Geoff Bailey knows all about infrastructure and how it can help the Australian waste landscape. Waste Management Review talks to the chief executive of Turmec.
Turmec is a company that specialises in bespoke builds that allow its customers to recover material for waste. One of its key goals is to reduce waste going into landfills, according to Chief Executive Geoff Bailey. The Ireland-based Bailey was in Australia recently because the company is contracted to help build BINGO’s new Eastern Creek recycling centre. Turmec had already worked on BINGO’s Paton’s Lane RRC facility in Orchards Hill in 2019, which was a key component of Bailey’s firm getting a foot in the door with the latest build.
Geoff was lucky enough to stay one step ahead of COVID-19 as it went around the country, but by the time Waste Management Review caught up with him, he was in lockdown in Melbourne.
Geoff has been in the waste industry for the best part of 20 years and has seen many changes over that time. He sees a little bit of how things used to be in Europe, now happening in Australia.
One of the main bugbears of the waste industry, and all three levels of government, are landfills. Australia is trying to navigate its way into a position where more waste is being repurposed and the number and size of landfills will be reduced. A subject that Bailey is more than familiar with.
“When I first started I was building landfills,” he says. “I worked with a company called Greenstar back in Ireland. The first asset we built was a landfill and it was the first privately owned landfill within the country. All the others had been public sector owned at that point.”
The company had to respond to increased legislation that the Irish EPA brought in whereby all Irish landfills had to be lined, as well as have proper leachate and gas collection systems. Greenstar built four landfills before levies started to get to a point where landfills were becoming uneconomic. Greenstar then put in twin strategies in place – wind down the landfill business and start building infrastructure to deal with C&D and DMR (dry mixed recyclables) from domestic and commercial premises. Now, Geoff is seeing something familiar happen in Australia.
“Policy makers and the Australian Government are no different. They are using financial levers such as landfill levies to encourage people to save money by diverting waste out of landfills,” he says. “That is what BINGO is focused on and what a lot of other people are focused on; putting infrastructure in place that will allow separation of mainstream waste as it comes in so they can either sell it as a product or send it off as recyclate for somebody else to recycle.”
And while Geoff likes what he is seeing on the Australian waste landscape – and he says Australia is catching up fast – there is still work to do. As with a lot of things, it comes down to costs.
“It’s economically driven,” he says. “For example, if you take the BINGO plant that we are doing at the moment. We are taking out aggregates in different sizes that get sent off to a wash plant. We are taking timber – both natural and engineered. We’re taking out ferrous and non-ferrous metals and fines. We take all the heavies out.”
What is left over is the lights fraction – plastic, paper, cardboard and similar waste, which is being put into landfill. Geoff says that if Turmec was building a similar plant in Ireland or the UK with regards to the light fraction, it would be making SRF, which is a product that can go into a cement kiln or industrial boiler. Alternatively, it would send the light fraction for further separation.
“We’d love to divide out the plastics and get the paper and cardboard separate from that,” says Geoff. “The plastics – particularly the heavier solid plastics, what we call 3D plastics – are all recyclable at this stage. Dirty paper and cardboard become harder. They are probably better being used as a fuel.”
C&D is a big part of Turmec’s business. Geoff notes that there is a higher content of timber waste in Australia, but other than that, the types of waste are the same. How does he see the future in the local landscape?
“Australia does have to play catch-up. With the amount of financial assistance being put in by the government you are going to find that you will catch up pretty quickly,” he says. “Plastics is one area where there is going to be a lot of investment in Australia. The organics section – the FOGO waste – is getting quite a lot of attention now. The only treatment that’s happening within Australia at the moment is composting, which is pretty low-grade. While it may be diverting material from landfill, it’s still releasing a huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. You’re left with a material whereby people are divided as to whether it can be used in agriculture or not, where it is used to enrich soils. Anaerobic digestion is a better environmental solution, but the economics need to be looked at on a case by case basis.”
From a company point of view, Turmec doesn’t limit itself to one sector of the market. It operates across anything that is non-hazardous and dry. Being a specialist in bespoke solutions means it isn’t tied to one distributor or manufacturer of equipment. When it becomes involved in a project, Turmec is looking for the best solution, period.
“We are technology agnostic,” says Geoff. “We evaluate and look at all the technologies in the market, rather than trying to plug our own gear. We have good relationships with all the equipment providers in the market. Where we differentiate ourselves is in plant design. We look at a project and go, ‘what are the waste streams that are coming into any particular MRF or transfer station, and what are the outputs the operator wants to get?’”
Turmec looks at the volumes a client has and then configures a system that will economically optimise the return in terms of when the different streams are separated. It is interested in what the streams achieve for the client as a revenue source. It will bring the best technology in to achieve that outcome. Some companies have a preference for equipment from a named manufacturer, which is okay, too, says Geoff.
The company also partners with other companies that complement its skill set. It has partnered with The Environmental Group, which is a broad-based company that assists with boiler support, air pollution control, water treatment and similar services.
“We are providing them a different arm in terms of solid waste treatment within the country,” says Geoff. “They have technicians in every state, and we will be working with them to provide cover for any of our plants so we can have people onsite. If we have service level agreements with our customers, it will be their resource that we utilise.”
Turmec has now got a solid foothold in Australia, and Geoff sees plenty of opportunities for the company in terms of expertise it can bring to the table. He has enjoyed his time on the ground and is looking forward to more business, and meeting more people, over the next few years.
“It’s been really good being here to get around and meet a few of the key players in the industry,” he says.
“Whilst we can have perfectly good online working meetings, when you are trying to build relationships with people, it is much better face to face.”
For more information, visit: www.turmec.com