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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Organics demand increases

Peats Soil & Garden Supplies has seen a spike in demand for organics product, resulting in the creation of new jobs.

Peats Soil & Garden Supplies has been at the coalface of South Australian organics recycling for decades. Peter Wadewitz, Peats Group Managing Director, tells Waste Management Review COVID-19 has created the perfect storm with an increase in organic wastes. He says this comes against a broader backdrop of increased public policy settings.

The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) recently conducted a workshop in Mannum, SA and several throughout the state last year in conjunction with Jeffries, Bio Gro and a range of other composters.

“We’re all very busy. Things have worked well in Australia and it’s all under the AORA banner,” Mr Wadewitz says.

Mr Wadewitz, who is also the National Chair of AORA, says that AORA will play an increasing role now more than ever in driving Australia’s sustainable future with immense opportunities for the organics industry as a whole.

Peats Group is predicting that amid a challenging year for many, this will be one of its busiest years in sales. He says the company has put on almost 10 people as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and can’t keep up with demand.

“Our tonnages has gone up massively as a result of the virus – we’ve seen an increase up to 15 per cent,” he says.

“The capital employment opportunities are triple what we’re currently doing.”

Peats Soil & Garden Supplies has been in the horticultural business for almost 50 years. Through its four sites – Willunga, Brinkley, Dublin and now Whyalla, the company has over the years developed an array of broad-acre products, collaborating closely with scientists and the broader organics recycling industry to ensure products are certified to Australian standards.

Last year, the company announced its fourth compost and renewable energy manufacturing site, located at Whyalla City Council’s Mount Laura Waste and Resource Recovery Centre.

The site includes an Advanced Composting Facility which accepts green, organic and food waste and digests it using anaerobic digestion to produce biogas for sale into the energy grid. The compost product can be sold into surrounding agricultural markets for soil improvement and carbon enhancement.

In December, Veolia signed a $50 million contract with the City of Darwin to manage and operate the region’s Shoal Bay Waste Management Facility for seven years. Mr Wadewitz says that Peats Soil & Garden Supplies will take the green organics out of the landfill and then compost it. This will add to its existing operations with commercial organics and process upwards of 10,000 tonnes.

You can read the full story in the June Organics edition of Waste Management Review.

To subscribe to Waste Management Review with free home delivery click here

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AORA Annual Conference

AORA’s 2020 Annual Conference, held 24-27 November at the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley, NSW, will feature a line up of national and international organics experts.

Each plenary session will focus on one aspect of the organics industry, seeking out differing views and options for the future.

AORA National Chair Peter Wadewitz said the conference will be a prime opportunity to network with industry leaders and gain insights into the latest opportunities in the organics recycling industry.

“The AORA Conference is a forum for education, discussion and networking related to organics recycling. It is also an opportunity to celebrate outstanding achievements in the industry,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“I look forward to catching up with many friends and colleagues, and hearing the best ideas for our industry from across Australia and around the world.”

For more information click here.

AORA Annual Conference rescheduled to November

In consideration of rapid COVID-19 developments, the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has rescheduled its 2020 Annual Conference to 25 – 27 November.

According to an AORA statement, the venue will remain the same, with the conference taking place at the Crowne Plaza in NSW’s Hunter Valley.

“The health and safety of our members and attendees is our top priority, and after speaking to many of our partners, exhibitors, speakers and attendees, the overwhelming consensus is that postponing the event is the preferred outcome,” the statement reads.

“The program and arrangements made so far will remain in place. For attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, we will automatically transfer your booking to the rescheduled event. If these new dates pose a problem for you, AORA will provide a full refund of your booking.”

If delegates have booked accommodation at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, the hotel will automatically cancel the existing booking, with delegates encouraged to rebook at their convenience.

The Annual AORA Conference will feature workshops, presentations, a gala dinner, networking functions and an equipment demonstration day.

Plenary sessions will cover a common vision for the future of the industry, community engagement and informed opinion sessions on food organics and garden organics, carbon, in the field and what’s next.

For further inquires contact conference@aora.org.au.

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Trevor Evans to open AORA Annual Conference

Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans will open the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) 2020 Annual Conference.

AORA National Chair Peter Wadewitz said Mr Evans’ confirmation is another strong addition to an outstanding lineup of national and international experts.

Held 1 to 3 April in the Hunter Valley NSW, the conference will feature practical demonstrations, social events and plenary sessions focused on different aspects of the organics industry.

“The Annual AORA Conference features workshops, presentations, a gala dinner, networking functions and an equipment demonstration day. This is the prime opportunity of 2020 to network with industry leaders and gain insights into the latest opportunities in the organics recycling industry,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“Plenary sessions will cover a common vision for the future of the industry, community engagement and informed opinion sessions on food organics and garden organics, carbon, in the field and what’s next.”

The conference will also feature keynote presentations from Teaming series author Jeff Lowenfels and Aurel Lübke of Compost Systems Austria.

For more information click here.

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Registrations open for AORA Annual Conference

The Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) annual conference is open for attendee registration.

This year’s conference, held 1 to 3 April at the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley, NSW, will feature a line up of national and international organics experts.

Each plenary session will focus on one aspect of the organics industry, seeking out differing views and options for the future.

AORA National Chair Peter Wadewitz said the conference will be a prime opportunity to network with industry leaders and gain insights into the latest opportunities in the organics recycling industry.

“The AORA Conference is a forum for education, discussion and networking related to organics recycling. It is also an opportunity to celebrate outstanding achievements in the industry,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“I look forward to catching up with many friends and colleagues, and hearing the best ideas for our industry from across Australia and around the world.”

The event will feature keynote presentations from Teaming series author Jeff Lowenfels and Aurel Lübke of Compost Systems Austria.

For more information click here.

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Immersed in industry: VWMA Waste Expo site tours

The Victorian Waste Management Association’s recent industry site tours took delegates through a range of resource recovery and manufacturing facilities.

The partnership between the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) and Waste Expo Australia was particularly significant in 2019, given current challenges facing the Victorian arm of the sector.

While the event had a national focus, Mark Smith, VWMA Executive Officer, says Victoria was lucky to have Waste Expo located in Melbourne.

“We support Waste Expo because of the relevance this national event brings to the Victorian landscape, with thought provoking discussions and presentations on everything important and impactful to the sector,” he says.

As a strategic Waste Expo partner, VWMA ran three concurrent industry tours on the Friday following the expo, a first for the leading waste and resource recovery event.

Hosting a wide range of delegates including representatives from the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group, industry heavy weights such as TOMRA, local government agents and small business owners, VWMA’s tours were designed to educate and stimulate conversation.

The day’s events included a construction and demolition tour, an organics tour and a packaging process tour.

“Working with industry partners Alex Fraser, the Australian Packaging and Covenant Organisation (APCO) and the Australian Organic Recycling Association (AORA), VWMA ran the tours to bring the steps industry is taking to support Victoria’s recycling agenda into focus,” Mark says.

As attendees gathered at the Melbourne Convention Centre on Friday morning, many expressed difficulty over choosing which tour to attend.

After an opening address from Mark, delegates piled into three separate buses, each with an industry specific tour guide.

The construction and demolition tour, sponsored by Alex Fraser, included site visits to Bingo Industries West Melbourne Facility, Alex Fraser’s Sustainable Supply Hub, a Level Crossing Removal Project site and the Toll Shipping’s terminal at Webb Dock.

Bingo Industries West Melbourne Facility is established on a site acquired 18 months ago by the company, with Bingo pouring $23 million into the facility since then. The site allows Bingo to convert waste into seven different products and has capacity for around 300,000 tonnes per annum. The company aims to achieve a 75 per cent recovery rate on-site.

At Webb Dock, Alex Fraser has worked with contractor Civilex to develop a heavy-duty pavement which incorporates reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) that meets VicRoads guidelines. The pavement base layers are comprised recycled glass sand and recycled concrete.

As part of the Level Crossing Removal Project, the Western Program Alliance used Alex Fraser’s recycled sand as bedding material for the combined services conduit housing the communications and power cables. The grade separation was undertaken at Kororoit Creek Road in Melbourne. The low embodied energy material replaces virgin sand with all 900 tonnes diverted from landfill at a lower cost.

Finally, Waste Management Review got to explore where Alex Fraser’s recycling happens, touring its Laverton North supply hub where more than one million tonnes of C&D waste, and one billion bottles of glass waste is reprocessed to make the quality construction materials needed to build greener roads.

A climb to the top of Alex Fraser’s high recycled technology asphalt plant topped off the excursion. The new $18 million faciliity is capable of producing over half a million tonnes of green asphalt per year, utilising the recycled glass sand and RAP produced in its collocated recycling facilities.

Shifting material focus, the Organics and Composting Tour’s first stop took attendees to the South Melbourne Market, where they were told about the market’s 32 tonne a year dehydrating compost initiative.

From there, VWMA and AORA directed the tour bus to Sacyr’s new indoor compositing facility. Michael Wood, Sacyr Environment Australia Consultant, guided the group through the 120,000 tonnes per annum facility, and explained the challenges associated with adapting a European model to an Australian environment.

The group was then guided through Cleanaway’s South East Organic Processing Facility and food depackaging unit.

Melinda Lizza, Cleanaway Development Manager, explained the depackaging unit’s 150,000 tonnes per annum capabilities, before handing the tour over to Michael Lawlor, Cleanaway Operations Supervisor.

After the tour, the group had lunch with the Cleanaway crew and discussed interactions with the EPA and growing levels of scrutiny on the compost industry.

From there, the group was driven to Bio Gro’s Dandenong South Facility, where Sage Hahn, Bio Gro General Manger, explained the company’s approach to organics diversion and composted mulch production.

After taking the group through the Bio Gro site, Sage fielded a range of technical questions and detailed the mineral additive process of mulch manufacturing.

Doug Wilson, AROA Victoria Admin Officer and compost group tour guide, says the day allowed delegates to closely inspect organics processing.

“At the very time when the state government is bringing the circular economy into focus, the organics tour took delegates on an interactive experience with some of Melbourne’s most exciting and innovative organics recovery technology,” he says.

The APCO packing tour, which was delivered in partnership with the Australian Food and Grocery Council and Australian Institute of Packaging, took attendees to Ego Pharmaceuticals, the South Melbourne Markets and recycled plastic manufacturer Replas’ Carrum Downs site.

Of the APCO tour, Mark says industry is at a critical time where collaboration is essential to address challenges in the packaging supply chain and achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

“Great stuff happens all across Australia by the waste and recycling industry and many organisatsions that we partner with,” Mark says.

He added that these were areas of interest that were not spoken about enough.

“It was exciting to see demonstrations of the circular economy in action. Parts of our sector are leading on this front and there are scale interventions that only really need the appropriate government policy to delivery environmental, economic and social benefits to Australia.”

He says this was clearly demonstrated on the tours in the Victoria context.

“Industry is leading on parts of this and it’s important to acknowledge the good work being done locally.

“A big thanks to all our partners for coming on board and collaborating with us.”

This article was published in the December issue of Waste Management Review. 

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