claire moffat

Government creates a department for regional NSW

A new Department of Regional NSW has been established to better coordinate support for communities, businesses and farmers in the bush that have endured drought, bushfire and flood and now face the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro, said that the department will bring together Primary Industries, Local Land Services, Resources and Geoscience and regional coordination across government to form a central agency dedicated to regional issues.

It will be led by incoming Secretary Gary Barnes, currently the Coordinator General, Regional NSW, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

Response to regional needs

Barilaro said that the government was urgently responding to the desperate needs of people in the regions and this new agency would work to ensure community wellbeing, resilient economies and strong key regional industries.

“We know that the issues faced by the people of Cootamundra are very different to those faced in Coogee and so it is imperative we have a government designed to properly support every corner of this State,” he explained.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made a big impact on what has already been a devastating start to 2020, as farmers continue to suffer through the worst drought in recorded history and towns torn apart by bushfires continue to feel the effects months on.

“The new Department of Regional NSW will be a voice in government for people in the bush and will have a laser-like focus on the challenges and opportunities unique to regional communities, helping them to get through hardships many of us have not seen in our time.

“This department will allow a more streamlined response to regional issues as experts in areas such as primary industries, land management, resources, regional development, drought response and bushfire recovery work closer together than ever before.”

According to Barilaro, the department will drive the delivery of recent bushfire and COVID-19 stimulus and industry recovery packages along with the NSW Government’s drought initiatives, $1.7 billion Regional Growth Fund and $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund.

“I said that regional communities would get their fair share and to date, we have fulfilled that commitment, from securing billions in funding to the urgent measures we have rolled out for farmers, business owners and families,” Barilaro added.

The Department of Regional NSW will be led by incoming Secretary Gary Barnes, currently the Coordinator General, Regional NSW, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

WRIAQ and state government unite to secure industry safety

A decree to make WARR confirmed as an essential service has been implemented following a direct request to the state government from the Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland (WRIAQ).

In its submission, WRIAQ stated that it was critical that the sector maintain a secure supply chain and mitigated risk from any potential additional community health and environmental issues associated with uncollected wastes and recyclables.

In late March, Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business Leeanne Enoch, confirmed that cabinet had agreed to that request.

Co-operative engagement

According to WRIAQ CEO Rick Ralph, Queensland remains one of only two states, along with South Australia, where a state government has made this decree.

“Additionally, we have also convened a weekly high level meeting with DES including having a Queensland Health representative on board to facilitate and share industry issues on an ongoing basis. It is now agreed that a separate recyclers meeting will also go ahead,” Ralph said.

 “We trust that this may provide a positive view of the genuine attempt by our regulator to work in partnership with us,” he added.

NSW planning approval process pushes investment interstate

Everyone working in waste and recycling knows that getting a planning approval for a waste facility is a long and excruciating process and NSW has been the worst performing state.

No-one wants a waste facility next door, so all applications are opposed by someone. Usually, it is not a question of whether there will be objections, but how many.

The average approval time for waste facilities in NSW is one year and seven months, while three years is not uncommon for larger waste infrastructure such as material recovering facilities, composting facilities, transfer stations and processing facilities. Of course, some never get approved.

Energy from waste and landfills is even more challenging. It took almost 10 years to get the Woodlawn landfill approved. Even then the transfer station at Clyde, necessary to move waste from the Sydney metropolitan area, required its own special Act of Parliament. And that was for one of Sydney’s only two main putrescible landfills.

Processing facilities, transfer stations and landfills are essential infrastructure. Imagine if the bins from your work and home could not be collected because there was nowhere to take it. The economy would collapse. Waste is no different from power or water in that regard.

No strategic planning

Yet, there is still no strategic planning for waste assets in NSW. All applications are proponent initiated and there is no overarching needs assessment to guide investment.

With federal and state governments now moving to ban the export of recyclates over the next two years, there is an immediate additional need for processing sites for over 1.2 million tonnes of recyclate across Australia.

A piece of work recently completed by MRA for Australian Council of Recyclers (ACOR), suggested that just to achieve the NSW state targets by 2022 (MSW, C&I and C&D diversion from landfill) there would need to be an additional 30 plants built in western Sydney.

This would involve over $2billion in investment and employ over 4,000 people.

Extended approval process

With those numbers in mind, you would think the NSW Government would be jumping at the chance to facilitate investment and approvals of recycling infrastructure. But alas, no.

While the excellent Waste Less Recycle More, grants scheme offered by the NSW Government entices proponents to look at NSW, some of their enthusiasm is tempered by the thought of an extended approval process.

I attended a workshop in March where a representative of one of Australia’s major planning groups said, “We advise clients to look at Queensland and Victoria rather than NSW if they want to build and operate new greenfield recycling and waste businesses”.

This isn’t surprising as Victoria has Waste and Resource Recovery Hubs that facilitate approvals and restrict encroachment along with a Research, Development and Demonstration pathway that allows new technologies that require a Works Approval (equivalent to NSW EPA licence) to start operating with a Planning Permit, while the operator seeks EPA approval.

Mike Ritchie owns MRA Consulting Group and is one of Australia’s leading waste policy advisors. He has held roles including  National vice president and NSW president of the Waste Management Association of Australia, chair of the National Carbon Committee, Advanced Waste Treatment Committee and a member of the Resource and Energy Recovery Committee. 

Global recycling sector under pressure

As Australians adapt to a new social and economic order, the global scrap recycling industry is understandably, slowing down. The ambassadors of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) have compiled a wrap-up of how each country under siege is adjusting.

According to BIR, the situation in the United States of America varies from state to state. California has shut down all non-essential industries, but recycling is considered to be essential as it is an important link in the supply chain. However, business is very slow. It is possible to buy and sell but exporting is very tough with no availability of containers.

Smelters closed in Italy

In Europe, Italy has closing smelters as part of the strategy to control the pandemic by shutting all non-essential companies. Owing to a shortage of workers in France, most small to medium-sized businesses are closed. Large enterprises are partially open, with only 40 percent of yards in operation. While there is no more retail business, they are being supplied by those production plants still in operation.

In the UK recycling has been included in the category of critical industries and it appears that larger operators saw a flurry of activity last week, as smaller counterparts attempted to turn stock into money. Some merchants have closed their doors.

In Saudi Arabia, there has been a shift to stringent measures being applied to recycling plants between 7am and 6pm, with a curfew in place for the intervening hours. Factories and ports are still open.

The United Arab Emirates  is still operating yards in Sharjah operation however the report said that business is slow for both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Local mills are struggling in terms of both taking deliveries and payments, while export activity is minimal as the buyers are not there.

Yards are closed in Kuwait and in Lebanon, although the latter’s ports are still open. For the Middle East in general, policy changes are coming daily, building up the uncertainty over April deliveries and supplies worldwide.

India comes to a halt

In India, the situation is dire with Mumbai in total lockdown and no-one can leave their home in many parts of Gujarat. The government had announced a raft of closures, including stopping trains up to March 3. Pakistan, meanwhile, is in partial lockdown and yards are not working normally.

There is no official lockdown in Singapore and while plants are technically open for business. Practically nothing is happening because most workers are either Chinese, who haven’t returned since the Chinese New Year holidays, or Malaysians who can’t return because of border closures. There is also massive logistical disruption to container shipments.

Malaysia is effectively in lockdown regarding import cargoes, with only essential goods permitted. With recycling products not categorised as essential, imports are not being allowed at present.

BIR is the only global recycling industry federation representing around 800 companies and 35 affiliated national recycling associations from 70 different countries. Its members are world leaders in the supply of raw materials and a key pillar for sustainable economic development.

Ambassadors are appointed by the president and represent the organisation around the world. Working on a voluntary basis, they provide information about BIR activities in their respective working regions.


Now skincare can be made from mushroom waste

Mushrooms are the latest in a line of organic waste products that are being transformed into commercial ventures. Researchers at University of Adelaide’s Waite campus are presently working on a way to turn mushroom waste into items like sunscreen, skincare products and outdoor furniture coating.

The project comes under a Research Consortium Program (RCP) led by the University which is supporting South Australia’s primary producers by turning their waste into high-value products.

Predictions have been made that the result could result in new industries worth over $100m per annum.

To achieve immediate commercial outcomes, the RCP team, jointly funded by the SA Government, industry and academic members, is targeting known bioactives and structural compounds prevalent in our local crop biomass.

For example, a range of nutraceuticals, health-promoting foods and beverages, pharmaceutical and skincare products such as sunscreen and high-performance materials, can be produced using compounds found in potatoes, mushrooms and waste streams from the brewing industry.

Green oils

The process of removing these targeted molecules also produces organic matter that can be fermented into ethanol or converted to ‘green’ oils through different processes, meaning almost all of the original waste produce is recycled for alternative uses.

“We aim to use as close to 100 percent of the biomass as possible by deriving multiple products from each of the crops, instead of focusing on a small number of valuable, but typically minor molecules,” lead researcher Professor Vincent Bulone said.

“We already have a number of product prototypes that we aim to commercialise in the shortest possible timeframe, such as composite carbohydrate-based materials and products relevant to the cosmetic and skincare sectors.”

Currently, as a result of growing conditions, crop seasons, environmental factors and highly stringent quality criteria set by supermarkets, SA’s farmers often end up scrapping up to 50 percent or more of their product. This includes cereals, potatoes, apples, cherries and berries, mushrooms, Brassica vegetables and more.

This waste matter is either left to rot in the field, turned into low-value products such as compost or animal feed, burned for energy, or disposed of at the growers’ expense.

“Today, we are just at the beginning of a new collaboration,” added Professor Bulone.

“Our aim is to utilise this significant initial investment from the SA Government, industry and academic partners to become the centre of gravity for agricultural waste conversion in our state and nationally.”


Packaging report details collaborative vision

Our Packaging Future, the new strategic framework outlining how Australia will deliver the 2025 National Packaging Targets was unveiled yesterday during an industry webinar.

The report was launched by assistant minister for Waste Reduction and Environment Management, Trevor Evans, and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and featured discussion from Evans, Dr Helen Lewis and APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly.

Our Packaging Future combines data and insights from more than 200 authors and contributors, to identify the current critical challenges contributing to this gap. It then maps the strategies required to move away from our current take, make and waste approach to managing packaging.

The strategies address issues of packaging design, improved collection and recycling systems and expanded markets for used packaging, and provides a systemic, whole of environment approach to building Australia’s sustainable packaging future.

Key recommendations and approaches addressed in the plan include:

  • A change to the 2025 National Packaging Target for recycled content levels in packaging. The Target for the average recycled content in all packaging will increase from 30 percent to 50 percent
  • The launch of a National Consumer Education Campaign for sustainable packaging in 2020
  • APCO to convene a CDS National Working Group as a collaborative forum aiming to facilitate consistency and alignment of future closed-loop schemes
  • APCO to explore and facilitate waste collection partnerships in regional and remote areas including potential collaboration with other product stewardship schemes where kerbside collection is not feasible
  • Voluntary code of practice for shopping bags with key stakeholders
  • New reuse models for both consumer and B2B packaging
  • For compostable packaging, develop a national strategy with industry and government partners.
  • Explore extending the Australasian Recycling Label to include B2B packaging and recycled content.
  • Develop a traceability and verification program for recycled content in packaging and products

According to Evans, “Governments around Australia are relying on APCO and its members to bring about a more sustainable approach to packaging. This report shows that about half of all packaging in Australia is not currently being recovered, and that is the gap we need to bridge to achieve the National Packaging Targets by 2025”.

Brooke Donnelly, CEO, APCO added, “Our planet has finite resources to meet our ever-increasing consumption. Business as usual is simply not going to sustain our communities into the future. We will not accept a future defined by waste stockpiles, inefficient waste recovery economies, self-interest and fragmented regulation and policy approaches.

Clear vision

She said that the vision for this report is clear. It will build a packaging value chain that collaborates to keep packaging materials out of landfill and maximise the circular value of the materials, energy and labour within the local economy.

“Thank you to everyone who took part in the process, it has taken over two years, however we now have a clear vision for a whole of system approach to delivering the 2025 Targets,” she said.

Leaders from across the packaging value chain, including major brands, retailers and business associations, the waste and recycling industry, and the environmental community have responded positively to the report.

“By mapping the challenges faced by all impacted waste streams, the collective impact framework of the report focuses industry and government on the strategies that will drive the critical growth and sustainable end markets that are necessary to drive the system forward and achieve the waste reduction and recycling outcomes the Australian public expects,” SUEZ Australia & New Zealand chief customer officer, Justin Frank said.

Significant milestone

“As the first integrated and holistic perspective of Australia’s packaging ecosystem, ‘Our Packaging Future’ is a significant milestone for packaging sustainability here in Australia. At Kmart Group, we are committed to reducing the environmental impacts of Kmart, Target and Catch’s own brand products and packaging, delivered through our Better Together sustainable development program,” Kmart Group head of Energy and Environment Chris Foley added.

“The Our Packaging Future project is firmly part of diverse network of global organisations, this network, providing an evidence-based foundation for businesses to map, measure and forecast the reduction and, ultimately the elimination, of packaging leakage across their value chains.

The recommendations and strategies outlined in the report will provide Australian businesses with a strong foundation to deliver effective action on eliminating pollution and building a circular approach across our economy,” Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia, CEO Andrew Petersen said.

“The report highlights the very real need for national consumer education particularly the use of standardised on-pack recycling information via the Australasian Recycling Label, itself a highly productive collaboration between APCO, Planet Ark and PREP Design,” Planet Ark Environmental Foundation CEO, Paul Klymenko concluded.


Smart dry digestion plant

A new dry digestion plant is being built in Kirchberg, Hunsrück around 40 km west of the German city of Mainz and will process around 15,000 metric tons of source-separated organic waste a year.

The municipal operating company, Rhein-Hunsrück Entsorgung (RHE), has awarded the contract to build the facility to a consortium consisting of Swiss cleantech company Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) and the German construction and composting technology specialist Eggersmann.

Eggersmann will be in charge of the conveying equipment, construction, and biological drying system, while HZI will supply its Kompogas technology, the digestate separation and storage components, as well as the combined heat and power units. The HZI/Eggersmann bidding consortium has won the pan-European public tender on the strength of the most cost-efficient solution.

The new facility will already be the second Kompogas installation in the Rhein-Hunsrück area. The first went into operation back in 1997.

“The old Kompogas plant has been operated by a private operation company and has given us exceptional service over the last 20 years, doing a great deal to assure reliable waste disposal in our region,” explained RHE managing director thomas Lorenz.

Design for greater efficiency
The plant has various technically sophisticated features: The organic waste delivered to the plant will first be prepared in a special separation process before being fed into the digester for anaerobic digestion, and subsequently sieved again. This procedure will maximise the quality of the 10,000 or so metric tons of liquid digestate produced for use as high-grade fertiliser in agriculture.

The digestion process will yield around 1.85 million Nm3 of biogas annually, which will be used to generate 4.26 million kWh of electricity. Another special feature of the Kirchberg plant will be two cogeneration units configured to generate electricity as it is needed:

While one of the units will assure a constant supply of heat and electricity to the plant, the other will only switched in during the day if electricity grid demand is particularly high. The waste heat from the cogeneration units will also be fed into an ORC turbine to generate additional electricity, further boosting the overall efficiency of the plant.


Relief arrives with Jobkeeper package

Vital businesses that support and serve the WARR industry will feel some relief following the release of a $132 billion Jobkeeper package by the federal government late yesterday.

Designed to assist workers who have been stood down, the package offers a lifeline to employers whose business have experienced a 30% revenue decline since March 1. By 8am this morning more than 60,000 operators had registered for the subsidy through the Australia Taxation office.

Any worker who was laid off since March 1 can talk to their employers to re-employ them so that they can receive the $1,500 fortnightly payment while the employer will be reimbursed from May.

Even employers whose business has been shut down on government orders will receive money to pay employees who cannot do any meaningful work or attend their workplace.

Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA) executive director Tony Khoury told Inside Waste that it welcomed the government’s Job Keeper $1,500 payment per worker per fortnight.

“Any waste & recycling business that incurs a significant financial hit of 30% revenue reduction caused by COVID-19 will be eligible. This announcement will ensure that a business will continue to directly pay its workers and therefore maintain a connection to those workers.

“In so doing, waste management operators will hang onto their valued, experienced staff,” he said.A statement by Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, and AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said that they had joined forces to urge that every effort is made to ensure Australian manufacturing businesses remain safe and can continue to supply the needs of Australian households, businesses, community organisations and health providers.

Limiting business closures

“It is crucial that businesses in vital areas keep operating through these difficult times and that people remain employed as much as possible.

“This includes businesses involved in manufacturing such as food processing, packaging, pharmaceuticals, chemicals (including sanitising and cleaning products), and health industry supplies. It also includes industries necessary for these activities to continue – those in their supply chains and service partners,” the statement said.

However, they acknowledged that many manufacturing businesses cannot be turned off and on with the flick of a switch. Closures can take time; they are costly and often hazardous.

“Restarting many manufacturing processes is similarly time-consuming, costly, and dangerous. These extra costs and risks need to be weighed in any assessment of a shut down. If they can operate safely they should remain open,” they said.

Retaining employment

They also noted that many workers are employed in industries that supply basic needs. Many more are employed in businesses that can continue to operate safely and without increasing risks of community transmission of COVID-19.

History suggests unemployment rises much faster than it falls. The costs of unemployment – both human and economic – last for many years beyond the passing of the economic downturn. Many people, particularly those who are older and less skilled, will never be re-employed.

Both the AWU and Ai Group welcome the measures the Government has introduced to improve the provision of mental health services in Australia. Avoiding unnecessary business closures will help avoid further escalation of the adverse mental health outcomes associated with unemployment.

A waste bacterium for our times

Scientists have discovered a bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic, not only breaking it down but using it as food to power the process.

The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology and identifies a new strain of Pseudomonas bacteria which is known to withstand harsh conditions, such as high temperatures and acidic environments. The bacterium, is the first that is known to attack polyurethane and was found at a waste site where plastic had been dumped.

The German researchers, at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ in Leipzig who are behind the discovery, fed the bacterium key chemical components of polyurethane in the laboratory and found the bacteria can use the compounds as a sole source of carbon, nitrogen and energy.

However, they believe that it might be 10 years before the bacterium could be used at a large scale. According to the research, the next step would be to identify the genes that code for the enzymes produced by the bug that break down the polyurethane.


Potato waste mashup building a new industry

The Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) comprising four of the largest potato producers in Australia, intends to convert 100% of its potato waste into commercial benefit.

Over the next three years, The Mitolo Group, Zerella Fresh, Thomas Foods International Fresh Produce, The South Australian Potato Company, together with Industry Association, Potatoes South Australia Inc, and The University of Adelaide will invest nearly $1million in this research and development. The goal is to save up to 100,000 tonnes of potatoes currently going to waste every year.

Potatoes South Australia, chief executive Robbie Davis said that this is a powerful opportunity for Australia, particularly South Australia which is the largest potato growing state.

“We are seeing up to 40% of potatoes rejected because they do not meet retail specifications. At the same time Australia is importing 20,000 tonnes of potato starch each year, and it just doesn’t make sense that we’re not using these huge volumes of potatoes for alternative purposes,” she said.

Potato starch industry

According to Davis, a large focus of this project is the potential development of an Australian potato starch industry which would provide additional revenue for Australian potato companies. This could generate potentially $1000 a tonne for extracted starch instead of the current value of $0-10 a tonne for the waste.

“Potato starch is used broadly across the food industry, from bioplastics and packaging, to coatings and adhesives. We also want to use the waste from the waste, so after extracting the potato starch, there will be further opportunities using the residual waste from this first stage,” Davis said.

Professor Vincent Bulone from the University of Adelaide is leading this research project from his analytical centre for complex carbohydrate analysis, Adelaide Glycomics.

The project is in line with the University’s industry engagement priority on agrifood and wine. “There are different forms of starch in potatoes that can be used in different products. For example, existing research suggests that the less digestible starches in potatoes, the so-called ‘resistant starches’, can be used to make superior pre-biotics that help prevent infections,” Bulone said.

“Another known starch component can be used to engineer low GI foods, and the skins of the potatoes themselves contain bioactives that can be used for a range of commercial products like nutraceuticals.”

Early start

Fight Food Waste CRC CEO, Dr Steven Lapidge said that the early start that this project had made in the Fight Food Waste CRC’s journey was notable and he considered that the partnership between all of the potato producers was a great example of what CRCs can achieve.

“We’re looking to develop new products from current waste streams that will deliver additional profit to potato producers through domestic and export sales.

“Through investing in research and development we aim to deliver new high-value commercial opportunities for the participants of this project.