Build it and they will come: Rick Ralph

Waste Management Review catches up with outgoing Waste and Recycling Industry QLD CEO Rick Ralph, talking international waste bans, Queensland policy setting and his career journey.

In 1981, a 20-something Rick Ralph was selling toilet paper and towels in Melbourne.

He’d introduced hospitals to a range of one-way clinical products and disposal paper products, but little did he know his life would be about to change.

Four years prior, he had dropped out of university and followed the sabbatical adolescent rite of passage to travel the globe.

“I probably didn’t apply myself as much as I should have. It’s ironic that I’ve just been installed in the School Hall of Fame for my achievements in the community and environment now 40 years later – quite incredible,” he recalls.

A call out of the blue from one of Rick’s mentors at Comalco Aluminium led him to head up the Cash for Cans Initiative in Victoria  – a world-first container refund scheme.

“Someone had heard about someone, who knew someone, who knew someone, and I got a phone call. I thought this was interesting and in January 1981, started my career in recycling and waste management,” he says.

Comalco promoted aluminium can recycling to the general public by inspiring children and community groups to collect their cans. It saw the establishment of buy-back centres where users could return their cans for a cash return. Much like modern container refund schemes, they raised significant funds for community and charity projects across Australia.

The occasion calls for reflection as Waste Management Review Editor Toli Papadopoulos caught up with Rick, the Chief Executive Officer of Waste Recycling Industry Association (QLD). As Rick recently announced his retirement, I spoke with him over lunch to discuss his 39-year career in waste and recycling.

CASH FOR CANS

Comalco Aluminium’s Cash for Cans initiative would later inspire similar schemes in Western Australia and internationally, and led to a ban on glass sales at Australian Rules Football grounds in Victoria.

“The introduction of the aluminium can and Comalco’s program was the complete reset of the environmental recycling movement in Australia,” Rick says.

“It changed recycling from putting out your 55-litre bin and a few bottles and paper for the garbo to collect to a wholesale reform where it introduced and supported community-based litter programs. It shifted the way glass recycling occurred and shifted the light weighting of glass bottles.”

He adds that it removed steel cans from beverage one-way use and reduced litter of cans from the waste stream. It also triggered the paper industry to change its recycling model.

“We paid out millions each year. At one stage we had 33 per cent of Australia’s primary and secondary school system actively engaged, we had employees developing school’s programs and it was the founding of community events such as the can raft regattas that still go on today.

“What many in government and the community don’t realise is that the aluminium can had the highest recycling rate in the world. At its peak, it performed well over 65 per cent recovery and stabilised somewhere near 60 to 62 percent regularly.”

As the program matured and kerbside commenced in the late 90s, focus shifted, and the program was disbanded.

In the years since, Rick helped introduce beach litter programs with the late Dame Phyllis Frost from Keep Australia Beautiful, while also later working in WA and South Africa.

But in the early 90s, he went back to the Sunshine State as Director of Waste Services at the City of Brisbane, a role which he held for three years.

“I left that because it was either politicians winning or Rick, and Rick was never going to win,” he jokes.

“I then bought a recycling business and we were one of the first materials recovery facilities (MRFs) in Brisbane and the state’s largest glass recycler.”

He stayed in this role for around five years.

Rick then went on to work at an Australian-first pyrolysis municipal solid waste plant as General Manager Recycling and Resource Recovery in Wollongong in NSW.

“It was a genuine attempt at waste-to-energy at the turn of the century and a time when a lot of the alternative waste treatments got going in NSW. We were competing in a very noisy and developing waste space,” Rick says.

THE BUSINESS VOICE

In 2006, an opportunity arose to start an industry association which would become what Rick says provided a business voice for waste and recycling. Working with Tony Khoury, who heads up the Waste Contractors Recyclers Association (WCRA) NSW, one of the oldest waste industry associations in the world, Rick helped established WCRA QLD. Formed in 2007, the association would later be rebranded to Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) in 2012.

On his achievements with WRIQ, he cites supporting the development of environmentally relevant activities such as the Department of Environment and Science (DES) version of EPA guidelines for waste-related activities and our future leaders’ program.

Additionally, replicating the governance model of WRIQ in the Northern Territory and supporting state-based associations in WA and SA was another highlight. Not least, his work setting up the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council in partnership with former CEO Max Spedding.

In respect to the repeal of the levy by the Campbell Newman Government, Rick says there are those that accused WRIQ of advocating for its repeal – a complete falsehood.

“We advocated to get it right because the framework was wrong. The current levy is still wrong as we have this disconnect where only half the state has got it and only that half is paying for the levy.”

Reflecting on the lessons learnt from Cash for Cans, Rick says the Queensland Government’s container refund scheme (CRS) changed forever the operating parameters of existing recycling systems.

Rick says that disruption was inevitable but he doesn’t think we have truly yet analysed where that will stabilise. He says that coupled with changes in commodity values, international quality specifications and product market access, 12 months along only now are we seeing the real impacts to kerbside systems.

“From the social equity view it’s been hugely successful as it provided many communities in Queensland previously without access to recycling an opportunity to participate – a great result,” he says.

“However, it’s time we step back, analyse these changes and leverage those outcomes. We must refocus our attention and ensure kerbside and many other commercial systems are just as sustainable. Existing kerbside models are outdated. They need revitalising and readjustment for them to survive this new community norm.”

CHALLENGES AHEAD

Rick says right now one of the great challenges facing Queensland is a disconnect between government policy and industry, describing the regulatory framework as a failure.

“Be it developing and improving existing assets of brownfield sites or even greenfield developments, Queensland currently is a ‘basket case’ in terms of its planning arrangements and the approvals framework and government is totally responsible for that confused and complex environment.”

Industry was blind-sided when the Queensland Government exercised its legislative powers, introducing new requirements for buffer zones on all new or expanded facilities in the Swanbank and New Chum industrial area.

A Temporary Legislative Planning Instrument (TLPI) was used to suspend part of their planning scheme and took effect for two years from 6 April 2018. The TLPI introduced a 750-metre buffer from existing, approved or planned residential areas for new and expanded waste facilities, including in landfill.

“If you look historically in planning terms, WRIQ agreed in 2013 with the government of the day introducing planning instruments that gave protection to all our existing assets and gave sensitive receptors and community protection as well.

“With the re-election of this current government, it again changed the planning framework, the third government in six years to do so, by slapping a TLPI on us in the most sensitive and secure landfill region for southeast Queensland without any industry consultation.”

Rick’s frustration with the slow process of reform saw him commission an independent survey of 67 WRIQ members in 2018 into the performance of the DES.

The feedback called for a complete overhaul of the DES and the instalment of an EPA to regulate the industry. He maintains that position is more apt today than ever.

I ask if there’s been any progress on the matter since then, he laughs and says Queensland is on Fijian time.

“As a local Fijian once said to me, ‘no worry, no hurry here’,” he says.

“From an industry perspective I think government has heard us. But there is this continuing reluctance to genuinely understand and change things. However we’re going to maintain the pressure. We must.

“I think there’s an opportunity to have a look at what Victoria has done. It may not be perfect, but I think from time to time we need to actually take a step back.”

“I hope my successor goes harder than I ever did on getting our reforms through with the regulator.”

And despite Queensland introducing a $70-per-tonne waste levy in July 2018 on waste to landfill, with council and state elections coming up in 2020, Rick says we are heading for a 10-month period of political paralysis.

“When you add the slowed local economy and lack of industry development, it’s very difficult to actually identify if the levy has worked or not.

“Yes it’s caused a rethink, but what’s disappointing is that industry wants to invest, industry wants to go forward, industry wants to create jobs, but we can’t build a thing.

“You’ve got a culture in Queensland where you can set up, start operating, build it and get retrospective approval. This is the greatest threat to our economic development.”

He says the role of the Federal Government should now be to focus on improving regulatory planning processes to ensure states can support and deliver the national targets.

While his achievements over the past two decades are distinct, he says WRIQ has been grateful just to have a seat at the table.

“You’re never going to influence policy, but you must be at the table to talk.

“You can, however, influence regulations because regulations are where it is for any business owner.”

On the issue of the international waste ban, Rick says we need to get serious and stop referring to it as a ban on “waste”.

He points out that we don’t export waste, but rather recyclate. As waste management in Australia has traditionally focused on collection with a lack of substantive local end markets, he questions why we are banning material if there is a sensible end destination for value-added material.

The National Waste Report finds around 5.6 million tonnes of paper and cardboard was generated in 2016-17, with 60 per cent of this recycled and 40 per cent sent to landfill.

A mere 12 per cent of the 2.5 million tonnes of plastics was recycled that same year. Given the high generation figures, Rick ask if the focus is on international environmental and human health harm, then there are far more urgent materials for the attention of COAG, such as baled up scrap metal that is going out under the radar.

“For goodness sake, industry can’t even update an existing brownfield site. How the hell are we going to find remanufacturing for 1.2 million tonnes of paper and products, and more than 250,000 tonnes of plastics in just a couple of years?”

He adds rushed policy is bad policy, and advocates for a full regulatory impact study that quantifies the economic, social and business impacts of these bans before they happen.

“It’s great we’re talking about remanufacturing, but in the current environment of the interference by government at all levels and our elected representatives, it’s going to be difficult. Realistically, if we don’t have a home for it, materials will go straight to landfill with the only benefits going to government from waste levies.

“That’s the reality and that’s not acceptable.”

As for whether he has any regrets.  Rick sips his drink and responds without hesitation: ‘nothing’.

He says you need to make the mistakes of past to know what you’ve done wrong, so you don’t make them again.

“It’s been fun, but it hasn’t ended. This is a personal reset of my own priorities and handing things over to a new generation of leaders.”

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WRIQ announces 2019 industry awards finalists

The Waste Recycling Industry Association QLD (WRIQ) has announced category finalists for the WRIQ 2019 Industry Awards.

WRIQ CEO Rick Ralph said the awards aim to recognise individuals and projects that contribute to Queensland’s waste management and resource recovery sector.

“The individuals and teams selected as finalists have demonstrated not only a high level of proficiency at their jobs, but also their dedication and commitment to improving and developing Queensland’s essential waste management and resource recovery industry,” Mr Ralph said.

“I thank all those who nominated for this year’s awards for their contribution to the industry and congratulate all deserving finalists.”

Winners will be announced at a gala dinner 19 July at the Brisbane Hilton.

Finalists:

Administrator of the year: SoilCyclers Sarah Armstrong, Raw Metal Corp Steffanie-Jo Kelly and Kanga Bins Tiffany Lim.

Maintenance employee of the year: Suez Randall Mckey, Westrex Services Jason Noble and BMI Group Andrew Russell.

Plant and equipment operator of the year: Cleanaway Cyril Ballard and Suez Kane Pym, Marlyn Compost Andrew Russell.

Trainee or apprentice of the year: Cleanaway Taryn Batt, Suez Dwayne Brown and Sims Metal Management Whitney Simpson.

Driver of the year: Raw Metal Corp Gary Arnold, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery Antony Francis and Cleanaway Paul O’Hara.

Resource recovery employee of the year: Veolia Gary Applegate, SoilCyclers Simon Brakels and BMI Group Corey Michael.

Collaborative achievement in resource recovery: Cleanaway container refund scheme project implementation, Coastal Skip Bin Hire “Recycling Solutions” and Kanga Bins container refund and ART machine installation.

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QLD releases energy from waste policy

The public is being invited to comment on the Queensland Government’s Energy-from-Waste policy discussion paper, released earlier this week.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said finding alternative uses for waste was becoming more important than ever.

“The discussion paper is giving Queenslanders a chance to contribute to the development of a new policy, provide feedback on the types of technologies and help us plan for the future,” Ms Enoch said.

“The paper is an important action under the government’s new waste strategy.”

Ms Enoch said the government’s waste strategy outlined priorities and actions to help grow the recycling and resource recovery sector.

“We have set ambitious targets to recover 90 per cent of the waste we generate by 2050 and recycle at least 75 per cent of that waste,” Ms Enoch said.

“But we acknowledge that some wastes cannot be recycled, and it is better to retain the value of these wastes by recovering energy than it is to dispose of them to landfill. This is all part of our broader transition to a circular economy.”

Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) Executive Officer Rick Ralph said WRIQ and its members welcomed the new waste strategy.

“Energy from waste will play an important role in helping to achieve the objectives and targets of the strategy,” Mr Ralph said.

“The release of the Energy-from-Waste discussion paper is a step in the right direction. Industry looks forward to having this discussion with the government in this important initiative.”

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said energy from waste was a vital part of a sustainable waste and resource recovery system.

“Its technologies are also proven globally, with more than 2000 energy from waste facilities operating safely across the US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, many having operated for decades,” Ms Sloan said.

“We look forward to working with the Queensland Government to leverage the technical expertise of our industry to develop a policy that promotes investment in, and growth of, an integrated waste management and resource recovery system that includes energy from waste.”

Public consultation is open until 26 August.

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Looking into a later levy

Waste Management Review examines some of the reasons why the Queensland Government’s waste levy was pushed back to 1 July 2019 and what it means for the industry going forward.

Read moreLooking into a later levy

Thought leadership in QLD: Future Waste Resources Forum 2018

In the largest convention of its kind, this year’s Future Waste Resources Forum updated the Queensland waste industry on the important next steps for resource recovery in 2019.

Read moreThought leadership in QLD: Future Waste Resources Forum 2018

Queensland opens $100M funding program for waste and recycling

A new $100 million program has been opened in Queensland that aims to improve the state’s recycling, resource recovery and biofutures industries.

The Resource Recovery Industry Development Program is designed to encourage removing waste from landfill, with the Queensland Government calling for interested parties to come forward with project proposals.

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Three streams are offered to capture projects across a variety of scales and levels of support.

Stream one is a rounds-based capital grants scheme with dollar-for dollar grants available up to $5 million to provide funding for infrastructure projects in new processing and technological capabilities.

The second stream is a broad incentives stream to attract or expand major resource recovery operations to divert waste from landfill.

A third stream will involve funding towards capital-intensive, long lifecycle projects which require support for investigations for final investment decisions.

Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Cameron Dick said the funding was made available over three years to develop a high value resource recovery and recycling industry.

“Our aim is to make Queensland a world leader in projects involving resource recovery, recycling and the re-manufacturing of materials to turn waste to energy,” Mr Dick said.

“Economically, we know such projects have the potential to generate new jobs for our communities and build confidence for business to invest in Queensland, and we know encouraging investment and innovation in the waste industry will also deliver long-term benefits environmentally.

“This program is another demonstration of the State Government supporting investment in Queensland through reducing waste going to landfill, and another leap forward in our journey towards a zero-waste future.”

Mr Dick said the projects will also create new products from waste, growing industry and reducing the impact on the environment.

“This funding will be available to support local governments and existing businesses and will attract new major projects to Queensland,” he said.

“Applications are also welcome from consortia: businesses or local governments working together on plans to deliver integrated projects.”

Minister for Environment Leeanne Enoch said this program was part of the Queensland Government’s long-term vision to attract investment, develop new industries and grow jobs.

“We have a real opportunity to improve waste management practices in Queensland,” she said.

“Research indicates that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste that goes to landfill, less than three jobs are supported. But if that same waste was recycled, more than nine jobs would be supported.

“That is why our Government is moving towards a comprehensive waste management strategy, underpinned by a waste disposal levy. Last week we introduced legislation into Queensland Parliament and we are now one step closer to stopping interstate waste being dumped here in our state and encouraging more investment in industry,” Ms Enoch said.

Waste Recycling Industry Queensland CEO Rick Ralph said the funding announcement is critical to investment decisions proceeding.

“It now provides Queensland industry the opportunity to develop and create new jobs by driving economic growth that in turn will reshape the state as Australia’s leading secondary resources and recycling capital.”

Expressions of interest for stream one will remain open until 5 October, with funding through streams two and three available through application. The Queensland Government aims to have the first projects funded within the first half of 2019.

For more information, click here.

Queensland waste levy introduced into parliament

Queensland’s waste levy is one step closer as the legislation has been introduced into parliament.

It aims to stop trucks from New South Wales dumping waste in Queensland and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill while also encouraging more recycling jobs.

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A levy existed in Queensland until 2012, when it was removed, making it the only mainland state without a levy.

The new levy will begin on 4 March 2019 at a rate of $70 per tonne for general waste.

In the 2018-2019 state budget, the Queensland Government committed $32 million in advance payments to councils to ensure residents would not have to pay more for their waste.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 will allow the government to invest in waste management and recycling.

“We are providing advance payments to councils that covers 105% of the cost of their municipal waste,” Ms Enoch said.

“This means councils are being paid more than the cost of what they actually send to landfill every year.

“Councils will have no reason to increase rates because of the waste levy – we are giving them more than enough funding to cover this. In fact, councils could choose to use the extra funds to increase their waste management services,” she said.

Ms Enoch said that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste that go to landfill, less than three jobs are supported, compared with nine if that amount was recycled.

Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said that WMAA sees this as a great opportunity to grow and develop the resource recovery sector in Queensland, creating jobs and investment in the state.

“This will bring Queensland back in line with the majority of Australian states, and it is a step towards creating a level playing field across the country that industry so desperately needs,” Ms Sloan said.

Waste Recycling Industry Queensland Chief Executive Officer Rick Ralph said  industry and all levels of government have a critical role in delivering the objectives of Queensland’s new waste strategy.

“We are committed to realising council and the State Government’s future direction on waste, and to reshape Queensland to become Australia’s leading secondary resources and recycling state,” Mr Ralph said.

The Bundaberg Protocol: Queensland’s response to recycling

Queensland industry stakeholders have released a five-point action plan in response to the impact of the global recycling challenge on the state, including greater risk sharing provisions for council contracts and more recycled content in public policy and purchasing.

The Waste Recycling Industry Association of Queensland (WRIQ) hosted the Queensland Secondary Resources Forum in late April, in Bundaberg, to address issues impacting kerbside recycling and international challenges.

The forum aimed to discuss the Chinese Government’s decision to restrict the amount of waste being imported and how it effects Queensland domestic recycling capabilities.

All actions must be reported against in October 2018.

The five point plan includes education and awareness, collection, procurement, contracting and regulation. It places the onus of responsibility on the various stakeholders involved in reform to take action.

Education and awareness aims to be established through improved standardised community education to inform approved items for kerbside recycling bins. A Working Group will be convened by 30 May, 2018 to develop an education program project scope for councils. This will be facilitated by local government representatives, state government, the Product Stewardship Council, WRIQ and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation.

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The plan also includes a focus on collection, with a plan to trial two local government kerbside collection systems and monitor the reduction of contaminants. Bundaberg Regional Council will trial the removal of flexible plastics and all non-bottle plastics from its kerbside bins. Ipswich City Council will trial the removal of all glass items from its kerbside bins. Project plans for each will be established in May, 2018.

In terms of procurement, the manifesto recommends the Queensland Government’s procurement policy be amended to mandate the use of recycled content in public policy and purchasing, with a preferred weighting to Queensland generated recycled product. Products to be promoted include recycled glass for reuse in infrastructure, plastic for feedstock in manufactured public infrastructure, paper and cardboard for reuse and organics for street scapes, landscapes and other composting activities. This will be facilitated by WRIQ working with the state government.

Contracting in the plan comprises separating recyclables processing and recyclables collection contracts, the inclusion of risk sharing provisions with commodity prices and contamination between councils and contractors, and some other measures. This will be facilitated by the state government’s Department of Environment and Science (DES) with support from WRIQ and the Local Government Association of Queensland. The action plan requests DES to assist by convening a local government and industry working group to scope and redesign a new contract framework (and model contract) for kerbside recyclables collection and processing in Queensland.

Regulation focuses on using existing provisions in the Waste Recycling Reduction Act – Chapter 4 Management of Priority and other products provisions. The manifesto argues the Queensland Government should prepare notices of intent for the introduction of priority product statements on materials which include non-CRS glass item, non-bottle plastics and textiles. Australian standards be amended to allow for/encourage recycled content to be used in product manufacture. The action plan requests DES to issue a directive to the relevant industry organisations for glass, plastics and textile manufacturers placing product in Queensland. It asks them to call for the introduction of voluntary stewardship programs for their products and seek their future commitments by October, 2018.

The news followed with recent commitments by state and territory environment ministers regarding recycled packaging.

 

WRIQ slams SE QLD plan for ignoring waste’s role

WRIQ CEO Rick Ralph
Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland’s (WRIQ) CEO has called the state’s politicians “out of touch” on the of the waste and recycling industry after it was ignored in a new plan for South East Queenland’s infrastructure.

Read moreWRIQ slams SE QLD plan for ignoring waste’s role

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