Infrastructure Victoria has published its interim report to the Victorian Government on the infrastructure required to support a changing recycling and resource recovery sector.
According to Infrastructure Victoria CEO Michel Masson, Victoria’s total waste generation nearly doubled between 2000 and 2018, growing from 7.4 million tonnes to 13.4 millions tonnes each year. Mr Masson said stockpiling and illegal dumping are now significant concerns.
Despite this, Mr Masson said after a thorough investigation of the recycling and resource recovery sector, Infrastructure Victoria has identified exciting opportunities for investment, new processes and community action.
“To waste less and recycle more, governments, communities and businesses all need to play their parts. We have all learnt to use less water and power, now we have to apply the same principles to waste,” Mr Masson said.
The report specifically outlines that further investment in organic processing is needed to divert food and garden waste from landfill and reduce methane gas emissions.
“Infrastructure Victoria has identified the food and garden waste should go to more high quality composting facilities, which would need to be supported by a rollout of household organics collection services,” Mr Masson said.
Victoria’s current co-mingled system does not produce sufficiently clean streams to support end markets for recycled materials, according to the report.
“Greater separation of waste in homes and businesses can reduce contamination and improve the quality of our recycling,” the report reads.
“Infrastructure Victoria’s consumer research demonstrates 90 per cent of households surveyed are open to changing how they sort their waste.”
Report findings show best practice jurisdictions separate at least five types of material at the source, including organics, plastics, paper and card, glass and metals.
While multiple calls have been made to introduce a container deposit scheme in Victoria, the preliminary view of the report is that more analysis is needed on how to design an optimal scheme for Victoria.
The report also calls for improved commercial and industrial recycling standards.
“Incentives and price signals need to be examined to improve performance across the board, from manufacturers to retail,” the report reads.
Initiatives to disincentivise the use of virgin materials in production, or promote the procurement of products made from recycled materials, were also highlighted.
Proposed actions include:
Developing a clear, overarching policy framework including recycling targets and waste-to-energy.
Supporting councils to implement more consistent approaches to sorting and collecting waste, helping to reduce contamination in household recycling collection.
Better planning, locating and protecting waste management sites.
Working with the Commonwealth and other states to reduce packaging and single use plastics.
Increasing the use of recycled materials by eliminating barriers and updating government procurement guidelines.
Infrastructure Victoria will deliver its final report on recycling and resource recovery infrastructure in April 2020.
The drive to divert organic waste from landfill around Australia has created a supply of recycled organics that remains largely underutilised and undervalued, writes Angus Johnston, Principal Consultant at Jackson Environment and Planning.
Too much organic material is released as low-quality pasteurised products, containing too much contamination. Due to the policies and regulations of state and federal governments, a lot more supply will come on-line in the next five years. There remains an urgent need to tighten standards for compost use and build markets that will absorb this supply.
Urban markets for compost (e.g. landscape supplies) are well developed but highly competitive, because supply often exceeds demand. These markets cannot consistently use all the organic matter available for recycling. Using compost for gardens and landscaping also squanders the opportunity to return carbon and nutrients to the soils they were extracted from — the farms where our food and fibre are grown.
Fortunately, there is enormous potential demand for use of compost in agriculture. At an average annual application rate of 10 tonnes per hectare, we only need 100,000 hectares to absorb one million tonnes of compost.
There is roughly 65 million hectares of farmland in NSW alone. However, this demand can only be accessed at the right price, quality and specification. That price doesn’t have to be low, but quality and performance absolutely must be high.
The highly regulated nature of the organic recycling sector means that state and local government can strongly influence whether compost price and quality conditions are met by industry. Industry can also play a role by agreeing on and adopting higher product standards.
Organics recycling is suffering from the same issues that caused the China National Sword packaging crisis.
Local government procurement of recycling services often has a much greater focus on transfer of risk and price than on recycled product quality, beneficial use and value adding. This approach creates an incentive for contractors to do the minimum processing necessary to divert waste from landfill and comply with state government regulations. They then release these low-quality outputs into the market as ‘compost’.
Low quality products that cost less to manufacture can then be sold at a lower price point. Such products undermine the market for higher quality products that cost more to produce. If a farmer can purchase a product claiming to be ‘compost’ for $10 per tonne (delivered), why would they pay $100 per tonne?
If that low-cost compost does not deliver enough tangible result, or is clearly full of rubbish, farmers often apply their negative experience to every product claiming to be a compost. Only a few farmers take the time to understand the difference in value between the $10 and $100 product.
This scenario has played out repeatedly in agricultural and other compost end markets, and is still happening right now around the country.
Every time contaminated immature products are sold as “compost” we undermine the credibility of compost and organic recycling. There are producers that make quality fit-for-purpose composts and have built up trust for their brand in certain markets. They can command high prices for their products, however, they are the exception rather than the rule.
There needs to be tighter standards and improved quality assurance and quality control. For example:
Mandatory requirement for independently audited quality assurance programs at each processing facility
Regular auditing of batch test results to requirements of the relevant Resource Recovery Orders and Exemptions (in NSW) or equivalent standards in other states
Physical contamination requirements reduced to 0.2 per cent (plastic, glass and metal) and 0.02 per cent (film plastic) by weight for all soil conditioners
Soil conditioners to meet the AS4454 definition of compost or mature compost (not just pasteurisation)
Define compost using selected test results (such as respirometry) rather than a minimum six weeks process duration
Some established commercial composters may see the tighter standards above as a threat because their current operations have been set up to meet lower standards. Many are locked into long-term contracts at set gate fees. This is where state and local governments have a role in supporting industry to make a transition to higher standards by helping to fund facility upgrades, allowing variations to contracts, and regulating free riders who don’t adopt tighter voluntary standards.
There is a cost to implementing higher standards, but there are also rewards:
Access to much greater demand from agricultural markets
Fewer complaints from the public and customers
Fewer fines and less negative attention from the regulators
Reduced product related risk
Higher barriers to entry for new competitors
A more ‘level playing field’ during tendering
The packaging recyclers did not seek to tighten their own standards and neither did the processors of mixed waste in NSW. Both groups could have agreed to produce cleaner products to a higher standard but chose not to. For these recyclers either their customers or their regulators decided to tighten their standards for them, at great financial and reputational cost to the recyclers involved. Some businesses didn’t survive the change.
Tighter standards need to be introduced in consultation with all stakeholders, and with time allowed for the industry and their customers to adapt.
The Australian Organics Recycling Association provides an ideal forum for industry led tightening and enforcement of standards.
Grants worth $750,000 are now available to support bioenergy infrastructure projects, as part of Sustainability Victoria’s Bioenergy Infrastructure Fund.
The Bioenergy Infrastructure Fund is open to industry, social enterprises, community groups and government entities working on bioenergy technology that will increase sustainable energy production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainability Victoria Interim CEO Carl Muller said the grants are aimed at projects that will boost the collection and reuse of organics across the state.
“Victoria’s commercial and industrial sector generates more than 900,000 tonnes of organic waste every year, with over a quarter of that being food, and around ten per cent is recovered,” Mr Muller said.
“There is great potential for increased recovery of organics as a valuable fuel source, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Previously funded projects include the Western Region Water Corporation, which received $802,784 to collect food waste and generate energy, and the East Gippsland Region Water Corporation, which received $209,765 to enhance an existing bio-digester to process septic tank waste, food waste, fats, oils and greases.
“Bioenergy can play an important role in the mix of renewable energy, supporting not only our transition towards a renewable energy generation network but also a circular economy,” Mr Muller said.
Proposals are open for bioenergy infrastructure or feasibility and technical studies.
The Australian Organics Recovery Association (AORA) is holding its annual Victorian Awards Dinner in Melbourne 3 September.
The event, held at the World Trade Centre’s Rivers Edge Function Centre, will celebrate industry achievements in organic repurposing over the past year.
AROA Victoria Admin Officer Doug Wilson said a surprise guest from the state government will be in attendance to present the awards.
Four awards will be presented including Outstanding Contribution to Industry Development, Outstanding Local Government Initiative in Collection/Processing/Marketing, Compost User Demonstrating Innovation and Advocacy in Agricultural Markets and Compost User Demonstrating Innovation and Advocacy in Amenity Markets.
Last year’s event saw representatives from organics processors and industry suppliers, to state and local government organisations in attendance.
The Melbourne Cricket Club won the 2018 Sustainability Victoria Outstanding Contribution to Industry Development Award for the club’s work with on-site organic fertiliser manufacturing.
Glen Eira City Council won the 2018 Outstanding Local Government Initiative in Collection/Processing/Marketing Award for the councils Food Organics into Garden Organics program.
The 2018 event saw Speeches from then Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan and former Parliamentary Secretary for Environment Anthony Carbines, who highlighted government’s support for the organics industry.
Mr Wilson said while competition is hot there is still time to lodge nominations here.
The awards dinner is not restricted to AORA Members and seats can be booked on line.
Biomix is investing heavily in innovative technologies and taking a bold approach to managing more than 100,000 tonnes of green organics per annum.
Measuring, monitoring and understanding soil properties is a nuanced undertaking, as biological, chemical and physical indicators all play a role in the success of what we put in the ground.
The ongoing business of providing high quality compost is another area conducive to the outcomes of soil health, and thus EPA guidelines and industry regulations govern a best-practice approach.
Soil nitrogen and appropriate levels of water improve soil longevity, in addition to providing valuable nutrients and organic carbon through high productivity farming practices.
It is within this burgeoning landscape that innovative organics recycling practices are bucking the trend.
Vanessa Lenihan has been at the coalface of industry progress, working with farms to identify ways to overcome the soil challenges they face. Her more than 15 years’ experience in the water industry, including sewerage quality management at South East Water, is laying the groundwork for innovation as she leads the composting business Biomix.
Vanessa has for the past few years performed consulting work for Enviromix – a parent company of Biomix. In 2016, Vanessa was asked to project manage the construction of Biomix’s Stanhope facility, managing the design, construction and approvals process over 14-months.
After successfully project managing the construction and commissioning of the new site, Vanessa in February this year joined the company as CEO – a natural transition given her past experiences. Biomix processes 100,000 tonnes per annum of garden and food organics, selling its compost to the broader amenity market, broadacre, viticulture and horticulture industries.
“Biomix is in the industry of organics resource recovery and so is the wastewater industry. Sewage is just a different form of organics so there’s actually a lot of synergies between the two and the lines between the two industries have become blurred,” Vanessa says.
Understanding the biological process of wastewater created synergies to administer this to the biological process of composting, including managing inputs and quality controls.
BREATHING LIFE INTO COMPOST
Biomix at the end of 2017 unveiled its premium compost facility at Stanhope. The company designed an EPA-approved in-vessel composting system, engineering its own vessels to better manage air flow and odour. Its compost is produced to AS4454-2012 specifications and regularly sent off for independent and accredited lab testing.
“The thing that is unique about Biomix is the composting vessels were designed by us. We worked with the mechanical engineering firm that designed them and we own the intellectual property around the vessels,” Vanessa says.
She says that one of the challenges Biomix had is that when it opened the vessels in late 2017, the business began to grow exponentially at a rate it had not anticipated. Likewise, low rainfall onsite and high evaporation presented a challenge to processing compost at the site.
To support its next transition, the company turned to integrated processing supplier FOCUS Enviro for support – a supplier of EDGE Innovate shredding, screening, separating, stacking and sizing equipment. From November last year through to January this year, Biomix acquired three unique new products from EDGE Innovate.
The EDGE MPS48 Picking Station, EDGE FTS Mulch Master (deep stacker) and EDGE TRT622 Trommel replaced a series of conventional machines traditionally used for composting.
“Because we grew so fast we had to manage parts of the business quite differently to what we’ve had previously,” Vanessa says.
“The EDGE Picking Station is really focused on removing contamination upfront and the Mulch Master has allowed us to process our windrows and get water to them in a way that is highly beneficial.”
The EDGE Picking Station was designed to improve safety for waste management sites by reducing the effects of dust, noise and climate conditions for workers. It helps eliminate contaminants such as organics, hard plastics, glass and other deleterious materials.
Vanessa says that Biomix has seen a significant reduction in water loss through windrows by using the Mulch Master, halving the number of times to turn a windrow.
“Every time you turn a windrow you lose at least 20 per cent moisture.
“The Mulch Master allows us to halve the number of turns during the process.”
She says that the Mulchmaster has increased volumes through deep stacking of compost, having previously used excavators and loading circles with a higher cost and slower processing time.
Vanessa says that the machine has allowed Biomix to increase the moisture content of its compost as the auger softens the materials and water jets allow the spread of moisture.
RE-THINKING THE PROCESS
The Mulch Master combines traditional flipping and rotation with constant material flow to overcome traditional challenges of compaction, contamination, material bridging and the risk of combustion.
Designed for low density, bulky materials such as mulch, compostand soils, the EDGE FTS Mulch Master boasts a large hopper capacity of 15 cubic metres.
A 25 per cent additional buffer capacity over the standard EDGE FTS units with a bespoke hopper design prevents material bridging. A variable high speed conveyor enables an even spread of material further regulated via a double screwed forward/reverse auger.
Biomix’s new EDGE trommel also allows it to produce a 14-millimetre-minus product. Vanessa saysthe screen has doubled throughput and comes with an on-board vacuum system attached that pulls out contaminants such as light plastics.
“We’re filling a front lift bin a day of light plastics and there’s no way we’d be able to specifically pick them out by hand – that’s how effective the vacuum system is.”
The TR622 Trommel screen is ideal for multiple applications such as topsoil, recycling, composting and construction and demolition waste. The TR622 comprises a 180-degree radial conveyor, a unique load sensing hydraulic drive system, eco-power saving functionality and a user-friendly HMI control panel to suit varying applications.
A hydraulic sliding feature allows for a speedy drum exchange and enables operators to easily lift out the existing drum to replace it with various drum types available.
Its 22-foot-long drum allows it to produce enhanced screening results and top quality fine materials such as compost, gravel, sand and topsoil easily.
Ronan McKenna, State Manager of FOCUS enviro, says the company last year trialled the machinery to ensure it met Biomix’s tonnage requirements.
He says that many of EDGE’s products have been tried and tested in other major markets such as North America.
“The Mulch Master is a brand new piece of technology that no-one else has used before, so once customers see it and get it round on their site it speaks for itself.
“The machines are fast becoming a popular replacement for traditional windrow turners for multiple reasons, including reduction in maturation pad areas and machinery capital outlay.”
Robbie McKernan, FOCUS enviro Director, says the company considers it an honour to be working with Biomix – a forward-thinking organisation open to a fresh approach to compost.
“There is a lot more evidence mounting to support new processes such as big stacking as opposed to traditional windrow methods,” he says.
“As a supplier, we value opportunities like this where businesses look at their processes as a whole and work out where savings can be achieved, as opposed to a ‘business as usual’ approach.”
Ronan says that FOCUS Enviro is continuing to see demand from organics recycling companies across Australia.
“We have been in a fortunate position to support the food and garden organics (FOGO) aspirations of customers across the country over the past two years. This has shaped our product knowledge to offer a purpose-built solution to meet processing challenges with safety and material quality front of mind.”
The new EDGE equipment is starting to pay dividends for Biomix, and the company is now looking at accelerating its output.
Biomix is currently working with farmers to incorporate compost into traditional fertiliser program. With funding from Sustainability Victoria, Biomix is working with SESL to determine a protocol that outlines an optimum blend of compost and fertilisers.
This will inform a three-year application program for farmers. The first round of trials on farms was completed earlier this year, with the second now underway. Vanessa says it demonstrated the need for a balanced approach to compost.
Biomix is also working with La Trobe University on the application of compost for pastures.
“We’re becoming a lot more scientific and precise in how we’re selling our compost. We’re moving away from just selling compost to incorporating it into the broader agribusiness sector,” Vanessa says.
“We see compost as being really important to the future of improving soil health and its structure and then being able to retain moisture in it and reducing the amount of watering farmers need to do.”
Vanessa says that moisture is so important for the composting process that Biomix designed its vessels to minimise water loss during processing.
Odour management and controlling the processing period to kill off any pathogens and weed seed is an important part of the Biomix process.
Vanessa says that one of the unique attributes Biomix has is its capability to process compostable packaging, films, coffee cups and pods.
“One of the biggest changes coming through the industry is the introduction of compostable materials into the waste streams and we’ve set ourselves up to be able to process that.”
As for the future, Vanessa predicts improving FOGO infrastructure, gaining a higher nitrogen compost, embracing compostable packaging and tackling contamination will be key to improving the uptake of compost.
“We have a step change in the Victorian Environment Protection Act coming in 2020.
“This will force us to focus on how our business is being managed and innovative further to embrace this change,” Vanessa says.
She says the changes to the Environment Protection Act will hopefully address some of the grey areas currently experienced in organic waste acceptance and management.
With a strong uptake of FOGO collections from councils, along with a changing regulatory environment, the need to embrace new technology and processes is more important than ever.
The 2nd National Symposium on the Beneficial Use of Recycled Organics will be held 20 – 21 June at the Brisbane Riverview Hotel.
Hosted by the Queensland Government and Griffith University, the symposium will see over 100 delegates from universities and government agencies, as well as environmental consultants, land managers and farmers.
To better understand the beneficial use of recycled organics in our environment, the symposium will examine learnings from its application to agriculture, mining, urban environments and infrastructure.
Speakers will discuss research into the use of recycled organic products to enhance agricultural production in degraded and marginal landscapes and enable the environmental rehabilitation.
To renew and regenerate is a fundamental and everyday principal to an industry dedicated to the recovery and beneficial reuse of organics, writes the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s Diana De Hulsters and Peter Wadewitz.
The Australian Organics Recycling Association brought together recycling suppliers, researchers and packaging associations all under the one roof to identify cost-effective and sustainable solutions to organics.