Waste Management In Action

Closing the emissions loop

Loop Organics is working with the NSW Government and sustainability consultants Presync to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

The NSW Government’s Net Zero Plan Stage One: 2020-2030, seeks to achieve net zero emissions from organic waste in landfill by 2030, with targeted actions to support councils improve services and product quality.

“Organic waste, such as food scraps and garden trimmings, makes up about 40 per cent of red-lidded kerbside bins. When sent to landfill, the decomposing material releases methane that may not be captured,” the plan reads.

“However, when this waste is managed effectively, through proper composting and recycling processes, methane emissions can be substantially reduced, soils can be regenerated to store carbon and biogas can be created to generate electricity.”

As with any government initiative, achieving the goals of Net Zero requires industry collaboration and the support of passionate players across the waste and resource recovery sector. One company leading the way is Loop Organics, which is currently in the process of developing its own net zero by 2030 plan.

With a combined experience of more than 60 years, the Loop team provides specialist organic waste and biosolids processing, and has established some of the largest biosolids reuse programs in Australia. The company’s services include organics composting, wastewater treatment plant and organic waste lagoon desludging, soils dewatering, collection, transport, and land application.

To go net zero by 2030, Loop joined the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s Sustainability Advantage program, through which it is working with sustainability consultants Presync on an emissions reduction roadmap.

“One of the first things we’ve done is address the issue of idling vehicles. Operators can sometimes get in the habit of getting out of their utes and leaving the engine running,” Lisa Rawlinson, Loop Organics Director, says.

“We’ve set up a system that alerts the driver if the vehicle has been idling for over 15 minutes, which will hopefully lead to behavioural change, less wasted fuel and less emissions.”

SUSTAINABILITY ADVANTAGE

Formed over 15 years ago, Sustainability Advantage works with medium and large organisations to accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices, while naturing leaders committed to securing a sustainable NSW.

Jonathan Wood, Sustainability Advantage Senior Project Officer, explains that the program uses a United Nations Sustainability Goals framework, with an emphasis on net zero emissions, the circular economy, and positive effects on nature.

“Loop is critical from all those perspectives and is a fantastic organisation to work with and help achieve their objectives, which are aligned with our objectives as well,” Wood says.

He adds that for businesses to be successful, they need passionate people in their organisation that make sustainability a central business priority.

“Gone are the days when you could just do a sustainability report and tick that box,” Wood says.

“It has to be fully integrated into everything you do, to not just benefit people and the planet, but also your bottom line.

“That’s why we love working with Loop. Lisa lives and breathes this stuff, and we’re hoping she rubs off on a whole range of other organisations as well.”

The membership-based program pairs organisations up with consultants such as Presync.

A series of diagnostic sessions are then held to identify sustainability priorities, with a pathway toward achieving these priorities plotted via an organisational roadmap.

Ben Waters, Presync Founder and Director, explains that Loop’s current emissions are largely scope one, which is direct emissions dominated by diesel fuel.

“Their direct emissions are 94 per cent of their footprint, with fuel use at 82 per cent and cattle at 18 per cent. Electricity is too small to know,” he says.

To minimise that footprint, Waters highlights several targeted actions, such as displacing fossil fuels with renewable fuels and electricity, and sponsoring renewables from the grid.

“It’s fuel use, so it’s about more efficient equipment and more efficient processes to use less, but the bottom line is Loop doesn’t have a huge choice of machines – their process has to use fuel because it’s not easily electrifiable at the moment,” he says.

As part of the final Loop roadmap, Waters says he will recommend investigating biodiesel with existing suppliers, as well as the potential for Loop to create its own fuel via the waste food oil it receives as part of its biosolids and composting process.

“They have all this organic waste, so I’m thinking about an adjacency there,” he says.

“Biodiesel is an inferior product, whereas renewable fuel that you can make from waste biosolids is a drop-in replacement that is superior to fossil diesel, but it’s harder to get at scale.”

The renewable fuel industry is expanding, however, with Waters suggesting Loop start with biodiesel before transitioning to renewables when the market is sufficiently commercialised.

Another key move will be the electrification of equipment, which while not immediately achievable across Loop’s full range, can begin with electric tractors and trucks.

This will not lead solely to positive environmental outcomes, but economically sustainable ones as well.

“Internal combustion engines are inefficient and poor at converting fuel in a turning motion,” Waters says.

“Electric motors are 95 per cent efficient, and you can have a motor in each wheel so you can get distributed traction without complicated differentials.”

Rawlinson adds that she is eagerly awaiting further updates from the Volvo Group on the availability of electric prime movers.

There is one Volvo prime mover currently being trialled by a large transport company in Australia.

Once fuel and the electrification of vehicles is addressed, Waters jokes that they’ll start thinking about cattle.

While less ‘hackable’ via technological innovation, Waters says CSIRO and its Future Feed program are making interesting progress – with a livestock feed additive made from Asparagopsis seaweed shown to reduce methane emissions in beef and dairy cattle by more than 80 per cent.

There’s also potential for Loop to investigate carbon credits.

“Loop appears to sequester carbon in the soil, but that’s hard to quantify. It might be enough to make their business carbon positive, which could potentially be monetized through carbon credits. But that is something we’ll have to research further.”

ORGANIC DIGITISATION

In addition to its work with Sustainability Advantage, Loop have several exciting initiatives on the horizon, such as working with a biodigester company to investigate energy production and a project to boost on-site FOGO capacity.

“We recently got our DA to a build a shed at Ravensworth that will give us the capacity to receive more FOGO,” Rawlinson says.

“We’ll be doing initial sorting in the shed and using covered windrows in the first stage of the process.

“It’s been a two-year journey of odour studies and working with council and the EPA.

“We’re now getting ready to conduct Geotech studies, then we’ll get cracking.”

Loop’s Ravensworth facility is licensed to treat 55,000 tonnes of organic material each year via a composting process driven by applied science.

Operations are led by a passionate team of environmental scientists, engineers, and soil agronomists, who supply clean organics to help restore degraded soils and lift productivity in Hunter Valley’s agricultural system.

“What we’re doing now is putting as much technology and digitisation into our process as possible,” Rawlinson says.

“We’ve received a digitisation grant from the Federal Government and are looking at every piece of our business and thinking: how can we get as many digital tools in there as possible?”

Loop’s docketing system has recently gone electric, and it is using data to ensure compliance with relevant regulatory requirements.

Matt Brown, Loop Organics Hunter Valley Regional Manager explains that the company have ceased manual data collection at its composting facility and have adopted a wireless digital monitoring system.

“The system not only monitors the status of compost windrows, but also monitors climatic conditions which could adversely impact production,” Brown says.

“Compost monitoring data is accessible in real time simply by accessing the web.

“All of these changes and investments will help drive our progress towards net zero emissions by 2030 and our wider objectives under the Sustainability Advantage program.”

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