An action-plan for organics: AORA

The Australian Organics Recycling Association’s new National Strategic Plan outlines action points for sustainable growth in the accelerating sector.

Government action and funding for organics recycling has ramped up in recent months. In May, for instance, the NSW Government announced $20 million in grants for the alternative waste treatment industry and councils affected by the EPA’s controversial 2018 MWOO decision.

On the other of side of the country, the Western Australian Government has made similar commitments – injecting $20 million into the economy to support local governments transition to better practice three-bin FOGO services.

This is welcome news to Peter Olah, Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) National Executive Officer, who since joining AORA in 2019, has worked proactively to grow government support for the sector.

“The increases in funding for the organics recycling industry are a welcome recognition by governments of the industry’s contribution to our economy,” Olah says.

As the leading national voice for the organics recycling industry, AORA has developed a new strategic document – detailing targets and action points towards the creation of a more sustainable and profitable industry.   

Approved by the AORA Board in late May, the AORA National Strategic Plan 2020-2023 seeks to further entrench public and government understanding of the role of organics recovery within a circular economy.

The plan’s mission statement highlights the role AORA will play in facilitating an operating environment that maximises the recycling and reuse of organic materials.

“Through ongoing communication with stakeholders, AORA seeks to promote the benefits of compost, soil conditioners and mulches across the Australian community,” Olah says.

As the first of three objectives, AORA plans to further develop its position as the national voice of the organics recycling industry.

According to Olah, success in this space will see governments and other stakeholders approaching AORA proactively, with the knowledge that the association provides positive direction and leadership.

“The organics recycling industry is not new. Humans have been recycling and reusing organic materials since ancient times,” Olah says.

“Today, the role of the industry is becoming more critical however, as the effects of climate change, urban development, agricultural practices and energy use impact the health of our soils and environment.”

Mirroring statements made in the Strategic Plan, Olah stresses the role of the organics industry in diverting material from landfill to beneficial reuse, mitigating climate change and improving the sustainability of agriculture.

“In order to perform this role effectively, the industry must work with governments and other stakeholders at all levels in setting the policy and regulatory frameworks which promote the best outcomes,” he adds.

To achieve this goal, AORA has outlined four key targets for 2023, including producing reports and original research to ensure the needs of the organics industry are clearly presented to government and other stakeholders.

“We do not want to produce unread reports, so any original research we undertake will always be about better positioning the industry with governments and the community,” Olah adds.

Furthermore, AORA plans to continue collaborating with governments to design and implement policy, regulation and legislation that optimises market conditions for the industry.

To support this, AORA will begin establishing knowledge hubs for recycled organics research, development and communication.

“The number one issue for our industry is the piecemeal nature of government decision making,” Olah says.

We must have a better alignment between the industry and government at all levels to improve the operating environment, so that our industry can invest and employ more, and provide even greater benefits to our society.”

The association will also further develop and position Compost for Soils as a core resource for business and the community.

“Compost for Soils works to champion pathways to sustainable, resource-efficient organics recovery and agricultural reuse practices by allowing users to find composters across all Australian states and territories,” Olah explains.

The second objective, championing a future where organics recycling is maximised, seeks to increase recycling rates nationally.

“We want to see community understanding of the industry and its products grow, and as a by-product, increase profitability across the sector,” Olah says.

“In addition to growing the industry, achieving this goal will see further applications of composted and organics products to soil, thereby sequestering carbon, improving water retention, drought-proofing land, and improving agricultural productivity.

“Organics recycling closes the loop on food and other organic wastes and ultimately returns them to food production through the soil. It’s the industrialisation of a natural process, and therefore a true exemplar of the circular economy.”

Three-year targets include identifying, communicating and celebrating best practice strategies, technologies and products.

“In the first year we will formalise partnerships with tertiary institutions, CRC’s and other associations by targeted MOU’s focused on shared strategic objectives,” Olah says.

“We also plan to communicate our major policy documents so that they are well understood by governments and other stakeholders.”

As reported by WMR in May, AORA commissioned Nick Behrens of Australian Economic Advocacy Solutions to undertake an investigation into the economic impact of the organics recycling industry.

The report highlights that each year, the organics recycling industry processes around 7.5 million tonnes of waste into valuable products for further use across the Australian economy. As a result, 2018-19 saw a collective industry turnover of $2 billion.

The report, Olah explains, provides an important baseline to inform future policy discussion with stakeholders and government.

He adds that further distribution of the report across government and the wider community is therefore critical to achieving the goals outlined in AORA’s National Strategic Plan.

The final objective concerns AORA’s internal structure, Olah says, highlighting the importance of operating as a sustainable and transparent business.

“In order to deliver the beneficial outcomes AORA envisions for its members and the Australian community, it must do so from the certain base offered only through a sustainable, well run and flexible business,” he says.

“To deliver this, AORA must have high quality and transparent corporate and financial governance, a broad and reliable revenue base, a well-managed and targeted approach to expenditure, and a strong central focus on identifying and delivering the needs of members.”

By 2023, AORA targets growth to 500 members and corporate sponsors, including at least 80 per cent of all processors nationally. To build that base, Olah says the next few years will see AORA delivering more significant events to demonstrate thought leadership for the industry.

“We will also work to regularly review our member products and services to ensure their ongoing relevance and broad appeal,” he says.

For more information click here.

Related stories: 

Caterpillar mulching

Janelle Horne of Q Mulching details the green waste company’s 17-year relationship with Caterpillar and Hastings Deering.

With organics to landfill diversion a central target of waste and resource recovery strategies nationwide, instilling children with a passion for recycling is now more important than ever.

This is the central focus of Q Mulching’s Marvin the Worm program, which, in line with Australian curriculums for science and geography, seeks to spread positive source separation behaviours to students along Queensland’s Fraser Coast.

With an interactive trailer reminiscent of Healthy Harold and a workbook written by Q Mulching’s Rheanon Kerslake, the program travels to schools to teach children about the benefits of recycling and compost.

“When Q Mulching first began its composting process, we had some issues with contamination in the material we were receiving, which inspired me to develop the program to coincide with Fraser Coast Regional Council’s messaging around source separation,” Rheanon says.

“By using this book and program, we’re helping to lay a foundation. Teaching the importance of recycling to younger generations means they can realise what they are doing now, and then follow that into adulthood and teach their children.”

The Marvin the Worm education program builds on Q Mulching’s management of green waste processing for the entire Fraser Coast local government area.

Highlighting the company’s innovative spirit, Janelle Horne, Q Mulching Owner and Administrative Manager, says prior to Q Mulching, green waste processing was few and far between in the region.

Operating two major composting sites in addition to six smaller waste transfer stations, residents bring their green waste to Q Mulching free of charge through Fraser Coast Regional Council.

“We grind the material once a fortnight at our major sites, before composting the product to the Australian Standards 4454,” Janelle says.

Q Mulching is processing around 60 to 70,000 cubic metres of green waste material at a time at one of their facilities, with 40,000 cubic metres at the other.

To effectively manage that level of material, she says Q Mulching operate a range of Caterpillar equipment. Janelle highlights Caterpillar’s Next Gen 23T Excavator as a critical component of material management at Q Mulching’s facilities.

Built for heavy-duty performance, Caterpillar’s Next Gen 23T Excavator brings increased speed, efficiency and high productivity to high-production applications.

With up to 15 per cent less fuel consumption than comparable models, Caterpillar’s Next Gen Excavator functions in line with Q Mulching’s commitment to sustainable processing and resource recovery.

That said, while the quality of Caterpillar’s equipment is essential, Janelle emphasises Caterpillar dealer Hastings Deering’s commitment to service. She adds that as seven days a week operation, reliability is critical for Q Mulching.

“We’ve used other manufacturers in the past, and unfortunately, the reliability isn’t always there, whether that’s break downs, downtime or the availability of extra parts,” Janelle says.

“The great thing about Caterpillar and Hastings Deering is that when we need a part, and we’ve ordered it by 2pm, it will usually arrive the following day.

“Not many other companies can offer that level of service. Plus, when we purchase a new Caterpillar machine, we are confident that the machine will last its term.”

Working together for more than 17 years, Janelle says Q Mulching and Hastings Deering have developed an effective and symbiotic relationship.

“When Hastings Deering has new staff, they bring them to our site and introduce them to the team. This means that when we have to order new parts or have any kind of problem, we know exactly who to contact and the faces behind the phone call,” she says.

In addition to service reliability and the quality of their machinery offerings, Janelle says Hastings Deering are always ready to point Q Mulching in the right direction when new equipment becomes available.

“Hastings Deering works to look after their current customers, as opposed to always looking out for new customers.”

Rheanon feels similarly, highlighting the Caterpillar teams’ individual approach.

“I find them very personable, of course they’re still salespeople at the end of the day, but they’re very genuine. They actually want to come in and help our operations, as opposed to just providing machinery,” she says.

This is a sentiment mirrored by Stuart Manton, Hastings Deering’s Territory Manager, who says the value of Caterpillar lies not just with their equipment, but their commitment to functioning as solutions providers.

“People know that when they purchase a piece of Caterpillar equipment, they’re purchasing a machine that is engineered to the highest standards. However, we don’t believe in resting on our laurels,” he says.

“Our approach goes above and beyond providing a piece of equipment. We believe in developing relationships with our clients and working with them to create the best outcomes, both economically and environmentally.”    

As Caterpillar’s presence in the waste and resource recovery sector grows, Stuart hopes to continue working with environmentally aligned customers.

“We at Hastings Deering and Caterpillar are continually innovating in the waste and resource recovery space, be that new approaches to landfill compaction, or providing solutions for composting facilities such as Q Mulching,” he says.

“The waste sector is growing, and team Caterpillar is well positioned to grow alongside it.”

Related stories: 

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.

For more information click here

Related stories: 

Net zero diversion: Wastech Engineering

Jeff Goodwin of Wastech Engineering speaks with Waste Management Review about bolstering organics recovery with highly efficient equipment.

In its recently released Net Zero Plan Stage One: 2020-2030, the NSW Government outlines its plan to achieve net zero emissions from organic waste to landfill by 2030.

“Organic waste, such as food scraps and garden trimmings, makes up about 40 per cent of red-lidded kerbside bins. When sent to landfill, the decomposing material releases methane that may not be captured,” the plan reads.

“However, when this waste is managed effectively, through proper composting and recycling processes, methane emissions can be substantially reduced, soils can be regenerated to store carbon and biogas can be created to generate electricity.”

The plan follows similar initiatives in Victoria. With the state’s Recycling Victoria strategy targeting a 50 per cent reduction in organic material sent to landfill by 2030, with an interim target of 20 per cent by 2025.

Jeff Goodwin, Wastech Engineering’s National Product Manager Projects, is enthused by the announcements, highlighting Wastech’s long standing commitment to sustainable organics processing.

Food waste is a significant issue in Australia, Jeff explains, noting that a recent Rabobank Food Waste Report revealed that Australians wasted $10.1 billion in food waste in 2019.

“It’s heartening to see governments across the country committing to food waste reduction initiatives, which is something we at Wastech have been passionate about for a long time,” he says.

“Now is the time for waste companies and food waste generators to heed the call and start investing in efficient and high capacity food waste processing solutions.”

With a 99 per cent recovery rate for both dry and liquid products, Jeff says Wastech’s ATRITOR Turbo Separator is one such solution.

Available exclusively through Wastech, the Turbo Separator range comprises four models, making it suitable for a wide range of de-packaging applications including separating organics from food waste packaging and paper from gypsum.

“The Turbo Separator combines centrifugal forces, self-generated airflow and mechanical processes to remove organic material from packaging – allowing the recovered material to be recycled,” Jeff says.

“The machine can recover anything from bread loafs in plastic wrap, beans in tins cans, milk in cartons and even pet food in plastic pouches. The only material it can’t process is glass, given its sharding effect.”

Several Turbo Separator installations have been purchased recently by recycling companies across Australia, Jeff says.

“When people are eating at a food court it’s common to throw everything into one bin, creating a mix of food and packaging waste that has been traditionally difficult to recover,” he says.

“Using the Turbo Separator however, operators can take a garbage bag containing food waste and packaging, tie up the garbage bag and run it through the machine.

“This allows shopping centres, which produce high levels of food waste, to recover that material and divert it from the general disposal stream.”

However, these bags often contain contamination such as glass bottles, so Jeff says it’s prudent to consider an inspection station prior to the Turbo Separator to remove unwanted materials first.

He adds that as a rule of thumb, for every kilogram of food waste, 10 per cent is packaging.

“When you remove packaging from the organic material, you’re able to recover 90 per cent of each kilogram of food waste, which then saves that material from entering landfill.”

The Turbo Separator includes a variable-speed shaft fitted with paddles, which rotates above a number of screens. The shaft, Jeff says, typically runs between 100 and 1000 rotations per minute, generating air flow as well as centrifugal and mechanical forces.

“Packaged material is fed by an infeed conveyor into the separation chamber, where rotating paddles open up the packaging,” he says.

“The force of the paddles then creates a squeezing effect, which separates packaging from its contents and allows the packaging to retain its integrity.”

This, Jeff says, is an added benefit, with the Turbo Separator’s squeezing as opposed to shredding process producing organic material free of shredded packaging residue.

Depending on material type, the recovered organics can be used for animal feed, nutrient-rich compost or anaerobic digestion.

Jeff explains that the separator is also well suited to product destruction, such as water or soda from half drunken bottles. It can also be used at a commercial level to recover beverages that are past their sell by date or have been damaged or incorrectly packaged.

“For operators dealing with wet material, Wastech can fit the Turbo Separator with a pump that removes liquids from the recovered organic throughput,” he says.

The design of the machine is extremely flexible, for instance, if an operator is only dealing with dry material, the pump isn’t required. Or, if they are working in a confined space, the separator can be re-configured into a different arrangement.”

According to Jeff, Wastech is ready to assist as Australia continues the fight against food waste.

“Wastech has been working in this space for years and we’re in it for the long haul. We believe a future free from food waste is possible and are excited to work with waste companies and food generators to achieve it,” he says.

For more information click here

Related stories: 

Restore the soil: JR Richards and Sons and Jindalee Ag

Stakeholder communication is critical to the production of nutrient rich compost for soil regeneration. JR Richards and Sons and Jindalee Ag explain.

More than 30 per cent of the world’s land is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salination, compaction and chemical pollution, according to Restore the Soil: Prosper the Nation.

The 2017 report, written by National Soil Advocate Major General Michael Jeffery for the Prime Minister, argues that the combined effects of global insecurities – population increase, finite resource depletion and the effects of climate change – mean improving agricultural soil quality is imperative to global security.

“Soil is a critical national strategic asset,” Mr Jeffery explains in the report.

To progress the renewal process, the report outlines a number of recommendations, including engaging in regenerative farming practices through the application of organic composts and bio amendments.

The is a belief shared by JR Richards and Sons (JRR) and Jindalee Ag, two companies committed to the production of nutrient rich compost.

While two separate entities with unique and varied histories, JRR and Jindalee Ag have partnered to maximise their distribution capabilities.

JRR, a name synonymous with waste management and resource recovery, has been providing collection and processing services to local government and private operators since 1958.

They currently service kerbside collections for over 20 councils, with three state of the art in-tunnel composting facilities in NSW.

On the other hand, Jindalee Ag was established four years ago by Daniel Hibberson, who was driven by a passion to help farmers understand their soil and the microbial workforce beneath the ground.

Jindalee Ag works collaboratively with recycling and waste management operators such as JRR to support the transition to more profitable and sustainable practices within agriculture, horticulture and viticulture.

Mark Darwin, JRR Facilities Manager, says the two companies connected after a chance encounter in Queensland.

“When JRR first started processing FOGO for local governments in 2012, while we understood the technical processes and systems required to produce nutrient rich compost, we didn’t fully understand the end markets,” Mark says.

“As an organisation, we recognised the necessity to educate and build market awareness to be successful.

“We had estimated this would require several years of marketing, field trials, soil analysis and subsidising product to gain market penetration, something that we were committed to undertaking.”

JRR then met Daniel, and through discussions learnt he had already established significant market leads and value-added processes, selling to customers such as Costa Group and Lawson’s Grains.

From there, JRR and Jindalee Ag struck up a partnership, Mark says, with AS4454 and NASAA Organically Certified RichEarth compost produced at JRR facilities and sold through Jindalee Ag’s distribution network.

FORGING AHEAD WITH FOGO

Launched almost 10 years ago, JRR’s RichEarth composting business grew out of the Grafton Organics Recycling Facility (ORF) development. Located in the Northern Rivers Region of NSW, the facility was established through JRR’s Clarence Valley Council FOGO processing contract.

“Since then, our organic recycling and compost business has gone from strength to strength, with three ORF’s now fully-operational, producing high quality mulch and compost products,” Mark says.

All RichEarth compost batches are sampled and tested to ensure they meet the strict quality control requirements of the AS4454 Standard. Mark adds however that JRR and Jindalee Ag are dedicated to exceeding market expectations.

“Put simply, our approach is setting high standards and then bettering them. We are finding that there are facilities focusing on a gate fee for their revenue and then flooding the market with cheap product,” he says.

“We knew that to realise a return we needed to differentiate ourselves from the market and provide a value proposition to farmers by committing to and producing higher quality product.”

To achieve this, Mark says JRR and Jindalee Ag work to keep communication lines open through extensive stakeholder communications strategies.

“This involves working with councils to manage contamination and inform public education programs, as well as consistently engaging with collection drivers, contamination sorters, facility operators and the EPA,” Mark explains.

“Our processes include undertaking regular quality and site inspections, sharing test results and product images between sites and weekly teleconferences with stakeholders. These actions are all taken with the express intention to collaboratively discuss operations and identify issues.”

Furthermore, JRR and Jindalee Ag run on-site field days to educate the public and keep them engaged with the organic’s recovery process. 

According to Mark, proactively engaging with the public has a twofold effect.

“By observing the organics recovery process firsthand, people are more likely to understand the effects of contamination, and in turn, more likely to engage in better source separation practices,” Mark says.

“On the flip side, that engagement is also beneficial for us, as we get a better read on the public’s needs and how we could better service them.

“JRR and Jindalee Ag are committed to producing compost of value. The importance of returning organic matter and vital nutrients to the soil cannot be underestimated.”

With the NSW Government injecting over $24 million to support local councils improve FOGO kerbside services, Mark highlights JRR’s proven record of providing holistic FOGO solutions for local government.

“We believe in the importance of stakeholder communication in producing quality compost beneficial to Australian soils and work hard with all parties to produce the best organically certified compost we can,” he says.

Pictured: Mark Darwin, Daniel Hibberson and Ross Skinner. 

For more information click here.

Related stories: 

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.

Related stories: 

SA allocates $1.6M in funding to tackle waste spike

Household waste production has spiked in South Australia, with more people staying home due to COVID-19.

According to Environment Minister David Speirs, preliminary data from the Australian Council of Recycling shows waste volumes are up by more than 10 per cent in the past two months.

“With increased purchasing and consumption due to COVID-19 restrictions, South Australian councils and the local compost industry are also reporting an increase in organics waste, a large portion of which is food scraps,” he said.

“To help reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfill, the state government is making $1.6 million funding available for councils to improve household food waste recycling programs.”

The Kerbside Performance Plus Food Organics Incentives Program, a Green Industries SA initiative, encourages councils to provide an effective food waste recycling service to residents by subsidising the cost of kitchen caddies, certified compostable bags and supporting education.

As it stands, as much as 40 per cent of the material in South Australian household waste bins sent to landfill is food and organics, which could be diverted through the green bin, Speirs said.

“With $1.6 million of funding now available, there is a great opportunity to stimulate a wider uptake of food waste recycling, particularly while householders are staying at home in response to COVID-19,” he added.

“Our aim is to ensure householders continue to recycle their food waste by reducing the cost of compostable bin liners provided by councils, and improving the accessibility of the bags.”

Only five South Australian councils currently provide an area-wide distribution of ventilated caddies lined with certified compostable bags.

“This funding will help councils improve their food waste collection and reduce their waste management costs,” Speirs said.

“To relieve pressure on council resources, Green Industries SA will pay the costs of delivering the certified compostable bags on request to housebound residents unable to access these due to closed council libraries and other distribution centres.”

Related stories: 

Supercharging organics: AORA

By ramping up organics recycling, the industry stands to create an additional $1.7 billion in revenue and save 3.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, according to a new report commissioned by AORA. 

A third of the planet’s land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost at a figure of around 24 billion tonnes per year, according to a United Nations-supported study in 2017.

Since the release of that report, Australia has faced one of the most catastrophic bushfires preceded by the hottest and driest conditions in its history.

But despite the global and local challenges, putting more organics to soils offers unprecedented potential to improve soil health and protect the climate.

“The greatest national security risk we face is our capacity to produce food. If you look at our core strength through the current COVID-19 crisis, as a nation, our agriculture industry can produce as much as three times the food as the population,” says Peter Olah, National Executive Officer at AORA.

“Add the fact that we have degradation of soils susceptible to drought, what we need to be switching to is a program that doesn’t deal with soil quality in a reactive manner, but rather part of the long-term national objective.

If we do that, we can use organics during droughts and bushfires to actually supercharge the soils.”

Nick Behrens, Director of the Australian Economic Advocacy Solutions (AEAS), was recently commissioned by the AORA to undertake an investigation into the economic impact of the organics recycling industry.

The investigation not only provides a clear picture of how the industry is faring nationally economically and environmentally, but also in each state and territory.

It will help inform AORA’s upcoming national policy document which will lay out policy priorities for the next 20 years.

The report highlights that each year, the organics recycling industry processed around 7.5 million tonnes of waste to produce valuable product for further use across the Australian economy.

It highlights AORA in 2018-19 recycled 7.5 million tonnes of organic material while providing a collective industry turnover of $2 billion.

The result was a 1.4 per cent increase on the previous financial year. Across the decade, organics recycling has grown on average 3.4 per cent each year. This is against an average population growth rate over the same period of 1.4 per cent.

Importantly, the report shows that industry not only employs almost 5000 Australians, but provides $1.9 billion in benefit across the supply chain.

Peter says the report provides an important baseline to inform future policy discussions with stakeholders and governments.

“In the next six to 12 months we’re going to be talking about significant changes, including policies that look 20 years into the future and some hard targets for the industry and government,” Peter says.

The total estimated greenhouse gas savings from organics recycling in Australia was around 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018-19.

The noticeably higher growth rate for organic recycling is driven by population and economic growth.

This is also a reflection of technological change, access to recycling markets, local government collection charges and federal and state government waste and carbon reduction policies.

NSW accounts for the largest tonnes of organic material being recycled in Australia with 2.8 million tonnes. Victoria is next at 1.5 million tonnes, followed by South Australia – a leader on a per head of population basis – at 1.3 million tonnes.

In terms of organic recycling rates, SA leads the nation at 79 per cent, followed by ACT at 68 per cent, NSW at 57 per cent and Victoria at 50 per cent.

“There’s no question it’s easier to operate in some states than others and the figures show that pretty starkly,” Peter says.

“The reasons for that are pretty clear. In SA you’ve had a state government which has consistently crossed party lines for around 30 years and created an environment where there’s certainty. The result of that is a highly developed sector achieving extraordinary results.”

One of the key talking points from the report is the modelling of increasing current organic rates nationally to 70, 80, 90 and 95 per cent.

At 70 per cent, organics recycling businesses would generate an extra $771 million in sales. This would save an additional 1.5 million in greenhouse gas emissions.

Ramping it up to 95 per cent would create $1.7 billion in additional revenue and provide $1.6 billion in supply chain opportunity.

An extra 3.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved, which is the equivalent of taking 741,524 cars off the road.

“These scenarios are vital because they prove the benefits are substantial. It also provides a framework for what we need to do as an industry and what government needs to do in collaboration with us to allow those targets to be met,” Peter says.

“The hindrance to achieving more at the moment is the capacity of the industry to scale up, and the problems there are largely around the capacity for certainty in both supply and demand, but also in terms of approvals.”

However, in spite of this, Peter highlights the good news is that the demand for quality output is there and the industry is capable and ready to upscale to process it.

“Guaranteeing the quality, reliability and security of input will ensure we can reach the 90 to 95 per cent target laid out in the report,” Peter says.

Related stories: 

Waste 2020: the urban potential for FOGO

According to NSW red bin audit data, 41 per cent of red lid bin waste has the potential to be recycled as food and garden (FOGO) waste each week.

Amanda Kane, Organics Manager at NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) said regional NSW has embraced FOGO and inner city councils are on the rise to strengthen their FOGO services.

In March 2020, a green lid bin update of the 2018 NSW FOGO bin audit was released and Kane said the results were similar, highlighting the need for further FOGO projects.

Kane virtually presented findings at the Waste 2020 webinar series, organics and FOGO.

“Since the first audit in 2018, contamination has gone down to 2.2 per cent and we’re seeing some great figures in this area,” she told webinar attendees.

However, Kane said according to the audit update report, there are significant changes and service variations by region.

“Where effective FOGO services are in place in NSW, there are actual changes to the way all waste services operate, including household,” she said.

“FOGO services seem to reduce the total amount of waste generated, increase dry recycling, recover more resources and divert more from landfill.”

Kane said there are a variety of factors that require further exploration, including changes in broader behaviours and attitudes due to changes in services, education around FOGO extending to other waste issues, and how strategic waste management leads to ongoing improvements.

The FOGO Education Deep Dive Project is now underway across 24 FOGO councils and DPIE is hoping this program will drive increased efficiency.

“Social research will indicate how people use the bin, what they think about it and why they do particular behaviour,” she said.

“It’s in the field now and we expect draft findings by the end of the month. We will also be working with the FOGO council to test education interventions.”

Kane said the Net Zero Emissions plan released in March, that includes Net Zero Emissions of Organics Waste by 2030 is a game-changer for organics in NSW.

“With organics, there are opportunities through diversion, plus carbon benefits in soils, increased yields, improved water retention that builds drought resilience and improved soil health,” she said.

In NSW, organic waste has only been measured through tonnes diversion from landfill.

“Now, we will be looking at measuring through emission reductions, and are aligned with the emissions and climate policy,” Kane said.

In the meantime, Kane said DPIE is working through refining the organics policy direction through the 20 year waste strategy.

“We are also seeking funding post 2021, to get that extra 41 per cent of organics out of the bin and meeting those emission targets,” she said.

The next instalment of Waste 2020’s webinar series will explore the role of social enterprise in the circular economy. To register click here

Image credit: Katherine Griffiths / City of Sydney

Related stories:

Southern Grampians Shire launches FOGO

Residents in Victoria’s Southern Grampians Shire will soon receive a third, lime green lidded bin, as council prepares to introduce its compulsory FOGO collection service.

Council resolved to introduce the service to all townships currently in the compulsory kerbside waste service zones in September 2019, with bins to be rolled out in the coming weeks. Residents will also receive a kitchen caddy with their bin.

Southern Grampians Shire Mayor Chris Sharples said the service sees council ahead of the curve when it comes to processing organic waste.

“We made the decision to introduce the three-bin system to increase our effectiveness in processing our organic waste following a series of audits,” he said.

“Since resolving on this decision in September last year, the state government has now mandated that all councils introduce a compulsory FOGO service as part of its circular economy policy.”

According to Mr Sharples, more than 50 per cent of waste in Southern Grampians Shire bins is organic food and garden waste.

“This material breaks down without air and releases harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. With the introduction of the compulsory FOGO bin, this organic material will be composted and returned to farm land to improve soil health,” he said.

“Importantly, it also saves council on costs associated with landfill charges, EPA levies and transport costs.”

Bins will be collected fortnightly from July 1 2020, on the alternate week to recycling. In spring however, bins will be collected weekly to account for excess garden waste produced at that time.

Related stories:

X