For Veolia Australia and New Zealand landfill engineer Fangzhou Du, colloquially known as “Ark”, a love of the environment has run through his blood for decades.
“Working within the environmental field is always of great interest to me,” he told Inside Waste.
This led initially, to a degree in biotechnology at Beijing Forestry University, then a Master’s in biomedical engineering at Beihang University and onto PhD study at Queensland University with a research topic focused on wastewater sludge treatment to remove contaminants, enhance reuse and energy recovery via anaerobic digestion.
It was this research which bought Du into his present career.
“This really brought me into the solid waste area where I see the challenges and huge potential, as well as the importance of waste management to us,” he said.
“After finishing my degree, I decided to move out of the academic field to the industry, to the front line. I believe combining the knowledge obtained during study and research with the practical experience in the industry will make me really able to contribute something good to our environment.”
Du describes himself as “very lucky” to obtain the current career opportunity as a landfill engineer in Veolia Woodlawn Eco-Precinct.
“It is such an attractive concept for solid waste management, including turning general waste to methane through anaerobic digestion, then generating green electricity in situ, reusing the residual heat from the power generation for a fish farm. And finally, the sourcing and separation of organic fraction within the waste for application in potential land remediation and wastewater management, for example,” Du said.
He explained that anaerobic digestion and waste reuse are the two key aspects of his previous research which he is able to carry over into the Woodlawn Eco-Precinct.
“They match so well, but there are still so many challenges that I have not had a chance to touch before. When working in an operation site with such a good and complex concept, there are always challenges and opportunities popping out all the time. This is really the drive and also the most attractive part of my current career,”
Du’s first role within the WARR industry is his current one. It involves landfill operation planning, landfill gas capture for power generation, water and landfill leachate management, as well as R&D projects on site.
“The most challenging part of my current role is to minimise the environmental footprint and impact of the operation, including fugitive greenhouse gas/odour emission, leachate generation and so on.
“Personally, I do want to mention that one of the most annoying challenges is the plastic bag within the waste, which can cause all kinds of troubles for our operation,” said Du.
“I really want to use every opportunity to advocate for reducing the use of plastic bags.”
Despite the challenges that 2020 has brought, Du is optimistic about his future. In five years’ time, he sees himself as a technology specialist in the solid waste management area, not only landfill but a knowledge about the different technologies in the waste management area, including sourcing, incineration, recovering/reuse, FOGO, glass and C&D.
Education is the key
When asked what his top three priorities for the WARR industry would be if he were Prime Minister or Environment Minister, Du is clear.
“Education would be a priority. I think one of the biggest challenges for the resource recycling industry is at the very beginning, with the generation of well-separated waste.
Du said that if people can really conduct good waste separation and collect as much recyclables from the general waste stream as possible, and then separate the recyclables in proper categories, it would be a lot easier for the industry to do downstream works to recycle and reuse them.
“This is being done in many other countries and, I believe this will be the most economical and environmentally friendly way to start resource recycling,” Du said.
Another part about education, according to Du, is to let the public know more about different technologies and increase their acceptance of them.
He said that he wants to provide more support to the waste industry to divert waste from landfill which he believes is still the cheapest and maybe the most convenient method for waste management.
“This makes it a very strong competitor for resource recycling. So, it will need extra drive, especially economically to make resource recycling more competitive and attractive,” Du said.
“Finally, I would give more support to joint research between academia and industry. We need innovation and creativity for better resource recycling.
“Joint research between academia and industry is a very effective way to introduce innovations and creativity,” he added.
Ark is a member of the Waste Management Resource Recovery (WMRR) Young Professionals Group. If you would like to join the group please contact firstname.lastname@example.org