A new project aiming to reset Australia’s materials economy has launched, led by researchers from Monash University and representatives from the charity sector.
A new research hub is focused on transforming organic waste into marketable chemicals that can be used for a variety of uses, from medicinal gels to food packaging.
Monash University has launched the Australian Research Council (ARC) Hub for Processing Advance Lignocelluosics into Advanced Materials.
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A total of $6.8 million over five years will be invested into converting biomass and plant-based matter into materials such as cellulose-based hydrogels for personal medicine, nanocellulose films to replace food packaging and nanogels to help farmers maintain their crops.
An industry consortium composed of Visy, Amcor, Circa, Leaf, Orora, and Norske Skog will join Monash, the University of Tasmania, the University of South Australia, the Tasmanian Government and AgroParis Tech as part of the ARC hub.
The research could significantly impact pulp and paper companies, turning them into potential bio-refineries.
Three objectives have been specified to achieve this industry transformation, which involve deriving green chemicals from Australian wood and lignocellulosic streams, engineering new nanocellulose applications and developing ultralight paper and novel packaging. Potential packaging could have significantly improved physical properties, such as including radio-frequency identification technology to integrate with transport or retail systems.
Bioresource Processing Research Institute of Australia Director Gil Garnier said the research will help the Australian pulp, paper and forestry industry transform their production waste into high-grade goods.
“This hub will leverage world-leading Australian and international research capabilities in chemistry, materials science and engineering with the express aim of creating new materials, companies and jobs for our growing bioeconomy,” Prof Garnier said.
“With ongoing support and vision from our government, industry and university partners, we will identify new applications and products derived from biowaste to transform the pharmaceutical, chemicals, plastics and food packaging industries in Australia and across the world.
“In fact, one of the goals is for our industry partners to generate, within four to 10 years, 25-50 per cent of their profits from products that don’t exist today,” he said.
Organic waste from eight Melbourne councils will be sent to a new composting facility, to be built by international waste management company Sacyr Group.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) will commit up to $35 million towards the new composting facility.
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The $65 million South Eastern Organics Processing Facility will be the most advanced of its type in Victoria and will produce approximately 50,000 tonnes of high grade compost each year.
The compost will be made from processed household garden and food waste from council kerbside green waste collections in Melbourne’s south-east, which will then be used on local parks and gardens.
Food and green waste makes up an estimated 42 per cent of landfill for Australia’s municipal and commercial waste streams.
The Melbourne councils include Bayside, Cardinia, Casey, Frankston, Glen Eira, Greater Dandenong, Kingston and Monash.
Sacyr expects the fully-enclosed, in-vessel aerobic composting and maturation plant will be operational by mid-2019. It will aim to operate for 15 years, with a potential five-year extension.
The new facility will have an annual processing capacity of 120,000 tonnes of waste each year, the equivalent of 12,000 truckloads of waste. It is expected to abate more than 65,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. This would cut the greenhouse gas emissions from landfill by 85 per cent if it were to be landfilled, which is equivalent to taking 13,900 cars off the road.
Sacyr Group has built 48 plants around the world and handles more than three million tonnes of waste each year. It currently operates in Australia through its subsidiary, Sacyr Water, which has built and operates the Binningup desalination plant.
The technology used in the plant has been developed over two decades, ensures plant storage reservoirs are completely closed, and uses efficient and reliable deodorisation systems.
Federal Government Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said converting waste to compost can play a part in Australia’s long-term waste solutions.
“This facility alone, which will be the most advanced of its type in Victoria, can process around 12,000 truckloads of waste per year,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“It means food and organic waste produced by south east Melbourne residents will not end up in landfill and will instead produce high-grade compost for our gardens and parks.”
CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said the corporation is looking across the economy to identify finance opportunities to reduce Australia’s emissions.
“We’re pleased to be making our first project investment to help councils and communities tackle emissions from their organic waste,” he said.
“When organic waste such as food and green waste ends up in landfill it breaks down and produces methane. With this technology, councils can avoid those emissions by turning their organic waste into reusable compost, while also reducing our unsustainable reliance on landfill as a waste disposal option.
“We strongly endorse the principle of avoiding and reducing waste at the source. Our finance is about effectively manage the remaining waste, so that it doesn’t end up as landfill and we make a meaningful difference to our greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Learmonth said.
CEFC Bioenergy Sector lead Henry Anning said the CEFC finance model for the Melbourne project was an industry first, providing councils with access to a project financing structure that has rarely been leveraged across local government.
“Australia’s waste sector is facing enormous challenges, because of the growing amount of waste we produce as well as increasing community concerns about the way we handle that waste. This new Melbourne facility provides us with a practical and proven way to turn organic waste into a reusable commodity at the same time as avoiding harmful emissions,” Mr Anning said.
“We expect to see more councils and communities consider innovative ways to manage all forms of waste. This innovative project finance model offers opportunities for other groups of councils considering investing in substantial waste management infrastructure to reduce landfill waste.”
Monash Council has collected the most paint in Australia this year for national product stewardship scheme Paintback.
The council was the first in Victoria so sign up to the Paintback scheme in 2016 and has since returned the most paint across Australia for two years in a row.
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In 2017/2018, the transfer station in Notting Hill collected 345,590 kilograms of paint, with more than 86,700 customers using the service at the station.
Paintback’s service is provided for no cost to residents looking to dispose of their unwanted paint, as it is funded by a 15 cents levy added to the price of paints.
City of Monash Mayor Paul Klisaris said he couldn’t be prouder of the community’s use of the Paintback scheme to keep paint and its packaging out of landfill.
“The takeup of this program proves that our transfer station is a well-utilised community resource and that people want to do everything possible to send as little as possible to landfill and reuse and recycle wherever possible,” Cr Klisaris said.
“This is a great initiative led by the paint industry and shows leadership in responsible disposal and innovative reuse of its products.”
Paint packaging and waste liquid are separated under the program, with the containers being recycled. The waste paint can be used in a number of ways, including for energy recovery for solvent and liquid/solid separation for water-based paint. Additional research into finding new ways to use unwanted paint is also being funded by the industry.
Paintback Chief Executive Karen Gomez said the City of Monash was an early adopter of the Paintback scheme and welcome trade partners with open arms.
“It goes to show you what a positive attitude, with shared- responsibility can achieve,” Ms Gomez said.