Achievements amid challenges: APCO

APCO is currently planning how it will deliver its objectives to build a new circular economy for packaging in this new world of work, writes CEO Brooke Donnelly.

Right now, the APCO team – like the rest of Australia – is working hard to navigate the strange and unsettling new reality that is life under COVID-19.

Our first priority has been to ensure that everyone in our team and our community is as safe as possible. Secondly, we have been figuring out how we can continue to deliver our objectives – to build a circular economy for packaging here in Australia – in this new world of work.

At the time of writing, we were about to host a series of working group meetings – the first for 2020 and the first ever in an online format.

Despite the challenges, 2020 has already seen some significant sustainable packaging achievements delivered by APCO and our members.

In March, along with our APCO Board Chair – Sam Andersen, it was a pleasure to represent our membership community at the inaugural Plastics Summit, where several APCO Members made important public pledges.

During the Summit, we also announced that the APCO team will be leading the development of the ANZPAC Plastics Pact, the latest to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s global Plastics Pact network.

ANZPAC, which will formally launch to the public in late 2020, will work with businesses, governments and NGOs from across the plastics value chain in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations to develop a common vision of the circular economy for plastics.

Under the ANZPAC program, participants will commit to deliver a series of concrete, ambitious and time-bound targets, which will be established and launched in the coming months.

Then under the ANZPAC Mobilisation Plan, participants will work to deliver a range of projects, clear reporting guidelines, and the development of the Circular Plastics Research Initiative, a new innovation hub that will bring together researchers, investors and industry to share knowledge and align efforts. Finally, all ANZPAC signatories will be required to commit to publicly report on their progress each year.

In April, we also unveiled during an industry webinar one of APCO’s most significant projects to date – Our Packaging Future, the new strategic framework outlining how Australia will deliver the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

Of the 5.5 million tonnes of packaging material placed on the market annually, 88 per cent is currently recyclable, yet just 49 per cent is recovered for use in future applications, with the rest ending up as landfill, or litter on land and in our oceans.

The strategies address issues of packaging design, improved collection and recycling systems and expanded markets for used packaging, and provide a systemic, whole-of-environment approach to building Australia’s sustainable packaging future.

The vision for this report is clear: to build a packaging value chain that collaborates to keep packaging materials out of landfill and maximise the circular value of the materials, energy and labour within the local economy.

This article was published in the May edition of Waste Management Review. 

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Build it and they will come: Rick Ralph

Waste Management Review catches up with outgoing Waste and Recycling Industry QLD CEO Rick Ralph, talking international waste bans, Queensland policy setting and his career journey.

In 1981, a 20-something Rick Ralph was selling toilet paper and towels in Melbourne.

He’d introduced hospitals to a range of one-way clinical products and disposal paper products, but little did he know his life would be about to change.

Four years prior, he had dropped out of university and followed the sabbatical adolescent rite of passage to travel the globe.

“I probably didn’t apply myself as much as I should have. It’s ironic that I’ve just been installed in the School Hall of Fame for my achievements in the community and environment now 40 years later – quite incredible,” he recalls.

A call out of the blue from one of Rick’s mentors at Comalco Aluminium led him to head up the Cash for Cans Initiative in Victoria  – a world-first container refund scheme.

“Someone had heard about someone, who knew someone, who knew someone, and I got a phone call. I thought this was interesting and in January 1981, started my career in recycling and waste management,” he says.

Comalco promoted aluminium can recycling to the general public by inspiring children and community groups to collect their cans. It saw the establishment of buy-back centres where users could return their cans for a cash return. Much like modern container refund schemes, they raised significant funds for community and charity projects across Australia.

The occasion calls for reflection as Waste Management Review Editor Toli Papadopoulos caught up with Rick, the Chief Executive Officer of Waste Recycling Industry Association (QLD). As Rick recently announced his retirement, I spoke with him over lunch to discuss his 39-year career in waste and recycling.

CASH FOR CANS

Comalco Aluminium’s Cash for Cans initiative would later inspire similar schemes in Western Australia and internationally, and led to a ban on glass sales at Australian Rules Football grounds in Victoria.

“The introduction of the aluminium can and Comalco’s program was the complete reset of the environmental recycling movement in Australia,” Rick says.

“It changed recycling from putting out your 55-litre bin and a few bottles and paper for the garbo to collect to a wholesale reform where it introduced and supported community-based litter programs. It shifted the way glass recycling occurred and shifted the light weighting of glass bottles.”

He adds that it removed steel cans from beverage one-way use and reduced litter of cans from the waste stream. It also triggered the paper industry to change its recycling model.

“We paid out millions each year. At one stage we had 33 per cent of Australia’s primary and secondary school system actively engaged, we had employees developing school’s programs and it was the founding of community events such as the can raft regattas that still go on today.

“What many in government and the community don’t realise is that the aluminium can had the highest recycling rate in the world. At its peak, it performed well over 65 per cent recovery and stabilised somewhere near 60 to 62 percent regularly.”

As the program matured and kerbside commenced in the late 90s, focus shifted, and the program was disbanded.

In the years since, Rick helped introduce beach litter programs with the late Dame Phyllis Frost from Keep Australia Beautiful, while also later working in WA and South Africa.

But in the early 90s, he went back to the Sunshine State as Director of Waste Services at the City of Brisbane, a role which he held for three years.

“I left that because it was either politicians winning or Rick, and Rick was never going to win,” he jokes.

“I then bought a recycling business and we were one of the first materials recovery facilities (MRFs) in Brisbane and the state’s largest glass recycler.”

He stayed in this role for around five years.

Rick then went on to work at an Australian-first pyrolysis municipal solid waste plant as General Manager Recycling and Resource Recovery in Wollongong in NSW.

“It was a genuine attempt at waste-to-energy at the turn of the century and a time when a lot of the alternative waste treatments got going in NSW. We were competing in a very noisy and developing waste space,” Rick says.

THE BUSINESS VOICE

In 2006, an opportunity arose to start an industry association which would become what Rick says provided a business voice for waste and recycling. Working with Tony Khoury, who heads up the Waste Contractors Recyclers Association (WCRA) NSW, one of the oldest waste industry associations in the world, Rick helped established WCRA QLD. Formed in 2007, the association would later be rebranded to Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) in 2012.

On his achievements with WRIQ, he cites supporting the development of environmentally relevant activities such as the Department of Environment and Science (DES) version of EPA guidelines for waste-related activities and our future leaders’ program.

Additionally, replicating the governance model of WRIQ in the Northern Territory and supporting state-based associations in WA and SA was another highlight. Not least, his work setting up the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council in partnership with former CEO Max Spedding.

In respect to the repeal of the levy by the Campbell Newman Government, Rick says there are those that accused WRIQ of advocating for its repeal – a complete falsehood.

“We advocated to get it right because the framework was wrong. The current levy is still wrong as we have this disconnect where only half the state has got it and only that half is paying for the levy.”

Reflecting on the lessons learnt from Cash for Cans, Rick says the Queensland Government’s container refund scheme (CRS) changed forever the operating parameters of existing recycling systems.

Rick says that disruption was inevitable but he doesn’t think we have truly yet analysed where that will stabilise. He says that coupled with changes in commodity values, international quality specifications and product market access, 12 months along only now are we seeing the real impacts to kerbside systems.

“From the social equity view it’s been hugely successful as it provided many communities in Queensland previously without access to recycling an opportunity to participate – a great result,” he says.

“However, it’s time we step back, analyse these changes and leverage those outcomes. We must refocus our attention and ensure kerbside and many other commercial systems are just as sustainable. Existing kerbside models are outdated. They need revitalising and readjustment for them to survive this new community norm.”

CHALLENGES AHEAD

Rick says right now one of the great challenges facing Queensland is a disconnect between government policy and industry, describing the regulatory framework as a failure.

“Be it developing and improving existing assets of brownfield sites or even greenfield developments, Queensland currently is a ‘basket case’ in terms of its planning arrangements and the approvals framework and government is totally responsible for that confused and complex environment.”

Industry was blind-sided when the Queensland Government exercised its legislative powers, introducing new requirements for buffer zones on all new or expanded facilities in the Swanbank and New Chum industrial area.

A Temporary Legislative Planning Instrument (TLPI) was used to suspend part of their planning scheme and took effect for two years from 6 April 2018. The TLPI introduced a 750-metre buffer from existing, approved or planned residential areas for new and expanded waste facilities, including in landfill.

“If you look historically in planning terms, WRIQ agreed in 2013 with the government of the day introducing planning instruments that gave protection to all our existing assets and gave sensitive receptors and community protection as well.

“With the re-election of this current government, it again changed the planning framework, the third government in six years to do so, by slapping a TLPI on us in the most sensitive and secure landfill region for southeast Queensland without any industry consultation.”

Rick’s frustration with the slow process of reform saw him commission an independent survey of 67 WRIQ members in 2018 into the performance of the DES.

The feedback called for a complete overhaul of the DES and the instalment of an EPA to regulate the industry. He maintains that position is more apt today than ever.

I ask if there’s been any progress on the matter since then, he laughs and says Queensland is on Fijian time.

“As a local Fijian once said to me, ‘no worry, no hurry here’,” he says.

“From an industry perspective I think government has heard us. But there is this continuing reluctance to genuinely understand and change things. However we’re going to maintain the pressure. We must.

“I think there’s an opportunity to have a look at what Victoria has done. It may not be perfect, but I think from time to time we need to actually take a step back.”

“I hope my successor goes harder than I ever did on getting our reforms through with the regulator.”

And despite Queensland introducing a $70-per-tonne waste levy in July 2018 on waste to landfill, with council and state elections coming up in 2020, Rick says we are heading for a 10-month period of political paralysis.

“When you add the slowed local economy and lack of industry development, it’s very difficult to actually identify if the levy has worked or not.

“Yes it’s caused a rethink, but what’s disappointing is that industry wants to invest, industry wants to go forward, industry wants to create jobs, but we can’t build a thing.

“You’ve got a culture in Queensland where you can set up, start operating, build it and get retrospective approval. This is the greatest threat to our economic development.”

He says the role of the Federal Government should now be to focus on improving regulatory planning processes to ensure states can support and deliver the national targets.

While his achievements over the past two decades are distinct, he says WRIQ has been grateful just to have a seat at the table.

“You’re never going to influence policy, but you must be at the table to talk.

“You can, however, influence regulations because regulations are where it is for any business owner.”

On the issue of the international waste ban, Rick says we need to get serious and stop referring to it as a ban on “waste”.

He points out that we don’t export waste, but rather recyclate. As waste management in Australia has traditionally focused on collection with a lack of substantive local end markets, he questions why we are banning material if there is a sensible end destination for value-added material.

The National Waste Report finds around 5.6 million tonnes of paper and cardboard was generated in 2016-17, with 60 per cent of this recycled and 40 per cent sent to landfill.

A mere 12 per cent of the 2.5 million tonnes of plastics was recycled that same year. Given the high generation figures, Rick ask if the focus is on international environmental and human health harm, then there are far more urgent materials for the attention of COAG, such as baled up scrap metal that is going out under the radar.

“For goodness sake, industry can’t even update an existing brownfield site. How the hell are we going to find remanufacturing for 1.2 million tonnes of paper and products, and more than 250,000 tonnes of plastics in just a couple of years?”

He adds rushed policy is bad policy, and advocates for a full regulatory impact study that quantifies the economic, social and business impacts of these bans before they happen.

“It’s great we’re talking about remanufacturing, but in the current environment of the interference by government at all levels and our elected representatives, it’s going to be difficult. Realistically, if we don’t have a home for it, materials will go straight to landfill with the only benefits going to government from waste levies.

“That’s the reality and that’s not acceptable.”

As for whether he has any regrets.  Rick sips his drink and responds without hesitation: ‘nothing’.

He says you need to make the mistakes of past to know what you’ve done wrong, so you don’t make them again.

“It’s been fun, but it hasn’t ended. This is a personal reset of my own priorities and handing things over to a new generation of leaders.”

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Next generation AORA

AORA’s new Executive Officer Peter Olah speaks with Waste Management Review about the association’s plans to support and strengthen the Australian organics industry. 

The organics industry is in interesting times. While awareness over the importance of sustainable organics management has never been higher, compliance costs, regulatory changes and disrupted end markets are causing problems for small and medium enterprises.

How to effectively manage and process food waste is gaining traction though, with Infrastructure Victoria’s Recycling and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Evidence Base Report suggesting consistent approaches to FOGO are critical to achieving greater overall resource recovery rates.

Though this is likely welcome news to the Victorian arm of the organics sector, across the border in NSW, the situation is murkier.

In October, the NSW EPA reaffirmed its 2018 Mixed Waste Organics Output decision, stating the authority had no intention of amending its revocation of the material’s resource recovery exemption order.

For Peter Olah, the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) new Executive Officer, the organics industry’s current challenges present an opportunity for growth.

“While I’m entering my new role at AORA in a challenging time for not just the organics industry, but the recycling industry at large, I’m excited to face those challenges head on and support the organics industry as it advances,” Peter says.

Peter, who currently serves as the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute’s Chief Executive Officer, has an extensive background in politics and public administration.

He previously worked on the private staff of a NSW Premier, and served as a Policy Advisor to Ministers for Justice and Police.

Furthermore, Peter served as a Hurstville City Council Councillor in Sydney for 12 years, including three terms as Hurstville Mayor and three as Deputy Mayor.

“I also worked with NSW State Transit for seven years, fulfilling a number of management functions for the organisation’s board and CEO, including projects in government and customer relations, public affairs, industrial advocacy, internal communications and cost efficiency,” he says.

Drawing on this leadership experience, Peter intends to help AORA deliver the objectives laid out in its 2019-2022 National Strategy.

“The strategy’s mission statement is to work with stakeholders to facilitate the conditions through which surplus organic material can be sustainably and cost-effectively recycled.” Peter says.

“Furthermore, we intent to promote the beneficial use of compost  and mulches in primary industries.”

In addition to the overall mission, Peter says AORA have three key objectives, including strengthening AORA as the peak body for the organics recycling industry and championing a pathway to optimise closed loop organics recycling.

Additionally, he says, AORA intends to establish and participate in knowledge hubs for recycled organics research, development, extension and communication.

“I will use my experience in stakeholder management and knowledge of political processes to ensure our member’s voices are heard and continue the advocacy and industry support role of AORA,” he says.

“As the central body for organics in Australia, I also intend to ensure the sustainable growth of the association.”

To achieve this, Peter says he will take time to speak with members about their concerns and ensure those concerns are further discussed with the AORA board.

One of AORA’s next steps, he says, is collaborating with members to establish standards and best practice certifications programs.

“AORA’s members are leaders in the organics space, and drawing on their expertise, I hope to use my position to identify, communicate and celebrate best practice strategies, technologies, performance and products,” he says.

“By working together, AORA can help create an environment where the work of individuals and organisations in the organics industry leads the way to a more sustainable Australian future.”

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Filling the gaps: Jillian Riseley and MWRRG

The Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group’s new CEO Jillian Riseley discusses the agency’s plans for 2020, including a new C&I strategy and advanced waste processing procurement.

When the City of New York announced a “zero waste” to landfill plan by 2030 in 2015, the Department of Sanitation looked to significantly expand its kerbside organics collection.

While the plan was announced well before China’s National Sword impacted the global markets, the city’s strategy is redolent of a global shift towards finding replacements for landfill.

With half the population of New York City, Melbourne has looked to progressively reduce a reliance on landfill, with an organics network spearheaded by the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) to fill that gap.

Much of the agenda began to be implemented after the release of the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan in 2016, which aimed to minimise the need to schedule any new landfills before 2026 and find alternatives, especially in the southeast.

MWRRG’s plan for landfill alternatives continues and is now being led by Jillian Riseley, who joined MWRRG as CEO on 2 September. She replaces Rob Millard, who led the organisation for 12 years.

Jillian has extensive experience in senior roles in complex, multi-stakeholder and regulated environments where she has led significant national consumer affairs and recycling initiatives and implemented procurement strategies in complex essential service markets.

Waste Management Review sat down with Jillian to discuss MWRRG’s upcoming policy work in collaborative procurement, its Back to Earth Initiative, a planned commercial and industrial (C&I) strategy and advanced waste processing (AWP) procurement.

Progress against the initiatives are recorded in MWRRG’s 2018-19 Annual Report. Tabled in Victorian Parliament in October, the Annual Report acknowledges that the waste and resource recovery sector was forced to navigate significant changes over the past year, both local and international.

It includes a number of comprehensive actions both finalised and set for completion in the coming year, including facilitating a litter prevention program, improving multi-unit dwelling waste management and the development of a Sustainability Hub at Fishermans Bend.

Jillian says her background and passion for sustainability and collaborative procurement is what drew her to MWRRG.

“There are huge opportunities as we’re seeing a step change in the way that we, as a state, manage resource recovery,” Jillian says.

“For example, the opportunity to incorporate recycled content, recover resources and reuse them in roads is a massive opportunity.”

She says that with the Victorian Government’s circular economy policy coming out later this year, there is an opportunity for MWRRG to work with councils and the C&I sector towards reducing waste and increasing resource recovery.

MWRRG continued its support for councils through collaborative contracts, capacity building, procurement and education to ensure services continued as normal. It established the feasibility for a collaborative procurement approach for an alternative to landfill through the Metropolitan Regional Business Case for Advanced Waste Processing.

To that end, AWP is one part of MWRRG’s strategic and integrated approach to waste management. Metropolitan councils were invited to work with MWRRG, culminating in one of the largest collaborative procurements in the country. Sixteen council’s in Melbourne’s south-east are working together on a joint AWP procurement while councils in the north and west are assessing their needs.

DERIVING COLLABORATIVE VALUE

Jillian says that collaborative procurement, more generally, creates significant value for councils not just in price, but helping to build a sustainable sector, with governance and social indicators also part of that.

She adds that the collaborative procurements are very much council driven, with the local government sector identifying the best possible model to solve their local challenge.

“Our AWP procurement is often misunderstood as it’s technology agnostic. The initial stage of the project is going out and looking at the best infrastructure in the world to find a solution to the challenge of diminishing reliance on landfill,” she says.

In addition to finding an alternative to landfill, MWRRG has continued to support councils to respond to changes in the recycling sector, most recently with the collapse and subsequent sale of SKM Recycling. In the short-term, it is coordinating panel contracts to allow councils to access a recycling processor.

In the long-term, MWRRG is awaiting the release of the Circular Economy Policy, which may have implications on the available volumes and composition of recyclables.

“We have a vested interest in making sure the waste and resource recovery industry is strong and sustainable both environmentally and financially,” she says.

“That holistic look we’ll get from a circular economy policy should hopefully strengthen the whole chain not just that little piece from an SKM risk perspective, but looking globally and at the whole system.”

Earlier this year MWRRG conducted 180 waste audits and industry workshops to inform a C&I strategy that will initially focus on reducing the volume of plastics and food going to landfill.

“It will be interesting to see where we land in the development of our C&I strategy as we’re now going through the data,” Jillian says.

She says that a substantial amount of paper is going to landfill in the C&I sector.

According to the National Waste Report, around 31.7 million tonnes of materials were processed for recycling, with C&I representing 37 per cent of this. The report highlights that in many instances, C&I recycling rates are lower than they could be due to the cost of additional bins and collections being seen as prohibitive.

“Plastics also feels like an obvious place to start, but having worked a lot with both the corporate and C&I sector, the way in which those sectors work and their sub-sectors within sectors work are very bespoke and unique,” she says.

“So, whatever the strategy is and whatever we decide to focus on, we will need to tailor the strategy to that sector.”

Jillian says MWRRG is looking at releasing a draft C&I strategy at the start of next year.

“Utilising existing networks and the trusted stakeholder relationships we have built over the last decade will be really useful,” she says.

The Back to Earth Initiative, a successful organics social marketing campaign with 28 councils, is also being expanded in 2019-20.

“We commissioned some social research last year looking at the kind of messaging that resonates with people and encourages them to change their behaviour, so we’re now rolling out a new version of Back to Earth, offering it to more councils and including a focus on food waste recycling,” she says.

Jillian says MWRRG provides councils a complete FOGO support service, from planning to implementation, evaluation and social marketing. It comes as the capacity of its organics processing network already exceeds the Metropolitan Implementation Plan 2021 target of 120,000.

“We’re working with our colleagues at Sustainability Victoria to support the work they do around Love Food, Hate Waste, so we’re looking at the whole continuum, from what you buy and how you prepare it to what you do with what’s leftover.”

Supporting that was the development of a FOGO guide in late 2018 which provided practical tools and advice for planning and implementing a service in six stages.

“There’s been great pick-up of the guide with councils actually using it and following the steps in order to plan and implement their own FOGO or conduct their own trials,” Jillian says.

“Since launching in August last year, we have delivered follow-up workshops and training to staff from every council in metropolitan Melbourne and several regional councils who have valued the practical steps outlined in the guide,” she says.     

In tackling buffer protection, MWRRG also reached a memorandum of understanding with key agencies on a whole-of-state government approach. It delivered three hub plans in West Melbourne, Dandenong South and Epping, which are being implemented, and is providing support at another six sites.

While there are numerous challenges ahead, Jillian looks forward to tackling them collectively with industry.

“The silver lining is the average Victorian is much more aware of waste and recycling and there is a groundswell of support for finding solutions to our national challenges and taking increased responsibility for recycling,” she says.

“With visibility and motivation comes opportunity, supported through a circular economy policy and the introduction of FOGO.”

This article was published in the December 2019 edition of Waste Management Review. 

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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