Circular Economy, Commercial and industrial waste, Construction and Demolition waste, Features

Application of regulations need to be consistent

This time last year George Hatzimanolis was on the podium at the Waste Innovation and Recycling Awards receiving a gong for Leader of the Year, while his company Repurpose It won another for Operational Excellence.

A forthright communicator, as well as having a driven passion for the industry, Hatzimanolis is the first to admit that a lot can happen in a year, and that has been the case for Repurpose It. One of the main highlights/priorities has been ensuring the company is compliant with Victoria’s new Environmental Act, especially around regulation and licensing.

Most businesses loath red tape and bureaucracy. Hatzimanolis is more circumspect than most – with a caveat.

“We’ve made a huge investment around the licensing requirements that have come in our industry,” he said. “That’s taken a huge amount of time and effort from our team as we navigate this new Act. I’m looking forward to having this rolled out wider across the industry, to ensure that it’s being applied consistently and presents an even playing field for everyone.

“You’re always going to get pockets where some of the regulations need to be practical, and obviously not cost prohibitive. But for the most part, I think what the new Act is set out to do, we see as a positive for the sector.”

Then there is the issue of organics. Hatzimanolis believes if the current targets are to be met – 80 per cent diverted from landfill by 2030 – then the country needs to get on with it. He said there is good policy already, but FOGO rollout needs to start happening quickly, and there needs to be more incentives for the commercial sector to start diverting the waste.

End markets
When Hatzimanolis made his speech at the Waste Expo in Melbourne in 2022, one of the issues he raised was the need for more end markets for repurposed end-waste products. Sometimes it’s not just about looking for any end market, but what the repurposed product can bring to the bigger picture.

“If you look at organics, from a market perspective, it’s gone really well,” he said. “For us, it’s been about diversifying our organic streams into products that we know we can move at volume in bigger markets. An example of that is compost. We don’t sell a lot of compost per se, but we value-add our compost into a finished product, which is garden blend and topsoil. And we’re a very large distributor of topsoil. Having the distribution channels for our soil gives us the opportunity to evaluate our compost because obviously compost is a key ingredient into our soil. And we’ve seen that market go strong.”

Overall, Hatzimanolis thinks that councils are doing a good job, but there should have been some tweaks along the way. For example, he thinks some councils have been too quick to roll out their FOGO initiatives, while others have taken too long.

More importantly, he thinks the education element needs highlighting because people are still putting waste in the wrong stream.

“You had this double whammy, where FOGO was rolled out really quickly, and some residents weren’t up with the play with bin content and some contamination,” he said. “Some councils pushed out what was a weekly general waste collection to once every two weeks and that only exacerbated the issue. We know some facilities in Melbourne that suffered as a result of that.

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“That’s created some scars in the rollout of FOGO, to the point where some councils have actually slowed down because they want to learn from the mistakes of others that have rushed it. This rush has led to contamination rates getting high, which becomes counterproductive.”

On the flip side, there is now a slowdown, which he thinks will compound the issue of reaching an 80 per cent diversion rate within the next six years. Hatzimanolis said it will be difficult to meet targets at the current rate of roll out.

“We’re encouraging the councils that we have relationships with to speed up their FOGO rollout to the point where we’re offering support with the education campaigns,” he said. “We’ve got a series called Living with Purpose that we’ve put out with Jamie Durie, to promote organics and bin content. We’re trying to work with councils to say, ‘look, we’re here to help, let’s go and ramp up education rather than slow down the rollout’.”

Moving forward
One of the keys to Repurpose It’s success is that it doesn’t sit still. Since its inception, Hatzimanolis has been all about expansion, with a second wash plant coming online as well as organics tunnels being built. The next 12 months will see consolidation as he pushes for the company to grow in different areas. Currently, the company is licensed to take over 200,000 tonnes of organics annually and can support more councils with their FOGO rollout.

“We are looking to diversify and take our brand into other areas. We see some growth opportunities in things on the fringe of organic waste. Food waste is an area that we’re heavily focused on at the minute and we’ve got some interesting projects happening in the background around collection of food waste.”

As for the immediate future for the industry in general, Hatzimanolis sees the next 12 months as challenging, not just for Repurpose It or the resource recovery industry, but for everyone.

“Things are getting really constrained with respect to government infrastructure spending,” he said.

“Obviously, costs are still problematic for a lot of sectors as there’s been a lot of inflationary cost escalation and there’s tightening market conditions.

“In general, the economic activity is evolving as budgets are being stretched to deliver more with fewer resources. This in turn presents a great opportunity for our sector as our clients turn to the circular economy to identify ways they can be more resourceful.

“Despite the challenges facing the industry in the general economic activity, there’s plenty of opportunity, because we’ve got more demand for recycled content than ever.

“There are policy objectives that we are behind on related to landfill diversion targets, so we want to get our skates on”

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