Lifting laneway recovery: the City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne talks to Waste Management Review about the city’s Draft Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy and recycling initiatives in the CBD.

Q. What were some of the key factors influencing the development of the City of Melbourne’s Draft Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030?

A. The circular economy concept underpins our Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 (WRRS), which was endorsed by council 16 July 2019.

The strategy outlines an ambitious plan to transition to a 90 per cent waste from landfill diversion rate, reduce truck movements, improve public amenity and reinvigorate our recycling sector.

Q. What are the key ingredients that go into making an organics trial a success?

A. With food making up 50 per cent of household waste in our municipality, finding a solution for discarded food scraps is a key component of the WRRS.

Our residents discarded an estimated 12,000 tonnes of food waste in 2016–17, and through our engagement with the community, we know people want a solution to avoid food going to landfill.

Later in the year we will look at a food and organic waste collection trial, to determine how collection services could work for residents with kerbside bins.

A third bin for organic waste would be rolled out and collected weekly, building on an earlier trial in 2017.

The trial will help us design an effective waste collection service for the whole municipality in the future.

Q. How has the Degraves Street Recycling Facility helped boost food diversion for businesses?

A. The Degraves Facility is a boutique response to the high-density café demographic, and is strategically located due to the high volume of businesses in the area.

By creating a local recycling hub, the City of Melbourne has boosted amenity by limiting the amount of rubbish bins on the street and reducing truck movements.

In 2013, none of the 100 businesses surrounding Degraves Street were recycling. The facility now hosts a food waste processor, a cardboard baler and co-mingled recycling bins.

Each week, 2.5 tonnes of organic waste is processed by the Orca and diverted from landfill.

The Orca uses aerobic digestion to break down the food waste, turning it into water that then goes safely into the sewer.

Q. How is the City of Melbourne addressing challenges such as population growth, high density collection, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change?

A. Ensuring Melbourne maintains its status of one of the world’s most liveable cities – as the daily population grows from 911,000 to 1.4 million by 2036 – is one of our biggest challenges and is therefore central to all our strategic plans.   

The WRRS seeks to streamline the waste system and reduce congestion on roads and footpaths, where some of our bins are stored.

To action this, we will introduce more shared waste hubs for businesses in the central city, and remove some commercial bins from the public realm.

We also want to expand the network of five communal waste compactors and recycling hubs in central city laneways, which currently take waste from more than 300 businesses. We can dramatically reduce the number of bins lining our laneways and the number of trucks on our streets by creating more central waste drop-off points.

Reducing the impact of waste is central to the city’s commitment to taking action on climate change, and will help us reach the key target of avoiding 1.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities to boost City of Melbourne’s 25 per cent recycling rate?

A. Household waste makes up around five per cent of the total waste in Melbourne. Residents recycle only 25 per cent of their waste, which is low compared to the Victorian average of 45 per cent.

This is mostly due to a lack of organics recycling, with food waste representing half of household waste sent to landfill. Residents discarded an estimated 12,000 tonnes of food waste in 2016–17.

We already have a number of initiatives to cut down on waste to landfill, such as offering our residents and businesses discounted worm farms and compost bins.

As for commingled kerbside recycling, at the moment we are one of 30 councils looking for an alternate solution following the closure of SKM Recycling sites.

Kerbside recycling will be taken to a landfill facility until other arrangements can be made.

We are disappointed with this outcome and expect our residents will feel similarly.

We don’t want people to lose their good recycling habits while this is happening. In fact, we’d like people to increase their knowledge of what can be recycled and minimise contamination as much as possible. [comments published in early August].

Q. Where do you see waste and resource recovery heading?

A. At present, the biggest challenge is the recycling sector. In the future we would like to see a robust, local recycling industry that is supported by an increase in the amount of recycled product used in future infrastructure projects throughout Victoria

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Turning waste into water in the City of Melbourne

More than 60 tonnes of waste have been diverted from landfill thanks to a machine installed by the City of Melbourne that turns food scraps into waste water.

Over the last year, the ORCA aerobic digestion system has used micro-organisms to transform 62 tonnes of food scraps from the busy Degraves street face precinct into greywater, making it one of the most heavily used machines of its type in Australia.

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ORCA Enviro Systems Executive General Manager Tas Papas said micro-organisms in the unit digest the waste, creating wastewater that goes straight into the sewer system via a grease arrestor.

The ORCA is basically a mechanical “stomach” that digests fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and proteins, so you end up with greywater that is safe to put into the drain without resorting to landfill,” Mr Papas said.

“Degraves Street cafes set aside food waste as part of their daily operations. By diverting the food waste from landfill, we are also able to prevent greenhouse gases from escaping into the environment.

“Over the course of a year, that also means more than 8,000 litres in diesel fuel is saved because fewer trucks are needed on the road.”

Because space is a premium in the city centre, ORCA was chosen to handle the increased volume of food waste being generated from the busy café district.

“The ORCA has helped City of Melbourne to build strong support among local businesses for food recycling efforts and keep the bustling precinct clean and appealing,” Mr Papas said.

The machine was installed in the Degraves Street recycling Facility in May 2017. The ORCA is rolling out across Australia in pubs, shopping centres, food courts and hotels.