is highly recognisable in the bush, Doyle says, highlighting a legacy that stems from the programs 1999 establishment.

She adds that when drumMUSTER was first developed, marketing was primarily geared towards engagement.

“We work hard to engage farmers to use the program, and in every state and territory have regional consultants that attend field days and engage with communities and councils to ensure maximum return back into the drumMUSTER program.”

drumMUSTER’s regional consultants are key to the program’s success Doyle says. She adds that because the consultants are locals, they understand the localised needs of farmers in their region.

“What’s happening in Central Queensland won’t be the same as what’s happening in South West WA,” she explains.

drumMUSTER operates over 800 collection sites around Australia, with the majority being located in local council compounds and waste transfer stations.

“It’s important to engage with councils on an executive level, but also at the ground level in the waste transfer stations,” Doyle says.

“We also work with over 110 community organisations, paying them a piece rate for inspecting the drums before they enter the program.

“This allows them to fund community programs such as sporting groups, school activities and Lions clubs.”

Containers must be triple rinsed to ensure no residue is left in the drums, with containers that don’t meet drumMUSTER cleanliness standards rejected.

“We do this to minimise risk for our processors, their employees and the entire supply chain,” Doyle says.

Eligible containers feature the recognisable drumMUSTER logo, she adds, which acts as an assurance to farmers that the container can be recycled at the point of purchase.

Once drums are collected, certified processors pick up the material from an Agsafe compound, with most containers shredded, granulated or heat extruded back to a resin that is suitable to enter the recycling stream.   

“After the containers are collected the processor retains ownership of the plastic, so it’s a unique model in that way,” Doyle says.

PROCESSING PLASTIC

Weston Fence is an Agsafe accredited processor that uses resin from recycled drumMUSTER containers to manufacture fence posts.

Operations Manager Duncan Abbey says the idea came out of necessity, with the family farming business wanting a strong product to manage its livestock.

“We’ve been a registered company for 20 years and have always used a proponent of recycled HPE in our posts. Then, about five years ago, we were frustrated with the inconsistency of the product we were getting and searched for a solution,” he says.

Weston Fence came across a supplier that was using a blend of drumMUSTER drums, and after trailing the product, were happy with the consistency, availability and durability of the posts they were able to produce.

Abbey adds that there is currently more than 20,000 kilometres of Weston Fence across Australian.

“We’re taking a product that has a shelf life of one year when it contains chemicals. It then becomes waste, and we’re able to turn it into something that will last 20 to 25 years as a fence post, which can then be recycled again.”

Andrew Smith of Astron Sustainability is another drumMUSTER processor. He highlights that Astron, Pact Group’s Sustainability Service Division, has been an active participant in the program for over 15 years.

“As a both a manufacturer in the agrichemical supply chain and also the largest recycler of post-industrial resin in the Southern Hemisphere, we considered this a very positive product stewardship program. And therefore, a natural fit for our Sustainability Services Division,” Smith says.

While drumMUSTER facilitates recovery options for empty containers, the dilemma of leftover chemicals is similarly significant to the agricultural industry.

Given the safety imperatives of proper chemical disposal, Agsafe developed drumMUSTER’s sister program ChemClear in 2003, using funds from the drumMUSTER levy.

ChemClear operates as a collection and disposal service for obsolete chemicals from farmers and the wider community.

Farmers and other agricultural industry professionals register their waste with the program and relinquish chemicals for safe removal.

Once pre-registered chemicals reach critical mass in an area, Agsafe arrange a “milk run” collection service.

“Our contractor has a biochemist on hand, and they receive and appropriately store the chemicals after eligibility has been confirmed,” Doyle says.

“All the staff are trained to ensure safety and segregation when doing these runs. Plus, we use a single contractor for the whole of Australia, which makes the program much easier to run and manage.”

One of the challenges for ChemClear, Doyle says, is that while farmers carry many drumMUSTER eligible products, they also possess a lot of other chemicals.

“Some of them may be legacy chemicals from changes in farming practices or generational changes, and some of the products may have been sitting on the farm for decades,” she says.

Group one chemicals, including those housed in their original container with a readable label and drumMUSTER logo, are eligible for free collection. Group two chemicals, such as those no longer registered, unlabelled or expired, have a variable per-litre fee applied for disposal.

Agsafe work with regional councils and state and national farming organisations to ensure farmers engage in the program as much as possible.

“The support from the farming organisations, as well as those local community groups, is so important to the success of the program. The individuals in those organisations really are the champions of our work,” Doyle says.

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Discovering what’s possible: Mandalay Technologies

Local governments are increasingly leveraging digital vouchers to reduce liability, supported by data to provide tailored services to their customers.

Like every other sector, councils across the country are navigating the brave new world of COVID-19 and social distancing.

Delivering essential public health services such as water, sewerage, and waste, many of which are continually evolving to deal with a climate-conscious general public, is no easy task. For some councils, the concern is to continue to do so without delaying or reducing rates, fees and charges.

For example, the Local Government Association of Queensland has laid out a COVID-19 battleplan, highlighting its desire to partner with the Queensland Government to lead communities in recovery.

As reported by Waste Management Review in the May article Supporting business continuity, software provider Mandalay Technologies has been focused on aiding the transition.

With many businesses forced to digitise their operations overnight to meet social distancing requirements, Managing Director Simon Kalinowski sees it as an opportunity for councils to improve their core services.

“Waste is an essential service, and one in which improved service outcomes and revenue are very much intertwined,” he says.

As a result of COVID-19, Simon acknowledges that many councils will be faced with external pressures to support their community, whether it be bad debts, fluctuating commodity prices, or otherwise, which will impact their bottom line.

“The performance of their operations, including the efficiency of those services, is going to come under increasing pressure, so we need to see better performing councils,” he says.

WAVES OF CHANGE

Simon says digital relationships with customers, and their customers, across the entire supply chain are opening up a range of possibilities. It comes as the waste profile, which has seen significant changes over the decade, prepares for another wave of change.

With more people working from home, and many potentially to continue to do so in the future intermittently, more waste is finding itself in the municipal solid waste streams.

Many state governments, including Queensland, NSW and Victoria, are re-setting their long-term waste planning framework.

“Waste services have traditionally called for a set and forget approach. But now we’ve got changing expectations on what to put in each bin, multiple types of services, and changing operating conditions at facilities impacted by COVID-19,” Simon says.

He says that the traditional narrative in waste has been to focus on the average household, but this is a misguided approach, as every end user is different.

“If you think about the community and consumers, we have an expectation that we can do things in real time, and waste is gradually evolving into that dynamic,” Simon says.

Simon remains inspired by the possibilities that digitisation continues to create. Mandalay has been progressively expanding its product offering to track waste data from source to fate.

Real time issuing and redeeming of vouchers is supported by cloud-based data.

Taking existing commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition waste data, it is being integrated with municipal solid waste to create a holistic view of waste management within the regions.

“Our underlying belief is that if we can give insights to our councils of increasingly precise behaviour of their customers, then they can use that to develop new or existing services that drive long-lasting behavioural change,” Simon says.

“I was working with a regional facility that services many councils, and they have a few different profiles of customers they have to serve. They had come up with a very limiting program for that community, and so when you educate them about what’s possible, their whole world changes.”

Mandalay is seeing a surge in its existing waste voucher offering for residents and community groups, coupled with detailed waste mapping based on voucher use.

Waste vouchers have traditionally been printed on paper and mailed out to homeowners, or available on request. Often, this can cost thousands of dollars to ensure the vouchers are only used by the intended recipient and not copied or forged.

Mandalay has sought to resolve this, and a number of other issues, by digitising waste services. Simple concepts such as updating terms and conditions, getting a record of receipts read or accepted, or making program specific changes, can be communicated in real-time.

DIGITAL RELATIONSHIPS

Moreover, waste mapping is creating digital relationships with the people and properties within a community.

Since being released in 2018, its resident voucher program has supported local governments with digital vouchers – which has solved a variety of issues.

“One of the limitations of councils offering vouchers is, previously, they’ve been able to print them all out and send them to the residents when they send out the rates notice every year,” Simon says.

“But as rates notices are moving to electronic/online they couldn’t offer that service, or align that service offering.”

He says the challenge was then to offer an on-demand service, while also being able to ascertain the profile and behaviour of communities in a more targeted way.

These are the considerations Mandalay looked at when it began to digitise these services, aiming to offer councils better data and insights about their communities.

Mandalay’s voucher application can be distributed via rates notices or on-demand requests, while offering cancel, re-issue, and override options where a council decides an exception to the rules is needed.

This aims to resolve several challenges. The first is substantial overheads and the risk of managing multiple systems and data points across multiple locations.

Secondly, reducing the complexities of administering waste systems that extend across several teams, including Waste, IT, Finance, and Customer Service.

Thirdly, this increases the integrity of voucher programmes and reduces opportunities for fraud.

By delivering a faster and more personalised experience for councils, residents and the community, local governments can form stronger community ties while finding operational savings.

Like most digital products, integration is important, and Mandalay’s voucher management application natively links in with its CS Ticketing system. This enables rules set for the voucher program to be enforced at the facility gatehouse when the voucher is redeemed.

Additionally, real-time issuing and redeeming of vouchers is supported by cloud-based data.

Added to integration is the need for collaboration to avoid confusion, with the ability for use by multiple internal users across various teams, whether it be waste or customer service, to administer and manage entitlements.

User access can be managed via permissions and provide access to data while locking down functionality based on an organisation’s internal process requirements.

Multiple voucher programs can be created to suit each type of entitlement offered by councils.

Detailed waste mapping provides councils with unique data insights into their local government area and ultimately helps them service their communities better.

“You need to understand who your customer is before they come to the site and preferably what they’re there to do,” Simon says.

“Councils often think of their ratepayers as this is where their revenue base comes from, so they have an understanding and relationship with all of them. But in over 35 per cent of residents, the occupier and generator of the waste is not actually the ratepayer, it’s either the tenant or the property manager.”

Mandalay’s property database maintains a unique understanding of every property, allowing unique relationships to be built against that property.

Detailed property information is captured in the application, along with a history of voucher use, which provides an auditable system and a means of confidently challenging incidence of fraud.

Importantly, operators can understand where waste is being generated and which facility it is being presented at. The system adheres to international data security standards, including the General Data Protection Regulation – one of the world’s strongest set of data protection rules.

Simon says this allows bespoke services to be introduced at the click of a button.

“The classic one we’re seeing digitised fully is recycling drop-off facilities where operators can track the behaviour of that backfill property, link green waste drop-offs or introduce another more discreet waste related service.”

Additionally, by understanding the relationship between properties, councils can draw on information about the end user and even introduce targeted services. This spans anywhere from multi-unit dwelling pick-ups to targeted waste education campaigns.

“Councils are seeing this as a chance to actually bring essentially new revenue to their sites and we think that’s particularly exciting.”

Bundaberg Regional Council is one of several councils that will be using Mandalay’s waste vouchers, with vouchers currently sent out with rates notices.

Kerry Dalton, Coordinator Waste and Recycling Environmental Compliance at Bundaberg Regional Council, says that council is hoping to see multiple benefits to using the waste vouchers.

She says there are myriad potential benefits in moving to an electronic system, including allowing for council to electronically mail out vouchers to its E-rates customers.

Additionally, the ability to cancel and reissue vouchers if a resident has lost or not received the voucher is another benefit.

“This happens quite regularly, and we have had no way of tracking vouchers to know if they have already been redeemed,” she says.

The vouchers will offer the ability to track usage and start identifying areas with higher uptake and produce more accurate reports from the voucher module.

Kerry anticipates the end of day reconciliation process should be cleaner with the ability to scan the vouchers, with more of the benefits to be better understood by council’s next rates round in July/August.

Simon says that while many councils are understandably focused on present challenges, the future of waste behavioural insights is abound with opportunity.

“There’s a whole raft of data and insights that we’ll be able to generate in the future, as well as being able to benchmark the performance of organisations and all manner of things.”

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Clean loop recycling: TOMRA

Container deposit schemes are the first step in changing the way people think about the circular economy and the importance of reusing precious resources, TOMRA’s Ryan Buzzell explains. 

Collaborative success stories are abound throughout the waste industry, with initiatives such as the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and Food Innovation Australia Limited highlighting the central role industry plays in developing Australia’s legislative resource recovery framework.

In recent years, the industry/government alliance model has been applied to the nationwide establishment of container deposit schemes (CDS), to great success.

Ryan Buzzell, TOMRA Collection Solutions Australia President, highlights CDS’ as a standout example of government and industry working together to protect natural resources for societal reuse.

“We’re about to learn a lot about the impacts of plastics in our oceans, including their impact on our society and human health. I believe that sustainability, and particularly the circular economy concept, will become an urgent priority in the next few years,” Ryan says.

“To address that, we need to ensure those concepts remain at the forefront of business innovation and government policy decisions. I think those two entities working together can really make significant positive change.”

With the majority of his working life spent at TOMRA, Ryan’s commitment to fostering the circular economy is a lifelong passion.

“I remember learning about greenhouse gases and their impact on the climate in primary school and thinking I wanted to be part of the solution,” he says.

Beginning his relationship with TOMRA in 2005, Ryan started working at the company in an entry level position with the collection solutions division.

“When I came across TOMRA in 2005, it was clear to me that this was an organisation that aligned with my personal values. And 15 years later, that’s still something that holds true.

“Since then I’ve held progressive positions within the organisation. More recently in 2015, I was General Manager of our business in New York City. And then in 2017, I came to Australia to head up our business here, with the onset of the CDS in NSW.”

BILLIONS OF BOTTLES 

In his Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW Minister’s Message, Environment Minister Matt Kean highlights plastic as synonymous with the global consumer economy – underpinning “our use and dispose mentality”.

Ryan shares similar sentiments, calling Australia’s cultural attachment to single-use items a major problem that requires innovative solutions and behavioural change.

“The past 40 years have seen our unsustainable linear economic model – take, make, dispose – accelerate at a significant rate, with approximately one million plastic bottles now bought every minute globally. We need to work at addressing that issue and promoting awareness about the value of the circular economy model.”

Mirroring sentiments expressed by TOMRA CEO Stefan Ranstrand at the 2019 World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki, Finland, Ryan says with an estimated 95 per cent of plastic packaging material value lost to the economy, the international community needs to work to unlock that economic potential.

He highlights that in doing so, the global economy could unleash up to $85 billion annually.

Furthermore, Ryan says the environmental effects of plastic waste are set to increase without action, with estimates suggesting plastic production will rise by 40 per cent over the next 10 years.

Despite the scale of the problem, Ryan remains optimistic, noting the success of NSW’s CDS Return and Earn.

“The CDS, which has demonstrated positive effects on recovery rates, will be instrumental in improving our future environmental outcomes and addressing the waste crisis,” he says.

“CDS’ offer an opportunity to show people how the circular economy can work and encourages them to look at other areas of their consumption, thereby breaking down barriers and changing people’s mindsets and behaviours.”

In July 2017, TOMRA, in a joint venture with Cleanaway, was appointed Return and Earn network operator by the NSW Government. As part of the network operator JV, TOMRA provides technology and software, including reverse vending machines.

Cleanaway provides logistics, material sorting and recyclable commodities brokerage. Administered by scheme coordinator Exchange for Change and regulated by the NSW EPA, Return and Earn represents a well-oiled example of industry/government collaboration.   

Since it was introduced, the scheme has seen more than 3.4 billion containers returned and recycled, with NSW Parliamentary Environment Secretary James Griffin remarking on Return and Earn’s then 67 per cent redemption rate for eligible drink containers at the time of the scheme’s second anniversary in December last year.

Ryan estimates that more than one billion containers would have found their way to landfill or litter over the last two years. While the success of Return and Earn is likely well known to most in the waste and resource recovery sector, Ryan says its impact can be measured beyond bottles collected and litter reduction rates.

He adds that the scheme has fundamentally changed the way NSW residents think about waste and litter, thereby illustrating a public willingness to engage in the circular economy.

“More and more, Australians are understanding that waste is a resource and actually something that holds value. But society still needs a push or a reminder to turn that into a habit,” Ryan says.

CDS’ work by adding a small extra deposit on top of the price of a beverage – such as those in plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans – which is refunded to the consumer when they return the empty drink container for recycling.

“This is typically established through legislation passed by state or national governments. When the consumer purchases the beverage, they pay the additional deposit on the container. Once they have finished with their beverage, the consumer returns the container to receive their deposit back,” Ryan says.

“That’s where CDS models work so well: by attaching an incentive to those products to remind people that these are valuable resources. CDS functions as a very tangible example of the circular economy in action.”

CLEAN LOOP RECYCLING

While the plastic waste crisis is affecting the entire globalised world, Ryan says the combination of collaborative action and innovative technology offers a real solution. He adds that significant economic, social and environmental opportunities can be found in TOMRA’s clean loop recycling ethos.

Despite most being aware of the closed loop recycling process, TOMRA is championing an updated model, with clean loop recycling at the forefront of the company’s business framework.

“What we mean by clean loop recycling is using technology at the point of return for bottles and cans to essentially recognise the container and sort it on the front end,” Ryan says.

“This keeps contamination in the material streams to an absolute minimum, which ensures those clean streams of material can be turned back into new bottles rather than being downcycled.”

According to Ryan, over 50 per cent of the containers collected through Return and Earn are recycled into new bottles and cans, highlighting the scheme’s prioritisation of high order recycling.

“Rather than downcycling the material we collect, Return and Earn works to lessen the need for virgin material production by turning old bottles and cans into new bottles and cans – thereby extending the lifecycle of the original material,” he says.

Containers collected in the greater Sydney region are returned to a Sydney recycling facility for processing and on-sale to other businesses to be re-used. Ryan adds that containers collected in regional areas are processed at regional recycling facilities, reducing the need to transport materials across the state.

Plastic is undoubtably the workhorse material of the modern economy, Ryan adds. Addressing the plastic waste problem therefore requires more than just telling consumers to buy less.

“To achieve the ambitious goals of a circular economy, it’s necessary to employ state-of-the-art approaches that push boundaries, with TOMRA’s reverse vending and waste sorting solutions helping to achieve this by recovering materials and providing valuable insight into the composition of these materials,” he says.

“The result is a greater understanding of where efficiencies can be made to minimise costs and waste, and better utilise resources within a closed loop – further mitigating the impact of CO2 and other emissions and inefficiencies.”

According to Return and Earn’s consumer research, conducted in December 2019, eight out of 10 Return and Earn participants are satisfied with the scheme. While over three-quarters of NSW residents believe it will reduce the amount of litter in the state.

Ryan adds that TOMRA’s research shows more than half of NSW residents are using the scheme, which in turn demonstrates how easy access to drop-off points and a well-planned network of collections and recovery infrastructure is critical to building Australia’s circular economy.

Recent research also shows that for young people 18 and 24, the environment is now their number one concern above health and the economy. This, Ryan suggests, demonstrates the circular economy concept taking root.

“I expect we will see more of these thoughtful consumers emerging in the future, with CDS enabling the consideration of not just what you’re buying and using, but also where those products are going to end up,” he says.

“CDS’ are a great example of delivering on the triple bottom line of sustainability: less litter in the environment, refunds used to benefit charities and local community groups, and lastly, recycled containers becoming a part of the circular economy through extended product life.”

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Problem-solving contaminants: Enviropacific

Enviropacific’s SOLVE facility is open for business and poised to provide an advanced solution for the management of contaminated soil, waste and liquids.

While industrialisation lifted the standard of living for millions across the globe, over the past two centuries, invention upon invention has brought with them a scourge of unknown chemicals.

In 1978, the United Nations Environment Program annual report estimated four million chemical substances had been identified, with 30,000 of those commercially produced. The way these chemical substances enter the environment is complex, from direct application such as pesticides and herbicides to PFAS and waste effluent flows from manufacturing, transport and product consumption.

Every year thousands of new chemical substances are discovered and with that comes the need for exposure assessment, hazard and risk characterisation and, once appropriate – treatment.

In 2014, Lynne Goldman, a former Administrator for Toxic Substances at the US EPA highlighted that in just 25 years to the 1970s, the volume of synthetic organic compounds tripled. However, understanding which chemicals are in use and how many there are is not an easy question to answer, estimating around 84,000 chemicals exist in commerce in the US.

Analysing, understanding and treating the plethora of organic compounds is supported by companies in Australia like Enviropacific. Enviropacific, a specialist environmental services provider, comprises four core services to the market: remediation, water treatment, fuel facilities and hazardous waste. The company operates integrated facilities across Victoria, NSW and QLD, with operations in SA, NT, WA and Tasmania.

Enviropacific sees its role as eliminating the harmful legacies of the past and supporting reactivation and beneficial reuse of urban space once considered a wasteland.

David Tucker, CEO of Enviropacific, tells Waste Management Review a critical part of the company’s mission is to create safer and healthier communities.

“Humankind leaves, and will continue to leave, a brown footprint of contamination. We see our role quite simply as being able to clean that up one step at a time,” David explains.

“We have a clear purpose around making places safer and healthier and I think that resonates really well with our customers, employees and the broader community.”

Importantly, Enviropacific offers the Australian market a specialised alternative for the management of contaminated soils and industrial wastes – diverting it from finite landfill.

Its knowledgeable team combines science, skills and initiative with an environmental focus.

Enviropacific’s journey began in 2001, when two friends, Matt Fensom and Cameron McLean, founded the company, initially starting with remediation works.

Over the next decade, they expanded the business across the eastern seaboard for soil and water treatment. They acquired end-of-life fuel facilities for remediation and enhanced their design capabilities in fuel storage and handling.

One of the most exciting developments for Enviropacific arrived around 2012, when it took on thermal desorption capabilities to treat organic soils.

Thermal desorption effectively separates contaminants from soil by heating it in a chamber and vaporising the moisture and organic contaminants out of the soil. A vacuum or gas system takes the vaporised water and contaminants into an off-gas treatment system which converts them to carbon dioxide and water.

David says that along the way there were a range of successful projects for Enviropacific, but two major ones spring to mind.

He says that one of Enviropacific’s breakthrough projects was the Villawood project in NSW, a remediation of a 13-hectare former pesticide manufacturing facility. The $15 million project was awarded in 2012 and saw the treatment of around 37,000 tonnes of impacted material using onsite ex-situ thermal treatment.

Five or 10 kilometres away from Enviropacific’s treatment facility in Altona, the company between 2013 to 2015 undertook one of the most significant remediation projects in Victoria. RAAF Base Point Cook is the longest continuously operating military airfield in the world and saw Enviropacific excavate and treat more than 70,000 tonnes of highly contaminated soils onsite. This was done using ex-situ direct fired thermal desorption capabilities.

Historical firefighting training activities had significantly tainted the underlying soil and groundwater and contaminated it with a range of chlorinated solvents and hydrocarbons.  These were presented as DNAPL, LNAPL and dissolved phase contamination, which is why Enviropacific’s capabilities were needed.

“With the risk of these contaminants leaching into the bay, we were called in to treat that material. We installed a site-specific plant, manufactured by Tarmac International in the US,” David says.

Taking on such an advanced capacity came with the award of major water treatment projects in 2016, including a $30 million water treatment plant project at Barangaroo in Sydney and the first large-scale water treatment project for PFAS at Coolangatta Airport on the Gold Coast.

When David was invited by the Enviropacific board to lead the company, he says the market for hazardous waste was evolving, with the EPA taking considerable interest in thermal desorption.

Enviropacific saw a need for a fixed thermal desorption facility and agreed to create a new operation known simply as SOLVE.

SOLVE was established in mid 2018, and by the following year, the site was fully operational.

With a background in engineering, including various Tier 1 contractors, David says he was attracted by Enviropacific’s strong environmental purpose. He says he saw an opportunity to develop the company’s people and processes.

“The issue of stopping, reversing or perhaps even preventing environmental harm was really always the core of the business. Our core competency is our people and their capabilities in applied science and engineering,” David says.

“I’m still a strong believer that while the company has grown and doubled over the last three years, we certainly see potential to do that again and SOLVE is very much an important part of that.”

Enviropacific’s SOLVE facility treats more than 20 kinds of contaminated soils, wastes and liquids using thermal desorption to remove and destroy contaminants.

Strategically located in Melbourne’s Altona industrial precinct, Enviropacific has the capabilities to remediate Category A and B contaminant streams, including PFAS, scheduled and other prescribed industrial waste.

David says that SOLVE aligns well with the EPA’s enthusiasm for reliable and integrated facilities that treat contaminated materials. It also allows it to service a broad customer base, including property developers, infrastructure construction contractors, industrial sites and local government.

“We have a vision to not only serve our own clients and provide an integrated service for them, but also a direct service to the market and both run in parallel,” David says.

As the company developed SOLVE, Amy Wells, an experienced engineer and operations manager, was brought on in late 2019 to lead the plant as Facility Manager.

With more than 20 years’ experience, Amy remains focused on building a positive and collaborative problem-solving culture at Enviropacific.

Amy’s significant contracting experience, ability to manage people and teams and background in running fixed facilities were key reasons behind her appointment.

“Knowing that there is a belief that people can learn and grow is really important to getting the right people on board when you’re integrating these technologies,” Amy explains.

She says that having a fixed facility has numerous advantages, including providing customers with a stable and reliable service.

“We can get rid of problems in different communities and then start to treat these different contaminants together in a way that wouldn’t work project by project.”

The SOLVE plant, a Tarmac plant, is one of around 25 around the globe, and David says Enviropacific keeps a close eye on their experiences overseas. David says the efficiency of the plant and reliability makes it one of the best.

“The facility is licensed to process 100,000 tonnes per annum. There’s around 200,000 tonnes of capacity in the market.”

Last year saw the advancement of numerous projects for SOLVE, including Fitzroy Gasworks, Melbourne Metro, West Gate Tunnel and proposed infrastructure and associated development projects. Increasingly stringent state and federal environmental regulations are driving greater treatment, recovery and reuse, and creating greater avenues for Enviropacific.

Additionally, the growing infrastructure and property renewal market is also opening doors for the company.

At this stage, the end use of a majority of SOLVE materials is for landfill capping and construction, but Enviropacific hopes to find other beneficial uses as the market develops.

SOLVE adopts strict controls, including screening prior to assessing treatment suitability and undertaking the thermal desorption process. The thermal desorption process sees the material heated to temperatures of around 500°C and contaminants are desorbed from the solid matrix and collected into the vapour stream.

Once this is complete, the material is ready for rehydration in a pugmill, cooling and stockpiling. The off-gas stream passes through a cyclone to remove larger particles and the gas containing desorbed contaminants is oxidised at temperatures reaching 1100°C.

This destroys harmful organic compounds and the gas cools rapidly to prevent contaminant formation. Fine particles are removed via a baghouse and the acid gas created in the process is neutralised through an acid scrubbing process.

Continuous emission testing ensures compliance with regulations. The treated materials are stockpiled and subject to stringent validation sampling to ensure successful treatment.

The material must be classified for end use and accepted to the site where it will be beneficially reused as engineered fill.

Amy says that proof-of-performance testing, including receival, storage, handling and treatment of new contaminants, allows Enviropacific to take on new projects and expand its service offering.

She adds that information sharing with Enviropacific’s diverse range of experienced engineers, from wastewater treatment to hazardous waste, paves the way for upstream and downstream solutions.

Moreover, the site’s Altona location lends itself to securing adjacent projects and sources of contamination from one of Melbourne’s largest manufacturing precincts.

Amy says the company is looking to provide its services to other states, including NSW, QLD and SA. For example, liquids have already been brought in from QLD as part of an expansion trial, and solids from NSW.

“Our growth will be internally by taking our capabilities interstate, but we also want to take on new contaminants and capabilities too.”

One issue that Amy is proud to be tackling is PFAS.

“People are keen to see a solution and to know that we can take PFAS and treat it here in a very safe way takes that hazard away,” she says.

“There are a number of federal defence sites that are looking for a known way to treat it instead of leaving it in-situ and trying to care take it.”

As PFAS is soluble, concentrates can be pushed through the SOLVE facility and destroyed.

David says there are immense opportunities to increase the company’s capabilities in both soil and water treatment in a staged manner.

“We have a very strong vision for SOLVE. The first focus is always on ensuring developing our capabilities and markets to deliver 100,000 tonnes per year and we’ll be looking at augmenting the facility to increase capacity,” he says.

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Leading excellence: Veolia

Waste Management Review caught up with Veolia Australia and New Zealand’s Marc Churchin to discuss his vision for the newly created solid waste portfolio as the company moves towards a new organisational structure.

Veolia Australia and New Zealand, which offers environmental services across waste, water and energy, has been organised around state lines for decades.

But a recent restructure sees a national focus on each of these business lines and is aiming to propel the company into a new era.

Veolia adopted its new line of business structure at the end of 2019. The change will see senior managers focused more deeply on their area of expertise, with national teams delivering waste, water or energy and industrial services across the country.

Seen as an opportunity to solve the nation’s future waste challenges, Veolia believes the new structure will allow it to better tap into its experience and scale. As a result, it will aim to realise a range of operational efficiencies – ultimately benefiting its customers.

Chief Operating Officer Marc Churchin heads up the National Solid Waste division in Australia. Marc tells Waste Management Review that Veolia customers are demanding a higher level of efficiency, greater levels of service and a more innovative approach to solving their waste challenges. He says the new structure aims to make it easier to deliver on all of these areas.

To that end, Marc’s remit includes solid waste collection services, transfer stations and waste-to-energy (WtE) nationally.

With close to 1000 employees under the solid waste banner, this division is a key part of the business.

Marc will continue to work closely alongside his peers, Tony Roderick (formerly Vic/Tas Group General Manager) and Craig Balthes (formerly Group General Manager of QLD). Tony and Craig now hold the title of Chief Operating Officer for the Energy & Industrials, and Water divisions respectively.

“There’s a need for ongoing collaboration between our business lines, so we’ll continue to work closely together.

“For example, Tony is responsible for liquid and hazardous waste treatment, so there are obvious synergies there. Similarly, there are clients we look after where water and solid waste treatment solutions are part of a larger offering.

“That’s the beauty of having scale and deep expertise in specific areas,” Marc says.

He adds that having a distinct focus allows Veolia to concentrate more on markets, processes and technologies most relevant to its business and customers.

Marc also hopes to be able to bring efficiencies to his business by observing and implementing best practices and creating consistencies by streamlining processes nationally.

“I’ve worked in three or four parts of our business and seen pockets of excellence right across the country, but it’s been difficult to pick those up and try and overlay them in other areas. By going down a national line, we now have the opportunity to do this more effectively.”

LESSONS FROM THE LAND

Marc Churchin has been exposed to multiple aspects of Veolia’s business, including the company’s esteemed Eco-precinct, supported by its mechanical biological treatment facility.

While moving house isn’t always the most enjoyable exercise, Marc has had the pleasure of working for Veolia in three different jurisdictions: Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. He’s also travelled the UK extensively and seen the success of the line of business structure first-hand.

These experiences have given him a well-rounded knowledge of the business and prepared him for the challenges ahead.

“I’m really pleased to have had the varied experiences I have across the whole business – not only locally, but internationally. I plan to bring that to the table when it comes to thinking about how we continue to build our solid waste operations and offering.”

Marc recalls starting his career in the sales team in 2005 at Veolia’s office in Buckhurst Street in South Melbourne, before moving into the sales manager role and subsequently heading up the Victorian commercial services collection business.

In 2011, he moved to Perth in the midst of the resources boom to take up the role of WA State Manager as Veolia integrated its waste, water and energy businesses.

“My experience in WA was exciting. Although it was familiar in some aspects being a city-based operational role, 50 per cent of our overall business emanated out of the Pilbara which was 2000 kilometres north in the iron ore mining areas. We therefore had different market drivers and customers.

“One of the big things I noticed was the focus on Indigenous engagement and employment. We set up a waste management joint venture which is still in existence today. It now turns over $40 million per annum with a local Indigenous group up there, and is a significant contributor to not only local employment, but our bottom line.”

His hard work saw him later promoted to NSW Group General Manager in 2018. This gave him exposure to some new aspects of Veolia’s business, including the Sydney desalination plant and its esteemed Eco-precinct in Woodlawn.

Despite his experience and long list of achievements, Marc is adamant that changes to the Veolia waste business ultimately need to benefit the customer.

“One of our biggest customers is a large government client, and when you go through this type of reorganisation, one of the first big things you do is talk to them about the change and the expected benefits for them.

“And from their perspective, they were really pleased, because they have been previously dealing with up to six different senior managers right across the country. This change means a single point of contact and increased accountability.”

Marc says that another practical example of how the new structure benefits customers is the ability to align its various fleets across the country to one specification of vehicles, simplifying the purchasing and procurement process.

“Instead of having a different fleet, or service experience in say Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or regional areas, this will start to look and feel the same right across the country, with a consistent and tangible operating rhythm.”

In saying that, Veolia will continue to offer a bespoke service to meet the unique requirements of its customers in various local jurisdictions.

“One of the things that we’re conscious of is not losing that local flavour, particularly in regional areas where we’re very strong across the country,” Marc says.

“But equally in capital cities, having worked in three major national capitals, I can tell you that there is a definite view that everyone is different and each particular jurisdiction across Australia is different.

“Some councils are very keen on food and organic processing, other councils don’t want that, so you have to be nimble enough to meet the requirements of different customers and their expectations.”

He says that having worked in three states allows him to get a feel for what does and doesn’t work in particular areas.

“We have senior managers with a long tenure in the industry that will continue to represent Veolia in those places, so they know the customers and policy makers well and what drives the decisions they make,” he says.

TAPPING INTO EXCELLENCE

Marc says the decision to base the Australian waste business on the UK model makes sense, given the alignment between the two businesses.

For this reason, he says he has continued to draw on subject matter experts in the UK to advance Australian projects.

“I’ve spent a bit of time in the UK and having a look over their business and different activities and I think it’s fair to say it is a very mature business.

“They’ve had WtE facilities running for over the past 20 years based on regulatory triggers that have made it beneficial to do that. The UK also has a number of advanced recycling plants and technologies. While we have some of these emerging in Australia, it’s not to the same degree.”

Following the lead of its UK counterpart, Marc says Veolia Australia and New Zealand is well placed to lead the future transition, with the foundations currently being laid for Australia’s first large-scale WtE facility.

“I think there are a number of exciting opportunities that could be available for Veolia in the next five to 10 years in WtE, and we’ve got access to some of the best talent and technology globally to take advantage of that,” Marc says.

Veolia is keen to think out of the box when it comes to forming partnerships that drive a circular economy. It recently signed a Heads of Agreement with Coca-Cola Amatil to establish a plastic processing plant which would focus on recycling PET plastic soft drink bottles.

This initiative would dramatically increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill. Coca-Cola Amatil has already set the bar with its target of seven out of 10 bottles made from 100 per cent recycled PET by the end of 2019. In November 2019, the company indicated this was on track.

“We also want to be using our expertise with major partners to drive value for them. As an example, the NSW Government is about to launch into their new 20-year waste strategy, so for the last 12 months they’ve been seeking feedback from the industry, councils and others. We’ve played an active role in working alongside the government and helping them navigate the complex waste challenges they’ll need to solve over the next 20 years.

“Looking forward, I believe that one of the things we need to be thinking about is how we build treatment process and capacity to ultimately cope with future demand, rather than simply looking at a particular waste types or waste streams in isolation of this.”

Given international waste bans have opened up sovereign risk, building local capacity is an area Marc feels strongly about.

“If we continue to rely on foreign markets for waste treatment and processing, we’ll face exactly the same problem that happened to us recently where a regulatory and policy change in a foreign jurisdiction meant we had no control over things and it adversely impacted companies and residents locally,” he says.

Whether it’s greater incentives for recycled products, or taxes and levies on virgin products, there are key mechanisms that can help to drive investment in better treatment and processing options. From plastic to organics, liquid and hazardous waste or residuals, Marc says Veolia stands ready to provide support.

“We have technologies right all over the world and in many cases we’re actually technology agnostic. There could be two or three different treatments for a particular type of waste stream, but we work with a customer to figure out what’s best for them. Fundamentally, we’re positioning ourselves for the future,” he says.

“The coming years will prove crucial for the waste and resource recovery sector, so we want to ensure we continue to work with the private and public sectors to solve the challenges ahead.”

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Boosting tyre supply chain visibility: Tyre Stewardship Australia

Lina Goodman, Tyre Stewardship Australia CEO, speaks with Waste Management Review about its world-first foreign end market verification program that will significantly increase waste tyre supply chain visibility in local and international markets.

When Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) was formed in 2014, its initial guidelines called for market development activities to focus on early stage research and development.

One year later, TSA launched its key investment mechanism, the Tyre Stewardship Research Fund.

In an ever-evolving space, the fund has to date directed $4.9 million to 34 research and development projects.

As TSA’s goal is to reduce the environmental, health and safety impacts of the 56 million equivalent passenger units generated annually, it’s an agenda the voluntary product stewardship scheme does not take lightly.

With research and development into tyre-derived product well and truly proven, TSA needed to change tack, enhancing its strategic focus as it underwent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reauthorisation.

Last year, it broadened the original guidelines of its Tyre Stewardship Scheme, allowing it to drive a more immediate consumption of Australian generated tyre-derived product.

In doing so, TSA launched a demonstration and infrastructure stream, which proved to revolutionise its existing remit through practical outcomes, approving new products consuming almost a million tyres per year.

The stream ensures TSA can support an array of sectors, including in roads, advanced manufacturing, civil infrastructure, rail, building construction and more.

It generated an additional $3.2 million in new sales for the Australian recycling market annually, but importantly led to critical sustainable outcomes.

One of these many projects was the announcement of a test of new mixes of crumb rubber asphalt on a 335-metre stretch of road in the South Australian City of Mitcham.

In another innovative initiative, the Victorian Department of Transport is now conducting the first large-scale crumb rubber asphalt trial on an arterial road, in a two-year trial with the Australian Road Research Board.

To support TSA’s next evolution, TSA also welcomed a new CEO in Lina Goodman, who brings extensive experience in delivering commercial and environmental outcomes.

Mahdi Disfani, Lina Goodman and Heather Holmes-Ross test crumb rubber asphalt in the City of Mitcham.

Lina’s breadth of experience comes as a paradigm shift is occurring in the waste sector, with increased commitments from federal, state, territory and local governments to procure recycled materials, including in major road projects.

She joined TSA in January 2019 after a long career in sustainability including roles at VISY, Honeywell and TIC Group.

To that end, she tells Waste Management Review auditing and verifying downstream international venders is one of TSA’s current focuses.

“With a significant volume of Australian end-of-life tyres exported for processing in foreign end markets, verifying environmentally sustainable and ethical management of exported tyres is central to the integrity of the Tyre Stewardship Scheme,” Lina says.

In 2018/19, Australia produced 450,569 tonnes of tyre waste. Over this time, approximately 43 per cent of all end-of-life tyres were exported as either casings, tyre-derived fuel shred, baled whole, or off-the-road tyres exported for crumbing, with the largest portion being shred at 29 per cent.

Given the scale of exports and well-known consequences of unsustainable management, TSA has developed a world-first foreign end market verification program for end-of-life tyres.

Despite an international ban on whole baled tyres in the works, verifications of final destinations is paramount, as tyre products are still sent offshore for further processing.

“We are taking new steps and are a lot more agile, dynamic and creative about how we want to function in the industry and wider marketplace. I like to call it next generation TSA,” Lina says.

“Our aim is to support initiatives that bring together strong partnerships across the supply chain, crossing research institutions and industry partners, to demonstrate both the technical and financial viability of products.”

DOWNSTREAM VERIFICATION

In 2019, TSA engaged third-party quality assurance company Intertek to develop a platform and process to audit downstream vendor behaviour. According to Lina, the program will verify sustainable outcomes, ensure exporting processor accountability and educate operators both domestically and offshore.

“Intertek audits the sites based on a set of criteria including modern slavery, occupational health and safety, technology and hub and spoke,” Lina says.

“In terms of technology, auditors assess whether the technology is fit for purpose, and with hub and spoke they ensure the material is being processed at the collection site and not transferred to other unverified locations.”

During the first round of audits, there were some issues to work through. One of these saw Intertek identify staff working inside buildings that were locked from the outside, which created a fire hazard.

“We also came across sites engaged in environmentally unsound practices, and some that wouldn’t allow our auditor to enter,” Lina says.

“In that instance, the auditor took photos around the perimeter of the site and spoke to people living and working in the area – it’s quite an investigative process.”

Under the verification program, for foreign end-markets to accept material from TSA accredited participants, they too require will TSA verification.

To receive verification, Lina says operators first run through an education program to understand TSA’s expectations. From there, operators conduct self-assessment questionnaires, providing photographs and procedural details.

“Intertek and TSA will then verify that information, and if we identify any red flags, we will send an auditor to the site,” Lina says.

“The whole idea is to ensure overseas operators are not causing any environmental or social harm. That’s the bottom line.”

According to Lina, TSA has recently conducted a number of audits in Malaysia and India, with many ticking all the relevant boxes.

“The program enables us to ensure the material is being recycled in an appropriate manner, and also guarantees that Australian recyclers are informed about where they are sending their material,” she says.

“We need greater overall visibility of the reverse supply chain of waste tyres. We can’t really be sure that materials are being appropriately managed if we don’t have them verified by a third-party organisation.”

In addition to the downstream verification process, Lina says TSA is enhancing its international relationships through associations with groups such as the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG).

The IRSG is an inter-governmental organisation comprising rubber producing and consuming stakeholders, with 36 member countries and over 100 members covering the entire natural and synthetic rubber value chain.

“The IRSG has traditionally worked within the new tyre and rubber segment of the market,” Lina says.

“However, they recently recognised the need to include sustainability and end-of-life tyres into their discourse.”

As part of the partnership, TSA is hoping to join the IRSG’s sustainability committee, which Lina says will help facilitate connections with international governments.

“Joining the IRSG will create a direct line to governments in places that currently receive our material, such as Cameroon and India,” Lina says.

SUSTAINABLE OUTCOMES

To facilitate greater market transparency, TSA is also working on a new suitable outcomes indicator, which Lina says models the good, better and best of tyre recycling.

“One recycler is not the same as another recycler, there are various levels of measurable environmental outcomes,” she says.

Lina says TSA has begun identifying its participants against good, better and best outcomes, with recyclers judged on process, and retailers judged on their choice of recycler.

“We have thousands of consumers who visit our green tyres website and want to do the right thing for end-of-life tyres. They ask, who can I buy tyres from? Who provides sustainable outcomes?” Lina explains.

“We really need to shine a light on organisations that have invested locally and are making an effort to transform tyres into products for local use, and I think the sustainable outcomes indicator will help that.”

EXPORT BAN AND THE PSA

The recent Meeting of Environment Minister’s confirmed a phased approach timeline for the ban on waste exports, as announced by the Australian Council of Government’s (COAG) earlier this year.

All whole tyres, including baled tyres, will be banned from export by December 2021. While Lina says whole tyres represent only a small percentage of what is exported, TSA is supportive of government putting regulatory levers in place.

“Of the 223,000 tonnes of end-of-life tyres recovered in 2018/19, 84 per cent was exported and 16 per cent remained in Australia for use within local applications. Of the volume exported, 25 per cent was whole-baled tyres and 68 per cent was exported as shred,” she says.

“That said, the ban has led to increased conversation locally about investment in new facilities and upgrades, and because of the ban, the market conditions are now right.”

Lina adds however that for the ban to really change the state of end-of-life tyre processing, it needs to come hand in hand with a strengthened Product Stewardship Act.

“It’s wonderful to have the COAG statement, but we need the act reviewed to provide us with more opportunity for market development and to keep all tyre importers accountable for the products they bring into the country, not just a select few,” she says.

“We are a voluntary scheme – we have eight tyre importers now contributing to the levy and one automotive brand, but we really need all of them participating.”

While questions remain over the long-awaited Product Stewardship Act review’s outcomes, Lina says she is heartened by the progress made by TSA over the past 12 months.

“If the Product Stewardship Act review can address the issue of free riders, or as I have heard them to referred to as “environmental pirates”, we will have more funds to redirect to organisations that want to address end-of-life tyres commercially,” she says.

“That said, there is already a whole range of support programs in place. We are excited by the opportunities that will arise from the export ban and our market development strategy, which is already delivering significant outcomes. The next generation of TSA is looking bright.”

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It’s time for glass out: Australian Paper Recovery

Victoria’s challenging commodities markets has inspired a rethink of traditional processing from commercial and industrial recycler Australian Paper Recovery.

As Victoria deals with the fallout of SKM, numerous solutions to the state’s ailing recycling market are being proposed, including additional bins for difficult waste streams.

Earlier this year, the City of Yarra announced plans to trial a fourth kerbside glass bin in 1300 households.

In making the decision, the council acknowledged that there less landfill space in future and this will place additional pressure on the waste and recycling industry.

Months later, other councils, such as Macedon Ranges Shire followed suit.

The City of Yarra’s move towards a fourth kerbside glass bin collection service is part of a bigger push towards cleaning up Victoria’s recycling crisis.

The Victorian Government is working in partnership with local government and the waste industry on a major overhaul of kerbside collection, with expressions of interest to be released in 2021.

It comes as KordaMentha secured a $10 million loan from the Victorian Government to help clean up SKM waste stockpile sites and resume waste processing.

Darren Thorpe, Australian Paper Recovery’s Managing Director, says the situation should serve as a wake-up call that the current system is broken and needs to be repaired.

“In the past it’s just been about quantity, with a let’s produce as many tonnes as we can per hour attitude, but now it’s all going to be about quality as we transition to a sustainable circular economy,” Darren says.

Australian Paper Recovery (APR) has collected waste paper, plastic and cardboard since 2002, but it’s recent market trends that are prompting a new approach to its traditional role as a commercial and industrial (C&I) processor.

APR has, over time, become an important resource for the C&I sector. It has handled more than two million tonnes of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste and processed it into new materials for domestic and international markets.

Darren’s extensive background in paper recovery helped propel the business forward, while also learning extensively along the way.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Darren’s career began in October 1984 at the Smorgon’s Paper Mill, following in the footsteps of his father and uncles. It was there that Darren made his start as an accounts payable clerk, learning the intricacies and nuances involved with fibre collection and recovery.

He then worked his way up to Regional Sales Manager, before the business expanded into rural Victoria in the mid 80s. But despite a streak of successes, the mill was unfortunately sold in September 1989, and the corrugating plant sold to Visy in partnership with Amcor.

Following this, Darren went onto work for Southern Waste Paper – now part of Visy, where he remained for 12-and-a-half years before starting APR in 2002.

Over the years, Darren turned his attention towards the C&I sector, with the paper manufacturing sector evolving throughout the mid 90s and early 2000s.

“Back in the 90s, there were seven paper mills in Victoria and now there’s four, so it makes a massive difference to fibre recycling. That is why the export market presented such a viable opportunity as there was no use for it here in Victoria,” he says.

“The closure of the Broadfield and Fairfield Mills also created an opportunity to send product overseas.”

The present state of the industry led Darren towards the overseas markets, working for Visy in WA. The same path inspired Darren to establish his own business in 2002, moving to Springvale, in Melbourne to start APR.

“For the first 18 months, we were just trading paper overseas because that’s what the market demanded,” Darren says.

In 2005, APR moved to Dandenong and started another operation at Laverton.

More than 17 years on, the company now has five facilities in Victoria, including its materials recovery facility (MRF) in Truganina, a C&I processing site at Dandenong and secure destruction and shredding facility in Fairfield.

Its network ensures it can partner with major organisations such as Australian Paper to deliver fibre for processing at Australian Paper’s Maryvale facility.

APR established a purpose-built facility in 2013 in Dandenong South at Thomas Murrell Crescent to allow it to service the market effectively.

Extensive planning went into improving on-site logistics, with a traffic management plan ensuring smooth vehicle movements.

“We needed to get vehicles in and out of the facilities in an efficient and safe manner, so we built a purpose-built facility in Dandenong in 2013 and designed it so we could get vehicles in and out in a timely manner,” he says.

Darren says that due to the ease of use of the facility, APR tripled its volumes. Working with major retail and hospitality outlets, APR covered the broader market segment.

But when China’s National Sword policy was announced in 2017, and a glut of materials was released into the market, APR began to reconsider its strategy and look at entering the municipal solid recycling space.

“We moved into the domestic space because of National Sword as we were dealing with regional MRFs who had a problem getting rid of mixed paper because the quality that they were making wasn’t meeting export or local quality specifications,” Darren says.

“So that’s when we went to Sustainability Victoria with a proposal in late 2017 which they supported. We were fortunate enough to get a grant of $475,000 to build our value-add fibre sorting facility.”

The proposal led to a new MRF at Truganina, which processes up to 39,000 tonnes of kerbside recyclables per annum.

The MRF sees materials run along a conveyor belt with contaminants removed, before running over several ballistic separators to pull out any fibre. Containers are then dropped down to conveyors to extract metal such as steel. Manual sorters take off milk, detergents and soft drink bottles.

As the MRF was continually refined, APR envisioned a plan to partner with other regional MRFs and value-add their fibre products.

But new opportunities soon emerged as the City of Yarra embarked on a single-stream glass recycling program.

GOING GLASS OUT

APR took a “glass out” approach and started to partner with the City of Yarra, with other metropolitan councils soon following suit.

“If you put all the commodities together in a single stream recycling program you have a lot of contamination due to the fact that broken glass is mixed in with other products,” Darren says.

“Once you separate glass, it’s a very valuable and recoverable resources that can be utilised in a circular economy through the likes of O&I and others such as aggregate companies such as Alex Fraser, Sunshine Groupe and Fulton Hogan.

“But when it’s contaminated with other products, it’s too hard for them to use, so by moving to a separate glass collection we are able to produce a much cleaner and valuable resource.”

He adds that glass is the biggest source of contamination in kerbside bins besides fibre, polymers, aluminium and steel. “We’ve made it quite clear to the councils that we will only receive material that has glass out.”

Taking its “glass out” strategy a step further, APR in September agreed on a new partnership with the City of Ballarat. From 30 September, the council will ask its residents to take their glass to several free drop-off sites around the municipality using containers provided by council or their own.

City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh in a statement said that for many years, Ballarat shipped its recycled material overseas for processing, which was no longer an option.

With quality now being a key priority, Darren says APR has continued to partner with a number of local manufacturers, including Huhtamaki and Norske Skog for fibre. Norske Skog is one of the world’s largest suppliers of newsprint while Huhtamaki produces consumer packaged goods such as egg, paperboard and plastic packaging.

Darren says that wherever possible, products are repurposed into their original form in a circular motion such as cleaning products or soft drinks. In other cases, waste streams like milk bottles are repurposed as plastic pellets. He says the main priority is adding as much value as possible and keeping products out of landfill.

“Vicfam Plastics is a company we’re working with to make the plastic pellets and they’ve been greater partners with us in other commodities in our business.”

Darren says APR aims to be as diligent as possible in ensuring material is contaminant-free and is in the process of auditing materials that come in from both councils and the C&I space.

Overall, Darren is excited about the future possibilities for APR and predicts the company’s current plans will only lead to further growth for the company.

“Our facility is the way of the future. The commodities that we’ll generate out of the sorting facility will provide end users with a quality product,” he says.

“All indications are that our MRF will be at capacity by Christmas and, as such, we’ll be looking to build a new facility taking on board the learnings from this facility.”

However, APR will only enter the market when a need presents itself, as its focus is quality, not quantity.

Its next stage is to build a receivable area with an additional 1200-square-metre facility planned in four to five months time at a cost of around $1.3 million.

While ensuring its operations are economically viable is the number one priority, Darren hopes APR can make a vital contribution to the sector at a critical juncture.

“We’ve shown the initiative to go out there and do something different because no-one wants to keep doing the same thing and have a broken system. We need to make some changes even when it’s difficult,” Darren says.

He says that the challenges going forward will be getting the message out to the community to stop ‘wishcycling’.

“Education, commitment and understanding by residents will certainly be a major influence in the way we view recycling in the future. Developing more local production opportunities and government procurement policy for recycled products will also be part of the now ‘broken system’ we are trying to fix,” Darren says.

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Urban-inspired collection: Volvo

Volvo’s new Vice President of Sales Tony O’Connell details the company’s latest waste collection iteration – the Volvo FE Low Entry Cab.

With more than 67 per cent of Australians living in a city, one of the biggest challenges going forward for the waste transportation sector will be maintaining and improving safety.

Likewise, minimising one’s environmental impact and increasing efficiencies will be ongoing hurdles, not to mention keeping pace with population growth and its impact on waste generation.

Original equipment manufacturers are cognisant of the task that lies ahead and it’s this determination to innovate that has driven Volvo to continually refine its waste collection range.

To tackle this challenge head-on, Volvo earlier this year launched its FE Low Entry Cab. The company has for years offered the FE and FM as a custom solution for select waste transportation and recycling solutions.

Building on its previous success in the refuse sector, Volvo has made excellent ergonomics, superior all-round visibility and a low vantage point key traits of its latest iteration.

Close to the coalface of its customers is Volvo’s people, with experienced professionals who know the ins and outs of their customer’s needs – fleet managers and councils.

Tony O’Connell, Volvo’s former Aftersales and Services Vice President, is a Volvo industry stalwart. With more than 14 years’ experience with the company, Tony was recently promoted to Vice President of Sales. Tony brings experience across a number of areas, including Soft Products and Retail, National Retail and Project Manager roles.

CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

In his most recent role, Tony served across Volvo’s dealership network in Australia and New Zealand and focused on improving customer support. This allowed him to develop a grassroots understanding of his customers and challenge Volvo to improve its product offering.

“I really enjoy working with customers and our dealer network to ensure their needs are met and we are best positioned as our customers’ long-term business partner,” Tony explains.

“I like to solve issues before they become problems, and working in a company like Volvo where there is a lot going on, I enjoy negotiating those challenges.”

The FE Low Entry Cab (LEC) design was born out of a need for an efficient and safe refuse vehicle in the busy city of London. The first Volvo FE LEC was released in 2009 but proved popular and quickly became a standard offering.

“We know London is a recognised leader for requirements on direct vision in heavy vehicles, so it is good to be able to draw from the innovative work done in the UK,” Tony says.

“Additionally, London is the epitome of urbanised living, and if the truck suits their strict safety requirements we are confident it will suit Australian cities also.”

Volvo’s newest iteration comes as manufacturers are continually challenged to ensure drivers and refuse workers have maximum visibility and agility in their vehicles and avoid accidents wherever possible. By lowering the driving position and reducing hidden angles, Volvo is able to significantly improve all-round visibility.

“As these vehicles operate in highly urbanised areas in close quarters with road users, it is important for them to have the suitable manoeuvrability and visibility,” he says.

Tony says that the FE Low Entry Cab’s low profile and safety credentials make it an attractive proposition for urban distribution as well as the waste segment.

“Volvo knows that safety is paramount for councils and operators who provide waste management services in busy residential streets and high-traffic urban environments,”
he says.

Tony says Volvo aims to disrupt the current state of the segment and target those looking for safer, more versatile options, with the Volvo FE LEC ready for immediate sale.

“We want to place driver comfort, safety and visibility at the forefront, and we believe we can offer our customers the tailored solutions they need for their business,” Tony says.

Tony says that for this reason, all FE and FM models feature world-class safety and technological innovations, including forward collision warning with autonomous emergency brakes in almost all models. He says that Volvo trucks are also engineered to be significantly quieter in order to cause as little noise pollution as possible.

AGILE VISION

Considerable testing has gone into ensuring driver needs are at the forefront of Volvo’s success. Tony says that this involved relentless testing to support maximum visibility out of the front and side windows as well as the mirrors.

In providing excellent ergonomics and superior all-round visibility, Volvo has ensured the windows on either door (optional) allow the driver to clearly see what or who is right beside them. This simple, yet effective feature is particularly important for use in high-traffic urban areas where the safety of vulnerable road users is paramount.

“The literal step up to the cab and the 90-degree angle at which the door opens have been included with driver ease-of-access in mind, aiming to maximise driver convenience when swiftly entering or exiting the cab,” Tony says.

The Volvo FE LEC can accommodate up to four people with the low instep aiming to save drivers time. A range of telematics and connected services also assist in truck monitoring, tracking, preventive maintenance and servicing.

As far as safety is concerned, Volvo has made numerous advancements in its latest model. Tony says the low vantage point of the FE LEC allows the driver and passenger to have maximum visibility of all pedestrians, cyclists and road users surrounding the vehicle.

“As workers in the segments we are targeting often have to leave the vehicle multiple times a shift, it is important they are able to do so safely by having a clear view of their surroundings,” he says.

In the FE LEC, the step has been brought lower to the ground to allow for ease of access. Tony says that as drivers are doing multiple stop shifts where they are hopping in an out of the truck, the walk-up start with a lower step ensures less strain is placed on the driver. A kneeling function has also been included to allow for the vehicle to get 90 millimetres closer to the ground.

“Safety is so important to us at Volvo Trucks. These improved driver ergonomics reduce the chance of a driver tripping or missing a step.

“Some drivers get in and out of the cab more than 200 times a day, the LEC therefore ensures higher safety and productivity.”

KEEPING IT GREEN

Sustainability and a low emissions profile are also values integral to Volvo and part of the design of any new vehicle. In designing the vehicle, Volvo has made the FE Low Entry Cab Euro 6 compliant with an eight-litre up to a 350-horsepower diesel engine ahead of the standard regulations.

“The engine emits clean, frugal power on the road, as to deliver on our promise to work towards cleaner transport solutions,” Tony says.

“In addition, the cab fulfils both EU and Volvo unique safety demands, including legal requirements ECE-R 29/02 and Volvo’s even stricter internal safety requirements such as the Swedish BOF 10 and barrier testing at 30 kilometres an hour.”

To ensure Volvo can service the market with servicing, part and maintenance across the country, Tony says the company offers the largest dealer network in Australia and New Zealand.

“The total cost over the lifetime of the truck is also something our customers value and we consider our offers, including uptime solutions, to be highly competitive,” he says.

“With specific reference to the Volvo FE LEC, this truck has been brought to market as a result of local demand. It’s another example of listening to our customer base and delivering.”

And as the ever-growing waste market continues its upward trajectory, Volvo aims to leverage its global capabilities to meet niche local demands.

“I look forward to capitalising on our global capabilities more in the future to deliver on our promise to tailor our solutions to our customers’ needs,” Tony says.

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Particle size innovation

Melbourne’s Knox Transfer Station is pioneering refuse-derived fuel using an Australian-first technology to achieve a small particle size.

Over the years, Melbourne’s Knox Transfer Station has grown from being more than just a transfer station to a hard waste processor for a number of councils.

Operated by KTS Recycling and located in Wantirna South, the company also runs transfer stations in Coldstream, Skye and Wesburn.

Craig Davis, Process Manager at KTS, joined the company 14 months ago to support the company’s entrance into the refuse-derived fuel (RDF) market. RDF is used as a renewable substitute for fossil fuels in cement kilns and specialised energy-from-waste plants.

The motivation for KTS to get involved with RDF was inspired by its collection of hard waste and mattresses through parent company WM Waste Management Services. To maximise resource recovery and find a home for residual plastics, textiles, wood and other materials, the company started looking at RDF around five years ago.

“We were shredding and extracting metals from hard waste and mattresses and hand sorting cardboard and timber with the remaining material going to landfill,” Craig explains.

KTS’ expansion into recycling mattresses initially saw it shred and recycle metal with the remainder sent to landfill, but it believed it could be doing more.

“We didn’t just want to be seen as a wheel’s business and a processor, we wanted to do something different and stay ahead of the curve,” he says.

PROCESS ENGINEERING

In late 2017, KTS Recycling began to establish an interim RDF manufacturing facility at its Knox Transfer Station with support from Sustainability Victoria’s Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund.

Extensive trial and error was required to ensure the material could meet specification, in particular the particle size for the fuel’s end user.

Craig’s background working with various shredders and grinders at SUEZ and Veolia helped fast track the process, experimenting with a number of different shredders, trommels and screens on-site.

However, despite extensive experimentation, no processes could consistently achieve its less than 50-millimetre output particle requirements. This led KTS to look outside of its existing resources and investigate a new and innovative resolution.

Owner Mark Jeffs flew to Europe last year to check out the UNTHA XR3000 mobil-e in action. As a specialist in machinery and manufacturing technology, Craig also went overseas earlier this year to inspect and test the XR3000.

Mark and Craig were both impressed by the single-pass shredding and lower rotation speed capabilities of the technology. As lower speeds generally have lower wearing costs and a reduced fire risk, the machine was seen as highly advantageous for KTS.

The XR3000’s ability to handle up to 30 tonnes of commercial, industrial and wood waste per hour was also a big plus.

Having previously engaged with FOCUS enviro on a number of other waste processing and technology choices, KTS turned to the company to provide an RDF solution.

FOCUS enviro then called on the product knowledge and experience of its technology partner UNTHA.

After discussing KTS’ requirements, the 37-tonne mobile machine was shipped to their Knox headquarters in July 2019, becoming the first ever Australian company to use the technology. The UNTHA XR3000 mobile-e has been applied successfully in more than 9000 successful installations worldwide.

A diesel mechanic by trade, Mark has achieved a long line of innovations through KTS and parent company WM Waste Management, including becoming one of the first organisations to trial and purchase electric refuse vehicles.

Mark says that alternative fuel is becoming more and more important in Australia and as a progressive environmental company KTS wanted to stay ahead of the curve.

“We acknowledged that by investing in world class RDF production technology, we could produce a high-quality resource, efficiently, and hopefully really drive the market for this crucial energy source,” Mark says.

Rod Tanner, Business Support Manager at KTS Recycling, says one of the most important criterions of the company’s operations is to ensure a reliable small particle size.

“The challenging aspect to our operations is that we make our product today, but we don’t really get feedback from the markets until weeks later so we have to do a lot of our testing locally to ensure we get our products right.”

Michael Strickland, KTS Project Manager, says that there would be big ramifications if deleterious materials ended up in the fuel.

COUNCIL COLLABORATIONS

Rod says the majority of customers in hard rubbish are local government and are accountable for landfill diversion targets, making the business case even more attractive.

“We service customers all over Melbourne and even some regional councils as far as mattresses go,” Rod says.

“We’ve actually got a contract with the North East Regional Waste Management Group so we service all the way up to Albury-Wodonga.”

He says that with more than a dozen customers working with KTS Recycling, the company is looking at opening up conversations with more commercial and industrial operators.

KTS’ process will involve taking RDF-compliant material from its other sites and processing it in Wantirna South.

Rod says that at this stage the main material going through the UNTHA is typical kerbside hard waste collected items, including mattresses and foam. Depending on calorific value results over the coming months, the company will also look at increasing its commercial and industrial waste processing.

Rod says that KTS is committed to doubling its initial output of RDF over the next four years.

While RDF remains relatively niche in Australia, the markets in Europe have grown exponentially.

According to data compiled by the UK association RDF Industry Group, the proportion of refuse-derived and solid recovered fuel has been steadily increasing each year since it began in 2010 to 2017. The sector is worth around £0.5 billion ($0.89B AUD) annually and RDF production supports more than 6800 jobs in the UK.

Gary Moore, UNTHA Director for Global Business Development, says the company is continuing to work with itscustomers to maximise throughputs, minimise impurities andmaximise margins.

“Australia is one of the world’s most exciting countries when it comes to waste-to-energy potential, and it’s great to now be a part of it,” Gary says.

A CHANGE IN DIRECTION

At the August Council of Australian Government’s meeting, federal and state and territory environment ministers agreed to work towards banning recyclable waste being exported overseas.

While a timeline has yet to be established, Robbie McKernan, FOCUS enviro Director welcomes the move and sees it as an opportunity for surplus non-recyclable material to be manufactured into RDF.

“The prime minister’s announcement will only fuel the need for alternative pathways for material that would otherwise be sent overseas,” Robbie says.

“RDF is a high quality resource and its success is well documented in markets around the world.”

Robbie says RDF is a first class alternative to landfill and can be supplied to many different types of energy facilities using fossil fuels.

Calorific value is another challenge and KTS is working on bringing its moisture content down. To rectify this, KTS is continually trialling a combination of different waste compositions with one of them including mattresses.

To support the shredding process, KTS has also acquired an EDGE density separator from FOCUS enviro to remove inert materials such as glass, ceramics and concrete prior to feeding material into the UNTHA.

KTS’ RDF process sees waste come in and be sorted and shredded into various piles before removing inerts through the EDGE density separator. The shredded materials are baled and wrapped into their finished product.

The new XR3000 mobil-e takes advantage of an electromechanical drive without having to forgo the advantages of a mobile machine.

Consistent 30-millimetre to 400-millimetre particle sizes are achievable.

Three different cutting concepts are available depending on the material and fraction size – a ripper, cutter or knife system. The system comprises an internal pusher that allows the material to be pressed against the shredding shaft to maximise production.

Robbie says FOCUS enviro now offers the complete alternative fuel production industry pre-shredders, density separators, industrial baling and bale wrappers and all technology components requirements to manufacture RDF.

“This means our clients can source a complete RDF production line from a single supplier in Australia which is unmatched in the industry,” Robbie says.

Robbie says the UNTHA X3000 mobil-e is unlike anything FOCUS enviro has previously seen in the marketplace.

“We had the chance to see it in the factory and some customer sites in the UK but it’s only when you see the machine in action that you understand it is in another league entirely,” he says.

“We’ve supplied shredders for decades so we were completely taken aback by the jump in machine capabilities and process diagnostics, from the drive system to pusher arm and the knife changeover features.”

Robbie says the ability to produce a homogenous and defined output fraction in a single pass has opened up more opportunities in difficult-to-shred applications.

“UNTHA are now dominating the plastic granulation, tyre-derived fuel, mattress, biomass, pulper ropes and e-waste resource recovery market with their ability to reduce materials efficiently with consistent size and minimal fines,” he says.

He adds that post-consumer and production waste plastics is another example where the machine is working with little to no competition in performance on an industrial level.

The range of shaft and cutter configurations means the shredders are suitable for thermoplastics, duroplastics and elastomers.

In the burgeoning waste-to-energy market, the shredder is also ideal for gasification or biomass markets.

“At the end of the day we’re making a product that substitutes black coal and cement kilns have to burn products regardless so if you can use a renewable fuel that’s best practice from a greenhouse gas perspective,” Michael says.

Craig says that the early results are highly positive and KTS has been able to trial new materials such as car and truck tyres, which has already reduced disposal and transport costs, allowing KTS to send pre-shredded tyres to an end user.

The testing forms part of KTS’ broader vision to be a geographical hub for PEF in Melbourne.

“Understanding where our waste stream is sitting will allow us to explore options for new residuals. We’re learning as we’re going, but we’ve already come a long way,” Craig says.

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