Zero waste in the sunshine state

Waste Management Review talks to Leeanne Enoch, Queensland Environment Minister, about the state’s plan to drive resource recovery through waste levy hypothecation and infrastructure.

In a submission to the 2018 Senate Inquiry into the Australian Waste and Recycling industry, one company described waste levies as a blunt economic instrument.

The idea, as expressed in the submission, is that despite principled ideals, the waste sector, like all sectors, is profit driven. Incentivising recycling therefore needs more than ethical arguments about the future of the planet.

This concept is seemingly understood by the Queensland Environment Department, which when developing its new Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy, positioned the waste levy reintroduction as its cornerstone.

Additionally, the strategy pledges a hypothecation rate of 70 per cent, a significant figure when compared to other state’s lack of reinvestment commitments.

Known as the sunshine state, Queensland is regarded for its beaches and natural beauty. As such, ineffective environmental management is not simply a waste of material resources, but also natural ones.

According to the states Resource Recovery Industries 10-year Roadmap and Action Plan, released May 2019 through the State Development portfolio, policy drivers to support resource recovery and discourage landfill in Queensland have been historically weak.

For instance, the Transforming Queensland’s Recycling and Waste Industry Directions paper notes that the state’s 2014-2024 Waste Avoidance and Resource Productivity Strategy failed to deliver policy or regulatory certainty.

According to the paper, this was largely due to the strategy being unfunded, while relying on sectoral plans to encourage behavioural change that were not underpinned by market mechanisms.

As a state, Queensland has consistently reported one of the worst resource recovery rates in the country – 45 per cent in 2018. Additionally, between 2007 and 2016, the state’s resource recovery rate remained virtually unchanged, highlighting a lack of action and investment in the sector.

The Resource Recovery Roadmap and Action Plan outlines four core strategies to address this via long-term market building. These are accelerating the project pipeline, developing interconnected supply chains, creating responsive policy and legislative frameworks and investing in new technologies.

Within these strategies, government will work to provide facilitation services, ensure the availability of suitable industrial land and investigate opportunities for the inclusion of recycled products in government procurement policies.

Shortly after the roadmap’s release, the Environment Department released its own complementary plan, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy.

Waste Management Review spoke to Leeanne Enoch, Queensland Environment Minister, about state government’s efforts to grow environmental health through resource recovery and industry development in October.

According to Minister Enoch, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy is designed to transition Queensland towards a circular economy through long-term targets, including a 25 per cent reduction in all household waste, a 90 per cent diversion from landfill rate and a 75 per cent recycling rate across all waste types by 2050.

The overall goal, Minister Enoch says, is to accelerate Queensland towards a zero-waste future.

LEVY LOOPHOLE

Between 2017 and 2018 Queensland produced nearly 11 million tonnes of waste, with waste generation over the last decade outstripping population growth by 19 per cent.

The cause, according to the waste management strategy, is partly attributed to growing volumes of interstate waste being transported to Queensland for disposal. Minister Enoch adds that this problem stems from low landfill gate prices and the absence of a waste levy.

In recent years, thousands of tonnes of waste generated in New South Wales was trucked into south-east Queensland for landfilling and levy avoidance.

The cross-border business resulted in lost taxpayer revenue, while also interfering with NSW and Queensland recycling data.

Minister Enoch says addressing this problem is the driving force behind the state’s new waste strategy.

The levy applies to 39 out of 77 local government areas, and covers an estimated 90 per cent of Queensland’s population.

“It sends a direct price signal that sending waste to landfill is the least preferred option and results in lost economic opportunities,” Minister Enoch says.

According to Minister Enoch, the levy will also provide a funding source for programs to assist local government, businesses and industry to fund critical infrastructure, establish better resource recovery practices, improve overall waste management performance and sustain Queensland’s natural environment.

“We have committed to 70 per cent of revenue raised from the levy going back to councils, the waste industry, environmental programs and administration of the levy,” she says.

While levies have a demonstrated landfill aversion effect, with the NSW levy sitting at $141 per tonne compared to Queensland’s $75, concerns have been raised over efficacy. The issue relates to the price disparity of the two when accounting for gate fees and operating costs.

Additionally, the Liberal Party introduced a motion in parliament in late August to repeal the waste levy, while the Australian Industry Group argued the legislation was rushed to raise revenue.

The group added that businesses have few alternatives to landfilling their waste.

“There are always challenges associated with large-scale programs of regulatory reform,” Minister Enoch says.

“The waste levy applies only to waste disposed at landfill, and is an avoidable charge if businesses reduce waste, increase recycling and divert materials to alternative uses.”

To alleviate concerns, the state government has provided funding to support communities, councils and businesses manage the transition.

“We provided a total of $143 million to councils to ensure the cost of the levy was not passed onto ratepayers,” Minister Enoch says.

She adds the levy will additionally allow markets to grow and stimulate demand for innovative products that contain recycled material.

“When you consider the success of the Queensland container refund scheme, Containers for Change, it is clear that there are amazing opportunities out there.”

In the scheme’s first 10 months, nearly 800 million containers were returned, which, according to Minister Enoch, means $80 million was returned to Queensland charities and community groups.

When asked about plans to implement specific procurement policies, Minister Enoch notes that the government has plans to review existing procurement initiatives.

The official strategy lists stimulating demand through preferencing procurement contracts for products that use recycled material as a key government action of strategic priority three: building economic opportunity.

“The Queensland Government will work with local government and the waste management sector to develop a consistent procurement contract framework for waste management and resource recovery services,” the document reads.

“Local governments should support the Queensland Government through adopting national or state standards for recycled content in procurement, stimulating demand for products containing recycled materials.”

HOLISTIC APPROACH

According to Minister Enoch, the strategy falls under her government’s wider commitment to protecting Australia’s unique environment and driving centralised waste management practices.

“There is considerable interest in waste at a national level, with the Council of Australian Governments tasking environment ministers with advising on a proposed timetable and response strategy to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres,” she says.

“The leaders agreed that the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste.”

To assist this change and provide a sustained feedstock for the recycling and resource recovery sector, the Queensland Government is planning to pursue landfill disposal bans on selected waste streams.

According to the strategy, bans will be underpinned by economic modelling and market development plans for diverted material.

“The Queensland Government recognises the need to give sufficient time for industry to transition and for infrastructure to be built, so a clear implementation timeframe will be provided prior to bans commencing,” the document reads.

“The applicability of bans on a regional basis will also be considered.”

Minister Enoch says a series of smaller waste action plans are in development to address the diversity of waste streams and their individual waste management challenges.

“The next one of these is expected to be the Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan, followed by the Litter and Illegal Dumping Strategy,” she says.

“Other plans, such as action plans for priority wastes such as organics, built environment waste and textiles will follow.”

Related stories:

Is Victoria ready for a CDS?

With Victoria the only state yet to commit to a container deposit scheme, Waste Management Review speaks with industry stakeholders about scheme potential.

In the absence of an overarching waste policy, Victoria’s waste management and resource recovery sector lacks market certainty and centralised oversight.

As such, an inconsistent approach to waste management created an environment that may have been more attractive to rogue operators.

Challenges arise when bulk processing and limited end markets exist in the same region, as evident in Victoria’s recent spate of non-compliant stockpiles.

Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA)  Executive Officer, says current procurement practices encouraged a concentration of processing capacities, and this inherently concentrated risk.

Mark adds that the recent SKM Recycling shut down highlights the risks inherent in any system that doesn’t seek to secure end markets for materials and appropriate protocols for any shocks to the system.

“A series of events related to how contracts are written, commodity pricing and how businesses establish themselves brought us to where we are now. It’s not something that happened overnight,” Mark says.

“I believe our current resource recovery issues present an opportunity to change the way government and the private sector operate which must see the private sector as a partner with the government in delivering messages and engaging with the public.”

Mark adds that the introduction of a Victorian container deposit scheme (CDS) could serve as a catalyst for tackling our current recycling issues, but can’t be done in isolation or on its own.

When the Tasmanian Government earlier this year announced it would introduce a CDS by 2023, Victoria became the only state or territory without a scheme forthcoming or in place.

At VWMA’s August State Conference, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio told delegates that the state government had no current plans to develop a CDS. That was, despite demonstrated success in other states. Ms D’Ambrosio recently told the 7:30 report that government is closely watching other states’ CDS closely, a statement she reiterates regularly.

Seeking to offer up potential solutions to Victoria’s recycling and waste management issues, the VWMA hosted a CDS discussion and knowledge transfer event in October. At the event, delegates analysed schemes and results from other states. Mark says the information will be compiled and presented to delegates attending, which included a number of vocal local governments and other associations, such as the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).

The MAV is similarly active, launching its Rescue Our Recycling action plan earlier this year. The plan identifies five actions each tier of government should take to help achieve a sustainable recycling system, with a CDS nominated as a key action for the Victorian Government.

The MAV’s submission to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management, lodged May 2019, likewise urged the state government to introduce a scheme.

Coral Ross, MAV President, says she is hopeful the parliamentary committee will recommend a scheme be introduced.   

“Container deposit schemes are celebrated for their strong record of success in increasing recovery of beverage containers, reducing waste to landfill, delivering community, environmental and economic
benefits and decreasing litter,” the submission reads.

“In light of trials and studies underway, consideration should also be given to how a separate kerbside collection for glass may complement or supplant a CDS. Either way, it is imperative that the principles of product stewardship and extended producer responsibility apply.”

CRUSHED GLASS

Contamination from crushed glass in the general recycling stream is a central driver for CDS implementation. Another solution however, introducing a fourth kerbside glass bin, is also gaining traction, albeit only in preliminary trialling stages.

The City of Yarra in Melbourne’s inner east launched a kerbside glass collection trial across 1300 households in April, following a successful FOGO collection trial in 2018.

In September, Chris Leivers, Yarra City Council City Works and Assets Director, told Waste Management Review the trial has been successful so far, with a notable decrease in contamination observed.

He added that Yarra will look to expand the service throughout the city upon the trial’s completion.

While Coral applauds the success of individual council trials, she cautions against assuming state-wide implementation would be straightforward and doable.

“There is significant diversity across councils and regions in terms of the recycling services councils offer. Proximity to materials recovery facilities, community willingness and ability to pay, and budget and resource constraints are all relevant considerations,” she says.

“Also, the Yarra and Macedon trials are small scale, so we can’t yet know how the service would work on a state-wide level.”

Another issue, Coral says, is whether or not councils can find a processor to take the material.

“In the case of Moyne Shire Council and their intention to roll-out separate glass collection municipality-wide, we understand that having a ready local end market for that material was key to the council making that decision.” she says.

“Not all councils may be able to achieve that, plus, there’s a real question about Victoria’s infrastructure and beneficiation capacity if 79 councils all start collecting glass separately.”

For these reasons, Coral says the local government sector strongly supports the introduction of a CDS as an immediate state-wide priority. She also notes that she doesn’t consider CDS to be the silver bullet that will fix everything but rather a key component of a suite of reforms needed to improve recycling outcomes.

“We have to remember that removing glass from the general stream not only reduces the contamination of paper and plastic, but enables better quality glass recovery,” she says.

“Ideally we want to see glass bottles and jars remanufactured into glass bottles and jars. Achieving a clean stream of material is key to that.”

Mark has similar infrastructure capacity concerns and issues with a ready market for materials, highlighting the amenity impacts of glass collection in high density areas. He adds that the rise of multi-unit dwellings also needs to be considered when analysing the efficacy of a fourth kerbside bin.

Mark says that waste operators already face bin collection challenges including traffic congestion, level of street access and bin placement – added to that could be a fourth collection round with noisy material.

“How is that going to impact residents? And what will resident pushback look like once those collections start? It’s a concerning proposition for many VWMA members but may also be a broader traffic challenge as well.”

IMPLEMENTATION

A recent Total Environment Centre report shows that 84 per cent of Victorians support the idea of a CDS. However, the state government refuses to heed introduction calls.

According to Mark, a CDS would require systematic changes to how parts of government operate, which may explain their hesitation.

“There hasn’t been a consistent line from the state government on what Victoria’s future recycling program will look like,” he says.

“I think that’s a problem, because we end up tinkering on a lot of little activities instead of looking towards a big fundamental shift and that shift has to take into consideration the direction the other states are taking and the region.”

Many states, including New South Wales and the Northern Territory, position their CDS as a litter management initiative.

Mark say that results from other jurisdictions and globally has seen CDS work as an effective platform to educate and engage with the public on waste, litter and recycling issues.

“The minister has said multiple times that a CDS won’t adequately address current challenges, and yes it wont fix everything, but there’s never going to be a silver bullet,” he says.

“It’s about identifying key challenges for the state, and then chipping away at problems that has support from all the revevant partners in the sector”

Another issue, Mark says, is minimal investment in public waste education from the state government.

“New South Wales has had ongoing public programs to engage the public on recycling and waste for years, while Victoria hasn’t had a state wide program or investment in this space for over 10 years,” he says.

“The state government could utilise a very small component of the Sustainability Fund to finance similar programs here.”

In addition to education, Mark says the state government would need to incentivise end markets for recycled materials that would see greater business uptake of recycled materials but also educating the public to seek out products made with recycled materials.

“If we look at the wider waste situation, the private sector invests $815 million each year, while the state government invests very little, with the bulk of the funds allocated going to infrastructure projects. The private sector have repeatedly spoken about the appetite to invest if they know there is market certainty. For me, this poses a question over the role state governments should play in market intervention,” he says.

“While introducing a CDS will undoubtably require additional costs at the start, what we’ve seen in other states, especially New South Wales, is that the state government only have to make minimal investment for set up and roll-out.”

Mark says government and industry also need to expand their focus beyond the immediate horizon and be conscious of future challenges and the future direction of the region.

“We don’t want to set up a system that in two or three years becomes obsolete, or actually becomes some sort of barrier for embracing a national push on product stewardship, because Victoria decided to introduce a CDS [for example] that is in complete contrast with the rest of the country and region,” he says.

While Coral says a national scheme would be ideal, she believes Victoria needs to start addressing its current challenges now.

“A federal scheme in line with product stewardship was on the table a few years ago but didn’t go anywhere, and now we’ve seen each state roll-out, or commit to rolling out CDS, so it would be a grave mistake for Victoria to sit back and wait for a national CDS,” she says.

“You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Related stories:

Collaborative vision for Melbourne’s waste: Rob Millard

Waste Management Review catches up with outgoing Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group CEO Rob Millard on his more than 30-year career in building Victoria’s recycling network.

Whether you’re a “garbo”, a councillor or an engineer, the waste sector has for many been a career for life.

The industry’s evolution from collection and sorting to landfill diversion has meant the opportunities for career development over the past few decades have been immense.

Yet none of this would have happened if the industry had remained risk averse and it is the ability to continually learn from its mistakes that inspires outgoing Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) CEO Rob Millard.

Earlier this year, Rob announced his retirement, with Jillian Riseley appointed as the new CEO.

After several months of volatility with the financial collapse of SKM Recycling, green shoots are emerging with a clean-up underway and Cleanaway acquiring the group’s senior secured debt.

Just like the fallout from an initial foray into organics recycling 10 years ago by the Coldstream Eastern Group, Rob believes that difficult times present an opportunity to regroup.

“Good things can come out of issues such as that and when you have drama you have to maximise learning and move forward,” Rob explains.

He says that government stakeholders and the broader waste sector can regroup and refine the kerbside recycling scheme and its supporting processes.    

“The key will be understanding what opportunities are in place over the next six to nine months to review how we collect and sort materials and ensure new contracts embrace future opportunities.

“It could be new bins such as a separate glass bin, it could be a container deposit scheme. Victoria needs to consider all the viable options and discuss them rather than going in with eyes half open.”

Its this indomitable spirit that drove Rob in his more than 30-year career across local government and MWRRG.

Coming from a civil engineer and technical background, Rob’s local government career began with the City of Moorabbin in 1977. It was here that Rob dipped his toe into management waters before moving into the City of Banyule in the 80s.

His achievements during this time spanned the introduction of a three-bin system following the amalgamation of the three councils Heidelberg, Diamond Valley and the former Nillumbik Shire Council.

“All had different waste collections so we introduced a three-bin system for new councils and implemented a green waste recycling program which was quite progressive for its time,” he says.

Rob also oversaw the upgrade of the council’s transfer station and built a materials recovery facility in conjunction with Visy, including the development of an education centre.

Rob joined MWRRG in January 2007 after 30 years of experience in local government. His skills in strategy and visioning, stakeholder vision and engagement and building relationship has allowed him to build the capacity of councils across the country.

He was central to building MWRRG into the organisation it is today – a central authority responsible for waste and resource recovery across the whole of Melbourne and the region’s 31 councils.

From the beginning, Rob built powerful partnerships and influential networks that brought together industry and local and state government. This led to the formation of many working groups, delivery of forums and workshops with the view towards solving problems, finding solutions and advancing waste and resource recovery.

“MWRRG was a unique experience as I moved from delivering services to the community to leading an organisation which formed a provisional strategic direction for all of Melbourne,” Rob says.

“Joining the organisation provided an interface between industry and local government and opened up conversations.”

He says that he was also passionate about being able to change the status quo and provide clusters of councils with the opportunity to go to tender and develop high quality infrastructure.

One of Rob’s first notable achievements arose in 2009 when he helped produce the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Strategic plan (MWRRIP), which for the first time brought together a metropolitan-wide approach to waste and resource recovery coordination.

In 2015, Rob spearheaded a more powerful MWRRIP, consulting widely with industry to cover market assessment, infrastructure research and data analysis.

Released in 2016, the plan was widely supported by government, industry, local government and the community.

“At the time it was considered a highly ambitious document as there was a plan to not schedule any new landfills and find alternatives, especially in the southeast of Melbourne,” Rob says.

“Just over three years into the plan we are going to market this year with 16 of the southeast councils for landfill alternatives and we have a robust organics network in place.”

Likewise building Melbourne’s organics recycling network through collaborative procurement models formed a key part of the MWRRIP.

Over the past decade, the organics network has been responsible for processing Melbourne’s green and, subsequently, food waste. Rob oversaw the group’s facilitation of collaborative organics processing contracts, including the first one in Melbourne’s west and eventually north.

“The organics network has the capability for councils to transition to FOGO, with around eight councils either trialling or running a service and up to 17 making the switch.”

By 2018 the east followed with further contracts expected to be operational by 2019-20. Most recently, the southeast network was developed with Sacyr Environment contracted to deliver a $65 million site in Dandenong South.

Within this, Rob helped develop MWRRG’s awareness and education campaign Back to Earth, which helped councils lower their contamination, with Nillumbik reducing its contamination from 10.5 to a mere 0.79 per cent.

As a result of collective efforts by councils, contractors and MWRRG, the capacity of the organics processing network currently exceeds the Metropolitan Implementation Plan 2021 target by 120,000 tonnes.

Rob adds that the MWRRIP also acknowledged that planning and resource recovery need to be integrated, with MWRRG conducting extensive work on buffer protection in conjunction with Sustainability Victoria and planning authorities.

Initiatives included the inclusion of buffers for protecting key waste and resource recovery infrastructure, educating statutory planners on understanding the importance of such sites and the waste sector on how the planning system works. Significantly, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between key state agencies to implement a whole-of-state government approach to buffer protection.

“Getting that social license to operate has been a key driver to ensuring we have a sustainable integrated network aligned with the needs of the community.”

As far as the future goes, MWRRG will be driving further success in developing a commercial and industrial waste strategy to reduce food and plastic waste, expanding its Back to Earth initiative and progressing new collaborative procurements for council recycling services stimulating high-quality infrastructure.

For now, Rob will be spending some quality time with his family and looks forward to providing his support to the resource recovery sector on select projects into the future.

Related stories:

The state of waste: Dr Gillian Sparkes

Waste Management Review talks to Dr. Gillian Sparkes, Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, about the 2018 State of the Environment Report.

Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Act 2003 includes a statutory requirement that the Commissioner prepare and submit a periodical report measuring environmental indicators across the state, at intervals not exceeding five years.

According to Dr. Gillian Sparkes, Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, the report functions as an environmental score card with recommendations for improvement. She adds that the report’s legislative authority means government must formally respond to recommendations.

The State of the Environment 2018 Report (SoE) was released in March of this year and Waste Management Review spoke to Gillian in September.

Gillian has served as Victoria’s Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability since 2014, leading reforms in environmental monitoring, assessment and reporting.

“Science has played a pivotal role in my life. It is the foundation on which I built my career and pursued my passions; helping others, solving problems, delivering change in complex environments and resolving difficult issues,” Gillian says.

According to Gillian, the SoE provides community with access to previously unavailable baseline science. It is also the first time the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been comprehensively applied to state level environmental reporting
in Australia.

The SDGs function as a roadmap towards sustainable development by offering a consensus framework against which progress is measured.

Gillian says the framework allows her team to measure improvement and decline across a broader socio-economic suite of indicators than traditional biophysical SoE reports. She adds that this information can be used to compare Victoria’s performance with other jurisdictions.

“This allows us to understand the entire system and see the balance between environmental, social and economic considerations,” she says.

“My team and I are now preparing the framework for the SoE 2023. It will build on the scientific baseline and SDG alignment presented in the SoE 2018. The framework for the SoE 2023 report will be tabled in the Victorian parliament in 2020.”

According to Gillian, the SoE 2018 also introduces the UN System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) into state-level environmental reporting for the first time, with a focus on the contribution and benefit of ecosystem services to Victoria’s $400 billion economy.

“SEEA will allow us to have broader conversations with government, business and industry,” Gillian says.

“A national waste account is a priority for the national set of Environmental-Economic accounts and is under development by the Meeting of Environment Ministers.”

DATA GAPS

The SoE highlights the significance of waste and resource recovery in the integrated environmental system, noting it has the power to deplete natural resources, create pollution, increase greenhouse gas emissions and affect human health.

As such, resource recovery must be a key element of any systematic response to environmental challenges and emerging global megatrends such as climate change, disruptive technologies and natural resource constraints.

Gillian says while waste and resource recovery data is more substantive than in some sectors, public reporting that matches her office’s aspirations for monitoring and understanding the circularity of Victoria’s economy, or the health of the waste and resource recovery system as a whole, is limited.

“The SoE identifies a need to develop indicators that track the overall health of the resource recovery system including markets, not just to rely on current metrics such as tonnes of waste generated, tonnes sent to landfill, or tonnes recycled,” she says.

“We have good data on total waste generation and municipal waste per capita, but the data on litter and illegal dumping is poor and on hazardous waste is only fair.”

Additionally, Victoria has not yet agreed on indicators to track the circular economy transition, according to the report.

“We need to strive for more real-time data for regulators and managers, and the participation of citizen scientists in the data acquisition processes of government,” Gillian says.

“A circular economy will challenge our assumptions and we must ensure that we have the right data. It’s about knowing what we need to know, when we need to know it.”

TRANSITION

Earlier this year, the Victorian Government opened its draft Victorian Circular Economy Policy for public comment.

According to the official document, the policy aims to redefine growth by decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and design waste out of the system.

The document also highlights durable product design to incentivise reuse and repair and share economy business models. An action plan and official policy document are set for release in 2020.

“This shift reflects the pathway Victoria has already identified to improve outcomes from this sector, and the metrics and recommendations of the 2018 SoE support this decision,” Gillian says.

“Circular economy indicators will be developed in line with the policy to enable expanded reporting beyond the linear system, monitor the operation and circularity of Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system and track progress of the transition. Good data enables good decision making.”

The SoE recommends a transition pathway through community and business engagement with whole-of-government buy-in.

“A circular economy cannot focus only on waste and recycling if it is to drive change in the way people consume resources,” the report states.

“It needs to encompass all aspects of the resources cycle, including resource extraction, imports, consumer behaviour, markets development and enabling procurement policies across the private and public sectors.”

Gillian advises that the state government align its instructional planning and procurement processes, to support the delivery of the proposed policy.

“The size of the task ahead can’t be underestimated, and will require continued and diverse investment in the sector including research and development, technology, infrastructure, plant and equipment, consumer education, new markets for recycled products and the development and enforcement of appropriate regulatory regimes,” she explains.

Gillian says continuing to advocate for a national approach to waste and resource recovery is fundamental to the transition.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The SoE also recommends that Sustainability Victoria (SV) develop indicators for the Statewide
Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan and Regional Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan.

“From July 2020, I have recommended that SV expand its monitoring and reporting framework to track the progress of strategy implementation and publicly report, at least annually, on Victoria’s transition to a circular economy – plus investment in long-term, state-wide community education to improve outcomes for this sector,” Gillian says.

“The government will formally respond to these recommendations by March 2020, and SV will be represented in that response.”

Additionally, the SoE recommends the Victorian Government, commencing in the metropolitan region as a minimum, align institutional planning and procurement processes, including leveraging Victorian Government Procurement.

Gillian says the model could be extended to environmental outcomes, such as specifying a recycled material content requirement for government projects.

“This alignment would be adopted state-wide and enable an orderly transition to a circular economy by 2030,” she says.

The SoE also notes that when developing the policy action plan, the roles of all agencies should be clarified, with responsibilities for delivery, procurement, reporting and regulatory roles nominated.

Gillian adds that government procurement could be used as an activator for circular outcomes.

“For example, the former Victorian Industry Participation Policy, now known as the Local Jobs First Policy, requires companies to use a specified amount of local content to participate in Victorian government tenders,” Gillian says.

“To achieve our ambition to move away from 20th century take, make, waste business models, innovation and leadership from the private sector is key.”

Related stories:

Fashioning cotton gin

Researchers at Deakin University are transforming cotton gin trash into a bioplastic film and creating reuse potential for the global problem of textile waste.   

The fashion industry is one of the largest industrial polluters in the world, with the United Nations Environment Authority estimating that globally, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is burned or sent to landfill each second.

Additionally, War on Waste calculations suggest 6000 kilograms of clothing is sent to landfill every 10 minutes. The ABC program attributes the scale of the problem largely to fast fashion.

The United Nations Environment Authority makes similar arguments, suggesting in a 2018 statement that recycling itself cannot fully address throwaway fashion culture. According to the authority, the number of times an individual garment is worn has declined by 36 per cent in the last 15 years.

Existing within the linear economy of make, use, dispose – throwaway fashion largely conforms to wider patterns of consumption. Dr Maryam Naebe of Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) is attempting to address this by studying ways to repurpose the textiles present in throwaway clothes.

Deakin’s IFM was established to develop scientific solutions to some of the major challenges facing waste generation. The institute attempts to do this via scientific and engineering innovation in material design and performance. The aim, according to Maryam, is to develop new materials and structures that are both affordable and possess low social cost.

The focus of Maryam’s research is sustainable approaches to value adding in natural fibres and textiles. Her most recent work centres around a common waste by-product of the textile industry, cotton gin.

Under Maryam’s lead, a team of scientists from IFM, including PhD candidate Abu Naser Md Ahsanul Haque and Associate Research Fellow Dr Rechana Remadevi, have developed a method of turning cotton gin trash into a biopolymer.   

Cotton gin trash refers to cotton waste left over from the ginning process, which involves separating cotton from seeds. The resulting waste stream is a mix of seeds, stems, short fibres and other by-products.

As a senior researcher in fibre science and technology, Maryam noticed the huge reuse potential of cotton gin waste.

“About 29 million tonnes of cotton lint is produced each year, but up to a third of that ends up as cotton gin trash, where it’s then sent to landfill or burnt,” Maryam says.

“After group brainstorming, we realised cotton waste represented a major environmental problem, which created significant losses in material value.”

Maryam and her team’s method for transforming cotton gin trash involves dissolving the waste in environmentally-friendly chemicals. The dissolved biomass then becomes an organic polymer, which can be re-cast into a useable bioplastic film.

Maryam says as a bioplastic, the organic polymer could be used in any throwaway application where synthetic plastics or films are already in use such as packaging, bale wrap and waterproofing supplies.

“Compared to synthetic plastics, our bioplastic is made without the need for toxic chemicals, which makes it safer and cheaper to produce at a mass scale,” Maryam says.

According to Maryam, the repurposed polymer can also be used as a fertiliser.

“The product also has the added bonus of contributing to a circular economy, as it can be placed in the soil to assist the regrowth of its original form,” Maryam says.

“The material is fabricated from a natural biodegradable cellulosic source and is therefore capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.”

Maryam says in addition to presenting a sustainable solution to the problem of synthetic plastic, the process could also offer cotton farmers an additional source of income by generating a resale market for cotton waste.

While Maryam and her team feel positive about the scale up potential of their research, she says they are still in the beginning stages.

“Cotton gin trash is challenging to work with. A lot of waste streams are quite homogeneous, containing only one or two different materials,” Maryam says.

“Cotton gin waste however is heterogeneous, and consists of a lot of varied and unwanted material.”

Challenging waste stream aside, the process has already been successfully applied to create a membrane-like wastewater filter. Maryam says the filter has been used to remove dyes from textile manufacturing in wastewater, highlighting the circular aspect of the process.

According to Maryam, current testing shows the bioplastic filter has the same efficiency as charcoal, the current standard for the dye filtration process.

Despite working on the process for only 18 months, Maryam says researchers are now testing the method on other organic waste and fibre material.

She says testing has already produced demonstrated results with lemongrass and hemp, with good progress shown for barley straw and wheat straw.

Given exhibited results, Maryam says the process would not be difficult to up-sell or commercialise. She says however, as with most research, that up scaling requires funding and support, both from industry and government.

“Research projects often get stuck in the infancy stage because they do not get the funding support required,” Maryam says.   

“I would really like to see support for this kind of work, not just for my project, but all research that explores sustainable solutions for waste. If given the support to commercialise, work like this could create real change.”

Related stories:

Shaping the sector

Waste Management Review catches up with Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan to discuss his achievements in waste over the past decade as he moves on to Solar Victoria.

Stan Krpan has immersed himself in the waste sector for more than 10 years, mobilising organisations and stakeholders towards structural and environmental reform.

His work at statutory authority Sustainability Victoria (SV) has been instrumental to shaping the agency’s decade-long shift towards resource recovery.

Earlier this year, Stan announced he would leave his position as CEO of SV after being appointed inaugural CEO of Solar Victoria.

Waste Management Review caught up with Stan to discuss his future plans with Solar Victoria and past achievements at SV.

While he has held senior legal positions at WorkSafe Victoria, CEO of the Victorian Cladding Taskforce and the Chair of social enterprise Infoxchange, over time Stan discovered his true passion in sustainability.

“I was a lawyer by training and had a strong background in regulation, but I’d worked out towards the end of my time at WorkSafe that I really wanted to be a part of making the future in terms of sustainability and climate change,” he says.

Between 2009 and 2010, the EPA Victoria commissioned Stan, the former Director of Legal Services and Investigations at WorkSafe Victoria, to conduct an independent review into the EPA.

More than 119 recommendations were made, including a need for the EPA to make more transparent decisions to tackle human health and refocus its priorities on supporting duty holders with compliance.

“It was from that moment that I walked in the door I thought this is something that I want to be a part of,” Stan says.

From there, Stan ended up at SV in 2011 assuming the CEO’s chair a year later.

He says that it was a difficult decision to leave SV after just over eight years.

“The opportunity for me around Solar Homes is really on the renewable energy transition. Although SV set it up, I really wanted to be a part of that transition,” he says.

“We will reach three quarters of a million households in Victoria to bring the total of solar homes to well over a million. We’re now leading the country for the last couple of months in terms of installation.”

Solar Victoria is a new “portfolio” entity which will commence within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning after being transferred from SV.

Tasked with delivering the Victorian Government’s 10-year $1.3 billion Solar Homes Package, Solar Victoria forms part of the government’s target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

The Victorian Government’s key election commitment in 2018 was to expand its Solar Homes package to 770,000 households from July 1.

Eligible households can claim a rebate of up to $2225 on the cost of a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel system or a $1000 rebate for replacing hot water systems.

The next step for Stan will be to ensure that regulation and policy keep pace with the 10-year rollout.

As he moves to Solar Victoria, his core focus will be helping Victorians with the transition to renewable energy.

Ultimately, all of Stan’s experiences have culminated in joining Solar Victoria, with a significant career background in health, safety, environment and climate change and renewable energy.

SV EVOLUTION

When he arrived at SV, the agency had been the subject of a critical report from the Victorian Auditor-General which found it had lost its way on waste and had not delivered on its statutory obligations in waste planning.

“We led a review for the then-minister around that focus on resource recovery. Essentially we’ve gone from that really being just a side project to actually being pretty much the core of the organisation and focused on delivering our statutory responsibility on statewide planning,” Stan says.

Stan says the review precipitated the country’s first ever waste infrastructure plan in 2015 – the Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan (SWRRIP).

Through a network of hubs and spokes, the model identified a move to increase transfer stations, reduce landfills, including in Melbourne’s south-east, and replace them with a network of resource recovery facilities.

The SWRRIP paved the way for developers and waste managers to work together on long-term planning. Its focus was on mobilising stakeholders in the waste sector and government and partnering with other state-based agencies across Australia.

Plans have since been generated in SA and committed in WA and NSW.

On his proudest achievements, Stan says that partnering with industry on better outcomes for the community along with market development and developing a waste education strategy are top of the list.

“One thing I particularly liked is the way we used the SWRRIP as a way of providing policy certainty to potential investors. We set up an investment facilitation service which essentially worked with proponents of new technologies and helped them enter the market,” Stan says.

Over the years, SV significantly expanded its role in resource recovery, including establishing a Market Development for Recovered Resources Strategy and programs.

The strategy supported the practical use of materials, including recycled glass on major projects such as Melbourne’s Tullamarine Freeway.

It also led to improved product specifications for recyclables in pavements, while accelerating product procurement in organics and partnering with product stewardship organisations for tyres, paint and PV systems.

“The figures are really compelling. Over the last three years we’ve invested $40 million on behalf of the government into resource recovery infrastructure, but we’ve leveraged over $100 million of private sector investment,” Stan says.

“Government procurement is obviously an area we still feel is unfinished business and we’re getting closer to finalising our first systematic assessment of state government procurement categories to understand where the opportunities might be.”

Stan points out that the Victorian Government last year adopted the Social Procurement framework.

As a result of SV’s advocacy, it includes a requirement that very large projects over $10 million consider recycled content.

“There is still more work to be done to understand the emissions profile of the sector, but one of the things I feel is unfinished business, particularly for local government procurement is that we could do more to encourage innovation and investment in low emissions transport or technologies.”

As government is the largest procurer of some materials, a common discussion by industry groups is whether mandatory procurement of recyclables is needed.

Stan points out that this is a topic also being discussed in other jurisdictions such as California and Scotland, while there are a number of targets already for specific applications such as roads.

On the subject, he says he is reluctant to make recommendations for a set target on mandatory recyclate due to the technical nature of the end use, with product safety essential.

“I am attracted to things like the EU target around green procurement which essentially says that you should incorporate criteria around recycled content even though it’s not quantified,” he says.

TAKING IT FORWARD

He says that now that SV is well established in infrastructure, the goal for the agency going forward will be to work upstream in manufacturing and new product, and materials and upcycling.

This year’s state budget included an additional $35 million for waste and recycling to build onshore processing and remanufacturing.

Stan says that Victoria’s 67 per cent recycling rate is a positive step, given the growth in population and economy, but more work is needed to raise the bar.

According to the Victorian Recycling Industry Annual Report 2016-17, solid waste diversion rose by 10 per cent to 67 per cent between 2007-08 to 2016-17. That’s despite a 1840-tonne increase in waste generation over the same period.

He says that SV has been an important part of adding an extra two million tonnes of extra capacity over the last 10 years supported by government grants and investment.

“I’ve been delighted to see the level of investment in organics processing grow in Victoria during my time since 2012 with very large companies investing in Victoria as a stable place.

“That’s very different to when I arrived at the EPA in 2010 where effectively the failure of the waste sector was attributed to the challenge of regulating and supporting the organics sector and developing new markets.”

Stan says the sector has come a long way over the past 10 years, but there is still more work to be done locally given the exposure to global commodity markets.

“To see SV grow its footprint in waste and resource recovery even though we know there’s so much more needed with the change in global commodity prices and dynamics, I’ve loved being a part of growing it,” he says.

Last year was another growth spurt for SV, increasing to over 200 staff.

One of the areas Stan says can be improved is thinking of resources in the context of the broader economy, including imports, extractive industries and eliminating waste at the design stage.

From a circular economy perspective, he says manufacturers need to partner with waste collectors and recyclers to reduce food waste, use recyclate for new packaging and eliminate unnecessary packaging from the supply chain.

Stan says that concepts such as extender producer responsibility can also be better understood and supported in Australia, as community sentiment is shifting.

SOLAR PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY

Extended producer responsibility lifespan will become ever increasingly important for solar PVs as many installed at the beginning of the millennium reach their end of life.

SV, on behalf of the state government, is leading a national investigation into extended producer responsibility options for solar PVs and batteries.

Stan is pleased with the level of engagement from peak bodies such as the Clean Energy Council and manufacturers and suppliers of solar PVs and household batteries, with consideration to a scheme to be given later this year through the meeting of environment ministers.

“Certainly something that I’m now well placed to explore in Solar Victoria is whether we can use that program to stimulate stewardship and recycling of solar panels.

“We know there are technologies in Germany and Singapore that are already doing this.”

Stan says that SV will also be looking towards the Federal Government’s review of the Product Stewardship Act once released to help accelerate the development phase.

While extensive efforts have gone into increasing SV’s involvement in waste, Stan is pleased with the input of stakeholders to make many of the agency’s achievements over the past decade a reality.

“The thing that I’ve been most proud of is the level of support and engagement that we’ve had from the waste and resource recovery sector. We couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

Related stories:

Is your bin healthy?

The City of Swans latest waste education initiative, which involves auditing the contamination levels of household bins, has led to a 53 per cent decrease in recycling bin contamination.

From kerbside collection to education and training, the City of Swan in Western Australia manages all its own waste services.

The city covers a large and diverse area across Perth’s eastern metropolitan region and has a population of 149,195.

Colin Pumphrey, Fleet and Waste Manager, says while some areas of the city are historically efficient in recycling, others with high density populations need further assistance.

Since April, the City of Swan has been conducting ‘health checks’ on residential kerbside bins to help the community improve recycling habits and reduce waste contamination.

“We need to understand what areas of the city needed our attention in terms of recycling education, and what areas are already doing well,” Colin says.

“We have worked closely with the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA), which had already developed a successful process for bin tagging.”

According to WALGA, similar programs in South Australia have reduced waste contamination by up to 60 per cent and increased the amount of recycling by 25 per cent.

Colin says bin auditing involves city staff visually checking the contents of general waste and recycling bins in randomly selected areas.

The checks are then followed by constructive individual feedback on how each household can waste less and recycle more.

“Feedback is first provided in the form of a tag on bin handles, which highlights if there are any contaminated items in the recycling bin or items in the general waste bin that could be recycled,” Colin explains.

As a result of the program, Colin says contamination rates in some areas have reduced by 53 per cent.

“In some areas the contamination levels were very high, so it’s a good outcome so far,” he says.

According to Colin, the auditing program is consistent with the city’s wider approach to waste and recycling education.

“As we don’t contract any of our waste collections, we can interact closely with the community to ensure the bins are healthy and uncontaminated,” Colin says.

“It’s not only beneficial in the wider environmental sense, but also helps the city streamline our education processes.”

Colin says while in some areas the issue of waste separation and contamination is well understood, the real challenge is keeping residents up to date with ongoing changes to the waste and recycling industry.

“It’s important for residents to understand the city isn’t just imposing random changes for no good reason, we want them to understand specifically what changes have been made and why?” Colin says.

“As Swan has a fairly transient and changing population, we have to keep the education process going – it’s not something you can do once and forget about.”

Changes to the city’s collection services include future food and organics collection trials, a pre-booked year-round bulk and green waste collection and stricter enforcement of contamination regulations.

Colin says changes are in line with the state’s requirements to increase domestic processing and end markets. So far, the City of Swan has audited 2000 properties.

“We had a couple of households that resisted quite strongly, but the public response has been really positive,” Colin says.

“After people understand the logic behind the program, they don’t seem to have a problem.”

Colin says city officials tag bins based on their level of contamination: good, intermediate or bad.

“If a bin is tagged negatively, residents are given two weeks to remove the contamination, then if needed, another two weeks to improve,” Colin says.

“During that time, city officials will speak with specific residents about how they can lower their contamination levels, and if changes aren’t made, we tape up their bin.”

Colin says 30 bins have been tapped up by the city so far.

“If people don’t comply after their bin has been tapped, the last resort is for council to take the bin away,” Colin explains.

“We have removed six bins in total, with one given back after discussions with the residents.”

Colin says he is currently writing the program’s final report, which he will then put to council.

Related stories:

X