Plans for $1.6b recycling and energy precinct unveiled

gold coast recycling precinct

With its local landfill capacity set to run out within the next decade, the City of Gold Coast has unveiled an ambitious plan for a $1.6 billion integrated recycling and energy precinct designed to attract industry and businesses to close the loop in the recycling and reuse cycle. 

The Advanced Resource Recovery Centre, or the ARRC, will feature eight individual facilities including a new materials recovery facility (MRF), organics processing facility, C&D waste recycling facility, a new sewage treatment plant (STP) and recycled water treatment plant (RWTP), and a green hydrogen electrolysis facility.

While these facilities will be the engine room of the recovery process, the ARRC also includes a ‘top and tail’, in an undertaking to be fully circular. 

A residual waste-to-energy facility is planned for what cannot be recycled, minimising the waste to landfill to as low as three per cent, although city officers are investigating further recovery innovation that could improve that figure to as low as one per cent.

Looping all back to the beginning of the cycle, a community education centre will be established to provide resources and programs to encourage behaviour change and waste avoidance. It will also be used to foster training and research in sustainability and related industries with potential partnerships with local TAFE and universities. 

Embedded in the project concept is the idea that as much as possible is recovered and then reused or remanufactured to protect natural resources and lower environmental impacts. 

The new MRF will reduce contamination and increase the amount of recycled material available for remanufacture, further enhancing the current end-to-end product stewardship of the city’s recycling partner Visy.

Sewage from the STP will be treated and then through the connected RWTP, Class A recycled water will be used throughout the ARRC operations and surrounding area for non-residential, industrial, or agricultural activities. The aim is to use as much of the recycled water as possible, limit what is released to the environment, and prevent the use of potable water for non-residential use.

The recycled water will also be used at the hydrogen electrolysis facility to generate hydrogen, which will be used to fuel the city’s waste collection and heavy transport fleet, to allow a move away from fossil fuels.

The water will also be used in the waste-to-energy facility to generate steam, and the energy generated from there will not only power the ARRC facilities but will be enough to offset 100 per cent of the council’s operations city-wide. Design and capability investigations for the waste-to-energy facility include the option for carbon capture as a vehicle to reuse the carbon for beneficial purposes. 

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, who was elected for a fourth term in March with the ARRC as a major policy initiative, says the council isn’t waiting for solutions but proactively trying to pave the way for them.

“Landfill is yesterday’s solution and local governments need answers that are better for the environment and for their ratepayers,” Tom says.

“Technology has come a long way and we know the recycling and recovery industry has a lot to offer, so I see our role is to not only look for a better way to manage waste for our community, but to do it in a way where we partner with, or support, the businesses that can help us do it better than how we’re doing it now.

“We’re Australia’s sixth largest city and we’ll have a population of one million people by 2041. Our goal is that as much waste as possible that is disposed of within our local government area will be reused, recycled, or remanufactured at local businesses.”

The ARRC project is in feasibility stage, with technical reports and assessments being undertaken as part of regulatory approvals. At the same time, the city is investigating opportunities to expand the recycling and remanufacturing options, including in solar, plastics, construction and demolition, organics, textiles, mattresses and e-waste. 

As a member of the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program, the city is also looking into ways of reusing the air pollution control residue from the proposed waste-to-energy facility, as well as an investigation into soft plastics recycling options. 

“The ARRC isn’t about building eight new facilities and saying the job is done,” Tom says. “It’s an overarching concept where the goal is to take the idea of the circular economy and make it a reality.

“Where there’s a troublesome product, such as plastics, we will partner with someone to set up on our land and see recycled plastic remanufactured into new products like drink bottles.

“Through our education centre, if someone has an idea for example, for soft plastics, we will look to help them investigate that idea to see if it’s viable and scalable and work with them to get established.”

Tom says the ARRC is a bold move for a council, but the city sees its role as being beyond just emptying people’s wheelie bins and burying the contents in a hole in the ground.

The ARRC is projected to be operational by the end of 2031.  

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