A new era for organics in NSW: DPIE

Through the Net Zero Emissions Plan and upcoming 20-year waste strategy, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is planning for the next phase of organics recovery in NSW.

The NSW Government’s recently released Net Zero Emissions Plan signalled a paradigm shift in state emissions policy.

With a plan to hit net zero by 2050 and 35 per cent reductions on 2005 by 2030, the NSW and Federal Governments will invest almost $10 billion over 10 years to reduce emissions in the state.

For the organics recycling sector, the headline target is net zero emissions from organics waste by 2030.

As organics waste comprises around 40 per cent of the red-lidded kerbside bin, the next steps for statewide recovery will focus on lifting recovery rates.

This is being explored through consultation on the NSW 20 Year Waste Strategy, looking at regulatory settings, infrastructure needs, end uses and renewable energy.

Amanda Kane, Manager Organics at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), heralds it as an exciting step forward for organics recovery in NSW.

“The plan aligns waste with a major climate action program for the first time, while also recognising that there are multiple benefits for organics recovery,” Amanda says.

She says the net zero emissions organics target links in well with the National Food Waste Strategy target to halve food waste by 2030, supported by the National Waste Strategy Action Plan.

Action points to meet net zero emissions will align with the 20-Year Waste Strategy, which closed for consultation on 8 May. The Cleaning Up Our Act Issues Paper, which was a key part of the consultation, canvassed options for the management of organics in the future.

This may include mandating source separation at a generator level and standardising household and business collections – supported by critical infrastructure and concepts such as joint procurement.

In the meantime, the NSW Government is providing $24 million in funding to support local councils and the alternative waste industry.

Last year DPIE awarded almost $3 million to FOGO collection projects, with services now planned or up and running in 50 local government areas.

The funding package, which opened in mid-May, aims to help affected councils and the industry to implement or improve kerbside organics waste collections, purchase new equipment and upgrade facilities.

It includes $5 million in Local Council Transition grants to support councils impacted by Mixed Waste Organics Outputs (MWOO) regulatory changes with a range of project options, including strategic planning, options assessment, community engagement, rolling out new organics collection services or improving their existing organics services.

Amanda says with the bulk of funding for Waste Less, Recycle More coming to a close, a new round of collection grants will help to continue to support councils upgrading to food and garden organics (FOGO) collection in NSW.

On the commercial side, organics infrastructure funding for onsite systems was awarded last year to major institutions such as AMP Capital Investors, the City of Sydney, David Jones Food Hall and Taronga Zoo.

“Our goal has always been to increase processing capacity to match the increased supply where it’s needed, and we will continue to need to do that as we work towards the Net Zero Emissions goal,” Amanda says.

The infrastructure investment in the last round of Organics Infrastructure grants funding included $6.5 million for infrastructure announced last December – helping to build organics capacity in metropolitan Sydney.

One recipient was Australian Native Landscapes, which received $2.9 million to expand the capacity of its Badgerys Creek facility to process 45,000 tonnes more food waste into compost each year.

BetterGROW was also the recipient of a $1.5 million grant towards a 30,000 tonne per annum organics resource recovery facility at Wetherill Park.

Late last year, DPIE also awarded almost $3 million to five more collection projects, with FOGO services planned or up and running in 50 local government areas in NSW.

The funding boost aims to support local government while the 20-Year Waste Strategy remains in development. DPIE, with the EPA, will continue to undertake research into organics to improve investor confidence in collection and processing.

As part of this, a series of new datasets have been released that will inform the next steps for resource recovery and organics diversion.

This comprises an analysis of the performance of food and garden organics collections in NSW.

DPIE engaged consultants Rawtec to independently review and analyse kerbside red and green lid bin audits undertaken by councils across NSW.

Released in April 2020, the Analysis of NSW Kerbside Green Lid Bin Audit Data Report audited 38 areas/councils to understand the performance of kerbside residual waste and organics services.

Performance was measured at an individual household level by audited area/council and according to the bin size/frequency of collection.

Across all audited councils, the average proportion of available food and garden organics diverted from landfill was 85 per cent.

On average 44 per cent of available food waste was diverted from landfill, though this varied across the areas from five to 78 per cent. Garden organics rated higher in diversion rates, with 98 per cent of available garden organics diverted.

Contamination news was highly positive, with only a 2.2 per cent contamination rate by weight in the FOGO bin.

The research concluded that FOGO services were performing well in organics diversion. However, there are opportunities to improve diversion rates through food waste education.

It showed that reducing access to landfill disposal options through smaller residual waste bins and user selected services led to higher food waste diversion.

The best configuration was a small 120/140 litre residual waste bin, collected fortnightly and a large 240-litre FOGO bin collected weekly.

Amanda says the new report reaffirms that most people are doing the right thing and targeted education would improve results.

As part of ongoing education, DPIE has launched the FOGO Education Deep Dive – a project involving 24 FOGO council educators from around NSW.

The project will explore household behaviour in the kitchen and kerbside and test various interventions to further reduce contamination and increase recovery.

“Everything is aligning to recognise the value of organics as a waste stream and the opportunities for recovery, valorisation and beneficiation,” Amanda says.

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Smashing contamination: Woodlands

A trial in a local council park housing a bin with compostable dog waste bags has led to a less than one per cent contamination rate, showing promise for a wider roll-out.

In 2020, Andrew Wynne of Woodlands is counting his lucky stars that he stuck to 100 per cent Australian-made, as he says the ability to support locally made products is important now more than ever.

“Given the current climate and economic and social challenges we face, the more we can do to support local products and employment, the better,” Andrew says.

Based in Perth, Woodlands, which has been around for around 30 years, has been designing Australian-made litter receptacles and complementary products for more than a decade.

With demand for food and garden organics (FOGO) collection increasing, driven by WA’s push to a three-bin system, Andrew says a few years ago, the company saw a gap in the market for bins that would support compostable bags with minimal contamination.

A casual barbecue, long before the world of social distancing, saw Andrew come up with the name Doggie Dunnie – a bin that allows compostable dog waste bags to be collected and composted off-site.

The bin is threaded through a dog waste bin, ensuring no other waste contaminates the bins.

The compostable bag liner can then be taken and thrown straight into the green waste stream, preventing it from going to landfill.

The company offers both 55-litre capacity or 240-litre solo bin capacity – either a fixed galvanised liner or litter receptable, respectively.

Andrew says that with subsequent demand for compostable receptacles, one shire approached him late last year to accommodate a dog waste bag.

As part of a three-month dog waste trial project in a massive park in Port Elliot, green waste was collected for the first time in two green bins over December 2019 through to March 2020.

The headline result from the community-driven trial was a less than one per cent contamination rate with only two or three plastic bags found in the Doggie Dunnie.

The trial comprised a standard 240-litre wheelie bin that was locked and had a small round hole in the top lid with the 55-litre Doggie Dunnie bag inside.

Both green bins were weighted each week for 12 weeks and monitored for contamination for anything that was not a lime green compostable bag.

Around 121 kilograms of material in a wheelie bin was collected over 11 weeks, weighing an average of 11 kilograms per week.

Additionally, 65 kilograms collected in the Doggie Dunnie bin weighed an average of 5.9 kilograms per week, making the collective total of both bins 186 kilograms.

The number of rolls of compostable bags placed in the three dog park dispensers were also monitored before and during the trial.

Results show around 1000 bags were diverted from landfill in 12 weeks in conjunction with the dog waste collected, resulting in a positive and measurable outcome.

“The 240-litre unit can accommodate larger parks and we’re looking at rolling this out to a range of councils in WA and hopefully across the country,” he says.

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Digital FOGO: Source Separation Systems

Peter Cruwys of Source Separation Systems outlines the company’s new software-based approach to FOGO management and its hidden benefits for councils.

Trucks are rolling out of Source Separation Systems’ warehouse in Lake Macquarie NSW, on their annual quest to deliver over 80,000 Compost-A-Pak rolls to one of Australia’s largest food organics and garden organics (FOGO) programs.

While the sustainability outcomes and financial benefits of such programs are well documented, Peter Cruwys, Source Separation Systems Managing Director, says leveraging the company’s unique purpose-built software is delivering a number of hidden benefits for councils.

“Driven by a passionate team with an exceptionally strong communication strategy, Lake Macquarie Council reduced waste to landfill from domestic collections by 22,380 tonnes in its first year alone,” Peter says.

“Enabled by their customised Kitchen Caddies with full colour educational labels imbedded into the lids, and Australian Certified compostable liners, the contamination levels have been as low as 1.2 percent on average.”

The resulting compost, Peter says, is being used to enrich the natural beauty of the region through council gardens and public spaces, and domestically as compost is made available to residents.

“Such financial and environmental benefits are well understood. However, many councils are also discovering there are other benefits in FOGO distributions when leveraging the latest technology,” he says.

After years of walking household to household, and subsequently hours of thinking time, the team at Source Separation Systems have developed unique software for FOGO programs.

Refined over the past few years in partnership with several councils, Peter says the software is designed to leverage the unique opportunities presented by FOGO programs.

This means every household in a community is visited as part of the program.

“While each specific project is fundamentally customised, as well as timestamped GPS confirmed deliveries, this software audits the council database – identifying and taking pre-programmed actions as mismatches are identified,” he says.

So, what does that actually mean in the field? Peter explains that legacy information, systems and imports, department specific software, historical process oversights and clerical errors often mean that most council databases are well out of date, with a proportion of inaccuracies.

“The identification of database mismatches, such as new dwellings, multi-unit dwellings, and commercial buildings, when confirmed through GPS locations and real time photographic confirmation, is a source of new rates and waste services revenue for councils,” Peter says.

He adds that the identification of vacant blocks can reduce unnecessary waste collection costs.

“The identification of illegal dwellings and subdivisions are important for further assessments, including fire safety risks,” he says.

“Given our team are at the premises and comparing it block by block to the council database, it makes sense to have us capture any discrepancies, or ‘mismatches’ as we call them, and feed that information straight back to the council.”

Peter explains that this works to ensure the delivery of Source Separation Systems products are more accurate and stock controlled, particularly in situations such as unidentified multi-unit dwellings.

Developed in consultation with several councils, Source Separation Systems customises the software to meet project requirements and priorities.

“Like many modern apps, the software is built to be intuitive, so our teams are now faster, more accurate and safer during deliveries,” Peter says.

“In addition, with councils more involved in planning the programs and setting their priorities, we can be much more responsive to individual communities.”

As such, Peter says the benefits for councils have been significant.

“For most FOGO programs, while there might be a small premium for our unique service, the costs in reduced service fees and increased rates revenue for councils more than offsets this cost in the first year. And it’s an ongoing saving,” he says.

Peter adds that it’s been great to be a part of such a positive initiative.

“The program certainly does have financial benefits, but ultimately, I’m pleased we can make the case for FOGO even more compelling,” he says.

“Hopefully, that means more communities will establish FOGO programs and we can continue to build on the staggering environmental benefits being delivered.”

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SA launches FOGO research to combat household compost

A new South Australian research project is aiming to encourage efficient FOGO disposal by understanding household behaviours around food waste. 

The what, where, and why of Household Food Waste Behaviour project is in collaboration with the Fight Food Waste CRC, East Waste, the University of Adelaide, Green Industries SA and sub-contractor Rawtec.

​Building on existing international research, the project will utilise detailed micro-waste auditing, ongoing waste disposal monitoring technology and novel household surveys from a broad cross-section of the community, to develop a comprehensive report on household  food waste bin behaviour.

Fight Food Waste CRC outlined in its plan that ultimately the project aims to successfully change household food waste behaviour in the long-term to achieve the recycling of food waste into a valuable commodity as opposed to sending it to landfill.

“Whilst this project will be focussed on Adelaide, similar benefits can be expected for councils in other Australian cities,” Fight Food Waste CRC said in its project plan.

Fraser Bell, East Waste Chair said that diverting food waste from landfill represents the single biggest financial and environmental opportunity for councils.

“Food waste is a valuable commodity and we hope to improve household bin disposal behaviour,” Bell said.

“Through this new research, we will build a picture of the behaviour of our residents, including the levers that can influence positive and sustainable changes in their practices moving forward.”

Dr Steven Lapidge, Fight Food Waste CRC Chief Executive Officer, said this SA project complements the Fight Food Waste CRC’s national research efforts focused on household food waste behaviour change.

“This is a big opportunity for Australians to save money through reducing household food waste, as well as to divert as much unavoidable food waste from landfill,” he said.

“Local governments across Australia can learn from this leading research project.”

Following this research project, the City of Mount Gambier has introduced a universal FOGO service for residential properties due to recently receiving $32,954 towards the initiative via the State Government Kerbside Performance Plus (Food Organics) Incentives Program.

City of Mount Gambier residents will no longer have to pay an additional fee to subscribe to the kerbside FOGO bin service from 1 July 2020, with council endorsing a plan to absorb the cost of the service into general rates for residential properties.

To date the service has been provided by council on an ‘opt in’ basis whereby residents subscribe through an annual payment of $85.00. Under the change residents will only be required to pay an initial fee to cover the cost of the official green organics bin if they do not already have one.

The most recent kerbside bin audit conducted by council staff indicated that on average 45 per cent of household waste going to landfill is organic matter that could be diverted and recycled through composting.

With 6,853 households currently subscribed to the service and the number set to increase, it is forecast the change will represent a loss of more than $500,000 from council’s operating revenue that will be absorbed through rate revenue.

Nick Serle, City of Mount Gambier General Manager City Infrastructure, said It is much more cost effective for council to dispose of organic matter to a commercial composting operation than it is for it to end up in landfill where it decreases the life of each cell and increases the emission of harmful greenhouse gases.

“This is a large investment however we are confident the savings and environmental benefits that will result from less organic matter entering and contaminating landfill will far outweigh the initial loss of income.”

He said the technology installed on the waste trucks will enable the contents of all bins to be closely monitored.

It is anticipated that by reducing the barriers to accessing the FOGO service that residents will be able to experience first-hand how easily they can reduce their volume of general waste simply by sorting it into the appropriate stream.

Lynette Martin OAM, City of Mount Gambier Mayor, said she is confident residents will see a big reduction in their general waste each week, just by utilising the kitchen caddy system.

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