Elmore Compost’s Frank Harney speaks with Waste Management Review about the importance of passionate players and good quality compost.
With government’s across Australia accelerating their efforts to divert organics from landfill, it’s an exciting time for the sector.
In NSW, the state government is targeting net zero emissions from organics to landfill by 2030. And further south, the Victorian Government is targeting a 50 per cent reduction in organics sent to landfill by 2030.
While these are noteworthy targets, Frank Harney, Elmore Compost & Organics Manager and Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) Victoria Chair, says for the organics industry to really expand, a number of key market issues need to be addressed.
Despite seeing organics as the recycling industry’s success story, Harney notes concerns around contamination and large corporate players dominating the market.
“A lot of the big players are waste processors not composters, so they get paid the gate fee and ship the material off without much care for the product,” he says.
“If new legislation is structured around just those big corporate players, I can see the circular economy going square.”
Elmore Compost & Organics is a family-run business of fourth generation farmers. Harney explains that the enterprise evolved out of a happy coincidence, with a wet hay season resulting in spoiled hay and straw.
A rich soil fertiliser emerged from mixing the hay and straw with manure from Elmore’s piggery. In time, the company’s clean, green and healthy compost was born.
“We are the proud holders of Australian Organic Certification. Our composting process involves recycling green waste from Melbourne and returning it to consumers as a carbon source for paddocks, gardens and pot plants,” Harney says.
“We are always looking for ways to develop our product range, with recent moves into the production of organic grains and hay and the launch of our innovative pelletised compost and liquid compost extract.”
Harney got involved with AORA due to a belief that when you’re working in an industry you need to participate. As such, he is a passionate advocate for maturation and supporting the entry of small players into the market.
“We need more maturation sites or we’re going to run out of capacity,” Harney says.
“The market also needs to push back, with operators getting paid to get product out of the gate as well as in the gate. When that happens, we’ll see a better-quality product downstream.”
He draws parallels to the plastic problem and China’s National Sword.
“China still wants our plastic, but they don’t want to be our waste tip. A lot of people in that space were commodity traders not recyclers,” he says.
“When you make a good quality product there’s no issue selling it, and that’s where recycling lost its way. But there’s an exciting future on the horizon, we just need people that are passionate about good quality compost production.”
When it comes to contamination, Harney believes the issue has pass the point of consumer education campaigns.
“The only way we’re going to minimise contamination at kerbside is to put cameras on trucks or RS readers on bins – either the household gets a fine or their bin doesn’t get picked up,” he says.
“Once we’ve got a clean product with no glass or plastic in it, the market will be huge.”
Looking forward, Harney says the organics industry needs to have a concrete plan in place whereby operators are rewarded for facilitating carbon improvement in soil.
Once this is achieved, soil becomes more drought resistant and the true benefits of composting and organics recovery are realised.
“When we’re providing gain for the agricultural industry through good quality products, the organics sector is poised to be in a really strong position,” he says.