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Tamworth council to process industrial class organics

Tamworth industrial class organics

Tamworth Regional Council’s industrial class organics (ICO) facility is the first of its kind in Australia. Morné Hattingh, Manager Waste and Resource Recovery, shares the council’s journey.

Local government handles good news well, it even handles bad news well. The same can’t be said for surprise news.

Morné Hattingh, Manager Waste and Resource Recovery for Tamworth Regional Council, says the Federal Government’s decision to mandate Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) for all local government areas and an 80 per cent diversion of organics from landfill was definitely a surprise.

But he says while some councils are scrambling to meet target deadlines, the introduction of the National Waste Plan moved in Tamworth’s favour.

For the past three years the council has been developing plans for a purpose-built Organic Recycling Facility (ORF) to divert organic materials from landfill and process them into high-grade mulch, compost and soil conditioners.

It will be the first facility in the region capable of processing a range of organic materials including FOGO and Category 3 organics, which incorporates meat, fish and fatty foods, sludges and organics of animal and vegetable origin.

“When we started, everyone said we were crazy to try and provide an industrial organics solution,” Morné says. “But we recognised there was a need in Tamworth for industrial-class organics processing in addition to FOGO and green waste. 

“Now we’re leading the pack. It was a good gamble by the council.”

Morné says the council is licensed to process green waste only at its existing composting facility. It processes about 15,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) and has reached maximum capacity for processing and storage. He estimates up to 10,000 tonnes a year of food organics and commercial products are being landfilled because there’s nowhere else for them to go.

The new, five-hectare facility will use a tunnel composting system capable of processing up to 35,000 tpa, with the ability to expand up to 50,000 as the Tamworth region and industry expands.

The council is in the design phase for the facility, but it’s been a long journey and a big learning curve. For councils just starting their compost journey, Morné has some sage advice – don’t underestimate the value of community consultation and understanding feedstocks. 

“Community consultation, community consultation and more community consultation,” he recommends. “And when you think you’re done with community consultation – do some more.

industrial class organics
Morné Hattingh, Manager Waste and Resource Recovery for Tamworth Regional Council

“When we started the organics recycling facility journey three years ago it wasn’t well received, but we needed to start that journey and the community has come on board.”

In fact, the community is in phase three of a four-step trial to help the council decide how to collect FOGO once the service is rolled out to all 26,000 households in 2023. 

But Morné says while many councils are focused on the introduction of FOGO and how to process the waste, the end market has been overlooked.

“Market development is crucial,” he says. “We’re listening to the farmers. The industry here would prefer to work with compost as opposed to fertiliser.

“It’s interesting that some potential buyers are requesting exotic compost blends such as high levels of minerals, a rock blend or a blend with a high copper count.

“Council is exploring running a compost tunnel for that type of blending. If it’s what the market needs, we need to explore that.”

While the council has the will and the determination to see the facility constructed, some things, Morné says, are beyond council’s expertise. Power supply, water regulations and environmental regulations play a big role in facilities such as this getting the green light. Which is where the experts come in.

“You will reach a wall where you can’t do any more and are in need of an expert,” he says.

“Industrial class organics is a problematic waste stream. The Environmental Protection Authority conditions are brutal. We’ve partnered with consultants with experience in this space who are handling the processes for us.”

The council has also joined the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) to share its experiences with others going through a similar journey.

“AORA is so important. You can talk to members about approvals and processes,” he says. “It’s not just about composting. All members are going through this journey, and you can draw on their broader support and skills.

“We felt we were alone in this space dealing with regulators. If you look at the journey that Tamworth has been on, we couldn’t have done it without AORA.”

Ultimately, Morné believes there is no one-size-fits-all solution for councils to introduce FOGO and organics processing. He says each local government area has to listen to its residents and understand what works for them.

However, he believes more could be done on a federal and state level to help councils reach the end goal.

“The funding in this space has been abysmal,” he says. “We’re providing solutions for much larger industrial, commercial and residential problems, that should be recognised.

“This is a state significant project. At the end of the day, the residents and industries are paying for it.”  

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