Out and about with Costa: Penrith City Council

International Compost Awareness Week is coming up in the first week of May and Costa is excited, writes Mia Ecob, Resource Recovery Education Officer at Penrith City Council. 

Penrith City Council had the privilege of giving Costa and his team from Gardening Australia a sneak peek into what makes Penrith a recognised leader in sustainable waste management.

For over 10 years, Penrith City Council has diverted a significant amount of organic material from being sent to landfill, resulting in great environmental benefits and financial savings. In ensuring all residents are sorting their waste correctly, Penrith City Council’s Resource Recovery Field Team engages with residents daily to educate on the importance of sorting waste.

Costa, Penrith’s Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy Ambassador, is very enthusiastic about the positive sustainability and environmental behaviours Penrith has instilled into its management of waste over the years. One of these practices includes council’s implementation the food and garden organics (FOGO) service back in 2009. 

As Costa loves composting, he wanted to see how it can be done on a large scale. Two members from Penrith City Council’s Resource Recovery Field Team, Kate Bradshaw and Drew Turner, detailed to Costa how this could be achieved, while also educating residents on how to minimise the amount of contamination found within the organics bin. The benefits of having our field officers out and about in the community demonstrates the friendly and helpful education approach to waste.

Having a holistic approach to getting everyone across the community involved in composting through the FOGO bin service enables positive results to be achieved. Simple things such as placing food waste into the council provided green compostable bags and removing food waste from packaging are just some of the ways to improve sorting behaviours.

The commitment Penrith’s Waste and Resource Recovery Department has in achieving 70 per cent diversion of waste from landfill by 2021 is well on track. By continuing to focus on educating and supporting the community with their sorting habits, highlights the benefits of providing long-term social, economic and environmental value in moving towards a circular economy of reducing waste.

Catch Penrith City Council’s Resource Recovery Field Team talking all things waste with Costa on ABC’s Gardening Australia 1 May. 

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Capital compost: ELB Equipment and Corkhill Bros

Phil Corkhill, of Corkhill Bros, explains the process and equipment requirements essential to managing Canberra’s green waste collection service.

When the Canberra Business Chamber sought to find the territory’s oldest surviving business in 2019, Corkhill Bros was among a handful of those recognised.

Operating in multiple capacities since 1954, Corkhill Bros has been running a public green organic drop-off facility in the nation’s capital for more than 35 years.

While the drop-off facility always received a steady flow of material, its intake jumped in April 2017. The surge in material followed the introduction of separate green organics kerbside collection in the ACT.

The ACT Government subsequently tasked Corkhill Bros with collection and processing via a government contract. As Canberra does not have individual councils, this means Corkhill Bros manage the entire territory.

By July 2019, all Canberra residents had access to separate organics collection after the service was rolled out progressively over three-years.

As a result, Phil Corkhill, of Corkhill Bros, says the family-run business now deals with an average of 350,000 tonnes of green waste each year.

“As a company, we’re committed to a circular economy waste management and resource recovery approach. This means it’s very important that we achieve high recovery rates and nutrient-rich feedstock,” he says.

According to Phil, all organic waste processed at the facility is reused for the benefit of the community, with the resulting material turned into high-quality landscaping supplies and compost.

“We grind our green organics daily, before allowing the product to sit for three months to achieve quality pasteurisation and composting,”
he says.

“This allows the particles to break down before additives are introduced and turned into the piles for mixing.”

To manage the process efficiently with minimal downtown, Corkhill Bros work closely with machinery supplier ELB Equipment.

“When dealing with that level of material, operators can’t afford equipment breakdowns or to work with suppliers that don’t remain significantly engaged in the business,” Phil says.

“We manage and process all of Canberra’s green waste, and as such, require efficiencies of scale. ELB can provide those efficiencies, which is why we continue to work with them.”

Phil says Corkhill Bros currently operates a Topturn X55 Compost Turner, Multistar L3 recycling screen and four Nemus 2700 screens all supplied by ELB at its Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre.

“ELB calls us at least once a month, not just to check in on existing equipment, but to enquire about future needs and maintenance requirements. They are always on the front foot,” he says.

“I consider them more of a partner than a supplier – they’re a very proactive company.”

Corkhill Bros uses the Multistar L3 and Nemus mobile machines for screening and mixing. Phil says both recycling screens facilitate consistent operations, particularly in contrast to drum screens or flatbeds.

“Drum and flatbed screens often suffer significant blockages, which in turn creates inefficiencies,” he says.

“The technical makeup of star screens circumnavigates that problem through curvature, to create a reliable piece of equipment capable of processing organics in all weather conditions.”

The core of the Multistar L3 screen consists of one or two screen decks, with the rotating shafts of the coarse screen deck moving the material horizontally. Phil says particle size can be controlled by varying the rotation of the star shafts.

“The particle size of the material can be changed within seconds using frequency converters on the operator console, within the range determined by the star geometry,” he says.

All functions are monitored by a central control unit, which reports on the current operational status to streamline site operations.

In regard to Corkhill Bros’ four Nemus screens, Phil says he uses the barrels for final screening and blending. “Nemus 2700s are very high production machines, with some great improvements on the previous mustang model,” he says.

With a large steep-walled hopper and high-performance discharge system, the Nemus 2700’s material flow enables 10 per cent more throughput than predecessors,
he adds.

“The clearance between the drum and sidewall also allows for a wide range of material inputs, with hole sizes up to 100 millimetres,” he says.

Fine particles are discharged by a cross belt and profiled discharge belt, with the Komtech design preventing material trickle at transfer points to facilitate high capacity.

Corkhill Bros’ Topturn X55 Compost Turner runs in a separate part of the Mugga Lane facility to facilitate open air windrowing,
Phil says.

As one of the most widely used compost turners in the world, the Topturn’s frame is designed for heavy-duty applications, namely varied and unpredictable municipal green waste.

Phil says the turner’s large hydraulically driven drum, with efficient conveyor and throwing blades, accelerates the turning and rotating process. This, he adds, means all material is mixed before passing through the drum. Since purchasing the machine in 2017, Phil says he has noticed a rise in material quality.

“I’ve been nothing but happy with ELB’s compost turner. It really helps us maintain workflow and product excellence,” he says.

While Corkhill Bros works with multiple manufacturers and suppliers, Phil says ELB’s commitment to service, including spare parts and process maintenance, is a standout in the industry.

“I’m always impressed with their methodology and business model, as it’s very customer focused. We deal with multiple manufacturers and suppliers, and I’d like to think some of them could aspire to the ELB model.

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WMR switches to ABA approved packaging

Waste Management Review has made the switch to Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) approved compostable packaging for all magazine mail-outs.

The material is certified home compostable to Australian Standard AS 5810-2010, with home compost testing accommodating longer time frames at lower environmental temperatures than industrial composting.

ABA certification requires a product to prove properties according to specified test methods, including disintegration and biodegradation to a specified extent within specific time frames and not containing harmful substances.

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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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Protecting agricultural soils

Opinion piece: 

Queensland’s agricultural sector is concerned about growing challenges to the NSW Government’s MWOO decision, writes Georgina Davis, Queensland Farmers’ Federation CEO. 

Recent rhetoric from the waste management industry around the decision by the NSW Government to reaffirm it’s 2018 ban relating to the application of mixed waste organics output (MWOO) to agricultural land and forestry is disappointing. With a recent article even discussing opportunities to challenge the decision through a merit appeal or other legal challenge.

The number of individuals who consider agricultural land to be a dumping ground for stabilised municipal waste (including MWOO) is unacceptable; all to simply avoid landfill tax and operational costs associated with source separation, resource recovery, treatment and appropriate disposal to engineered, licensed facilities where required.

Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) has been actively advocating to the Queensland Government to ban the application of stabilised municipal solid waste to farmland for some years.

Currently, mixed waste compost is applied to farmland in Queensland using AS4454 (Australian Standard for Composts, Soil Conditioners and Mulches) to provide a suitable threshold.

AS4454 is limited, and at best, only infers minimum quality standards. It does not contain criteria for new and emerging contaminants such as PFOS and PFOA and the physical contaminant levels still permit significant levels of contamination [for plastics (soft) (<0.05 per cent dry matter w/w – visible proportion only) and glass, metals and rigid plastics (<0.5 per cent dry matter w/w)].

Many jurisdictions have suffered an early ‘shred and spread’ application of municipal wastes and untreated organics to land, which were driven by the desire to avoid increasing waste disposal charges, often as a result of a landfill tax.

In these cases, many environmental regulatory authorities were slow to realise the loopholes, determine environmental harm, and in turn, control application or specify application rates.

Application rates were decided by farmers and in some cases, the market value (or free of charge nature) of these products against the increasing price of traditional chemical fertilisers or quality organic products.

Early applications of stabilised waste/mixed waste composts to UK farmland in the late 1990’s to early noughties (to avoid the landfill tax) were dealt with through a judicial process.

This was a result of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs seeking to recover significant sums of outstanding landfill tax or contractual breaches between local government, contractors and landholders. In some cases the judicial actions were to recover funds to remediate the land.

Fortunately for the UK an exemption for stabilised waste from the landfill tax was never granted, and the growing demand from continental Europe for refuse derived fuels (RDF) resulted in many MBT/BMT plants being converted to RDF/SRF manufacturing facilities.

Areas of the United States and Europe have seen ongoing concern and opposition to the spreading of mixed waste composts, compost-like organics (CLOs), stabilised wastes, manures and untreated biosolids to land, in particular to farmland.

This has resulted in some jurisdictions setting high quality standards for both organic waste treatment processes and the resulting organic products and land/plant application limits. While others have always simply banned the application of mixed waste composts and CLOs to farmland.

One issue is that it is easier to define and prove environmental benefit than environmental harm, particularly where the application soils are weak, degraded or deficient in a range of nutrients or organic matter.

As such, mixed waste composts and CLOs in many cases easily demonstrate their beneficial application, sometimes in preference to single stream (green waste) composts; whilst the contamination risks are harder to define and more expensive to prove.

This is particularly true for the cost of analysis to identify micro-pollutants and the required commitment of undertaking longitudinal surveys to determine the risks of bioaccumulation in soils and plants, or retardation of plant growth.

Recently in the UK, there has been an outpouring of public and political concern regarding the environmental impacts resulting from the application of green waste composts manufactured from source segregated (domestic) waste streams to farmland.

Concerns regarding the land application of these products include the impacts of physical pollutants such as plastics, biological factors including pathogens and genetically modified organisms, animal diseases, the toxicity from heavy metals; and more recently as highlighted in the literature, the bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants and micro-pollutants.

The UK’s PAS 100 standard for example, allows 0.12 per cent of plastic in a final composted product – the equivalent of 1.2 tonnes of plastic in 1000 tonnes of compost. However, continued analysis has shown that the level of plastic contamination is rising in the UK, with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the Environment Agency England, now introducing a 50 per cent reduction in the allowable (not desirable) level.

There is also an assumption by many that applying MWOO or CLO’s to forestry or pasture presents a ‘lower risk’.

While that land may be used only for forestry or pasture now, the changing climate, changing hydraulic characteristics of water catchments (with some areas seeing more or less precipitation); and more pressure to grow food for domestic and export markets, coupled with restrictions on clearing undeveloped land (Vegetation Management legislation in Queensland for example); it is increasingly likely that new land for growing food may utilise existing timber and foliage production areas or pastoral properties.

Once soils are contaminated it will be prohibitively costly and technologically challenging to remediate them.

The manufacture of MWOO and CLOs also poses a risk to the viability and sustainability of the organic recovery/composting sector.

Queensland’s agricultural sector needs a vibrant and healthy organic manufacturing sector capable of supplying quality soil and potting mixes through to contaminant-free compost and mulching materials for tree crops.

While many farms produce their own organic products, the quantities are insufficient to meet all of agriculture’s needs and many primary producers do not have the physical land footprint, appropriate location, infrastructure capacity, feedstocks or ‘want’ to manufacture their own organic products.

Land and soils are precious. Some farmland is genuinely irreplaceable and critical to ensure future food and nutrient security for our communities. There is also a growing consumer expectation and requirement for transparency and traceability surrounding the food chain.

Queensland, and indeed Australia, is a significant exporter of quality produce, and as such, it is imperative that Queensland maintains the quality of its farmland and food chain production standards.

For 2019–20, the total value of Queensland’s primary industry commodities (combined gross value of production and first-stage processing) is forecast to be $17.80 billion. And the gross value of production (GVP) of Queensland’s primary industry commodities at the ‘farm gate’ is forecast to be $13.94 billion; noting a considerable reduction on previous years due to climate impacts including the ongoing drought.

Any activity perceived (not necessarily proven) to contaminate farmland would damage our reputation and demand for our primary produce. Domestic consumers are also quite rightly questioning the provenance of their food.  They want to know animal husbandry conditions and where their carrots were grown down to the farm, the paddock and the soil type.

QFF supports a precautionary principle and science-based decision-making, acknowledging the deficit of credible and valid scientific data concerning many of the emerging contaminants and their end of life outcomes in the environment.

Farmers are custodians of the land and they want to be confident that the soil ameliorants they are using do not pose any negative environmental or health impacts.

QFF will continue to advocate for clear policy concerning the permitted end-uses for stabilised non-source segregated municipal solid waste and CLOs that does not include application to agricultural land; and will continue to promote quality composts, mulches and soil ameliorant products to the agricultural sector.

Georgina Davis is the Founder of consultancy firm The Waste to Opportunity Enterprise and Adjunct at the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University.

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Highly intensive tunnels: Sacyr and WTT

Waste Management Review speaks with Carlos Gros Isla, Sacyr Environment, and Sean Galdermans, Waste Treatment Technologies, about Sacyr’s new high capacity in-vessel composting facility.

Composting, once considered the domain of hippies and eco- friendly farmers, has become a booming billion-dollar industry.

While public and private investment in technologically innovative equipment and facilities have a traceable history on a global level, the Australian organics market is still somewhat in its infancy.

That said, the tide is turning, with a significant number of Australian councils embarking on separate food and garden organic waste (FOGO) collections.

On behalf of eight Victorian councils, for example, the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) negotiated a contract to facilitate kerbside FOGO collection in 2016.

Increasing the recovery of organic waste is one of four key strategic objectives set down in MWRRG’s 2016 Implementation Plan. To achieve this, MWRRG developed an organics processing network through collective procurement contracts in the northwest, southeast and east.

Sacyr Environment Australia, which operates a state of the art composting facility in Melbourne’s Dandenong South, emerged as a viable option for MWRRG’s South East network.

Sacyr Environment Australia signed a contract with MWRRG in 2017. The facility, which runs on Waste Treatment Technologies (WTT) equipment and processes, opened in May this year.

With a capacity to process 120,000 tonnes of organic waste each year, the indoor composting facility is the most advanced of its type in Australia.

When asked why the Sacyr facility has been dubbed the most advanced in Australia, Carlos Gros Isla, Sacyr Environment Australian Business Manage, says while he is hesitant to make comparisons, he has a good grasp on current capacity and innovation.

“People often want to make grand statements such as, ‘this is the biggest building in the world’, and that can be embarrassing,” he says.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s still composting, so comparing our facility to other industrial facilities wouldn’t be fair. But in terms of the composting industry, we could say it is the most advanced as a whole.”

THE EUROPEAN MODEL

According to Carlos, the facility has gained recognition because it functions as a whole package.

He says however that because he and project partner Sean Galdermans, WTT Australia Bid and Project Manager, are both Europeans, the praise can feel awkward.

Carlos adds that processes that appear innovative in Australia are par for the course in Europe.

“This is a pretty standard package in Europe, and has been for the last 20 years, but it’s important to note that it’s not as through Australia is really behind. This technology just simply wasn’t needed before,” he says.

Given the availability of land, Carlos says landfill was not traditionally viewed as a problem in Australia.

“Plus, because they didn’t have to, councils had no incentive to pay additional gate fees and invest in new quality facilities,” he says.

Carlos says the market is changing however, with Sacyr identifying Australia as a market full of new opportunities.

Sean expresses similar sentiments and says that since arriving in Australia two years ago, he has seen a rise in interesting tenders and hot opportunities.

“I think legislation in Australia has been very slow. Regulators haven’t been pushing for the right developments,” he says.

“The Australian population is knocking on government’s doors and saying, what are you doing? All the countries a round us are investing in these new processes, so why aren’t we?”

Sean says the organics and wider recycling movement is now a mainstream conversation.

“Australia has been coping with the luxury problem of space, and as a result, used to landfill the majority of waste into old coal mines. An out of sight, out of mind mentality,” he says.

“That is the music of yesterday, Australians want to focus on the future.”

Sean adds that over the past five to ten years, many councils have made poor investment decisions.

“The problem is that in the waste sector you’re always talking about large sums of money, and when those projects fail, people develop distrust,” he says.

One of the reasons WTT decided to invest in Australia, Sean says, is that the market needed successful stories and high quality products.

“We felt that with over 25 years of experience and over 130 reference facilities, which have a combined throughput capacity of 7.3 million tonnes per annum, we could contribute to this transition and reduce the amount of organics going to landfill significantly.”

COMPOST IN DANDENONG

The Dandenong facility is not the first collaboration between Sacyr and WTT. One of Sacyr’s flagship facilities in Spain was developed using WTT technology, and, according to Carlos, has been operating for almost 15 years.

“There are not many companies that can make the high-quality in- vessel or tunnel composting facilities WTT can,” he says.

“Composting is a very simple idea, but there are huge difference between an average and good composting tunnel.”

Given Sacyr’s long-term contract with MWRRG, Carlos says seemingly small differences in design and process controls can make a big impact.

“Sacyr is very focused on providing for clients specific needs, so to be honest, if a council required a simple composting facility in a rural area, WTT wouldn’t be our first point of call,” he says.

“However, when a client tells us that high quality is their main focus, and that they are willing to pay associated gate fees, which was the case with MWRRG, WTT’s technology is the obvious choice.”

Once Sacyr had confirmed its contract with MWRRG, WTT was engaged to construct the facility’s in- vessel composting system and air and water management process.

Sean says the contract was of standard scope for WTT.

“While over the last seven years, WTT has started to adapt further processes, such as mechanical pre- and post-treatment systems, I would say in-vessel composting, anaerobic digestion and air/water treatment systems is where our core competence lays,” he says.

According to Carlos, Sacyr designed the facility to operate as close to the centre of collections’ gravity as possible.

“When you build a facility in regional areas, while the initial costs are lower, each link in the chain ends up incurring significant transport costs,” he says.

“Sacyr’s idea was to build a facility in close proximity to councils, ultimately constructing the facility within a pre- existing building.”

Carlos says Sacyr was engaged by MWRRG because the group wanted to explore the capabilities of a new market player.

“Sacyr had already built a desalination plant in Western Australia, so we were engaged in the Australian water business. But in terms of our waste division, this was our first Australian project,” he says.

On the otherhand, WTT had been involved in a number of Australian projects since opening its subsidiary office in 2018, including facilities in Wogamia and Kembla Grange NSW for SOILCO and a REMONDIS facility in Port Macquarie

AEROBIC DESIGN

After material enters the Sacyr facility, Carlos says it runs through a four-step process.

“The first step is pre-treatment or decontamination. At this stage we remove anything that shouldn’t be in the green bin or is not organic,” he says.

“From there we sieve, cut and mix the material to create a homogenous mixture. We ensure it is spongy and of the right size so it can be degraded to optimum levels in the in-vessel tunnels.”

The next stage, Carlos says, is the actual composting. He adds that in Australia, the EPA regulates a high level of pasteurisation.

“The actual composting happens in two different stages. The first is fermentation to achieve the required pasteurisation, which runs for 72 consecutive hours above a certain temperature threshold,” he says.

“After we’ve achieved the pasteurisation criteria, the material is taken to the compost tunnels, before it is transferred to the maturation hall for further curing.”

The Dandenong compost tunnels, Sean says, induce a highly intensive composting process to maximize organic breakdown.

“By controlling the temperature, oxygen and moisture content of each individual tunnel at all times, we’re able to tailer a recipe for each batch, and provide our client – the operator – with maximum flexibility and ease of operation,” he says.

Given the complexity of WTT’s technology, Sean says the company likes to function as a one-stop-shop.

“Instead of delivering a package, showing what it can do and leaving, we like to be involved on a long term basis to make sure clients feel comfortable with the technology,” he says.

While the facility is currently running smoothly, Carlos admits there were some teething problems.

“Both companies tried to adopt a design that has worked for us in Europe, but the reality is with waste you never know what you will receive,” he says.

After a number of trials, Carlos says the team developed a system suitable for the material it receives. He adds that because Sacyr recognises the added value of WTT’s experience, the two organisations were in constant contact throughout the process.

Sean says WTT’s knowledge centre worked to facilitate communication.

“WTT can essentially log into the facility 24 hours a day and see what the operators see, which means we can read the information, feed it back into the system and troubleshoot,” he says.

“Combined with the client’s operational team, it’s really a golden combination.”

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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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Tightening standards to build markets for recycled organics

The drive to divert organic waste from landfill around Australia has created a supply of recycled organics that remains largely underutilised and undervalued, writes Angus Johnston, Principal Consultant at Jackson Environment and Planning.

Too much organic material is released as low-quality pasteurised products, containing too much contamination. Due to the policies and regulations of state and federal governments, a lot more supply will come on-line in the next five years. There remains an urgent need to tighten standards for compost use and build markets that will absorb this supply.

Urban markets for compost (e.g. landscape supplies) are well developed but highly competitive, because supply often exceeds demand. These markets cannot consistently use all the organic matter available for recycling. Using compost for gardens and landscaping also squanders the opportunity to return carbon and nutrients to the soils they were extracted from — the farms where our food and fibre are grown.

Fortunately, there is enormous potential demand for use of compost in agriculture. At an average annual application rate of 10 tonnes per hectare, we only need 100,000 hectares to absorb one million tonnes of compost.

There is roughly 65 million hectares of farmland in NSW alone. However, this demand can only be accessed at the right price, quality and specification. That price doesn’t have to be low, but quality and performance absolutely must be high.

The highly regulated nature of the organic recycling sector means that state and local government can strongly influence whether compost price and quality conditions are met by industry. Industry can also play a role by agreeing on and adopting higher product standards.

Organics recycling is suffering from the same issues that caused the China National Sword packaging crisis.

Local government procurement of recycling services often has a much greater focus on transfer of risk and price than on recycled product quality, beneficial use and value adding. This approach creates an incentive for contractors to do the minimum processing necessary to divert waste from landfill and comply with state government regulations. They then release these low-quality outputs into the market as ‘compost’.

Low quality products that cost less to manufacture can then be sold at a lower price point. Such products undermine the market for higher quality products that cost more to produce. If a farmer can purchase a product claiming to be ‘compost’ for $10 per tonne (delivered), why would they pay $100 per tonne?

If that low-cost compost does not deliver enough tangible result, or is clearly full of rubbish, farmers often apply their negative experience to every product claiming to be a compost. Only a few farmers take the time to understand the difference in value between the $10 and $100 product.

This scenario has played out repeatedly in agricultural and other compost end markets, and is still happening right now around the country.

Every time contaminated immature products are sold as “compost” we undermine the credibility of compost and organic recycling. There are producers that make quality fit-for-purpose composts and have built up trust for their brand in certain markets. They can command high prices for their products, however, they are the exception rather than the rule.

There needs to be tighter standards and improved quality assurance and quality control. For example:

  1. Mandatory requirement for independently audited quality assurance programs at each processing facility
  2. Regular auditing of batch test results to requirements of the relevant Resource Recovery Orders and Exemptions (in NSW) or equivalent standards in other states
  3. Physical contamination requirements reduced to 0.2 per cent (plastic, glass and metal) and 0.02 per cent (film plastic) by weight for all soil conditioners
  4. Soil conditioners to meet the AS4454 definition of compost or mature compost (not just pasteurisation)
  5. Define compost using selected test results (such as respirometry) rather than a minimum six weeks process duration

Some established commercial composters may see the tighter standards above as a threat because their current operations have been set up to meet lower standards. Many are locked into long-term contracts at set gate fees. This is where state and local governments have a role in supporting industry to make a transition to higher standards by helping to fund facility upgrades, allowing variations to contracts, and regulating free riders who don’t adopt tighter voluntary standards.

There is a cost to implementing higher standards, but there are also rewards:

  • Access to much greater demand from agricultural markets
  • Fewer complaints from the public and customers
  • Fewer fines and less negative attention from the regulators
  • Reduced product related risk
  • Higher barriers to entry for new competitors
  • A more ‘level playing field’ during tendering

The packaging recyclers did not seek to tighten their own standards and neither did the processors of mixed waste in NSW. Both groups could have agreed to produce cleaner products to a higher standard but chose not to. For these recyclers either their customers or their regulators decided to tighten their standards for them, at great financial and reputational cost to the recyclers involved. Some businesses didn’t survive the change.

Tighter standards need to be introduced in consultation with all stakeholders, and with time allowed for the industry and their customers to adapt.

The Australian Organics Recycling Association provides an ideal forum for industry led tightening and enforcement of standards.

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Sydney trials kerbside food waste collection

A City of Sydney waste trial will see food scraps from up to 4000 homes diverted from landfill, and used to create green energy and plant fertiliser.

The trial involves separate collection and recycling of food scraps from residential properties in the council area.

Participating households have received a small kitchen caddy to store food scraps, an initial supply of compostable caddy liners and a food scraps bin to be placed on the kerb for pick up.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the trial was an important step in the evolution of waste collection, and a critical component of the city’s waste strategy and action plan, endorsed by council in 2017.

“There have been many advancements in waste separation technology, but the most effective method is when our residents separate the waste themselves at the source,” Ms Moore said.

“Food scraps generally make up one-third of the average red lid bin, so this trial will divert a significant amount of waste from landfill.”

The collected waste will be sent to EarthPower, Australia’s first food waste-to-energy processing facility.

“The scraps will be processed using anaerobic digestion technology, where microorganisms break down biodegradable material in a chamber without oxygen,” Ms Moore said.

“This process produces biogas, which is converted to green electricity and a nutrient-rich sludge that is dried and granulated to produce nutrient rich fertiliser.”

330 houses and 53 inner-city apartment blocks have been selected to take part in the trial.

“If successful, we’ll look at providing this service across the entire council area,” Ms Moore said.

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NSW EPA: let’s chat compost

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has developed an engaging conversational learning program to support professional development in the organics sector.

Simulated conversational experiences, or chatbots, have been gaining traction across numerous industries.

Conversational learning is a unique concept that delivers knowledge in focused, micro-learning chunks, requiring only three to five minutes of a learner’s time.

It aims to put learners in control, use conversation and story-telling to stimulate engagement, build knowledge and allow for active discovery and decision making.

With an increase in chatbot messenger apps offering instantaneous customer service, news and other relevant notifications, chatbot experiences are even making inroads in the waste sector.

To support the compost industry, e-learning provider IMC has been working with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) via its organics program.

IMC and the EPA have developed four-five minute chatbot modules dubbed “Let’s Chat Compost” on the topics of assessing odour, pasteurisation, composting and managing contamination.

The learning sessions aim to simulate ordinary conversations, akin to those you’d have with a friend or colleague – personal, fun and to the point.

They embed personality into the learning content and create a dynamic interaction like one-on-one teaching, making social and interactive e-learning “in dialogue” possible.

The Let’s Chat Compost modules allow users to continue or refresh their learning through the EPA’s existing Compost Facility Management eLearning program, released at the end of last year.

Presented in social media messenger style, the app uses conversation and memes to engage learners to expand on their composting knowledge.

The Compost Facility Management course comprises seven modules and has been designed for regulators and people in all roles working in organics facilities.

It uses interactive content, animation and video to engage learners, with the aim of embedding high-level skills and knowledge for best practice facility management.   

IMC has leveraged its expertise from working with clients such as National Rugby League, the Department of Health and Human Services, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi to craft unique and conversational learning experiences.

Amanda Kane, Organics Manager at the NSW EPA, says Let’s Chat Compost aims to draw attention to the key processes most relevant to processors, regulators, local government, consultants and waste collection operators.

“Let’s Chat Compost will be a tool to reinforce learning and act as a reminder for what’s happening inside a compost pile that might be causing an odour, or why it’s important to manage contamination and the importance of pasteurisation,” Amanda says.

“IMC’s concept was developed in Germany and designed to look as much like a phone chat as possible. It was in recognition of the platforms we use in everyday life.”

She says that developing smartphone nuggets is an exercise in communicating the most important content in an engaging way.

“The main goal of the nuggets is to get people to take up the course, but also as a reminder for those that have completed the course,” Amanda says.

The app can send notifications to those who have completed the course, encouraging them to share the modules with their colleagues or revisit aspects of their learning.

Amanda adds that companies could adapt the program to suit their organisational tone and include additional relevant occupational health and safety and company information.

“The result is not only contributing to the production of a quality product, but upskilling the industry and minimising the environmental impact of one’s operations.

“It’s critical that processors are operating within the conditions of their license, and that if any issues do arise, they know how to respond and communicate with the EPA and advise us what’s happening.”

She says that the smartphone nuggets are aimed to be accessible on multiple devices and link back to course content.

The modules also include expert tips from industry leaders such as SOILCO and Australian Native Landscapes (ANL).

“We wanted to have industry voices to communicate those messages. All of the course content was filmed at sites around NSW using various technologies,” Amanda says.

“These include ANL’s open windrow or the in-tunnel systems that JR Richards & Sons have up at Grafton and then using team members at all levels to communicate the message, including EPA regulatory staff as well.

“We have had 300 people sign up, and the overall feedback is that people are finding it to be a rewarding learning experience.”

EVA Environmental Director Geraldine Busby, who also worked on the initial training course, oversaw the development of smartphone nuggets.

Carmen Locke, Instructional Designer, IMC AG, says conversational learning allows learners to make decisions while being actively immersed in a one-on-one learning scenario. This increases their ability to retain content, understand concepts and develop new skills and behaviours.

To use Let’s Chat Compost click here.

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