The intersection of economic and environmental sustainability

The intersection of economic and environmental sustainability

Waste Management Review speaks with Greg Whitehead, Candy Soil Managing Director and AORA Queensland Director, about the importance of providing a centralised voice for the organics industry.

Food and agricultural waste is listed as a priority area for action under the Queensland Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy.

According to the Queensland Department of Environment and Science, this is due to the significant contribution organic matter makes to the waste stream, the potential environmental and economic impacts associated with disposal of organic waste and identified beneficial uses of the material.

As such, the Department is developing an Organic Waste Action Plan, which will identify key actions from avoidance through to improved end-use management and market development opportunities.

These actions will also support the Queensland Government’s commitments to implement the National Food Waste Strategy target to halve food waste by 2030, and implement action in the National Waste Policy to halve the amount of organic waste going to landfill.

While the Action Plan is yet to be released for public consultation, Greg Whitehead, Candy Soil Managing Director and AORA Queensland Director, says he hopes to see a coordinated approach between all levels of government and business to develop an industry that is both commercially and environmentally sustainable.

The intersection of economic and environmental sustainability is critical to a healthy industry, Whitehead explains.

He adds that while organics are the largest component of waste going to landfill now, the material sits in a unique position – avoiding many of the economic challenges associated with recycling materials such as glass, plastics and tyres.

“The difference between the organics market and what the government faced with China Sword is that for those materials, they had to develop facilities to process the material and end-markets to buy it, whereas with organics, there’s already a strong market in Australia,” he says.

Whitehead and his business partners started Candy Soil in 1994 with one screening plant and a loader on an old coal mining site in Ipswich.

25 years later and Candy Soil now operates a large-scale open windrow composting and soil manufacturing operation – recycling organic inputs to create compost, landscape soils and mulches for Queensland’s booming horticulture and agriculture industries.

To support further market development, Queensland AORA and the Queensland Farmers Federation have been working with the state government, recently receiving a $60,000 grant to run a series of workshops across the state.

According to Whitehead, the workshops will help educate the agricultural sector on the benefits of using compost in their farming.

“We’ve been saying to the Queensland Government that bringing in additional volumes is just the first step – we also need to develop a wider market to take the finished product,” he says.

“The state government have understood the need to develop markets for recycled organic products and have been incredibly supportive.”

Whitehead adds that the successful grant application highlights the important role of organisations such as AORA.

“We provide a centralised voice for the industry – advocating for the interests of our members as well as the broader sector. That workshop grant wouldn’t have been achieved if it was a single business approaching the state government.”

With the organics market expanding, feedstock contamination remains the biggest industry challenge.

As such, Whitehead is calling for wider public education on what can and cannot be place in green waste or FOGO bins.

“Plastic is a big problem. Composts and mulches have to be a fine grade material, so once the greenwaste input is received it is processed through a high speed grinder. Through that grinding process one plastic bag can become 200 20-cent sized pieces of plastic,” Whitehead explains.

“If people had a better understanding of where their waste material goes, I think they’d be more conscious of what they put in their bins. If you wouldn’t want it in your veggie patch – don’t put it in your organics bin.

“Widespread public education will be crucial going forward, if we hope to get more organics out of landfill and better-quality products into our soils.”

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