Waste and recycling operations in New South Wales, including landfills, Community Recycling Centres, Return and Earn points, and charitable recyclers, can reopen to the public following lengthy COVID-19 closures.
National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) State Affiliates provide a detailed overview of industry and policy changes across the country.
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Where the industry meets to transform Australia’s waste management processes.
Australia is responsible for 74 million tonnes of waste on a yearly basis with a recycling rate of only 60 per cent. However, as all levels of government and industry work together to implement projects and provide funding to manage waste and protect the environment, the way we approach the country’s waste crisis is constantly shifting.
Exchange for Change has announced a six-month price freeze for supplier contributions that fund the Return and Earn NSW Container Deposit Scheme, effective from February to July next year.
The Queensland Government has announced a six-month deferment to the waste levy increase that was set to begin on July 1 2020.
The levy has been deferred for six months due to the impact of COVID-19 on businesses operating within the waste sector in QLD.
The announcement has been welcomed by the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), whilst Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland (WRIQ) stated in a members notice that the timing of the landfill level deferral is disappointing.
The six-month deferment will see the waste levy remain at $75 per tonne for general waste, and $105 and $125 per tonne for regulated wastes until 31 December 2020.
QLD joins the ranks of NSW and Victoria, being the first state movers in providing some form of levy relief, the former by way of deferring waste levy payments for the foreseeable future and the latter deferring its 1 July 2020 levy increase to 1 January 2021. WA’s waste levy has also been frozen for the 2020-21 year.
The move has been praised by the WMRR and CEO Gayle Sloan has credited the QLD government “proactivity in deferring the levy increase and the Department of Environment and Science is to be commended for listening to, and considering, the very real concerns of the industry”.
“As industry continues to face financial and operational challenges related to the pandemic, WMRR is encouraged to see jurisdictions taking a commonsense approach towards costs and regulatory pressures placed on our essential industry,” Sloan said.
“In deferring the levy increase, operators and their customers may have some financial respite while continuing to focus on the job at hand, which is keeping our services operating while ensuring the safety of our staff and community.”
Sloan stated that the WMRR has recommended that only the first proposed levy increment in 2020 be deferred to provide relief to operators and their customers facing financial challenges and all later increments should continue as planned in order to safeguard ongoing investments that will build the industry.
WRIQ CEO, Mark Smith, received advice from DES on the Government’s decision to defer proposed landfill levy price increases last Friday evening on May 29, and believes the decision will impact QLD businesses and clients differently within the industry.
“This 11th hour notification is disappointing, as it provides our members and industry with minimal time to adapt and notify their supply chain of pricing impacts,” Smith said.
In response, WRIQ is collating general legal advice with WRIQ partner, Minter Ellison, to form advice and resources for its members, set to be available on Thursday June 4.
“The market works best when there is market certainty. Changing market conditions 4 weeks out from proposed increases will impact businesses differently. However in the age of Covid I recognise government need to make decisions that are best suited for the whole of Queensland,” Smith said.
He added that Post Covid, WRIQ would like to sit down with Government to determine a minimum timeframe in the event of future pricing changes.
“I respect that changes to landfill levies need to run a particular process but businesses also need to run to notify their clients and customers of the pricing changing. It would be great to bring both these processes into alignment,” he said.
The WMRR is also encouraging all future engagements with state governments.
“It is WMRR’s hope that SA will not continue to turn a blind eye to industry’s concerns and will follow in its neighbours’ footsteps by offering levy relief to operators,” Sloan said.
Last year the SA government implemented a 40 per cent levy increase, which Sloan stated was a shock announcement “with no industry consultation whatsoever and continues to place significant strain on existing projects and operations”.
“Now is the time to ease these financial pressures on operators so that we can maintain a viable industry and importantly, assist in the rebuilding of a post-COVID economy,” she said.
According to advice from DES to landfill operators, business systems and processes need to be reviewed to ensure the QLD deferral is incorporated.
“Your current levy obligations remain, including waste measurement and recording, monthly data returns and monthly invoice payments, so continue these as-normal,” the DES advised to landfill operators.
With a commitment to corporate responsibility, FLIR Systems Australia will prioritise the delivery of its new line of thermal imaging cameras to operators responding to COVID-19.
In the wake of COVID-19, industry consensus is clear: waste management is an essential service.
While legislative recognition is still a matter of debate, waste management operators across the country are committed to maintaining their services for councils, businesses and the wider community in challenging times.
Despite the altruism of this commitment, individuals working in the waste management space, much like their medical and food service counterparts, are having to forego self-isolation.
As such, Sean Towner, FLIR Systems Australia Sales Manager Instruments, says it’s now more important than ever to prioritise appropriate health and safety monitoring.
He adds that by doing so, businesses can protect their workers and stave off potential operational disruptions.
“Like all businesses, FLIR have had to adjust our operations in light of the current COVID-19 situation. That said, we also felt it paramount to use our technological innovation expertise to help the international community adapt,” Sean says.
The result, he explains, is FLIR’s A400/A700 Thermal Smart Sensor and Thermal Image Streaming fixed camera – launched 31 March this year.
“FLIR’s thermal imaging technology has been used in waste facilities across the globe for fire prevention for over 40 years. From warehouses to recycling sites and waste to energy facilities, FLIR understands that protecting one’s site from damage is integral to keeping insurance premiums down,” Sean says.
“With the new A400/A700 line, we’ve built upon that existing technology to provide an efficient screening solution for monitoring equipment, production lines, critical infrastructure, and importantly, skin temperatures.”
The highly configurable smart camera systems provide accurate, non-contact temperature monitoring across a wide range of disciplines including waste management, emissions monitoring, facility maintenance and environmental, health and safety regulation.
According to Sean, delivery of the FLIR A400/A700 Thermal Smart Sensor solution will be initially prioritised for operators and companies responding to COVID-19.
“As the world works together to face the global COVID-19 pandemic, FLIR will prioritise initial deliveries of this new A-series camera to professionals using it in elevated skin temperature screening, as an adjunct to other elevated body temperature screening tools to help to fight the spread of the virus,” he says.
With multi-image streaming, edge computing and Wi-Fi connectivity, Sean says the range can help speed up data flow. This, he adds, improves productivity and safety for all operations and applications.
“FLIR designed the A400/A700 cameras with two configurations to better meet application-specific needs,” Sean says.
“The Thermal Smart Sensor configuration, recommended for measuring elevated skin temperatures, incorporates advanced measurement tools and alarms with edge computing to enable faster critical decision making.”
Furthermore, the Image Streaming configuration provides multiple thermal streaming capabilities to help optimise process control, improve quality assurance or identify potential failures that could shut down facility operations.
“Users can design their systems by choosing either the Smart Sensor or Imaging Streaming configurations, selecting either the A400 or A700 camera body based on the resolutions they need, and then adding lenses and a range of optional features to fit their application,” Sean says.
The smart sensor range also includes options to adjust measurements and alarms based on a reference temperature source, with advance image quality up to 307,200 pixels and a measurement accuracy of +/- 2°C.
Sean adds that with multiple field-of-view choices, multi-streaming capabilities, motorised focus control and optional compressed radiometric streaming over Wi-Fi, FLIR’s fixed-mount camera solutions can tackle complex remote monitoring objectives.
“The camera’s remote monitoring capabilities are an added value when considering how many people are currently working from home,” he says.
“Easy configuration also allows operators to tailor the monitoring system to their company’s quality, productivity, maintenance and safety needs.”
Through compressed radiometric streaming that cuts bandwidth, Sean says FLIR’s thermal streaming solution makes it possible to add multiple cameras without the cost of expanding infrastructure.
He adds that this is a significant advantage in light of current global economic challenges.
“Regardless of external circumstances, waste management operators are committed to getting the job done. This means it’s crucial we ensure both the personal health and wellbeing of operators and the maintenance and efficiency of their equipment,” he says.
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Waste Management Review speaks with Queensland Health operators and suppliers about managing medical waste in the wake of COVID-19.
As governments, working in conjunction with medical and scientific experts, continue to evaluate the transmissibility and severity of COVID-19, Australia’s National Biohazard Waste Industry Committee is suggesting a degree of precaution.
While there is no evidence as of yet that direct, unprotected human contact during the handling of healthcare waste has resulted in COVID-19 infections, medical knowledge is evolving with each passing week based on epidemiological advice.
The committee therefore suggests medical staff responsible for the management of increased, and potentially more hazardous, clinical waste volumes introduce additional safety measures.
To respond to the COVID-19 situation, Logan Hospital, a major hospital in one of the fastest growing regions in Queensland, has set up a specialised Fever Clinic to test patients suspected to have COVID-19.
The clinic is located in a separate concreted alcove adjacent to he hospital’s Emergency Department to protect staff, visitors and other patients, and can only be accessed with consent from triage nurses after an outdoor consultation.
In addition to setting up the new clinic, Wayne Hebblewhite, Logan Hospital Environmental Services Manager, says the hospital is adapting its waste management processes.
“The main change is that we’ve had to double bag all our clinical waste, as well as labelling and locking or zip tying all our clinical waste bins. It’s a change in processes,” he says.
These changes are in line with the National Biohazard Waste Industry committee’s COVID-19 clinical waste guidance, which urges healthcare workers to implement double bagging of waste from COVID-19 confirmed patients.
“By placing contaminated waste into a primary clinical waste bag and tying this bag up prior to disposal in the lined mobile garbage bins – the bag lining the mobile garbage bin must also be tied up – a significant increase in protection can be achieved,” the committee states.
To manage these changes, in addition to heightened levels of waste generation, Wayne has been working closely with Logan Hospital’s clinical and related waste management provider Ace Waste.
“From day one, they sent out all the literature we needed to follow their instructions and gave us clear guidelines on how to manage potentially COVID-19 contaminated waste,” Wayne says.
He adds that Logan Hospital’s Ace Waste Key Account Manager, Ben Huxley, came to the hospital to discuss process changes and walk the Logan team through the process. Wayne says he’s been very supportive.
“We needed additional bins and they were provided the following day,” Wayne says.
“We also required foot pedals for bins in our clinical waste areas to minimise human contact, and Ace Waste were able to provide those to us as well.”
According to Wayne, Ace Waste’s level of service has been consistent throughout the long-standing relationship.
“We’ve always found Ace Waste to be 100 percent professional. Ben is in contact at least once a month to discuss any sorts of issues we have. Nothing is too much trouble, if they can help us, they will,” he says.
David Brown, Wide Bay Hospital & Health Services Region Operational & Support Services Manager, expresses similar sentiments.
“We’ve been working with Ace Waste for 12 months, and in those 12 months we’ve had a seamless transfer from our previous contractor to Ace Waste,” he says.
“We’ve had no issues whatsoever, and to this date, I’ve had zero complaints from any of our facilities about the clinical waste service Ace Waste provides.”
Servicing more than 214,000 people across an area of 37,000 square kilometres, David’s operations cover the Bundaberg, Fraser Coast and North Burnett regions, as well as parts of Gladstone.
“We’ve seen an increase in our clinical waste product, with more kilograms being created, and as a by-product of that, we’ve had to increase the storage capacity of our bins, which Ace Waste helped facilitate,” he says.
Queensland Health’s recently released COVID-19 waste management recommendations stipulate that all staff should be trained in the correct procedures for waste handling.
To support this effort, Ace Waste have provided Wide Bay with extensive educational material that breaks down waste segregation in a simple and consistent manner.
“The material covers: what is clinical waste and what goes in which bin. It’s been very handy having that at this point in time with COVID-19 happening,” David says.
As part of its response to COVID-19, Queensland Health is supporting the internal expansion of Intensive Care and Emergency Department capacity.
According to Ben Huxley, Ace Waste Key Account Manager, Ace Waste is working to support their clients through this expansion by developing bespoke procedures and providing information on safe handling, transportation and waste receiving requirements.
“Since early March, there have been a considerable number of Fever Clinics established throughout our service area, both within hospital campuses and as stand-alone operations,” Ben says.
“An ongoing challenge faced by Ace Waste in supporting these services has been identifying and adapting to the rapidly evolving demands and service delivery platforms.”
Using their intimate knowledge of healthcare industry needs, systems and compliance, Ben says Ace Waste have been able to assist in process development and provide appropriate equipment requirements for each facility it services.
“Ace Waste is also providing expanded waste collection frequencies and facilitating additional servicing demands to ensure the focus of our healthcare professionals remains on providing the highest level of care to our community,” he says.
Ben adds that Ace Waste understands that future changes are likely to occur and is planning for a ‘worst case scenario’.
“Ace Waste is working on further expansion to accommodate future increased demand, and we are well positioned to service the Queensland community should the need arise,” he says.
“We’re in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, and it’s now more important than ever to support our valued clients in the medical and healthcare sector.”
The world’s recycling industry has been preparing changes to operations following the ease of shutdown restrictions across global networks.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) has collected feedback on the impact of the virus around the world, with specific regard to how it is affecting the recycling industry.
The BIR said in a statement that plastics recyclers face the challenge of low selling prices for their materials, while suppliers are unable to reduce their own selling prices owing to the high cost of shipping and the impact on availability of the lockdowns in exporting countries.
“The situation will improve only when all countries lift their lockdowns and resume their economic activities as before the COVID-19 outbreak,” the BIR stated.
According to the BIR’s statement, Asia’s demand for recycled materials is at only 30-40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels amid a slowdown in volumes requested by the plastics manufacturing industry and cancellation of overseas orders.
Recycling units in Europe have remained open throughout the crisis owing to their crucial role in waste management.
BIR stated that Italy’s metals sector reopened on May 4, which will help improve business in the waste sector as operations resume following many weeks of lockdown.
Europe’s recycling industry, especially in Italy, has sustained high costs through guaranteeing to stay open during the lockdown despite very low levels of business.
BIR stated that ASSOFERMET, UNIRIMA and ASSORIMAP, Italy’s three national associations covering recycling commodities, have drafted a letter to the government to reinforce this message and to call for a change of mindset now that the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the essential nature of recycling and of waste management as a whole.
According to the BIR’s research, 73 per cent of recycling centres have remained open to receive materials in France.
Specific to recovered paper, mills in France are expected to encounter small shortages in May despite ongoing collection and sorting activities.
In the UK, the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already issued an instruction for the reopening of local authority household waste and recycling centres.
“Reopening could provide a minor boost for some larger metal recyclers with contracts to collect the household metals gathered at these sites,” the BIR stated.
“The BMRA has advocated the reopening of these centres to counter increased dumping of large domestic appliances and to avoid the fire risk posed to metal recyclers by householders concealing small waste electrical and electronic equipment in bins collected from homes.”
Recyclers in the Middle East have returned to operation but the flow of scrap is less than 20 per cent of the norm.
“All ports are operating normally and exports are continuing to move to countries that can accept material,” the BIR stated.
“Social distancing must continue to be observed while manpower allowed on recycling premises is reduced and strict health & safety controls apply.”
Weston Thermal Solutions and Pink Environmental Services are upping their capacity to assist medical waste producers to deal with a surge in infectious material in the wake of COVID-19.
Since first reported to the World Health Organization in December 2019, COVID-19 has spread rapidly to every continent in the world, barring Antarctica. The World Health Organization declared the situation a global health emergency on 30 January 2020, with movement restrictions soon enacted world-over.
In light of the global pandemic, hospitals and waste management operators are bracing themselves for a surge in waste-contaminated with infectious materials.
While there is no current data on how much medical waste is being produced as a result of COVID-19, the recommended use of disposal personal protective equipment alone is set to see hospital waste generation skyrocket.
To help operators manage the surge, Belinda Paton, Weston Thermal Solutions (WTS) General Manager, says WTS – the thermal processing arm of The Weston Group – is working to increase the quantity of waste they receive.
“As demand increases on our healthcare system during this time, generated waste volumes also increase. To address this, we’re working hard with medical waste producers to provide a streamlined collection and disposal service,” Belinda says.
“Removing this waste in a timely and safe manner minimises the risk to healthcare staff, patients and the community as a whole.”
The Weston Group, which traditionally processes industrial waste and manufactures steelmaking supplies, recently diversified its operations to include the thermal treatment of various hazardous wastes, under the name WTS.
Using state-of-the-art technology, in conjunction with the strictest emission criteria in Australia, WTS opened its innovative thermal destruction plant at Kurri Kurri in NSW’s Hunter Valley last month.
Working with Pink Environmental Services (Pink), which collects and consolidates medical and hazardous waste, WTS has the capacity to thermally process 800 kilograms of waste each hour – with a proposed annual throughput of 8000 tonnes.
As a critical part of the WTS supply chain, Pink, which was established in late 2019 as the collection arm of WTS, works to consolidate waste generated by hospitals and waste management operators for bulk shipment to the Kurri Kurri plant.
Due to the nature of hazardous waste management, David Bullard, Pink General Manager, says safety is at the forefront of Pink and WTS’ approach to every issue.
“The risk profile is such that, you have to approach and treat everything as though it could kill, maim or even severely injure, because when you do, you mitigate the risk at that level,” he says.
“This leads to a safer working environment, which is absolutely paramount in the approach we take at Pink. It’s Pink’s intention to operate at industry best practice and then push beyond, so Pink then sets the standard.”
As waste is considered an essential service, David says it’s Pink’s role to support those on the front line, and provide whatever services are required to support their operations.
“Pink has offered its support to many companies that are conducting primary collections, providing the disposal services, and working with the relevant government authorities,” he adds.
“At Pink, we believe the best way to minimise risk in the current circumstances, for industry, the community and the environment, is to earmark all COVID-19 contaminated material and potential COVID-19 contaminated material for ultra-high thermal destruction, rather than sterilisation and landfill.”
Belinda shares similar sentiments, citing thermal destruction as arguably the most secure way to destroy pathogenic substances including the COVID-19 virus. Belinda adds that through the process, only ash which has been treated for prolonged periods at high temperatures is sent to landfill.
“This generally represents only 10 per cent of the initial waste load, thereby drastically reducing the burden on landfills and extending their operational lifespan,” she says.
By neutralising the potential for bio-hazardous waste streams to negatively impact community health and the environment, Belinda says thermal treatment facilitates a disposal option for waste streams that cannot be disposed of via other means.
“While always an important link in the waste management chain, thermal treatment is particularly critical in these challenging times,” she says.
WTS’ new plant features a primary combustion chamber rotary kiln, which Belinda says enhances thermal processing by providing greater contact between waste and combustion air.
“The rotary kiln primary chamber is an ashing, co-current operation, with material loaded into the primary combustion chamber for initial processing,” Belinda says.
Following combustion, the resultant ash material is discharged from the kiln and maintained on a stationary burnout hearth for up to eight hours, to ensure complete burnout of all carbonaceous matter.
To safely manage hazardous and medical waste, WTS employs strict inspection and quarantine protocols to all incoming waste. This, Belinda says, ensure the status, classification, storage requirements, optimal treatment mode and destruction verification of all incoming streams.
“Good chemical hygiene is crucial while working with hazardous and bio-hazardous waste, so our treatment process is designed to be almost entirely automated, with no physical contact between operators and hazardous waste,” Belinda explains.
This is achieved through the design and use of a tippler bin to deposit waste directly into the loading system of the thermal destruction process.
“The site also has a cool room facility to maintain putrescible waste below 4°C at all times until processing occurs. Bin disinfection processes are also applied to ensure the safety of bins/receptacles exchanged/returned as part of the service,” Belinda says.
According to David, regulatory authorities have approached WTS and Pink regarding their capacity to assist in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While approved to thermally destroy other inputs, we are currently focusing our attention and plant capacity on processing clinical and related wastes,” he says.
“We want to ensure that we are positioned with sufficient storage and processing to support the NSW effort in this crisis situation.”
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In part three of Waste Management Review’s COVID-19 challenges and opportunities series, retired waste industry leader Max Spedding recalls how he overcame challenges in the past. He eyes opportunities for the future on the other side of the crisis.
While Australia and the globe as a whole are undoubtedly facing one of the worst collective economic and health crises since the Great Depression, there are always lessons we can gleam from the past.
So far the response from Australian federal, state and territory governments to the health crisis has been swift. At the time of writing, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia was less than 7000, with more than 4000 recovered. The health crisis is very much intertwined with the economic one.
That said, there are always stories of resilience that can shed some light into how we can deal with future challenges. To that end, Waste Management Review explores how waste industry stalwarts got through challenging times in the past and their thoughts on what lies ahead for recycling.
While the International Monetary Fund expects real gross domestic product (GDP) to shrunk by 6.2 per cent this year, the 1980’s drought-related recession saw a 2.2 per cent decrease throughout 1982. Likewise, the 1990’s recession infamously referred to by former Prime Minister Paul Keating as the “recession we had to have” saw a fall of 1.7 per cent. All of these instances were linked to global pressures.
The characterisation of the current economic situation has been compared by many commentators to the Great Depression, where GDP fell by 10 per cent between 1929-31. The Great Depression of the 1930s led to a revaluation of the country’s understanding and implementation of macroeconomic policies, with Keynesian economics being developed during and after the period.
According to a speech by the Australian Treasury Macroeconomic Group in 2009, the key elements of the modern monetary policy framework has over time provided capacity for flexibility and a rapid and aggressive response to macroeconomic shocks. It cites rapid easing of Australian monetary policy in late 2008 to 2009 as an example of this flexibility. The lessons proved useful in staving off the significant impacts of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
The unknown territory Australia now faces itself in is how to deal with the re-build, and the three stimulus packages, valued at a collective $213.6 billion, is only one step of the way. The Federal Government has flagged that policies discussed pre-election will now be re-visited. This means tax cuts, deregulation and industrial relations reform may be a few areas looked at on the other side.
Those who have lived through multiple crises will understand that there are opportunities at the other end, and resilience is important.
Max Spedding started his career in ready mixed concrete and finished it with the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, leading the influence of federal government policy reform on waste and resource recovery. He’s lived through multiple economic crises, including the 1973 oil crisis and 1987 stock market crash.
Spedding started his career more than 50 years ago in 1970 in the Shire of Korong north of Bendigo. After working in local government for a year, he joined Pioneer Concrete – now Hanson – in Australia and in 1971 went to the UK followed by Italy in 1973-74. He immersed himself in concrete and quarries for the next decade, focusing on managing profit and loss in his various divisions.
“In fifty years, we’ve never seen anything quite like this, but it is interesting when you reflect on problems of the past,” Spedding says.
He recalls working in Italy under 30 per cent inflation and fuel price changes. The 1973 oil crisis began after the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting countries proclaimed an oil embargo targeted at nations perceived as supporting Israel during the Yom Kuppur War.
While the US, UK and Canada were targeted, an article published by the Università del Salento indicates Italy was highly affected due to its lack of primary sources of oil.
Spedding says conditions were also challenging while the terrorist and guerrilla organisation Red Brigade remained active – a group responsible for kidnappings and robbing’s throughout Italy.
“You just couldn’t keep up with inflation, but the interesting thing was that although it took a year or so to get through it, but we did, we got there.
“Of course it was economic rather than medical, but you’ve just got to live by the day and wait for new opportunities arise.”
“It’s surprising how you have a period of intense inflation and it sort of clears the deck and establishes a new platform on the value of your investments and you can then go forward again. It’s a matter of being able to batten down the hatches and hold on and then look at the new reality that comes out and take advantage of the difficulties.”
Fast forward to 1984 and Spedding returns to Sydney to manage Pioneer’s concrete division. Things get tricker as the company becomes vertically integrated and begins to lose thousands each month, he says.
“What Pioneer taught me is to make sure you have all the information on the table and you remain focused on what the intent of it is. If you’re intent is to make money, you have to make money – overall as a group – not just one aspect of it.”
In 1987, he decided to put his learnings to greater use joining a company called Hooker Corporation in a newly formed resources division.
“That was all doing well but unfortunately George Herscu invested heavily in America in supermarkets and they went belly up and the holding company went into bankruptcy.
“That left our little resources division which was quite profitable with positive cash flow hanging out there.”
He says all team divisions were brought into the corporation under a negative pledge arrangement which saw him presented with a request for $340 million despite the division having a value of around $20 million.
“At the same time we had the 1987 crash and all of my options I had negotiated in taking on this new role went out the window.”
“But the net result was we sold off the resources division and only one bit of it failed, all the rest of it continued and is now in the hands of others.”
He says going through a liquidation and the 1987 crisis, amid incredibly high interest rates, was extremely difficult to manage but he emerged in 1989 with a role with Browning Ferris Industries (BFI) – now owned by SUEZ in Australia – running the development of new landfills in Australia and New Zealand. He developed the Lyndhurst Landfill in Taylor’s Road, one of the first lined landfill in Australia which is still in existence today.
In 1992, he took on managing waste-to-energy market developments for BFI in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Two years later, he took over as Managing Director of the BFI in Australia.
“That got me into the international waste industry. The interesting thing there was we had the Asian share market economy meltdown in 1996/97. My response to our American owners at that time was our caution in developing WtE in Asia proved to be successful. Because when the crunch came although the projects/companies we were involved in failed, we virtually had no exposure.”
“That’s one crisis that was avoided because we were probably a bit too conservative, but sometimes you have to be.”
He recalls attending a larger conference in 1996 with BFI with over 500 managers from around the world. Every third person was asked to stand up.
“The CEO says just imagine you all just lost your jobs: that’s how much the industry is going to go to recycling and unless we embrace recycling, all you guys will be out of work.”
More than 20 years’ later, he says recycling is still a real challenge for the industry.
He says we need to keep it simple and the three RRRs – reduce, reuse and recycle showed what practically can be done. He says that while metals work in the global economy and fibre works locally plastics have always been a challenge.
“Throughout my life I’ve always targeted the 80 per cent solution as this gives you the highest amount of efficiency and return and sustainability. As soon as you start to focus on the top one or two per cent, you get in trouble.”
But recycling really changed around a decade ago when organisations found a reliable outlet in China. At that point, Spedding was doing some consulting work and CEO of the Australian Landfill Owners Association until 2015.
“This model was basically to do the minimum amount of sorting and produce a bulk product with five per cent contamination or less. You offloaded it to China which had very cheap labour and poor environmental condition,” he says.
“The interesting thing that most people don’t think about is that it’s not only the cheap labour. So much material is coming to Australia as a major market for the Chinese manufacturing sector. All of the containers had to be taken back to China and they all went back empty so basically you got almost free backloading in those containers of this material.
“So using China as a low labour but also as a low cost destination because of the empty container. It was a perfect marriage, if you like. The only problem was that it wasn’t sustainable.”
He officially formed the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council in early 2017 with the backing of its national members – Alex Fraser Group, Cleanaway, J. J. Richards and Sons, Solo Resource Recovery, Suez, Toxfree, Remondis, ResourceCo and Veolia.
In mid 2017, China announced to the World Trade Organization an intention to ban the import of waste products from US, Japan, Australia and other source countries, to take full effect by the end of 2017.
He says councils went from paying $40 a tonne to offload their recyclables to suddenly being paid $10 a tonne for the material.
Spedding says that while industry was concerned, the Federal Government seemed to have little understanding about the implications.
“This was the public perception that recyclables had a value. There’s no doubt they do, but where is the value positive is the issue,” he says.
“It doesn’t start positive, it’s positive somewhere along the line from sorting and processing down into a producing a raw material again.”
He believes the value of waste doesn’t begin at a household level, it begins at stages of sorting and processing across the supply chain and back down into a raw material.
“The issue [now] is COVID-19 has disrupted the economy totally. But the biggest thing, is that I think coronavirus has spelt the end of globalisation as we previously knew it,” he says.
“Through the 90’s globalisation was a concept being pushed by everyone by countries, companies and individuals. We had the beginnings of a truly global economy.”
He adds that COVID-19 has exposed the weakness of globalisation and our dependence on supply lines and cheaply produced components overseas.
“As we come out of the coronavirus and look at all of these policies, recycling in particular, we are going to have to re-consider the world and the approach to globalisation.”
He points out that while everyone has been talking about a circular economy, that was practical up until China closed its doors on waste exports.
“While China was producing and was part of the circular economy, that was fine, but as soon as they closed the doors and wouldn’t take the waste back, the circular economy couldn’t include them.
“Therefore, it’s no good talking about circular economy in a global situation. But now we have a situation where globalisation will certainly be on the table for review and our circular economy that we’ll be talking can be geographically smaller.”
He says that as supply chains are broken by COVID-19, Australia can consider looking a more local specialised manufacturing including from recycled materials. Additionally, it can prompt a re-think of sustainable local services, whether it be closer food supplies, medicine or equipment, improving the climate in the process.
“I’m hopeful one of the positives that will come out of this is a refocus in Australia on manufacturing and product sustainability.”
“There is an opportunity for a new approach and a greater focus on a resilient, self-reliant Australia as a result.”
“There can be a lot of positives that will come out of this as long as we return to work not thinking it’s all the same and try to go back to where we were. We need to be looking at where we can be, and how it can be better.”
Close the Loop Founder Steve Morris says the company’s brands take a long-term view in its licence to operate.
“I’ve always found that resource recovery, product stewardship and circular economy…all of that seems to be growing independent of market ups and downs,” he says.
“Right now we are expecting some big decisions coming out of government like the Recycling Victoria policy, NSW EPA and incentive work on our road products.”
He says there were many scenarios in which circumstances looked uncertain over the years, including the development of its TonerPlas product.
“Our biggest challenge there is getting a government procurement professionals to actually buy the product, to specify the product.”
He says fortunately the company has received extensive support from agencies such as Sustainability Victoria. This has helped drive the product forward and the company has worked towards long-term sustainable outputs.
“It’s certainly been risky but we’ve been 100 per cent committed all the way,” he says.
Steve says Close the Loop, which has been value-adding on-shore, was reasonably insulated from National Sword, if not feeling bullish about the policy.
“National Sword to us was a risk we became aware of two or three years before it really hit. We were feeling fairly safe because of the value-add we give the polymers here before they go through brokers into other countries.”
He agrees the way forward in a post COVID-19 world is a renewed interest local manufacturing in Australia and an increase in regional supply chains. This should be supported by state, territory and national circular economy policies.
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