Unlocking the value in organics: Veolia

Veolia highlights the company’s comprehensive strategy and range of technologies to work towards a circular economy by diverting organics waste from landfill across Australia. 

Waste and recycling has never been more topical across the Australian political and public landscape.

With international recycling markets closing their doors to Australian recyclable exports, governments are encouraging the development of viable recycling markets within our shores.

This has included putting in place stronger policies to increase the diversion of organic waste from landfill.

An example is Victoria’s recently released Recycling Victoria strategy which included a $129 million package for kerbside reform.

This announcement included a target for 100 per cent of households to have access to separate food and organics recovery service or composting by 2030, as well as halving the volume of organic material going to landfill by 50 per cent between 2020 and 2030.

Over in NSW, the government is targeting net zero emissions from organic waste to landfill by 2030, with a variety of supporting policies.

The trends across organics diversion are welcome news for leading environmental solutions organisation Veolia, which has been at the forefront of sector innovation for decades.

Laurie Kozlovic, Chief Innovation and Strategic Development Officer, Veolia Australia and New Zealand, says organics recovery is firmly part of its business strategy to ‘Resource the World’.

“For Veolia, it is not only about landfill diversion, but importantly, improving soil health which is extremely relevant in an Australian context,” he says.

Veolia’s Bulla Organics Facility turns thousands of tonnes of organic waste into high-quality compost.

Carbon storage in soil offers a host of ecological benefits such as release of nutrients, water retention, and absorption of organic and/or inorganic pollutants.

Its sequestration also supports other ecosystem services derived from soils, such as farming production, drinking water supply and biodiversity.

This occurs by increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, thus improving its quality.

The Rabobank 2019 Food waste report identified that food waste costs Australians $10 billion annually.

Of course, the approach to tackling the problem is to avoid the generation of organic waste in the first instance, and education is key.

Once organic waste is generated however, the right technology and capability can provide numerous beneficial circular economy and climate resilient outcomes.

In Australia, Veolia operates a comprehensive range of technologies including a number of in-vessel composting facilities as well as an anaerobic digestion facility which produces both electricity and fertiliser.

Veolia’s compost products are beneficially reused in a number of urban amenity, agriculture, rehabilitation and environmental remediation applications across the country.

Additionally, the company collects organic waste from its broad customer base which includes councils, commercial and industrial businesses.

This experience also extends to its water business where organics such as biosolids are managed and beneficially reused.

Laurie says that removing organics from landfill crucially reduces carbon emissions. He adds that equally, compost plays an important role in providing food security, improving soil carbon and crop productivity, and reducing the effects of drought.

“Organic waste recycling is a great example of how we can value the inherent properties of waste and keep the materials circulating through the economy,” he says.

Additionally, Laurie says that identifying the waste streams for recovery early on enables the right infrastructure to be developed. The end result is an integrated and holistic solution crucial for any zero waste ambition.

With organics recycling rates being around 52 per cent in Australia, there is ample opportunity for improvement and innovation.

Mark Taylor, Head of Solid Waste Treatment, Veolia ANZ, says that the best outcomes are when customers take ownership of their wastes from a process and recovery point of view. He says this then becomes a prime partnership for finding optimal solutions together.

Veolia’s innovations include Soil Advisor – an app that has been in development internationally for a number of years through Veolia’s agronomic hub.

It provides farmers with a tool to optimise compost application by analysing the long-term effect of the compost. Importantly, it looks at compost’s impact on changes to soil organic matter and soil carbon storage.

This digital tool supports the international “4 per 1000, Soils for Food Security and Climate” initiative launched during COP21 in late 2015.

The idea is that a four per cent annual increase in the amount of carbon in all soils worldwide would compensate for yearly increases in human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

An example is Veolia’s partnership with iugis Group, for the exclusive distribution of onsite organic food digester technologies, including the ORCA product in Australia and New Zealand.

The mobile, onsite organic digester solution is suitable for customers in a range of market sectors.

The iugis technology mimics a natural digestion process, biologically converting organic food waste into liquid tradewaste.

It supports landfill diversion as well as providing an on-site solution for Veolia customers that may be in remote or rural areas, or some distance away from a dedicated composting facility.

As with all waste issues, a systematic and comprehensive approach is needed to deliver meaningful outcomes.

Veolia is ready to work further with governments, businesses and communities to convert the various organics policy ambitions, as well as their customer objectives into practical and relevant solutions.

However, Mark says Veolia needs all stakeholders to work together to create the framework and conditions necessary for the actions to be successful.

“Veolia will invest, however we need stable and reasonable policy, regulatory and contractual conditions. These conditions will enable long term and sustainable investments which are value creating for all partners,” Mark says.

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The mechanical stomach: iugis

Tas Papas, iugis Enterprise Sales Director, speaks with Waste Management Review about working with Veolia to promote on-site recycling and the aerobic digestion process.

While waste occurs throughout the food supply chain, roughly two-thirds of Australia’s food waste is generated in consumer-facing businesses or in the home.

To minimise its contribution to the overall footprint, the City of Melbourne, one of the most populous juristications in the state, installed an ORCA aerobic digestion system at its Degraves Street Precinct in 2017.

Diverting more than 60 tonnes of waste in its first year, the machine uses natural microorganisms to convert food into wastewater, which is then sent directly into the sewer system.

According to Tas Papas, iugis Enterprise Sales Director, iugis introduced ORCA technology to Australia two years ago, after a six-year run in Canada and the United States.

Tas says iugis, an internationally managed service technology company, is committed to changing the way businesses deal with their food waste. He adds that as part of this commitment, iugis has developed a collaborative partnership with Australian waste management provider Veolia.

“We saw Veolia as a business that continues to look for waste technologies beyond landfill, and in the last 12 months, they have been offering our ORCA food waste digester as one of their organics solutions,” Tas says.

“Veolia suggest the ORCA to customers looking for an economically viable way to divert food waste, and while the national partnership is still in its infancy, the future looks very promising.”

The ORCA aerobic digestion process uses natural microbes, which are automatically sprayed into the unit, oxygen and naturally occurring heat to digest food waste down to a liquid.

Tas says once the material reaches liquid form, the ORCA passes it through an in-built filter and discharges it from the unit.

“One of the great advantages of the ORCA, which we refer to as the mechanical stomach, is that the metabolisation and digestion rate is accelerated by continuous feeding,” Tas explains.

“Operators don’t have to wait until the end of a cycle as material can be fed into the machine 24 hours a day – it loves a continuous feed.”

Accoring to a 2019 Blue Environment Report prepared for Veolia, the ORCA produces a 100 per cent diversion from landfill rate. This rate, Tas says, enables iugis to register under the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Through reduction credits, the Emissions Reduction Fund aims to incentivise individuals and organisations to adopt new practices and technologies to reduce emissions. These credits, Tas says, add a layer of economic incentive to ORCA installation.

Another economic benefit, Tas says, is that compared to standard dehydration systems, the ORCA uses minimal energy.

“To dehydrate food, a significant amount of heat needs to be added, which typically comes from a pump that requires three-phase power,” he says.

“The ORCA on the other hand, only uses single phase power, so a standard 10-amp power point is all that’s required. Operationally, it’s very cheap to run.”

In addition to landfill diversion and less energy use, Tas says the ORCA allows businesses to reduce emissions through a reduced reliance on kerbside waste collection.

“Recycling at the source also means businesses can assist in getting waste trucks off the road, which is a key focus for us.”

Tas says processing 25 tonnes of food waste in the ORCA is the equivalent to reducing the emissions of a diesel truck travelling 21,000 kilometres. He adds that recycling waste at the source also eliminates extra costs associated with bin collection.   

To further minimise the strain of financial output, Tas says iugis put all machines to market as a managed service.

“Investing in new technology can be prohibitive to smaller buisnesses, so we allow users to pay a monthly fee as part of a fully managed service,” he says.

“iugis manages all the consumables including the microorganisms, and offers ongoing preventative maintenance.”

He adds iugis offers a range of ORCAs to suit all size and tonnage needs.

“Our new baby ORCA, which can process 120 kilos of food waste each day, is the perfect solution for smaller businesses such as restaurants, cafés and pubs,” Tas says.

For larger businesses such as hotels and shopping centres, Tas says iugis offers digesters capable of processing up to a tonne of food waste each day.

“The more exposure on-site recycling solutions get, the wider the uptake will be,” he says.

“iugis, which is Latin for perpetuity, is continuously looking to develop technology that increases digestion rates and inspires more on-site recycling.”

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