Waste Management In Action

Hazardous waste progress: Veolia’s innovations

Veolia’s significant market position in the hazardous waste disposal sector has increased with new contract wins and technical advancement.

The treatment methods for hazardous and liquid wastes have advanced over the past decade.

With clients demanding greater knowledge on how their hazardous waste is handled and the entrant of environmental scientists and engineers into the waste and resource recovery sector, new and innovative ideas are emerging to solve national and global challenges.

Matt Ead is a Technical Projects Manager at Veolia Australia and New Zealand. Trained as a chemical engineer, he has been with the company for more than 10 years, including in the UK and Australia.

He tells Waste Management Review that the hazardous waste disposal sector has evolved rapidly over the past decade. 

“In the past it was very much just about diluting hazardous waste or lowering the concentration so much that it could meet disposal criteria, but you can’t do that anymore,” Matt explains.

 “Clients want to know their waste is being treated responsibly.

“This is what the emergence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has shown across sites with PFAS-contaminated groundwater. It is in minute concentrations, but is spreading far and wide through groundwater and surface water and is causing problems.”

Veolia has had recent contract success with clients within Victoria, including a major win with the Country Fire Authority. The project will see Veolia design, construct, operate and maintain Water Management Systems (WMS) to treat water to potable water quality and includes the treatment of any PFAS.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals, heavily used for household and industrial applications since the 1950s. Following their widespread detection in environmental samples, they are considered an emerging contaminant by the global regulatory body, the Stockholm Convention.

Fortunately, Veolia have been working to identify solutions to PFAS contamination. As a global leader in optimised resource management across waste, water and energy, Veolia is able to leverage its network of global hazardous waste expertise to drive local solutions, which also include contaminated soils.

“In the case of PFAS water, we were able to use our knowledge from other parts of the business to apply a local solution,” Matt says.

He adds that by collaborating with its experts across the water treatment sector, the company was able to treat significant quantities of PFAS water at its Brooklyn facility in Melbourne.

The Brooklyn Industrial Services Hub has been operating since 1997 and is licensed by the Victorian EPA to received prescribed waste streams such as contaminated soils. 

It is home to the Brooklyn treatment plant, a licensed facility that receives around 40,000 tonnes per year of hazardous waste in all forms, including packaged waste, sludges, liquids and contaminated soils. 

The site serves a number of Victorian industrial sectors, encompassing metals manufacturing, automotive, petrochemical, food and beverage, pharmaceutical and quarantine waste. The facility’s advanced processing technologies comprise chemical stabilisation of contaminated soils, physico-chemical treatment of sludges and resource recovery such as decanting, crushing and recycling.

Once materials arrive at the Brooklyn facility, they are sorted and consolidated into respective streams, according to EPA guidelines and disposal outlets. Dangerous goods must have segregation distances in line with WorkSafe legislation. 

“We have one of the broadest licenses for accepting hazardous waste in Victoria. Our cradle-to-grave approach ensures we know where the material will end up,” Matt says.

He says that Veolia’s chain of custody process ensures the more dangerous material goes to thermal destruction via third-party facilities. 

Using multimedia filtration to treat PFAS at the Brooklyn facility, Veolia was able to treat significant volumes of the material and undergo strict sampling and testing of the water before it could be authorised for compliance. 

“We’ve recently undergone a two-year proof of performance with the EPA to treat PFAS-impacted water and it’s been included in our license. We are the first ones in Victoria to achieve that,” Matt says.

“The results showed we reduced the PFAS down to low enough levels or be non-detectable in a lot of cases.” 

In 2015, Veolia boosted its hazardous waste treatment capacity to prevent up to 10,000 tonnes of residual hazardous waste per annum from going to landfill. With support from the Victorian EPA’s HazWaste fund, Veolia made a $15 million investment in an advanced Indirect Thermal Desorption Unit

Veolia’s thermal desorption unit utilises heat to increase the volatility of contaminants to allow them to be separated.

The unit utilises heat to increase the volatility of contaminants to allow them to be separated from waste materials such as sludge or filter cake. The volatised contaminants are then collected for beneficial reuse, or thermal destruction, based on the type of contamination. The outputs produced include liquid hydrocarbons for reuse, further treatment or disposal, water for reuse within the Veolia plant and inert material for reuse, further treatment or disposal.

The thermal desorption process sees two dryers alongside one another heat the hazardous material under vacuum to over 300 degrees over an eight-hour cycle. Hydrocarbons evaporated in this process are cooled, condensed and collected for beneficial reuse. A powder-like material emerges from the backend and is combined with water. It can then be used as landfill cover. 

Matt says they’ve been able to successfully reduce the volume of Category B solid waste that is sent to hazardous waste landfill from 10,000 tonnes a year to 600 tonnes per year. The material is now processed through the thermal desorption unit and is either reused or goes to a Category C or lower level landfill.

Ultimately, the site’s operations and continuous improvement processes are designed to support Veolia’s mission to resource the world. 

“Our objective is to find a value in waste, while providing a safe solution for customers and wider community in the management of these difficult waste materials,” Matt says.  

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