Does Victoria need four bins?

With much discussion on a four-bin system in Victoria, the key questions are: how will it work? and what will it achieve? writes Jenni Downes, Research Fellow at BehaviourWorks.

In the last two years since China implemented its National Sword waste import restrictions, the waste industry and many others have been watching and waiting for strong state government policy responses.

Victoria has just answered, with the release of its long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria.

It covers a suite of broad-scale changes warmly welcomed by Australia’s peak waste bodies, including regulation of waste as an essential service, progressively increasing the landfill levy, introducing standards and specifications and $100 million in support for industry and infrastructure development to support new markets.

However, the announcement that received the most immediate news coverage was the introduction of a consistent state-wide household recycling collection system capturing four separate streams (the four-bin system).

What is the proposed system, and how will it work?

Details are still being ironed out by individual councils, but by 2030 the new system will see collection expand from the current two or three bins that most households have to four bins.

Adapted by the author from vic.gov.au

The purple glass stream will come first, with the gradual roll-out starting next year as some Victorian council’s existing collection contracts end.

The service will be fully in place by 2027. The expanded green bin service accepting food scraps alongside garden waste must be rolled out by 2030.

There are a number of important considerations to ensure a smooth transition and effective system.

Among these are: the type of glass service (eg. bin, crate or even drop-off point), the collection schedule (balancing household needs against transport efficiency) and new processing arrangements.

Another critical consideration is correct use of the new system, namely: keeping contamination of the green, yellow and purple bins to a minimum.

If the purpose of the new system is to improve the quality of collected materials then household behaviour is critical – and the policy recognises this, including provisions for statewide education and behaviour change campaigns.

We know from our research that “education” is rarely if ever sufficient to achieve widescale changes in behaviour. Recent BehaviourWorks research identified that changing the physical context is one effective way to disrupt existing recycling habits and allow new ones to emerge, and the extra bin(s) could provide this opportunity.

But any communications capitalising on this must be salient enough to grab and hold attention in our fast-paced, information overloaded world, plus address the many misconceptions and attitudinal barriers that undermine correct recycling.

Such campaigns could adopt persuasion and social modelling, and if rolled out state-wide, this might also change the social context, creating new social norms, all of which should reduce contamination behaviours.

The second, and more crucial question is, what will this achieve? (And is it necessary?)

We know that the issues affecting our recycling system fall on both the supply-side (eg. packaging design and collection) and demand-side (eg. infrastructure and end-markets).

While there is much that governments can do (and Victoria is certainly trying with its new policy) to directly stimulate demand, many local remanufacturers frequently point to the poor quality of household recyclables as a barrier – and the four-bin system is designed to tackle this.

The introduction of any consistent (and consistently-communicated) collection system across the state is the most exciting aspect of this announcement, and demonstrates strong leadership.

Such consistency should address one of the main drivers identified by BehaviourWorks behind household contamination: misinformation and confusion among households about what is and isn’t recyclable.

We also know that source separation of recyclables can increase the quality of material collected, and (despite ‘common sense views of convenience’) it can also actually make it easier for people to know what belongs in each bin. For example, it’s easier to know if something is a ‘plastic container’ than to know if it is ‘recyclable’.

One key issue with the current commingled collection system is the impact it has on the recyclability of both the kerbside glass and fibre streams, through the continual breaking down of glass items into piles of multi-coloured ‘fines’ and shard embedded in paper and cardboard.

Given the cross-contamination, it is perhaps no surprise that paper and glass are the most common single streams kerbside collections in Europe according to European Commission research, and both have rare appearances in Australia.

The new purple glass bin will substantially improve the quality of collected paper by removing the possibility for glass shards.

BehaviourWorks Australia (forthcoming report)

Owens-Illinois, Australia’s largest glass remanufacturer, also believes that a glass only collection will significantly increase glass recovery, up to at least 90 per cent, according to their submission to the last Federal Parliamentary Inquiry.

However, breakage is likely to be even greater in glass-only bins, which won’t have any cushioning from fibres and plastics, and so would presumably require additional colour sorting of glass fragments for any closed-loop recycling.

Glass crates or glass dropoff bring-back systems (such as that in Ballarat, VIC and Ipswich, QLD) could potentially reduce breakage, allowing easier colour sorting.

All of these will also (still) require households not to contaminate with ineligible items like glassware, ceramics and lightbulbs.

The alternative separated fibre stream (in blue-lidded bins in NSW) could also reduce the cross-contamination of paper by glass, as well as keeping the paper clean of any remaining food/liquid residues in glass, plastic and metal containers.

It also makes communication around the remaining commingled streams much simpler to households, as the yellow bin becomes the ‘container recycling’ bin for plastic, metal and glass containers.

There are also other alternatives that can be looked at such as reducing the compaction of recyclables in the collection trucks and expanding existing container deposit schemes.

Collection is only one piece of the puzzle

While standardising the recycling system and addressing cross-contamination of glass and paper should improve some aspects of quality, demand-side issues will still remain for household recycling.

Other elements are also needed to address larger household recycling and waste challenges.

These include increased extended producer responsibility schemes tackling unrecyclable packaging and planned obsolescence of products, national support for the recycling industry to meet the export ban, and regulating the incorporation of recycled material in packaging, products and infrastructure through government procurement policies, mandated industry targets and/or fiscal policies, such as a tax on products made from 100 per cent virgin materials.

This article appeared in the May edition of Waste Management Review. To subscribe to Waste Management Review with free home delivery click here

Related stories: 

Recycling Victoria: a new economy? Part three

The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.

This is the final article in a three part series: part three will explore Recycling Victoria’s organics recovery targets, the state government’s Social Procurement Framework and efforts to support safe and effective high-risk and hazardous waste management. To read part two click here

In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.

The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.

Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.

REDUCING METHANE MECHANISMS

 Listing organics as a priority material, Recycling Victoria seeks to cut the volume of organic material sent to landfill by 50 per cent between 2020 and 2030, with an interim target of 20 per cent reduction by 2025.

The strategy also aims to ensure every Victorian household has access to food and garden organic waste recycling services or local composing by 2030.

Furthermore, the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund will encourage investment in organic waste sorting and processing infrastructure, while the Recycling Markets Acceleration package aims to build strong markets for products made from recovered organic waste such as compost.

The Victorian Government will also introduce new rules requiring businesses to sort commonly recyclable materials and organic waste from unrecoverable waste.

Frank Harney, Australian Organics Recycling Association Victoria Chair, says that while the strategy broadly represents positive movement for the organics sector, particularly in regard to state-wide FOGO collection, more work needs to be done to stop organics ending up in landfill. Frank adds that were it up to him, organics in landfill would be banned immediately.

“We don’t have the capacity in composting facilities to handle more material. We’re currently processing 700,000 tonnes and that will at least double. We’re already at processing capacity now, so there needs to be a lot of initiatives directed at decontamination and getting sites licensed,” he says.

Frank highlights decontamination as critical, suggesting that while councils are working at further educating the public, a certain level of contamination will always be present at kerbside.

“The system needs to be designed in a way where it comes in the front gate, gets decontaminated, gets chipped and into the vessels, and then goes out to maturation sites,” he says.

Frank also suggests that more work needs to be done on the classification of waste, so organic material can be more efficiently composted. He adds that while he isn’t sure why a lettuce leaf needs to go through maturation, “that’s the rule.”

The structure of contracts also needs to change, Frank says, suggesting that awarding large scale council contracts to single entities creates a number of logistical market challenges.

PROACTIVE PROCUREMENT

As a large buyer of goods and services, the Victorian Government has committed to creating strong markets for recycled materials. As such, Recycling Victoria states that the state government will seek new opportunities to purchase products containing recycled materials and use recycled materials to build roads, railways and other public infrastructure.

“The Victorian Government’s Social Procurement Framework requires government buyers to consider opportunities to deliver social and sustainable outcomes in every procurement activity. This includes sustainable material choices and buying products made from recycled content where appropriate,” the strategy reads.

Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, highlights that the Victorian Government is simultaneously the state’s largest employer and its largest procurer of goods and services.

“It’s great to see the government playing an essential role in driving circular economy outcomes through the policy,” he says.

According to Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Managing Director, the strategy is a sign of support for resource recovery and recycled content infrastructure.

“We know that a strong market for recycled materials supports resource recovery, which diverts more material away from landfill and reduces stockpiling. It also preserves valuable natural resources which are increasingly difficult to access and costly to transport,” he says.

“Many Big Build projects are located close to Melbourne, making recycled material from metropolitan areas the ideal supply choice. The use of locally sourced recycled content substantially reduces heavy vehicle use, which reduces congestion and carbon emissions.”

It should be noted however that Recycling Victoria lists no concrete targets. Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO, says this is cause for concern, and reflects a limited level of understanding as to where the real opportunities to procure recovered materials are.

“The upside however is that state agencies such as the Major Roads Projects are getting the message to increase recycled content in their procurement. This shift in behaviour has to be adopted more widely across government,” Rose says.

“To do this, the government has to remove the perceived risk of substituting virgin materials with recovered materials by fast tracking standards, working with industry to address supply chain issues and providing practical guidance in specifying state and local government tenders.”

On the flip side, Rose says the resource recovery industry has to step up to ensure quality materials can be supplied in line with construction and manufacturing standards and timelines.

“Working together is critical here, and government should establish supply chain groups to resolve these barriers to increasing the use of recovered materials,” she says.

TRACKING REGULATION:

To support safe and effective high-risk and hazardous waste management, the state government has committed to implementing stronger regulation, policy and planning. Industry investment in better hazardous waste management, including opportunities to maximise the safe and cost-effective recovery and recycling of these wastes will also be encouraged.

Furthermore, the Victorian Government will consider the potential introduction of new levies for waste being stockpiled for long periods. A Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate within the EPA will also be established to work across government with WorkSafe Victoria, emergency services agencies, local government and other regulators.

Rose says the NWRIC is pleased to see resources being committed to support a waste crime prevention inspectorate. She adds that for too long, unlicensed and illegal waste activities have been allowed to occur across the state, harming the environment and putting the community at risk and undeservingly damaging the reputation of good operators.

“Together with the recent changes to the environment protection Act, this resource will provide the EPA with the necessary tools to stop unlicensed and illegal waste management activities,” Rose says.

“The NWRIC considers that all waste and recycling operations must be conducted in accordance with state, national and international environmental, health and safety regulations. Failure to do so is not acceptable.”

The moves come of the back of a 2019 $5.5 million investment to switch to a GPS electronic tracking system, following a series of high-profile illegal stockpile fires. With improved data analytics and reporting, the system is designed to better record the production, movement and receipt of industrial and high-risk waste.

According to Mark, the VWMA is supportive of the state government’s intention to level the playing field.

“Illegal operators undermined confidence in the system and undercut legitimate businesses. Illegal sites have chewed up millions of dollars in clean-up costs, and I’m hopeful all these investments will begin to tackle upstream and downstream players that feed this underbelly,” he says.

“Essential to the success of this program will be recognising the role compliant operators can play, and the broader onboarding of industry.”

Mark says the VWMA sees itself as a partner with the EPA on that process.

“The EPA has been really supportive of us in helping build businesses capability and capacity to understand their duties and obligations. It is a big task and we want to work with the government on this,” he says.

Related stories: 

Recycling Victoria: a new economy? Part two

The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.

This article is the second in a three part series: part two will explore the forthcoming CDS, waste as an essential service and the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund. To read part one click here

In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.

The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.

Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.

CASH FOR CANS

Before Recycling Victoria’s February release, Victoria, often touted as the ‘progressive’ state, was the only Australian jurisdiction without a container deposit scheme (CDS) in place or forthcoming.

The state government’s CDS hesitance has been an ongoing point of frustration for industry, with Ms D’Ambrosio telling delegates at VWMA’s August 2019 State Conference that the state government had no current plans to develop a CDS.

Additionally, despite an acknowledgement of demonstrated success in other jurisdictions, Infrastructure Victoria’s October 2019 interim waste report suggested more analysis was needed on how to design an optimal scheme for the state. That said, the times are changing, with Recycling Victoria committing to introduce a CDS by 2023.

Speaking with Waste Management Review in March, Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister, said the Victorian commitment means Australia is now fully covered by CDS.

“The next question is whether we can get those schemes operating as harmoniously as possible. We know a harmonised approach between the states and territories would lead to the very best outcomes for Australia,” he said.

While the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) would prefer to see a national CDS, Rose Read, NWRIC CEO, says at minimum, Victoria should work with all other state and territory CDS’ to ensure performance criteria for community access, network distribution, collection and material recovery targets.

She adds that reporting set by governments should be consistent to ensure services can be delivered cost effectively by the industry to the beverage suppliers.

While Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, says he is supportive of Victoria’s CDS announcement, he similarly stresses the need to select a model that puts community access, ease of use and accessibility first, and doesn’t put remote and regional communities at a disadvantage.

“I’m optimistic that government will appropriately consultant with all the key stakeholders about a CDS role out including the VWMA members. Our association is here to advocate for our members and I’d really encourage the teams working on CDS to engage with us, Victoria’s peak body representing the sector” he says.

“I’d encourage any of our members who are concerned about CDS in Victoria to reach out and voice those concerns directly with us, so we can consider them when engaging with the government in coming months.”

ESSENTIAL REGULATION

Recognising that major reforms are needed to lift the performance of Victoria’s recycling sector, the state government will establish a new dedicated Waste and Recycling Act to govern all aspects associated with waste and recycling services. And in effect, regulate waste as an essential service.

“This new Act will address current gaps by requiring improved data collection from waste and recycling organisations (including material recovery facilities) to provide transparency and accountability for what happens to our waste,” the strategy reads.

Nick Harford, Equilibrium Managing Director, says regulating waste as an essential service represents sensible reform. He notes that in 2019, the Essential Services Commission was asked by the state government to review the waste and resource recovery sector.

“They provided a confidential report to government last year, and obviously we don’t know what was in it. But they indicated at the time that they saw a limited availability of recycling markets and additional capacity constraints,” he says.

According to Nick, the Essential Services Commission also indicated that they wanted to explore contractual arrangements, barriers to market and community and business expectations.

“I think these are the sorts of things they will now examine, and given the nature of those things, I expect there will need to be some consultation with stakeholders, if not the broader Victorian community,” he says.

Nick notes that responsibilities are likely to change under the Act, highlighting that local government currently holds authority for MSW waste, with different systems and kerbside compositions across local government areas.

“I think government is signalling that these new powers may enable a state-wide approach. It may be outcomes focused, for instance, the state government sets its expectations and it’s up to local government or other authorities to achieve that. Or it could be a more mandated approach,” he says.

The state government will also establish a new waste authority in 2021, with the aim of better governing Victoria’s waste and recycling systems, and holding waste service providers to account. This will ensure, the strategy suggests, that recent recycling disruptions are not repeated.

In terms of how these changes will affect the private sector, Nick forecasts that it will lead to increased accountability.

“It’s flagged in the policy that greater data collection and reporting is expected. Which I assume is another driver for legislating as an essential service, because it gives the state power to demand reporting from the sector,” he says.

“That will potentially lead to more costs, but we’ll have to see how it pans out. Recycling companies have been getting better and better in terms of tracking and reporting their materials handling. So really, it’s just business as usual. I think the general principle is that an informed market is an efficient market.”

Nick highlights that if the Essential Services Commission informs the purchase of waste and recycling services in a more effective manner, it could lead to increased competition, and as such, more innovation, as companies look for opportunities and competitive advantages.

WASTE-TO-ENERGY CAP

In addition to essential services regulation, Nick highlights Recycling Victoria’s waste-to-energy (WtE) commitments as significant, albeit vague.

“This is an area where we as an industry need to see more detail, because the state government mentions giving priority to aerobic digestion as a technology, as well as putting a cap on the amount of material that can go to WtE via thermal technology,” he says.

Despite a recognition of the role WtE plays in a functioning resource recovery sector, the state government has placed a cap of one million tonnes a year on the amount of residual waste that can be used in thermal WtE facilities, until 2030.

“The cap will be implemented through new rules which will be given effect by legislation or regulations. The cap will include all thermal WtE facilities and apply to the quantity of waste they use as feedstocks,” the strategy reads.

In reference to the cap, Nick says he isn’t sure how it will play out.

“Does that include facilities that are already approved, even if they are not up and running? Australian Paper for example is already approved, which is 700,000 tonnes per annum of material earmarked for thermal processing. They haven’t secured that material yet, but it is on the drawing board,” he says.

According to Rose, applying a volume cap provides certainty to industry, and importantly, gives the community confidence that genuine recyclables won’t be used as feedstock.

“However, the NWRIC does not believe a cap of one million tonnes is appropriate, as currently there is over 4.2 million tonnes going to landfill, of which between 40 per cent to 50 per cent of this material would be considered eligible residual waste,” she says.

Under Recycling Victoria, the state government has also committed to supporting early entrants into Victoria’s WtE market, including facilities that use organic waste to make bioenergy or provide precinct-scale energy.

Investment support will include grant or loan funding, and investment facilitation to help proponents navigate regulatory and financial processes. The government will also fund research to develop safe end uses for residual products such as ash and digestate.

CAPACITY EXPANSION

The state government has allocated $100 million via the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to help local businesses establish and upgrade infrastructure to sort and reprocess recyclables for use in manufacturing. The fund will be administered by Sustainability Victoria (SV).

“The package includes $30 million in grants to make Victoria a leader in recycling innovation – creating new products from recycled materials like glass, plastic, organics, electronic waste, concrete, brick and rubber,” Premier Daniel Andrew said.

“The government will also provide $10 million in grants to help businesses improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and increase recycling in their daily operations – saving them time and money.”

Sustainability Victoria Chief Executive Officer Claire Ferres Miles

Claire Ferres Miles, SV Chief Executive Officer, says SV are proud to have played a significant role in developing the Recycling Victoria policy.

“Our work to transform the recycling sector is already underway – SV designed and recently launched $39.5 million in grants from the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to boost recycling capacity in Victoria,” she says.

“We look forward to supporting all Victorians as together we transition to a circular economy, and ensuring our community has a recycling system that can be relied on.”

According to Claire, widespread disruption to global recycling market has exposed the volatility of Victoria’s recycling system, and the need to invest in industry to increase resilience.

“The Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund is focussed initially on plastics and paper and cardboard reprocessing and glass beneficiation, as there are significant gaps for these materials,” she says.

Claire notes however that the exact processing gap for any material is not clear cut, with many variables.

“Using market intelligence and horizon scan activity, we are proactively working to be aware of how materials are moving through our economy and where government intervention is required,” she says.

“As an example of this, we used our e-waste material flow analysis to identify photovoltaic panels as an emerging waste issue. This data has supported us to develop a national stewardship approach to address this issue.”

In addition to the Infrastructure Fund, Recycling Victoria will see the expansion of the state government’s Investment Facilitation Service.

“SV’s Investment Facilitation Service is available to all Victorian-based resource recovery businesses, and since its inception in 2015, has engaged with over 400 resource recovery projects,” Claire says.

“The service promotes opportunities in the sector, supports business case development and coordinates the investor’s relationship across government.”

The service has also been a critical conduit through which industry concerns and needs informed Recycling Victoria’s development, Claire says. She adds that much of this feedback and insight is reflected in the policy.

“Over the coming months, SV will work closely with industry to define an enhanced role for this service that is high value and fit-for-purpose, for both current and emerging challenges, and opportunities to achieve investment attraction in Victoria,” Claire explains.

In addition to the paper and cardboard, plastic and glass materials fund, SV has opened grants for the Infrastructure Fund’s hazardous waste stream, with expressions of interest sought until 8 May.

“There is an estimated 15,000 – 29,000 tonnes per annum of liquid hazardous wastes containing recyclable solvent that needs to be managed in Victoria. Currently there is limited capacity to recycle these solvents,” Claire says.

“This funding will support the establishment of recycling infrastructure to viably increase the recycling of solvents for use in the Victorian economy.”

Of the Investment Fund, Jillian Riseley, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) Chief Executive Officer, says there is significant opportunity to improve infrastructure capacity across Victoria.

“It’s exciting as we look to the future and our role in facilitating the delivery of new recycling services contracts for councils,” she says.

Jillian adds that MWRRG is in the final stages of its review into the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan.

“It will make a range of recommendations for the waste and resource recovery sector to ensure we meet our future needs and objectives to reduce waste and increase resource recovery,” she says.

“In reviewing our Metropolitan Implementation Plan, we consulted with industry to understand the capacity and future needs of the sector to ensure we have the right infrastructure in place.”

MWRRG have ensured that the review recommendations align with the objectives of Recycling Victoria, the findings of Infrastructure Victoria’s report on the waste and resource recovery sector and the national waste policy, Jillian adds.

According to Duncan Lummis, ARCADIS Associate Technical Director, Recycling Victoria provides some long-awaited clarity and an outline route map to help steer Victoria away from its current over reliance on landfill and export markets for recyclables.

He adds that currently, multiple government agencies have either recently, or are in the process of, considering the scale of capacity gaps in Victoria’s reprocessing infrastructure.

“Sustainability Victoria’s updated 2018 Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan identified significant gaps across the state. Notably, these included a lack of reprocessing facilities for organic and residual wastes across all regions in Victoria,” he says.

These gaps, Duncan adds, have the potential to become more significant in light of the new, ambitious landfill diversion and recovery targets.

In the medium term, he says, FOGO processing capacity needs to be increased significantly to manage the newly expanded household services.

“The scale of the gaps, by region and material type, would be clearer with the release of government studies, data and analysis used to support the development of the new policy,” Duncan says.

In terms of Recycling Victoria’s infrastructure funding commitments, Duncan says “time will tell” as to whether the new funding referenced in the policy is adequate.

“Key considerations will be the measurement of future landfill diversion and recovery performance against the policy’s targets, and the ability of future funding priorities to be refocused where required,” he says.

“Flexibility to change future funding priorities is needed to address underperforming areas and sectors. The revamped waste data system in Victoria should also be used to ensure that future funding is appropriately targeted.”

Duncan says the decision to initially focus on organic, plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, textiles and tyre processing is positive.

“In addition, for WtE solutions to process residuals, the indirect support provided through increases in the landfill levy is a game changer that should enable much needed alternatives to landfill to enter the Victorian market,” he explains.

Duncan adds that contaminated soil reprocessing solutions would also benefit from clear, longer term support mechanisms to encourage investment.

“This would help to address the emerging PFAS issues, partly resulting from Victoria’s Big Build agenda, which has resulted in large quantities of contaminated soils being stockpiled” he says.

Duncan expects that specific materials will continue to be prioritised until the trajectory of landfill diversion and recovery performance demonstrates that the new targets are likely to be achieved.

“Confidence in the achievement of the targets is needed, which will not only be gained through the provision of key financial packages, levy increases and regulatory changes, but crucially, will be demonstrated and evidenced through more robust and reliable data,” he says.

“Monitoring of performance against the targets should be ongoing and used to inform future revisions to the policy when required, to help ensure councils, communities, commerce, industry and the waste management sector are collectively kept on track to achieve the targets.”

THE INTERIM WASTE REPORT

Published in October 2019, Infrastructure Victoria’s (IV) interim waste report sought to examine the waste and resource recovery sector through an infrastructure lens.

Evidence from the report suggested Victoria was failing to meet its stated waste policy objectives, including reducing waste to landfill and minimising the impact of waste disposal on human health and the environment.

While two separate documents, Jonathan Spear, IV Deputy Chief Executive, says he is pleased to see an alignment between IV’s report and Recycling Victoria.

“There are lots of themes there and lots of policy directions that government took after this final policy set,” he says.

“It was really good to see, and really good collaboration with IV with industry and with local government and state government to achieve that.”

Following the report, IV was tasked with providing final advice to government, which Jonathan says they have recently delivered.

“The key part of our work was being quite detailed about what the infrastructure requirements are for recycling and resource recovery,” he says.

“What we think government will do is use that to inform the finer details of implementing its policy, especially around what sort of infrastructure investments are meant to be made by industry and local, state and commonwealth governments.”

Jonathan expects IV’s advice will publicly available in the coming months.

Next week’s instalment will explore the policy’s organics recovery targets, the Victorian Government’s Social Procurement Framework and efforts to support safe and effective high-risk and hazardous waste management. 

To subscribe to Waste Management Review with free home delivery click here

Related stories: 

Recycling Victoria: a new economy? Part one

The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.

This article is the first in a three part series: part one will explore Victoria’s landfill levy increase and four-bin kerbside system. 

In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.

The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.

Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.

Key highlights include a $100 million investment in the state’s recycling system to drive research and expand local processing and manufacturing and the introduction of a state-wide four bin kerbside system.

When announcing the policy, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Recycling Victoria would help local businesses “give new life to old rubbish” and drive positive environmental outcomes for the state.

According to Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO, the policy is a signal that government has listened to industry and the community.

“From cleaning up what goes into the bins, improving local processing capacity and remanufacturing and growing local market demand for recovered materials, through to more resources to stop illegal waste activities and a recognition that waste and recycling is an essential service, the state government is committed to addressing the basic systemic issues facing Victoria,” she says.

Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, is similarly supportive, with the policy making headway into key areas VWMA has long advocated for.

“In particular, it’s promising to see Victoria commit to catching up with other states and territories on the container deposit scheme (CDS) front and making important investments into a level playing field by strengthening the EPA’s waste crime capabilities,” he says.

Mark is cautious about implementation however, suggesting Recycling Victoria does not allocate enough money to the private sector.

“We’ve seen VAGO report after VAGO report highlighting the deficiencies in government agencies to deliver waste and resource recovery programs. One way I think we can improve is by government seeing the private sector as a true partner for community engagement and education,” he says.

“It would be appropriate that we see quarterly reporting back to industry on the progress of this ambitious policy, as a way to hold government accountable for the delivery of the relevant actions”.

LOOKING TO THE LEVY

Under Recycling Victoria, the state’s landfill levy is set to almost double, jumping from $65.90 to $125.90 per tonne over three years. Recognising the challenges associated with the ‘tyranny of distance’, the strategy notes proportional increases will be reflected at regional landfills.

While the move prompted some mainstream media critique, with claims it would “hit ratepayers hip pockets”, industry reaction has been favourable.

Bingo Industries Managing Director Daniel Tartak, for example, suggests the increase will prompt technology investment and move Victoria towards international best practice diversion rates.

According to State Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the increase will help support recycling reforms and provide strong investment incentives. Furthermore, Ms D’Ambrosio highlights the increase as a mechanism to stop cross-border dumping, with Victoria’s levy historically lower than neighbouring states.

According to David Cocks, MRA Consulting Victoria Manager, harmonising Victoria’s levy with other jurisdictions is an essential move to help the state meet its resource recovery targets.

“The risk of significant impacts on our waste management system through the transportation of waste is absolutely critical. Plus, from the perspective of supporting investment in recycling, there is nothing like a good economic incentive, and the waste levy certainly supports that,” he says.

 “Additionally, when hypothecated, levies provide a significant opportunity for investment back into the sector to support higher order activities.”

While David says the strategy flags the role of hypothecation, the “sting in the tail” is that investment needs to come through.

“At the moment, circa $300 million has been foreshadowed as additional investment in the sector. But in three years time, the levy increase will produce an additional $240 million per annum – on top of what is already collected,” he says.

“Over the 10-year period of the strategy, these levy increases will realise $2 billion in additional revenue for the state. What is the proportional amount of this revenue to invest back into the sector? Is it 15 per cent or $300 million? I don’t think so.”

Rose says the increase is well overdue, highlighting that the NWRIC has consistently advocated for levy harmonisation to prevent inappropriate movement and disposal of waste.

“The proposed increase will reduce the gap in levy prices between states and encourage greater recovery of recyclable materials. It will also enable energy recovery from waste that can’t be recycled but does have a significant calorific value,” she says.

Furthermore, while Rose says staging the implementation over three years is sensible, NWRIC is recommending that the price increase be deferred for up to six months due to the impacts of COVID-19.

However, like David, Rose stresses the importance of hypothecation.

As highlighted in the NWRIC’s review of all state landfill levies last year, Victoria collected an estimated $215 million in levies in 2017-18, of which only $35 million or 16 per cent was invested back into local council, community and industry waste projects via the Sustainability Fund.

An estimated $104 million (50 per cent) was used to fund the Victorian EPA, Sustainability Victoria and Regional Waste Groups.

“In reviewing the Victorian state government budgets and financial reports, it is extremely difficult to get a clear view of where the levy funds are spent and what is achieved. As part of its landfill levy review, the NWRIC is calling on each state government to establish a separate trust fund and report annually on funds raised, spent and outcomes achieved,” Rose says.

“For too long these funds have been used to support other government activities outside the waste and resource recovery sector, rather than supporting better waste management practices and greater reuse of recycled materials.”

According to Mark, industry is supportive of the increase, under the caveat that the state government delivers the increase while monitoring compliance.

“In recent years we’ve seen government invest more money cleaning up illegal activity than what flows back to private operators who are the main employer and investor in the waste and resource recovery sector,” he says.

“It would be great to have more transparency on landfill levy collection and in particular distribution, including being transparent about what amount the government puts down compared to the private sector. Who gets what exactly shouldn’t be so hard to decipher. I think the NSW Government does this well, and it’s something Sustainability Victoria and DELWP could replicate.”

KERBSIDE REVAMP:

While the levy increase attracted much of the waste sector’s initial attention, scaling outward, it was the four bin kerbside roll-out that peaked major public interest.

The new system will include bins for combined food and garden organics (FOGO), glass, combined paper, plastic and metals, and residual waste. Additionally, all services and bins will be standardised, including lid colours, to simplify the system across councils.

Reforms will be implemented gradually, with the Victorian Government supporting the rollout of new glass bins and bin lids from 2021. According to the strategy, all Victorians will have a new glass bin or access to glass services by 2027. Mandatory rollout of FOGO recovery will commence in 2026-7, with all Victorians to have access by 2030.

“To support the reforms, the Victorian Government will review relevant existing guidelines, policies and regulation to make sure people living in diverse dwelling types, including multi-unit developments, have equitable access to best practice recycling,” the strategy reads.

Mark says while it’s great to see a commitment to standardising bins, the program should be brought forward.

“As I understand it, consistency across Victoria is unlikely to happen until 2025,” he says.

Furthermore, Mark says changes to the kerbside system should be well-funded and accompanied by a consistent public education campaign.

“I hope the agencies rolling out these reforms give the private sector the appropriate opportunities to inform and shape messaging, as the private sector has far more direct contact with the public then the state government does on this front,” he adds.

While the announcement might seem novel to the general public, it follows years of industry discussion over the viability of greater source separation. In the last two years for instance, Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Yarra City Council and Hobsons Bay have introduced and/or trialed four kerbside bins, to positive results.

Speaking with Waste Management Review in 2019, Chris Leivers, Yarra City Council Director City Works and Assets, said the council’s 2018 FOGO trial identified Yarra residents as willing to engage in new kerbside recycling systems. The trial was so successful, he said, that Yarra saw a 40 per cent increase in diversion from landfill, “with current FOGO contamination rates now averaging less than one per cent.”

A spokesperson for the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) highlights the new system as a positive initial step to ensure better material separation.

“Cross contamination of resources is a barrier to effective resource recovery, and the separation of glass is an effective way to reduce that cross contamination,” the spokesperson says.

“We have also called for the standardisation of bin lid colours in the past, so it is great to see the government taking up our recommendation.”

Furthermore, the spokesperson says greater source separation will result in reduced overheads and operating costs for recyclers.

“Greater separation, and therefore less contamination, means recyclers don’t need to reject as much material, therefore getting a better return based on increased volume of material recovered. This will be beneficial for councils in terms of increased shared returns,” the spokesperson explains.

To support councils through the roll out, VLGA is calling on the state government to support community education and initiatives to increases FOGO diversion.

“We specifically asked the government to fund these initiatives through the landfill levy. We also asked the government to support councils through procurement of products made with recycled materials,” the spokesperson says.

While David shares similar sentiments, calling source separation the most cost-effective way to recover resources, he says the state government needs to show evidence that a fourth bin for glass is the right move.

“They haven’t demonstrated a successful business case for that. They may have done the work, but it hasn’t been put forth. There are numbers stated in the policy, but I would like to see where they’ve done that analysis,” he says.

“Perhaps the fourth bin should be for paper and card, especially considering that a future CDS will remove a lot of glass from the kerbside bin.”

Rose also cautions that Victoria’s fourth glass bin is out of step with other states and territories, “making it nationally inconsistent and confusing for the community at large.”

“The NWRIC believes the majority of glass containers would be better dealt with through a CDS, as is being done by other states and territories. However, the fourth bin does mean better separation at source,” she says.

To help industry processes these materials, Rose says the Victorian Government should align with the WA State-wide Guidelines for Kerbside Recycling.

“In the case of Victoria, only the following items should end up in the yellow lidded bin: plastic containers, paper and cardboard boxes flattened (no shredded paper), aluminium and steel containers. All education messages should be consistently applied by local governments across the state to reflect this,” she says.

“The messaging needs to be simple and clear, reinforcing the right behaviours both within households and businesses. Industry should also have the ability to reject bins and loads that do not meet these requirements.”

From a logistics standpoint, Jillian Riseley, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) Chief Executive Officer, says MWRRG will continue to work with councils to implement the changes to their services. She adds that each council is in a slightly different situation, from those with food waste recycling and a glass bin collection already in place, through to those with neither.

“We continue to engage with councils and work with them to map and deliver resource recovery and waste services for their communities. Specifically, we are collaborating with councils on their development of transition plans,” Jillian says.

“In March we hosted a workshop with council waste officers to help them outline a process for the development of transition plans. Our collaborative procurement, contract management, education, training and marketing and communications expertise will support councils throughout the transition.”

Jillian adds that Recycling Victoria is a once in a generation investment.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to ensure we build a more sustainable, resilient sector with new jobs and opportunities for locally delivered resource recovery,” she says.

“Increased kerbside consistency and future state-wide education and behaviour change campaigns will reinforce the work councils already do to engage with their communities.”

Next week’s instalment will explore the forthcoming CDS, waste as an essential service and Victoria’s proposed waste-to-energy cap. We’ll also hear from Claire Ferres Miles, Chief Executive Officer, Sustainability Victoria. 

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What can businesses learn from Recycling Victoria?

With landfill down by 80 per cent – what can businesses learn from the Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria Strategy? Melanie Barstow of Source Separation Systems explains. 

The Victorian Government has introduced a new waste and recycling program, aiming to reduce their waste to landfill by 80 per cent over ten years. It’s an ambitious goal compared to those being set by many commercial organisations, so what can we in business learn, and potentially leverage, from their strategy?

There are two key initiatives which underpin Victoria’s new recycling program. Firstly, the introduction of a new purple glass jars and bottles kerbside bin for residents, which will see household waste source separated into four streams: organics (for composting), plastic/metal/paper and glass (both for recycling) and landfill. The second initiative is the future introduction of a container deposit scheme, which at its core, further source separates waste into cleaner streams, albeit with an incentive.

Source separation into single uncontaminated streams is the key to reducing landfill. It transforms mixed ‘waste’ into a single resource, which can be more cost effectively processed, enabling the commercial scale recycling we are striving for. The new purple bin introduced in Victoria ensures that glass bottles and jars can be accepted as a cleaner single stream resource and so more cost effectively recycled into products such as road base.

The key to achieving best practice resource recovery for business often lies in the landfill bin! Waste is obviously site specific, so the content of landfill bins, once key waste streams are removed, provides further opportunities for recovery.

For many organisations looking to move forward from a traditional two stream program, an organics stream will have the greatest impact. The good news is that such organics can be easily ‘recycled’ through composting, just as nature intended.

For organisations with more advanced source separation already in place, single streams such as coffee cups are becoming more prevalent. These single stream units ensure not only can the wax coated cups be recycled through specific technology, but equally importantly, reduce contamination in the recycling stream, which can see entire recycling bins end up in landfill.

Towards the end of the source separation journey, as effective resource recovery increases and landfill volumes drop, often what remains is dry waste with high calorific properties. Innovative organisations, and indeed even full precincts such as Barangaroo, are introducing ‘dry waste’ streams, which coupled with their single recovery streams, actually eliminate landfill. Such dry waste is processed into briquettes, which are then used in power stations as an alternative to fossil fuels.

As new streams are introduced, consistent with all change programs, effective communication is key. Best practice recycling streams, with Australian standard colours, differentiated apertures, text and graphic labels can play a key role in communication.

The future of resource recovery in Australia, leveraging these single source streams, is looking increasingly positive. We at Source Separation Systems look forward to continuing to partner with more businesses to eliminate landfill, with rainbows of resource recovery solutions customised to each location.

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Sustainability Vic seeks Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund EOIs

Sustainability Victoria is seeking expressions of interest for the state government’s new Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund.

The fund is designed to ramp up recycling infrastructure, improve the recovery of valuable recycled materials and divert waste from landfill. It will initially focus on stimulating investment in infrastructure that can sort and process organic, plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, textile, and tyre waste into high-value material streams.

According to a Sustainability Victoria statement, expressions of interest are now being accepted for two grant streams: Materials (paper, cardboard, plastic and glass) and Hazardous Waste (solvents).

The Materials stream includes $28 million to target infrastructure projects that will reprocess, remanufacture and build end-market capacity for priority recovered materials. While the Hazardous Waste stream includes $11.5 million to target infrastructure projects that can improve the recycling of solvents from liquid hazardous waste.

“This immediate investment will provide support for the government’s transformation of the state’s waste and recycling system, complementing the introduction of a new four-bin system across households and a state-wide container deposit scheme,” the statement reads.

“The Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund will drive innovation and improve the capability of Victoria’s recycling sector. This builds on the $28 million already committed in the 2019–20 budget delivering a record investment in Victoria’s recycling infrastructure as the state embraces a circular economy and a sustainable future.”

Expression of interest will close 3pm May 8.

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Industry set to see immediate Recycling Victoria impact

Victoria’s landfill levy increase is set to have an immediate impact on recovery rates, according to Bingo Industries Managing Director Daniel Tartak.

The increase – $65.90 to 125.90 over three years – is one of many changes outlined in Victoria’s new circular economy policy Recycling Victoria, released earlier this week. Additional changes include the introduction of a container deposit scheme and a $100 million infrastructure investment.

Mr Tartak welcomed the levy increase, applauding the state government’s bold efforts to develop Victoria’s recycling economy.

“It will further encourage recycling, optimise the diversion of waste from landfill and promote the development of a truly circular economy; promote investment in recycling technology, and move Victoria towards international best practice diversion rates,” Mr Tartak said.

“The staged increase in the levy also works well for our customers, who can now plan ahead for this and other structural changes, such as the new EPA Act and increased safety and compliance regulations which will also impact the sector.”

According to Mr Tartak, the polices, commitments and actions outlined in the plan align with BINGO’s Victorian strategy.

“We’ve invested more than $100 million over the past three years in the acquisition and development of recycling assets in anticipation of many of the initiatives outlined in this plan,” he said.

“We recently received approval to operate our advanced recycling facility in West Melbourne for 24 hours per day, seven day per week, so we’ll be ready to accommodate the increased volumes we expect to receive from 1 July onwards. ”

Mr Tartak also highlighted the plan’s support for the development of waste-to-energy facilities, increased resources to monitor illegal behaviour and commitment to increasing the use of recycled materials in construction projects as positive.

According to Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy, Recycling Victoria’s long term measures will help Victorian recover from the recycling crisis and take a leadership position, including in the use of recycled content in infrastructure.

“We’re pleased to see that the Victorian Government has released its new circular economy strategy – Recycling Victoria – overhauling the state’s recycling sector and further reducing waste going to landfill,” Mr Murphy said.

“The industry requires long term decisions, and the 10-year plan features reforms to accelerate Victoria’s shift to a circular economy, including supporting businesses and communities, creating local jobs, and leading the way in the use of recycled materials.”

In reference to Recycling Victoria’s container deposit scheme announcement, Cleanaway CEO Vik Bansal said the move was a step in the right direction towards achieving a circular economy.

“At Cleanaway we have seen firsthand the environmental, economic and social benefits of a container return scheme,” he said.

“A system that encourages consumers to separate recycling at the point of disposal improves the quality of the recyclable material, which makes it an even more valuable commodity for reuse.”

Mr Bansal also applauded the Victorian Government’s efforts to improve the quality of recyclable material across the state.

“The introduction of a fourth recycling bin for glass is expected to reduce contamination and create a cleaner commodity stream,” Mr Bansal said.

“This, in turn, means more materials will be recycled and opens up opportunities for a circular economy for glass.”

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Landfill levy set to double under Recycling Victoria strategy

Victoria’s landfill levy is set to almost double, with the release of the state’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria. 

According to Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the increase – $65.90 to $125.90 over three years – will help support recycling reforms and provide a stronger incentive to invest in new waste technologies.

“Victoria’s landfill levy is significantly lower than our neighbouring states, meaning Victoria is too often used as a dumping ground for waste coming from New South Wales and South Australia,” she said.

“The change reflects an agreement reached by state and territory treasurers to work towards the harmonisation of landfill levies, and will provide a strong incentive to reduce and recycle waste.”

The 10-year plan, Recycling Victoria, outlines a more than $300 million package of reforms, including a statewide four-bin kerbside system, container deposit scheme, nearly $100 million to support resource recovery infrastructure and recognising waste as an essential service.

“This is the largest package of recycling reforms and investment in Victoria’s history. It will revolutionise household recycling, drive business innovation and create jobs of the future. Most importantly, it will give Victorians a truly circular economy and recycling system they can rely on,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Furthermore, Recycling Victoria allocates $71.4 million to tackle waste crime, with more resources to stop illegal dumping and stockpiling and deal with high-risk sites and substances.

Ms D’Ambrosio said a dedicated Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate will be established within the EPA, which will work closely with WorkSafe Victoria, emergency service agencies, councils and other regulators to improve information sharing and coordination.

“For too long, waste crime has undermined Victoria’s recycling sector with dangerous and illegal stockpiling. Our investment will help to clean up the industry and make it fairer for businesses that do the right thing,” she said.

Recycling Victoria also sets new goals for improved resource recovery including a landfill diversion target of 80 per cent. Additional targets include cutting total waste generation by 15 per cent per capita by 2030 and ensuring every Victorian household has access to FOGO services or local composing by 2025.

“These targets will create investment certainty for businesses, while promoting jobs and growth in the industry,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“The government will also provide $14.6 million to support local projects that boost recycling, reduce littering and take advantage of economic opportunities to reduce waste, particularly in regional communities.”

Sustainability Victoria welcomed the release in a media statement, calling Recycling Victoria a bold and transformative 10-year plan to shift the state to a circular economy that wastes less and recycles more.

“We are proud to have played a significant role in developing the policy and our work to transform the recycling sector is already underway, with the launch of $39.5 million in grants from the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to boost recycling capacity in Victoria,” the statement reads.

“Reducing waste and creating a strong recycling system is a shared responsibility. We look forward to partnering with businesses, governments and individuals to move the state towards a circular economy that is built on innovation.”

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