Waste Management Review speaks with Trevor Smart, Turmec UK Managing Director, about the recovery potential of miniature material recovery facilities.
When the Federal Government launched an inquiry into Australia’s waste management and recycling industries in October, Committee Chair Barnaby Joyce said the committee would examine international best practice.
The inquiry will consider opportunities to better manage domestic waste, as well as current impediments to innovation.
It’s a welcome move for Trevor Smart, Turmec UK Managing Director, who says the Australian waste industry could learn a lot from the UK’s approach to resource recovery – notably the uptake of mini material recovery facilities (MRF). He says that a series of events on his recent trip to Australia has him thinking about potential solutions to the country’s current recycling challenges.
Flying from the UK to attend Waste Expo Australia in 2019, Trevor arrived in Melbourne at a time of industry flux. The Council of Australian Government’s waste export ban had just been announced, Victorian councils were dealing with the collapse of SKM Recycling and container deposit scheme discussions were challenging the efficacy of kerbside collection.
Of most interest to Trevor, however, was how the amalgamation of these issues highlighted an opportunity to reshape Australia’s resource recovery and logistics network.
“In Melbourne I met a councillor from a small rural community in Victoria. He explained that the demise of SKM had placed a lot of local authorities under financial and operational pressure,” Trevor says.
“In addition to the loss of this facility, the fact that the council’s recyclates had to travel over 400 kilometres to an MRF meant there were few alternatives.”
This lack of infrastructure capacity, parried with low recyclate tonnages, creates a challenging situation for smaller councils, Trevor says.
Following SKM’s collapse, many rural councils were forced to transport materials further afield, or in some cases, simply revert to landfill.
Trevor adds that the collapse of SKM is a story that’s played out globally numerous times, meaning international approaches can serve as a case study.
Over the course of Waste Expo Australia, Trevor says he had multiple conversations about the applicability of greater kerbside separation in Australia. He adds that the idea was routinely challenged, with many suggesting the economic cost would outweigh recovery benefits.
“We saw the same reaction in the UK when kerbside sorting was introduced. But from our experience, kerbside sorting was a successful move that greatly improved recycling rates and recyclate quality,” he says.
While Trevor admits kerbside separation can be challenging in high-density urban areas, he says suburban and rural implementation is simple.
Referencing urban planner David Gordon’s 2016 analysis of Australian cities, Trevor says 86 per cent of the population live in suburban or exurban neighbourhoods.
“Only 14 per cent of Australians are living in high-density housing, suggesting greater kerbside separation would be well suited to this country. For it to work, however, the system needs to be supported by parallel investment in mini MRF’s.”
Under Trevor’s plan, households separate containers, paper, cardboard and glass. From there, the material is collected by multi-compartment vehicles – eliminating many of the issues associated with kerbside contamination.
“Materials are then delivered to a mini MRF for further sorting, for instance, separating ferrous and aluminium containers from plastic, before baling and onward sale or further processing.”
Trevor adds that paper and cardboard would be baled and stored, ready as a saleable product.
“Glass would also be stored in the yard area for bulk transportation to a reprocessor,” he says.
“This system would not only suit low tonnage, but also give value to the recyclates, whereby semi-sorted clean materials can go directly to a reprocessor or exported for further sorting.”
Trevor says the concept of a mini MRF is simple, with widescale implementation potential across Australia.
He adds that Turmec’s comprehensive engineered recycling solutions cater for a wide range of tonnages and material applications.
“We integrate equipment from market leading suppliers in waste separation technology to produce a high-quality separation process with 99 per cent recovery rates,” he adds.
Trevor says the cost effectiveness of mini MRFs, paired with increased recyclate quality and saleability, has been proved in many UK local authorities.
A 2016 study commissioned by the Welsh Government, for instance, shows switching to source-separated recycling collections could save Welsh councils over one million euros a year.
“Other benefits such as employment, increased householder participation and a reduction of residual waste are also evident in UK studies,” he says.
“While the initial capital expenditure for the vehicles, containers and mini MRFs is going to be higher than refuse collection and transfer vehicles, when compared to MRF gate fees, transportation cost and material quality, the advantages are clear.”