Supercharging organics: AORA

By ramping up organics recycling, the industry stands to create an additional $1.7 billion in revenue and save 3.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, according to a new report commissioned by AORA. 

A third of the planet’s land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost at a figure of around 24 billion tonnes per year, according to a United Nations-supported study in 2017.

Since the release of that report, Australia has faced one of the most catastrophic bushfires preceded by the hottest and driest conditions in its history.

But despite the global and local challenges, putting more organics to soils offers unprecedented potential to improve soil health and protect the climate.

“The greatest national security risk we face is our capacity to produce food. If you look at our core strength through the current COVID-19 crisis, as a nation, our agriculture industry can produce as much as three times the food as the population,” says Peter Olah, National Executive Officer at AORA.

“Add the fact that we have degradation of soils susceptible to drought, what we need to be switching to is a program that doesn’t deal with soil quality in a reactive manner, but rather part of the long-term national objective.

If we do that, we can use organics during droughts and bushfires to actually supercharge the soils.”

Nick Behrens, Director of the Australian Economic Advocacy Solutions (AEAS), was recently commissioned by the AORA to undertake an investigation into the economic impact of the organics recycling industry.

The investigation not only provides a clear picture of how the industry is faring nationally economically and environmentally, but also in each state and territory.

It will help inform AORA’s upcoming national policy document which will lay out policy priorities for the next 20 years.

The report highlights that each year, the organics recycling industry processed around 7.5 million tonnes of waste to produce valuable product for further use across the Australian economy.

It highlights AORA in 2018-19 recycled 7.5 million tonnes of organic material while providing a collective industry turnover of $2 billion.

The result was a 1.4 per cent increase on the previous financial year. Across the decade, organics recycling has grown on average 3.4 per cent each year. This is against an average population growth rate over the same period of 1.4 per cent.

Importantly, the report shows that industry not only employs almost 5000 Australians, but provides $1.9 billion in benefit across the supply chain.

Peter says the report provides an important baseline to inform future policy discussions with stakeholders and governments.

“In the next six to 12 months we’re going to be talking about significant changes, including policies that look 20 years into the future and some hard targets for the industry and government,” Peter says.

The total estimated greenhouse gas savings from organics recycling in Australia was around 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018-19.

The noticeably higher growth rate for organic recycling is driven by population and economic growth.

This is also a reflection of technological change, access to recycling markets, local government collection charges and federal and state government waste and carbon reduction policies.

NSW accounts for the largest tonnes of organic material being recycled in Australia with 2.8 million tonnes. Victoria is next at 1.5 million tonnes, followed by South Australia – a leader on a per head of population basis – at 1.3 million tonnes.

In terms of organic recycling rates, SA leads the nation at 79 per cent, followed by ACT at 68 per cent, NSW at 57 per cent and Victoria at 50 per cent.

“There’s no question it’s easier to operate in some states than others and the figures show that pretty starkly,” Peter says.

“The reasons for that are pretty clear. In SA you’ve had a state government which has consistently crossed party lines for around 30 years and created an environment where there’s certainty. The result of that is a highly developed sector achieving extraordinary results.”

One of the key talking points from the report is the modelling of increasing current organic rates nationally to 70, 80, 90 and 95 per cent.

At 70 per cent, organics recycling businesses would generate an extra $771 million in sales. This would save an additional 1.5 million in greenhouse gas emissions.

Ramping it up to 95 per cent would create $1.7 billion in additional revenue and provide $1.6 billion in supply chain opportunity.

An extra 3.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved, which is the equivalent of taking 741,524 cars off the road.

“These scenarios are vital because they prove the benefits are substantial. It also provides a framework for what we need to do as an industry and what government needs to do in collaboration with us to allow those targets to be met,” Peter says.

“The hindrance to achieving more at the moment is the capacity of the industry to scale up, and the problems there are largely around the capacity for certainty in both supply and demand, but also in terms of approvals.”

However, in spite of this, Peter highlights the good news is that the demand for quality output is there and the industry is capable and ready to upscale to process it.

“Guaranteeing the quality, reliability and security of input will ensure we can reach the 90 to 95 per cent target laid out in the report,” Peter says.

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New guidelines address compostable packaging confusion

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has published new guidelines to help businesses make informed choices when considering compostable packaging.  

The guidelines were developed in partnership with the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) and the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA).

Designed to cut through confusion, Considerations for Compostable Packaging aims to help industry professionals – particularly brand owners, packaging technologists and designers and food service providers – decide when and where to use certified compostable plastic packaging, and associated items like cutlery.

Based on systems and infrastructure currently available, APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said the guidelines identify potential applications and opportunities for certified compostable plastic packaging, with a strong emphasis on packaging that can also facilitate food waste collection. 

“These include food caddy liners, fruit and vegetable stickers and ‘closed-loop’ situations such as festivals,” she said. 

Recommendations are also provided on how to correctly communicate with end consumers, including accurate certification and correct language for labelling and marketing.

Additionally, statements to avoid are highlighted, including misleading terminology and “greenwashing claims” that contribute to unintentional litter and contamination of mechanical recycling systems. 

“With brands facing intense consumer pressure to move away from plastics, coupled with thousands of Australian food outlets turning to takeaway packaging formats for the first time, there’s never been a more important time for businesses to receive accurate and consistent information about compostable packaging,” Ms Donnelly said. 

“Compostable plastics currently account for around 0.1 per cent of plastic packaging on market in Australia. Yet we know that it is a market that is growing and one that causes real confusion – for both industry and end consumers.” 

According to ABA President Rowan Williams, the development of Considerations for Compostable Packaging was an opportunity for peak industry bodies to collaborate on guidelines for industry and consumers.

“The collaborative nature of the work in getting this guideline out has been outstanding. The guidelines look up and down the value chain, at where the raw material comes from and also where the finished packaging will go to, such as organics recycling, in the future,” he said. 

“The ABA, as custodian of the only verification scheme for claims of certified compostability to the Australian Standards, welcomes the advent of the guidelines and looks forward to continuing collaboration with APCO, AORA and industry stakeholders.” 

AORA Chair Peter Wadewitz said as a suitable alternative to non-recyclable packaging, AORA supports the use of AS4736 certified materials for the source separation of food waste in the home or in commercial settings.

“Compostable coffee cups, capsules and compostable bags can all be successfully utilised through normal organic recycling processes, without concern of contamination,” he said. 

The full report is available to download on the APCO website.

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