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Reprinted from Waste Management Review // 7 Dec 2022
REMONDIS introduced Australia’s first fully-enclosed in-vessel organics processing facility 20 years ago, and continues to innovate
REMONDIS has operated organic recycling facilities globally for many decades, with more than 85 facilities developed to date
Organic recycling infrastructure is sorely needed, as Australia produces about 14 million tonnes of core organics waste annually, with half still going to landfill
More organic recovery centres, organics-to-fuel conversion capacity and contamination education are keys to reducing organic waste to landfill in Australia
When REMONDIS commenced Australia’s first fully-enclosed in-vessel Organic Resource Recovery Facility at Port Macquarie 20 years ago, many locals viewed the project as ambitious, at best.
Of course it turned out to be a milestone in waste management Down Under, proof that there were smarter ways of dealing with organics including garden waste and food scraps, and there’s been no looking back since.
These days the Port Macquarie facility receives up to 50,000 tonnes of organics annually, including kerbside collection FOGO waste and garden waste from homes, businesses and municipal precincts. About half is broken down through biological degradation and evaporation during the composting process while the other half is sold to market as compost to improve soil health and fertility.
Less than a percent of material that can’t be recycled ends up as landfill – a stunning turn-around from the days of all local organics ending up in holes in the ground.
Funding for organic waste innovation
Few might have thought twenty years ago that the New South Wales and Commonwealth Governments would eventually invest millions of dollars into such organic waste facilities.
Earlier this year REMONDIS’ Lake Macquarie Organics Resource Recovery Facility at Awaba secured two million dollars’ funding to future-proof its food and garden waste recycling operation.
Awarded under the Commonwealth’s Food Waste for Healthy Soils Fund and matched dollar-for-dollar by the New South Wales Environmental Trust, the money is to support expansion work that will lift processing capacity to 60,000 tonnes and assure operations for another twenty years.
What’s holding back organics?
Despite such successes, REMONDIS is concerned that Australia is lagging when it comes to world’s-best organic waste management.
“These facilities have exceeded themselves in every conceivable way,” REMONDIS Australia CEO Jochen Behr said.
“The local governments, homes and businesses in both localities have proven to be very keen to divert their organics into the circular economy, and we’re sure that will be the case as we prepare to establish similar facilities in other areas of the country.
“We underestimated demand at Awaba, which reached capacity ahead of time, triggering our need to expand.
“With that in mind, it’s hard to believe Australia-wide organic waste management is yet to catch on in any way that can be compared to what’s happening in other developed countries.
“REMONDIS has operated organic recycling facilities globally for many decades, with more than 85 facilities developed to date.
Jochen attributed the relatively slow evolution to start-up cost burdens and concerns over waste supply.
To set up the organic recycling centre infrastructure, there need to be guarantees around input volumes, with contracts in place from councils who are the main waste generators.
“The initial outlay can be costly, so you’ve generally got to be a big player with experience behind you, which REMONDIS has in spades,” Jochen explained.
“Then there’s the matter of contractual underpinnings to ensure returns on investment. From our own experience, local government support has been vital. The local councils have given us the contractual certainty and security we need to make the operations work over the long term. Without such surety, the successes we’ve seen might not have happened.”
Australia produces about 14 million tonnes of core organics waste annually, with half still going to landfill.
Australia’s organics recycling rate sits at about 49 percent, and there are concerning geographical disparities, for example, the rate is 75 percent in the ACT and just one percent in the Northern Territory.
“If Australia is to halve the amount of organic waste sent to landfill by 2030, there’s an onus on everyone from government and industry through to people at home to recognise and embrace organic recycling for what it is – a waste management no-brainer and game-changer,” Jochen said.
“Look no further than what’s being achieved overseas.”
REMONDIS Australia Chief Technical Officer Alex Hatherly cited organics-to-fuel conversion as a significant missing link in Australia’s waste management landscape.
“REMONDIS alone has 20 conversion facilities in Europe that generate enormous amounts of biogas and bio methane from organic waste, which can be used for things such as electricity production and truck fuel,” Alex said.
“Despite REMONDIS being willing and able to advance anaerobic digestion options in Australia, the reality is Australia’s regulatory framework isn’t ready to accommodate such technology,” Alex said.
“That’s because of a lack of clear regulations around digestate and long-term commitments for energy off-take.
“A must is the Commonwealth and states aligning to make anaerobic digestion technology feasible.
“Given that it costs more than $20 million to roll out such a plant, no commercial player would be game to contemplate such expenditure until governments put anaerobic digestion ‘open for business’ signs up.”
Education is essential
REMONDIS Australia National Organics Manager Jan Duebbelde added that even simpler actions could make staggering differences in terms of Australia’s organic waste management success and overall landfill reduction targets.
‘Implementation of a kerbside FOGO collection for each and every household will be the best chance to achieve ambitious targets,” Jan said.
“About fifty percent of organics are still ending up in red bins because some councils don’t have green bins.
“Another key is avoiding organics contamination by ensuring materials are cleanly separated. A lot comes down to households keeping contaminants such as plastics and glass out of organics.
“Education is a big part of the solution here – every dollar spent reminding people on what goes where is a dollar well spent.”
Repute Communications Matthew Watson M +61 417 691 884
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