Filling the gaps: Jillian Riseley and MWRRG

The Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group’s new CEO Jillian Riseley discusses the agency’s plans for 2020, including a new C&I strategy and advanced waste processing procurement.

When the City of New York announced a “zero waste” to landfill plan by 2030 in 2015, the Department of Sanitation looked to significantly expand its kerbside organics collection.

While the plan was announced well before China’s National Sword impacted the global markets, the city’s strategy is redolent of a global shift towards finding replacements for landfill.

With half the population of New York City, Melbourne has looked to progressively reduce a reliance on landfill, with an organics network spearheaded by the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) to fill that gap.

Much of the agenda began to be implemented after the release of the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan in 2016, which aimed to minimise the need to schedule any new landfills before 2026 and find alternatives, especially in the southeast.

MWRRG’s plan for landfill alternatives continues and is now being led by Jillian Riseley, who joined MWRRG as CEO on 2 September. She replaces Rob Millard, who led the organisation for 12 years.

Jillian has extensive experience in senior roles in complex, multi-stakeholder and regulated environments where she has led significant national consumer affairs and recycling initiatives and implemented procurement strategies in complex essential service markets.

Waste Management Review sat down with Jillian to discuss MWRRG’s upcoming policy work in collaborative procurement, its Back to Earth Initiative, a planned commercial and industrial (C&I) strategy and advanced waste processing (AWP) procurement.

Progress against the initiatives are recorded in MWRRG’s 2018-19 Annual Report. Tabled in Victorian Parliament in October, the Annual Report acknowledges that the waste and resource recovery sector was forced to navigate significant changes over the past year, both local and international.

It includes a number of comprehensive actions both finalised and set for completion in the coming year, including facilitating a litter prevention program, improving multi-unit dwelling waste management and the development of a Sustainability Hub at Fishermans Bend.

Jillian says her background and passion for sustainability and collaborative procurement is what drew her to MWRRG.

“There are huge opportunities as we’re seeing a step change in the way that we, as a state, manage resource recovery,” Jillian says.

“For example, the opportunity to incorporate recycled content, recover resources and reuse them in roads is a massive opportunity.”

She says that with the Victorian Government’s circular economy policy coming out later this year, there is an opportunity for MWRRG to work with councils and the C&I sector towards reducing waste and increasing resource recovery.

MWRRG continued its support for councils through collaborative contracts, capacity building, procurement and education to ensure services continued as normal. It established the feasibility for a collaborative procurement approach for an alternative to landfill through the Metropolitan Regional Business Case for Advanced Waste Processing.

To that end, AWP is one part of MWRRG’s strategic and integrated approach to waste management. Metropolitan councils were invited to work with MWRRG, culminating in one of the largest collaborative procurements in the country. Sixteen council’s in Melbourne’s south-east are working together on a joint AWP procurement while councils in the north and west are assessing their needs.

DERIVING COLLABORATIVE VALUE

Jillian says that collaborative procurement, more generally, creates significant value for councils not just in price, but helping to build a sustainable sector, with governance and social indicators also part of that.

She adds that the collaborative procurements are very much council driven, with the local government sector identifying the best possible model to solve their local challenge.

“Our AWP procurement is often misunderstood as it’s technology agnostic. The initial stage of the project is going out and looking at the best infrastructure in the world to find a solution to the challenge of diminishing reliance on landfill,” she says.

In addition to finding an alternative to landfill, MWRRG has continued to support councils to respond to changes in the recycling sector, most recently with the collapse and subsequent sale of SKM Recycling. In the short-term, it is coordinating panel contracts to allow councils to access a recycling processor.

In the long-term, MWRRG is awaiting the release of the Circular Economy Policy, which may have implications on the available volumes and composition of recyclables.

“We have a vested interest in making sure the waste and resource recovery industry is strong and sustainable both environmentally and financially,” she says.

“That holistic look we’ll get from a circular economy policy should hopefully strengthen the whole chain not just that little piece from an SKM risk perspective, but looking globally and at the whole system.”

Earlier this year MWRRG conducted 180 waste audits and industry workshops to inform a C&I strategy that will initially focus on reducing the volume of plastics and food going to landfill.

“It will be interesting to see where we land in the development of our C&I strategy as we’re now going through the data,” Jillian says.

She says that a substantial amount of paper is going to landfill in the C&I sector.

According to the National Waste Report, around 31.7 million tonnes of materials were processed for recycling, with C&I representing 37 per cent of this. The report highlights that in many instances, C&I recycling rates are lower than they could be due to the cost of additional bins and collections being seen as prohibitive.

“Plastics also feels like an obvious place to start, but having worked a lot with both the corporate and C&I sector, the way in which those sectors work and their sub-sectors within sectors work are very bespoke and unique,” she says.

“So, whatever the strategy is and whatever we decide to focus on, we will need to tailor the strategy to that sector.”

Jillian says MWRRG is looking at releasing a draft C&I strategy at the start of next year.

“Utilising existing networks and the trusted stakeholder relationships we have built over the last decade will be really useful,” she says.

The Back to Earth Initiative, a successful organics social marketing campaign with 28 councils, is also being expanded in 2019-20.

“We commissioned some social research last year looking at the kind of messaging that resonates with people and encourages them to change their behaviour, so we’re now rolling out a new version of Back to Earth, offering it to more councils and including a focus on food waste recycling,” she says.

Jillian says MWRRG provides councils a complete FOGO support service, from planning to implementation, evaluation and social marketing. It comes as the capacity of its organics processing network already exceeds the Metropolitan Implementation Plan 2021 target of 120,000.

“We’re working with our colleagues at Sustainability Victoria to support the work they do around Love Food, Hate Waste, so we’re looking at the whole continuum, from what you buy and how you prepare it to what you do with what’s leftover.”

Supporting that was the development of a FOGO guide in late 2018 which provided practical tools and advice for planning and implementing a service in six stages.

“There’s been great pick-up of the guide with councils actually using it and following the steps in order to plan and implement their own FOGO or conduct their own trials,” Jillian says.

“Since launching in August last year, we have delivered follow-up workshops and training to staff from every council in metropolitan Melbourne and several regional councils who have valued the practical steps outlined in the guide,” she says.     

In tackling buffer protection, MWRRG also reached a memorandum of understanding with key agencies on a whole-of-state government approach. It delivered three hub plans in West Melbourne, Dandenong South and Epping, which are being implemented, and is providing support at another six sites.

While there are numerous challenges ahead, Jillian looks forward to tackling them collectively with industry.

“The silver lining is the average Victorian is much more aware of waste and recycling and there is a groundswell of support for finding solutions to our national challenges and taking increased responsibility for recycling,” she says.

“With visibility and motivation comes opportunity, supported through a circular economy policy and the introduction of FOGO.”

This article was published in the December 2019 edition of Waste Management Review. 

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