Compost by the river: SOILCO

Charlie Emery, SOILCO General Manager, speaks to Waste Management Review about SOILCO’s plans to build the largest organics recycling facility in the NSW Northern Rivers region.

The NSW Northern Rivers region is perhaps best known for its Pacific beaches, scenic drives and dramatic valleys surrounded by rivers and wildlife. Home to tourist hubs such as Tweed Head, Byron Bay and Minyon Falls, by 2021 the coastal region will also be home to one of Australia’s latest organic recycling facilities.

As early adopters of the NSW Government’s Love Food Hate Waste program, Tweed Shire Council is committed to proactive food waste reduction and recycling initiatives.

As part of this commitment, the council has commissioned a state-of-the-art organics recycling facility in Stotts Creek. The composting facility will be the largest of its kind in the Northern Rivers, processing nearly 25,000 tonnes of organic waste each year.

SOILCO, a NSW organics recycling business, has been tasked with facility design, construction and operations.

According to Charlie Emery, SOILCO General Manager, once commissioned, the facility will complement council’s recently introduced food and garden organics (FOGO) kerbside collection program.

Since FOGO collections began, Charlie says the region has seen a 20 per cent reduction in organic waste to landfill. This, he says, illustrates that residents are willing, and even motivated, to engage with the closed-loop processes when given the opportunity.

Charlie says collected FOGO is currently transferred for processing at a facility located outside the local government area, meaning council must deal with additional logistics and associated transport costs.

“Once the SOILCO facility is up and running, council will be able to process its own FOGO, right next to the existing resource recovery centre. This will reduce transport and logistics costs and further streamline council services,” he says.

Following a competitive tender process, SOILCO was awarded the Stotts Creek contract in July.

“Like other progressive regions in the state, Tweed Shire Council has a long-term goal of achieving zero waste, which resonates with SOILCO’s overarching mission and current operations in the Illawarra and South Coast regions of NSW,” Charlie says.

The Stotts Creek Organics Recycling Facility will function as an enclosed composting facility, meaning SOILCO will construct a processing building alongside multiple aerated composting tunnels, biofilter and product storage infrastructure.

“The model is based on upgrades to our own facilities in Kembla Grange and Nowra, where we used Waste Treatment Technologies’ technology for positive aeration in an enclosed environment,” Charlie says.

“This allows us to improve processing controls and monitor the material to ensure compost production compliance.”

While organics compliance is a hot topic in NSW, following the EPA’s October reiteration of its controversial 2018 Mixed Waste Organic Outputs decision, Charlie says composting of source-separated materials has been largely unaffected.

That said, the EPA maintains strict regulatory rules for the production and application of compost derived from FOGO, meaning SOILCO’s facility has to consider decontamination and provide rigid process controls.   

Charlie says through the installation of a pre-sort and aerated composting tunnels, SOILCO can produce clean, compliant and nutrient-rich products.

While still in the planning and approval phase, Charlie says SOILCO has already identified existing urban and agricultural end markets for their product.

“There’s a large demand for quality compost in the region, so we’re confident in the facility’s long-term economic viability,” he says.

“As time goes on, and the benefits of food waste diversion receive wider recognition, we are sure to see an increase in facility throughput and additional capacity has been designed for.”

In addition to existing end markets, Charlie says SOILCO is looking to work with local businesses and large generators of food, such as hotels, of which there are many in the heavily visited region.

He says SOILCO operates food waste collection services out of their other NSW facilities, and intends to provide commercial collection to businesses in the Northern Rivers area as well.

“That way we’re not just capturing existing tonnage through the municipal contact but creating further commercial opportunities for food waste diversion through a system we have already established,” Charlie says.

“This provides an opportunity for local businesses to participate in the composting process and creates a real sense of community.”

After lodging its development application in November, Charlie says SOILCO is working towards a two-year design and construction timeline.

“The facility is set to be operational by mid-2021, after which, SOILCO will operate the facility for 10 years, before transferring ownership back to council,” he says.

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AORA announces new board directors

The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) have announced Elmore Compost & Organics Managing Director Frank Harney and SOLICO General Manager Charlie Emery will join the associations Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors serves to represent the interests of AORA members and manage operations specific to their regions.

Mr Harney said he will use the position to educate farmers and consumers about the benefits of organic compost, while further developing application equipment and composting best practice.

Mr Emery said he hopes to use his experience in strategic planning and business development initiatives to work towards the production of quality assured soil and advance the organics recycling industry.

The announcement follows AORA’s release of a new constitution earlier this month.

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