If you think about the potential benefits of weight-based billing (WBB) - greater transparency, improvements in profitability, and increased recycling to name a few - there seems to be little reason not to roll out WBB in Australia.
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WBB has been discussed widely over the last five or so years and it is certainly not a novel system, but one that is used across Europe. While there has been interest in Australia, what has so far stood in its way is the lack of appropriate and/or robust technology.

Then, there's the policy and regulatory landscape which to date, has been somewhat hazy about the use of WBB in the country.

Last year, four companies - REMONDIS, Bucher Municipal, MRA Consulting Group, and weighing systems company Diverseco came together to trial WBB in the Hunter Valley in NSW and the results could push the country one step closer to jumping on the WBB bandwagon.

In the April issue of Inside Waste, now ready for download, we speak to these companies to find out more about their interest in WBB and the next steps forward.

Why now?

MRA, which applied and received a NSW EPA grant of $70,000 to conduct the trial, said WBB could very well support the regulator's ongoing initiatives.

"MRA approached the NSW EPA and said, we think WBB is an important public policy shift and we think it'd support Bin Trim and what you're trying to do with small businesses," MRA director Mike Ritchie told Inside Waste.

"So the state government gave us $70,000, of which $40,000 was spent with Diverseco to install the Acconboard/BinWeigh on to a front lift Bucher Municipal truck in the Hunter Valley with REMONDIS. This billing system has been operating for about a year and the initial results support the view that in giving a proper price signal, generators of waste will recycle more and waste less."

And REMONDIS, which is a first mover in this space, has recognised the growing interest in WBB, which is why it is exploring the technology now.

"Customers are seeking transparency in their invoicing and are interested in ways in which to reduce costs and improve environmental outcomes. Our goal is to continually improve the way in which we service our customers," REMONDIS general manager NSW/ACT operations and BD Susie McBurney said.

At time of press, MRA was still developing a report for the EPA based on the trial and Inside Waste will be publishing the results as soon as they are available.

But the drivers of the trial go beyond the government's initiatives. Diverseco has heavily invested in training and technology in the measurement space and CEO Brenton Cunningham, who has been in the industry for 25 years, said technology was a major hurdle but the situation has changed.

"Measurement is more than it appears. It is more than what reads of the display," Cunningham said.

"We found an organisation in Switzerland that utilises a different type of technology to what everyone else uses, which are pressure transducer technologies. In the static part of the sector, we use load cell technology where the load cell is the heart of any weighing system. However, load cells did not seem to work as well in motion," Cunningham explained.

The Swiss supplier then forged a partnership with a company in New Zealand for the system and here is where it gets interesting, the equipment, which received trade approval in New Zealand, worked!

"That was basically when the penny dropped. Why is this working in New Zealand when everything else that every man and his dog have tried and we've tried, doesn't? Where it seems you've got it to work one day but the next day it doesn't and it works on this machine but not that machine and it depends on this operator and so forth? That's why we've invested in the product and we've bought the IP, invested in engineering and developing the equipment to suit the vehicles we have in Australia as well as our bins."

Making the tech work

The general consensus is that Australia is some two to three years away from WBB but these four stakeholders agree that the work starts now.

For Cunningham, it is important that the sector has a system that is engineered to suit the different trucks on the road and one that's worth spending money on. As part of the

trial, Bucher and Diverseco worked closely to make sure they had a system that did just that.

"At the end of the day, you're putting two tonne bins over the top of your head, so we've had to engineer accordingly and the end result is that we now have a system that the operators are not turning off, we're getting the reliability needed, and there's no inaccuracy," Cunningham said.

"The main benefit, apart from its weighing accuracy, which is a huge thing, and apart from the fact that it's legal [National Measurement Institute- approved], is that it's in-motion and it suits industry."

Bucher Municipal state manager - NSW, Luke Aitken explained why the company's interest in the system today is not premature.

"As a truck manufacturer, we want to make sure we're partnering with companies that have the most accurate systems, which will benefit our customers. But we also want to make sure they're fully integrated into our bodies and into our control systems. We spend a lot of time and quality on our vehicles and bodies and we want to make any additions to that, any other options for our customers, have that same quality and it's actually integrated and not just a bolt-on system," Aitken said.

"The bins that our Force front loader can lift up are up to 3.6 tonnes and because it comes over the driver's head, safety is a huge concern and focus for our product. We've designed our front loader to be as strong as it possibly can be and that area of the fork where the weighing system is installed is the working part of the truck. A lot of technology design goes into the steels used there, and a lot of technology design goes into the shape of the bracketry and the forks that actually lift the bins and the arms as well," he added.

"We're talking about one to two years of testing before a design is released to market so one of the challenges of this system is because it sits right there, that whole area had to be re-designed."

There is still more work to be one. More on the ongoing hurdles, and why Australia should not give up its WBB can be found here.

Also featured in this issue:

  • A busy year for Victoria: A spokesperson for Victorian Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio offers an update on where the government is at with its proposed e-waste to landfill ban, waste-to-energy, and planning and integration.
  • Rehabilitating a legacy landfill: At WMAA's 2017 Australian Landfill and Transfer Stations conference, GHD and Baw Baw Shire Council share their six-year journey to rehabilitate the Trafalgar land fill in East Victoria.
  • Strength in numbers: In October, Maitland City Council in the lower Hunter region of NSW turned to its neighbours - Cessnock and Singleton - to discuss the viability of implementing a regional contract for the collection and processing of organics. It was quickly determined that a regional contract was indeed the only financially sustainable option for the three councils to deliver a kerbside organics collection and processing service to their communities.