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.

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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.

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Next generation AORA

AORA’s new Executive Officer Peter Olah speaks with Waste Management Review about the association’s plans to support and strengthen the Australian organics industry. 

The organics industry is in interesting times. While awareness over the importance of sustainable organics management has never been higher, compliance costs, regulatory changes and disrupted end markets are causing problems for small and medium enterprises.

How to effectively manage and process food waste is gaining traction though, with Infrastructure Victoria’s Recycling and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Evidence Base Report suggesting consistent approaches to FOGO are critical to achieving greater overall resource recovery rates.

Though this is likely welcome news to the Victorian arm of the organics sector, across the border in NSW, the situation is murkier.

In October, the NSW EPA reaffirmed its 2018 Mixed Waste Organics Output decision, stating the authority had no intention of amending its revocation of the material’s resource recovery exemption order.

For Peter Olah, the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) new Executive Officer, the organics industry’s current challenges present an opportunity for growth.

“While I’m entering my new role at AORA in a challenging time for not just the organics industry, but the recycling industry at large, I’m excited to face those challenges head on and support the organics industry as it advances,” Peter says.

Peter, who currently serves as the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute’s Chief Executive Officer, has an extensive background in politics and public administration.

He previously worked on the private staff of a NSW Premier, and served as a Policy Advisor to Ministers for Justice and Police.

Furthermore, Peter served as a Hurstville City Council Councillor in Sydney for 12 years, including three terms as Hurstville Mayor and three as Deputy Mayor.

“I also worked with NSW State Transit for seven years, fulfilling a number of management functions for the organisation’s board and CEO, including projects in government and customer relations, public affairs, industrial advocacy, internal communications and cost efficiency,” he says.

Drawing on this leadership experience, Peter intends to help AORA deliver the objectives laid out in its 2019-2022 National Strategy.

“The strategy’s mission statement is to work with stakeholders to facilitate the conditions through which surplus organic material can be sustainably and cost-effectively recycled.” Peter says.

“Furthermore, we intent to promote the beneficial use of compost  and mulches in primary industries.”

In addition to the overall mission, Peter says AORA have three key objectives, including strengthening AORA as the peak body for the organics recycling industry and championing a pathway to optimise closed loop organics recycling.

Additionally, he says, AORA intends to establish and participate in knowledge hubs for recycled organics research, development, extension and communication.

“I will use my experience in stakeholder management and knowledge of political processes to ensure our member’s voices are heard and continue the advocacy and industry support role of AORA,” he says.

“As the central body for organics in Australia, I also intend to ensure the sustainable growth of the association.”

To achieve this, Peter says he will take time to speak with members about their concerns and ensure those concerns are further discussed with the AORA board.

One of AORA’s next steps, he says, is collaborating with members to establish standards and best practice certifications programs.

“AORA’s members are leaders in the organics space, and drawing on their expertise, I hope to use my position to identify, communicate and celebrate best practice strategies, technologies, performance and products,” he says.

“By working together, AORA can help create an environment where the work of individuals and organisations in the organics industry leads the way to a more sustainable Australian future.”

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