What happened to MWOO?

One year on from the NSW EPA’s ban on mixed waste organic material, Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about resource recovery exemptions.

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Looking to 2020 and beyond: APCO

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly provides an overview of some of the collaborative, sector-led projects that are helping to scale up the circular economy for packaging here in Australia.

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Fuelling the market

Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about the potential tyre-derived fuel flow-on effects of the Council of Australian Governments’ proposed export ban.

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Prioritising projects: Infrastructure Australia

For the first time, the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit has included waste management in its remit. Waste Management Review speaks to Infrastructure Australia about responding to some of the industry’s infrastructure challenges. 

Since 2008, Infrastructure Australia has advised governments, industry and the community on investments needed to deliver better infrastructure across Australia.

The nation’s independent infrastructure advisor audits nationally significant infrastructure and develops 15-year rolling plans that cover national and state level priorities.

For the first time, the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit has included waste management in its remit.

Released earlier this year, the audit examines challenges faced by Australia’s waste sector, including growing pressure from population growth, export bans and heightened environmental awareness.

The audit identifies Australia as one of the world’s largest waste producers per capital, with waste management often poorly planned. The sector is also under increased pressure as waste generation increases and the capacity of infrastructure declines.

It points out that Australia is poised to take advantage of Asia’s economic development, but needs to ensure supply and freight chains operate efficiently to do so.

Some of the challenges the audit points out are well-known to the waste sector, including a lack of private investment and a reliance on exports. Likewise, residential encroachment and increase in waste generation are also widely understood.

An often undiscussed challenge highlighted is the impact that transporting waste over large distances has on the right network, leading to congestion and road degradation.

One of the key focuses of Infrastructure Australia is to take submissions and develop an Infrastructure Priority List that governments can use to guide decision making.

Peter Colacino, Executive Director – Policy and Research at Infrastructure Australia, says that the decision to include waste in the audit was an important one, as the waste sector makes a significant contribution to the national economy.

He says community sentiment is starting to shift with changing user preferences towards recyclable products. Peter says a greater focus on what we consume will leader to a greater focus in community and planning.

Communities have previously found it undesirable to live next to landfills, he points out. But as the sector becomes more sophisticated and moves from landfill to reprocessing, he says a different appreciation of the value of those sites will hopefully take hold in the community.

While its not within the scope of Infrastructure Australia to identify the gaps in buffer protection, Peter makes the point that Sydney and Melbourne are not the only cities growing at a faster rate than public services can support.

The audit shows that satellite cities such as Wollongong, Newcastle and Geelong have capacity to grow and in turn take pressure off infrastructure in the faster-growing cities.

“Sydney and Melbourne are growing rapidly because of the quality of life in those cities and access to essential services and social infrastructure. If we’re seeing places like Wollongong and Newcastle be attractive for people to settle in and therefore take pressure off our major cities, we need to ensure that people that choose to live there have access to the same sorts of services.”

The audit points out that cities can support growth by leveraging infrastructure off their fast-growing neighbours and smaller capitals. The document outlines a number of challenges surrounding waste management.

One was that a limited number of new waste facilities and landfill sites have been approved and residential development was encroaching on existing facilities. Without further action, waste freight will have to transport their loads further from the generation point.

“Encroachment is a complex issue because it’s not only with those nodes like a landfill site or a recycling facility, but it’s also around the transport links that need to be used by the sector,” Peter says.

One of the challenges acknowledge in the audit is that Australia’s freight task, including waste transport, disposal and recycling is growing rapidly. The domestic freight task is growing by 50 per cent and expected to continue to grow by another 26 per cent between 2016 and 2026.

“You do see moves from councils to restrict access of heavy vehicles to particular communities for communities that would be trafficked if you like by refuse vehicles if they were transferring waste rather than treating it locally.”

Peter says by limiting the access of waste vehicles to communities, they are forced to travel further leading to greater deterioration of the road network, increasing the cost of waste management and undermining the commerciality of the sector.

In addition, he says the provision of additional bins is another discussed that needs to be understood within the context of added pressure to the transport network.

“Interestingly, the electricity sector is performing relatively well there’s reduced emissions from the sector largely because of the role of renewables. The transport sector on the other hand has seen a growth in emissions. For local councils that’s important as large fleet owners both in terms of light vehicles and heavy vehicles like refuse vehicles,” Peter says.

He adds that electric vehicles presents an opportunity for emissions reduction in future as price parity occurs over time with potential to transition to autonomous vehicles and hybrids in the present.

Peter says Infrastructure Australia’s process follows three phases.

The first, he says, is to make sure the audit serves its role that it creates a discussion.

“It’s not a document that we want to sit on shelves it’s a document that we want the sector to engage with and use our submissions process to provide us with feedback,” he says.

“Secondly we’ll be working over the next year or more in developing the plan which will include package of reform that we hope are adopted by government and we’ll continue to engage with industry and government as we develop that document.”

He says the third process is to ensure the Infrastructure Priority List can be updated so people can respond to the challenges and opportunities identified in the audit through submissions to the list.

Peter says investment interventions on the Infrastructure Priority List are needed to ensure domestic supply chains are adequate and it can respond to respond of the imperative of government to reduce waste moving offshore.

He adds that going forward there will need to be more commercial thinking around deriving value from waste, including through new products and waste-to-energy.

“What we need to ensure and what is Infrastructure Australia’s role is that significant investment is well targeted and effective and that is the role of our Infrastructure Priority List,” Peter says.

“We also think there’s an opportunity for greater reflection on lessons learnt through post-completion reviews after projects are reviewed to understand if they’ve fulfilled their ambitions that was set out in their planning, whether or not they’re effective and if there’s lessons that can be taken away and applied elsewhere.”

Submissions to the Infrastructure Australia audit will be open to 31 October, for more information click here.

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Veolia sets WtE benchmark

Veolia Australia and New Zealand is drawing on local and international experts in the lead up to its 25-year operations and maintenance contract on Australia’s first thermal waste-to-energy facility. 

Waste-to-energy (WtE) in Australia has historically been slow to progress, but Veolia recently set a new precedent for the sector.

Earlier this year, construction began on Australia’s first thermal WtE facility. Based in Kwinana, WA, the site will be operated and maintained (O&M) by Veolia Australia and New Zealand post-construction for 25 years.

Leveraging its experience in operating more than 65 WtE plants across the globe, Veolia stands ready to spearhead efficient, effective and economically viable renewable energy solutions.

Avertas Energy was named the supplier and will process 400,000 tonnes of waste, equivalent to a quarter of Perth’s post-recycling residuals. In addition, Avertas Energy will generate and export 36 megawatts of green electricity to the local grid per year, enough to power more than 50,000 households.

As the preferred supplier of baseload renewable energy, Avertas Energy will also support the green energy needs of the Western Australia Local Government Association (WALGA) and its members.

Macquarie Capital and the Dutch Infrastructure Fund (DIF) are co-developing the Kwinana plant, now known as Avertas Energy. Infrastructure company Acciona was appointed to design and construct the facility.

Veolia’s global experience will see it leverage the expertise of international engineers, project and site managers.

Veolia’s Toby Terlet in front of a 25 megawatt generator at its WtE plant in Birmingham, UK.

As the company operates 10 facilities in the UK, these sites served as the perfect methodology to replicate to local conditions.

One of Veolia’s oldest WtE facilities is its Birmingham plant in the UK and it was there that Veolia’s Project Director for Kwinana, Toby Terlet, gained significant experience.

Drawing on previous experience in Australia with Veolia, Toby moved to the UK in 2014.

Toby tells Waste Management Review that around five years ago, thermal treatment was still being discussed in Australia as an emerging technology.

“At the time, I didn’t know much about converting municipal waste into electricity, although I did have some experience with manufacturing waste-derived fuels for cement kilns and clinical incineration,” Toby explains.

Toby saw the UK experience as an eye-opener, with Britain up to 25 years ahead of Australia in WtE.

After Veolia won the O&M contract on the Kwinana project, Toby returned to Australia to a project director role based in the site’s heartland in Perth.

In the lead up to 2021 and over the life of the contract, Veolia’s network of on-call local and international expertise will help anticipate and prevent issues ahead of time.

Toby says that having a general understanding of how WtE facilities operate and the effort needed to maintain a facility will help achieve more than 90 per cent availability.

“The technology works well. However, it’s just as important to have skilled and experienced operations and maintenance teams to run the facilities,” Toby says.

“Education about the treatment of waste can always be improved.  Birmingham is a positive example of how recycling, reuse and WtE can coexist. We need to better educate people on where WtE fits and how it provides an alternative to landfill.”

While WtE will continue to be a better option to utilise stored energy than landfilling, Toby says this needs to be complemented with a strong education program.

“I believe the process will slowly shift towards waste being converted to electricity through WtE rather than sitting in a landfill for the next 100 years,” Toby says.

“Segregating waste at the front end will always be the best option, complemented with the most economically viable technology to pull out things which may have been missed. This is the ongoing challenge for Australia.”

His passion for WtE as a viable solution within a waste hierarchy inspires him to break the stigma surrounding it.

“One of the biggest misconceptions around WtE is that it will burn anything. This is what I thought prior to leaving Australia. It didn’t take long to understand that waste is a fuel and needs to be blended to provide the right consistency based on the calorific value (CV).”

Toby says that obtaining the optimum CV will also be an ongoing challenge to work through. Wastes such as MRF residue have a high CV and this can create spikes in the heat transfer lowering throughput, so it’s about finding the right balance.

To make the project economically viable and provide financial close, supply agreements will start at the minimum amount of waste needed.

“The majority of volumes are contracted for a long period of time and some projects opt for smaller agreements to cover any shortage. I think based on a large number of states currently having issues with a reliable source of electricity, green energy production will be high on the agenda.”

While it’s still early days for the project’s construction and planning, piling recently finished with the civil works with concreting now well under way.

Looking to the future, Toby says stakeholders will identify all design improvements throughout the next 12 months to ensure the Kwinana project is the most efficient not only in Australia, but around the globe when handed over in late 2021.

“I’ll be proud to recruit the best O&M team for the project who will have the utmost dedication to safety and a passion to make a difference and spread the positive energy needed to make more of these facilities possible,” Toby says.

“This is just the start of Veolia’s determination to drive the circular economy approach and resource the world by identifying and developing complementary projects to better utilise resources which are currently going to landfill.”

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Collaborating with confidence: APCO

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Brooke Donnelly talks about the Collective Action Group and systemic models for action on packaging resource recovery.

A lack of policy centralisation has been a concern for the waste and resource recovery industry since the 2009 National Waste Policy stalemate. In response, following the 2018 Meeting of Environment Ministers, the Federal Government announced it would shift its policy direction by taking an increasing role in waste reduction and recycling policy.

The then-Environment Minister Melissa Price announced that in order to facilitate a unified direction on waste and recycling, a new National Waste Policy would be developed. Current Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans said an action plan would be devised through interjurisdictional collaboration later this year.

As part of this change in direction, the Federal Government also formally committed to the National Packaging Targets.

The National Packaging Targets aim to have 100 per cent of Australian packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier. Its an ambitious goal, given only 56 per cent of Australian packaging was recovered for recycling in 2017-18, according to a UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures study.

Additionally, the study shows of that 56 per cent, 34 per cent was exported overseas.

Endorsed by the Australian Local Government Association in 2018, the targets also seek to achieve a 30 per cent average recycled content rate by 2025, and have 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packaging be recycled or composted by the same year.

Phasing out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives is the final target.

Despite the bold goals, Australian Packagaing Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly is confident the targets can be meet.

“We’re in a position where we need to drive change while we have the opportunity, hitting the ground running,” Brooke says.

“Australian industry is vibrant, proactive and really driving the activity towards a circular economy transition, which will help us all achieve the targets.”

APCO, which has been tasked with leading the implementation process, has recently established the Collective Action Group (CAG) to oversee strategic delivery of the targets.

The group is comprised of 12 leading representatives from across industry and government, including Coles, Nestle, Coca Cola Amatil, Planet Ark, the Australian Council of Recycling, SUEZ and Visy.

Additionally, representatives from the Queensland Department of Environment and the Federal Department of Environment and Energy are members.

“We have two representatives from each sector of the packaging supply chain, such as brands, community, resource and recovery and retail and manufacturing,” Brooke says.

Managing multiple high-level stakeholders with potentially competing interests can be challenging, which is why APCO employs a best-practice model of governance for all CAG meetings.

“We have a really great chair, Dr Anne Astin, an independent chair with experience in product stewardship and co-regulatory organisations,” Brooke says.

“Dr Astin understands and appreciates getting the best from member diversity and is implementing a very structured approach.”

The first meeting of CAG was officially opened by Trevor Evans, the Federal Government’s Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management in June.

“It was really great to have Minister Evans with us – it’s wonderful to see his appointment and also his energy and engagement with supporting the industry,” Brooke says.

“It’s difficult to get such senior executives in one room at the same time, so it was a really lively and informed discussion, which is fantastic.”

Brooke says CAG’s first job will be developing a set of agreed definitions for key terms such as “problematic” and “unnecessary”.

“While agreeing on definitions might appear simple, it can be quite challenging and is a critical part of the process,” she says.

“Developing a full and shared picture of the packaging landscape is the only way to achieve effective change.”

The CAG will then work to establish baseline metrics for each of the four targets, before developing and endorsing the Sustainable Packaging Pathway white paper.

To create the white paper, Brooke says the CAG will co-design a systemic model for how Australia can transition to an advanced sustainable packaging ecosystem. The white paper will then outline the steps towards making the 2025 packaging targets a reality.

“The CAG will provide advice and guidance to support the outcomes, which are the results of the 22 priority project areas in 2019,” she says.

Project areas include consumption and recycling data, materiality testing, economic analysis of system interventions and sectorial circularity project delivery.

According to Brooke, project areas are managed through six APCO advisory groups that sit under the CAG. She says all APCO research flows up to the advisory groups for analysis, before it again flows up to the CAG.

The CAG will also oversee the results of comprehensive infrastructure mapping of the current resource recovery sector for packaging and explore alternative models.

“By the time we get to the white paper, which builds on the 2018 work APCO did on problematic material issues, we will have worked with over 200 organisations and every level of government,” Brooke says.

“A huge and diverse group of people will have participated in the development of the eventual roadmap.”

Brooke says while the targets are complex and challenging, cooperation is the key to achieving them.

“It’s our job and everybody’s job to contribute. If we all just do a little bit better today we can get there,” Brooke says.

“It’s all about creating a collaborative space so we can get to the targets.”

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