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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Yarra City Council: crushing contamination

Waste Management Review speaks with Chris Leivers, Yarra City Council City Works and Assets Director, about the council’s ongoing trial of kerbside glass separation.

In the beginning of June of this year, 1300 Abbottsford households were greeted with new crates for their glass waste.

The crates were delivered to the inner north suburb of Melbourne as part of a kerbside glass collection trial, developed by the Yarra City Council.

The problem of crushed glass and contamination has been discussed at length in the resource recovery sector. However, as Waste Management Review reported in May, government action on the issue has been slow.

With funding from Sustainability Victoria, Yarra City Council is attempting to buck this trend by taking tangible steps to reduce contamination in the densely populated municipality. Another motivating issue is the lack of available landfill space in Victoria, particularly in metropolitan Melbourne.

Chris Leivers, Yarra City Council Director City Works and Assets, says recycling rates across Yarra are high, with the majority of residents being active recyclers. Despite this, Chris says recent changes to the recycling industry have promoted a proactive response from the council in an attempt to get ahead of potential future problems.

“Recent challenges in the waste and recycling industry will have an impact on all councils. A reduction in recycling processing in Melbourne will see additional pressures on the remaining processors,” Chris says.

“Making sure we minimise the amount of waste we send to landfill and improve the quality of recycling will ensure we continue to have a sustainable waste collection service into the future.”

The Yarra trial will run for 12 months and builds on a successful 2018 food and garden organics (FOGO) separation trial.

“The initial FOGO trial provided extremely useful data and information about the collection process and user behaviour, and identified that Yarra residents were willing to trial new ways and methods for kerbside recycling,” Chris says.

“This was very heartening for us and encouraged us to combine FOGO and glass separation in a larger trial area.”

Chris says results from the FOGO trial saw a 40 per cent diversion of waste from landfill, with current FOGO contamination rates now averaging less than one per cent.

The trial has been named the Yarra Waste Revolution and includes a targeted education and communications program.

“Recycling contamination is an ongoing issue for all councils, partly because, generally speaking, people do not have a good grasp on what is considered contamination when it comes to the kerbside recycling bin,” Chris says.

“We saw a great opportunity to make our recycled materials cleaner and more valuable, which ensures they get a new life, while also sending less waste to landfill.

“The improved quality of the material will lead to higher value, increased market demand, market diversity and the development of domestic markets for recycled products.”

According to Chris, public response to the trial has been positive, with most residents supportive of the new service and the city’s efforts to reduce waste sent to landfill.

“In only a few short weeks, there has already been a dramatic improvement in the quality of the material being presented in glass recycling bins,” he says.

“The Yarra Waste Revolution is a major change for residents, so this is a phenomenal achievement by the community in a very short amount of time.”

To implement the trial, Yarra City Council has enlisted the support of the state government, Sustainability Victoria, RMIT University, Australian Paper Recovery, Four Seasons Waste and the Alex Fraser Group.   

“Partnerships with industry and government agencies are critical to the success of this trial. We all need to work together to find solutions to the current recycling crisis,” Chris says.

“Our collection contractors, processors and industry partners share our vision to find solutions to the recycling crisis, and are helping us collect and sort the materials here in Victoria.”

Chris says research partners have also helped council understand the lifecycle analysis of the city’s new collection model, and what that will mean for environmental outcomes.

“We couldn’t implement a trial without their participation and of course, the financial and technical support provided by our government partners,” he says.

“We are actively seeking out opportunities to work with all levels of government, and the waste industry, to deliver on a new circular economy approach to waste management.”

Following the trial, Chris says Yarra will consider expanding the service throughout the city.

“We have had the courage to explore alternative methods and innovate in order to develop a more sustainable kerbside model that transitions away from the current system which relies heavily on export markets,” Chris says.

“Our long-term ambition is to move our community towards producing zero waste by supporting circular economies and minimising the amount of waste produced.”

Chris adds that making sure Yarra residents are confident in the sustainability of their waste and recycling service is key to achieving viable and environmental outcomes.

“We recognise the changes we are implementing at a local level require buy-in and commitment from our residents, but are confident that we have the support of our community, who are very focused on sustainability,” he says.

“Our Yarra Waste Revolution trial to separate glass and food and organic waste only started in June this year, and while it is a bit premature to provide solid data or analysis, the early signs are very positive.”

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International specialist to help fight food waste

The Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has partnered with Woolworths and Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) to bring international sustainable food systems specialist Mark Barthel to Australia.

Mark Barthel has 25 years of experience fighting food waste with brands such as Tesco, Amazon, Walmart, Marks & Spencer and Nestle, and international organisations such as WRAP, the World Economic Forum, United Nations and the FAO.

“It is an exciting time to be working with Woolworths, CRC and FIAL to develop a food waste reduction roadmap,” Mr Barthel said.

“Although only three per cent of national food waste is attributed to supermarkets, they still have a critical role to play in engaging with their customers about how they can make the most of the food they buy.”

Mr Barthel said Woolworths was at the forefront in educating customers to minimising food waste via their Food Savers program.

“They have also made commitments themselves, with 100 per cent of their stores now having a food waste diversion program in place,” Mr Barthel said.

“I am excited to be working closely with Woolworths to develop a roadmap that will see them engaging with suppliers, customers and community partners to work together to tackle this issue.”

According to the Australian National Food Waste Baseline report, 7.3 million tonnes of food is wasted each year, half of which ends up in landfill.

“Preventing food waste entering landfill in Australia would be the equivalent of taking over 1 million cars off the road in terms of its environmental impact,” Mr Barthel said.

“There is a huge role for businesses to play in reducing food waste along the supply chain, and in addition to working on a roadmap for Woolworths, I’m also going to be working with FIAL to establish a voluntary agreement program with Australian businesses as part of the National Food Waste Strategy.”

FIAL Managing Director Mirjana Prica said the organisation was thrilled to have Mr Barthel working on the implementation of the National Food Waste Strategy.

“His experience in setting up the UK’s Cortauld Agreement, and understanding of sustainable food systems, will provide invaluable insights that will help shape Australia’s efforts to reduce food waste,” Ms Prica said.

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Coles donates unsold food waste

Food charity SecondBite has received a $500,000 grant from the Coles Nurture Fund, facilitating the purchase of four new refrigerated trucks.

The grant follows a new five-year agreement between Coles and SecondBite that will increase food collections from Coles’ metropolitan supermarkets from three to five days a week.

The trucks will collect unsold, edible food in bulk from Coles’ distribution centres and redistribute it to charities.

Coles CEO Steven Cain said food donations to SecondBite rose 25 per cent in 2018-19, with Coles expecting those volumes to increase further this year.

“We have an opportunity and responsibility to help fight hunger in Australia by donating our unsold, edible food to people who are vulnerable and facing tough times,” Mr Cain said.

“Everyone deserves to have regular meals and our SecondBite partnership is one of the ways in which we hope to sustainably feed Australians to lead healthier, happier lives.”

Coles diverted 36,392 tonnes of food waste from landfill in 2018-19 through donations to food charities, farmers for animal feed and to be recycled for compost, organic waste and energy.

SecondBite CEO Jim Mullan said the new trucks would allow SecondBite to significantly increase the volume and range of food that could be delivered to charities.

“These trucks – each with a 4.5 tonne capacity and space for eight pallets of food – will make a huge difference to SecondBite’s efficiencies,” Mr Mullan said.

“Rather than making several trips in a van, we will now be able to collect bulk amounts of stock in a single visit.”

According to Mr Mullan, the trucks will also allow SecondBite to transport a greater variety of stock.

“Historically we have been largely confined to collecting fruit and vegetables from Coles distribution centres, but the new refrigerated trucks allow bulk collections of yoghurts, cheese, butter, milk, juice, and other high-risk foods, as well as frozen products.”

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Applications open for $13 million NSW EPA grants

A total of $13.3 million in grants is now available to councils, waste companies and not-for-profit organisations to divert food and garden waste from landfill.

NSW EPA Head of Organics Amanda Kane said the Organics Infrastructure grants fall under the EPA’s $802 million Waste Less Recycle More initiative, which aims to establish wider organics recovery infrastructure.

“The grants support the purchase of a broad range of infrastructure and equipment to recycle food and garden waste that would otherwise be sent to landfill,” Ms Kane said.

“Through the grant program, $43 million has already been provided to fund 89 projects that have made a positive impact on local communities.”

Environmental Trust Director Grants Tina Bidese said funding would be delivered through a partnership between the EPA and the NSW Environmental Trust.

“Working together, the Environmental Trust and EPA are offering a major opportunity for matched investment in infrastructure to recover more food and garden waste,” Ms Bidese said.

“In doing so, we’re reducing the environmental impacts of organics waste in landfill and making the most of a valuable resource that can be recycled into compost, where it benefits soils and helps crops grow.”

Applications for five grant streams are available:

— Organics Processing Infrastructure: up to $3 million for new organics facilities or facility upgrades to process more food and garden waste.

— Onsite Business Recycling: up to $500,000 for infrastructure and equipment for on-site processing or pre-processing of source separated food and garden waste.

— Food Donation Infrastructure: up to $500,000 to not-for-profit organisations for equipment to collect, store and redistribute quality surplus food.

— Product Quality: up to $500,000 for equipment to improve recycled organics product quality.

— Transfer Stations: up to $500,000 for infrastructure to establish new or upgrade existing transfer stations to receive food and garden waste

The EPA is hosting two webinars 17 July 2019 to assist potential applicants.

Applications close 29 August 2019.

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Applications open for NSW FOGO funding

Applications are open for round seven of the NSW EPA organics collections grant program.

$2.6 million is available for local councils and businesses wanting to introduce, or further develop, food and garden waste collection services, with funding provided by the NSW Environmental Trust.

EPA Organics Manager Amanda Kane said the grants would provide funding for household collection services, trials for food waste collections in unit blocks and new food waste collection services for businesses looking to improve their waste practice.

“Councils that have previously received these grants have been able to divert thousands of tonnes of waste by introducing regular organic collections services,” Ms Kane said.

“Councils like Bega, Byron and Shellharbour combined funding with great education programs to teach people how to use the service, while councils like Sydney and Randwick are trialling food-only collections to transform waste into electricity.”

Ms Kane said funding would help recipients make a real difference in the reduction of organic waste sent to landfill.

“Previous projects have supported new or improved green lid bins for 600,000 homes in NSW, diverting an extra 160,000 tonnes of food and garden waste from landfill, turning it into high quality compost,” Ms Kane said.

“With funding support, residents in 42 council areas across NSW are now able to recycle their food and garden waste at the kerbside each week.”

Grants will be delivered through a partnership between the EPA and the NSW Environmental Trust.

Applications close 27 June 2019.

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