Sustainable Insights: Growing Australia’s waste and resource recovery industry…it’s happening

Talking with people from across the waste sector in Victoria and elsewhere, there is always interest in growing markets and investigating new opportunities.

Commercially it makes sense and as the sector grows nationally it will drive changes in community behaviour and understanding, boost economic development and jobs growth.

Unless we tackle waste reduction from every angle we won’t make the most of our potential.

The industry’s spreading its wings
A 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics study found 98 per cent of Australian households took part in some form of recycling or reuse of household items.

Common items recycled or reused were paper, cardboard and newspapers (95 per cent of households), glass (93 per cent), plastic bottles or containers (93 per cent), aluminium or steel cans (91 per cent), and plastic bags (84 per cent).

A key factor for the success of the sector is that we have an engaged community. With better education about how to recycle more effectively there’s plenty of room for the industry to flourish.

Better systems for dealing with waste, supported by agencies like Sustainability Victoria, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and Green Industries SA are being established in many parts of the country.

In western Victoria the small communities of Charlton and Murrayville recently opened new transfer stations as part of a program to close 16 unsustainable landfills across the state.

While these are fairly conventional projects in cities and major regional centres, they help more isolated areas save valuable resources and ensure safer and better-run landfills for residual waste.

Council green waste collections have also been with most of us for many years, but a growing number of local government areas are expanding this popular, service so food waste also goes into those bins.

Expanding this program, councils covering most of Melbourne’s eastern and south-eastern suburbs have recently signed agreements to process organics potentially taking 500,000 tonnes of food from Melbourne’s landfills each year.

Victoria’s Government is encouraging potential waste to energy projects through a Sustainability Victoria funding program for which expressions of interest recently closed.

There has been strong interest in this emerging market and a recent conference in Ballarat attracted almost 200 delegates from across the country.

Processing of e-waste is another growth sector and is becoming increasingly necessary as our use of electrical and electronic devices rapidly grows.

Recycling precious metals used in electronics, steel and aluminium from appliances and electronic devices has been with us a long time, but now we’re at a point where plastic from old printer cartridges is being incorporated into road building with disused tyres.

For a number of progressive councils around the country recycled toner cartridge plastic has been proven as a component in roads.

An exciting, larger, trial employed by VicRoads on a major Victorian highway and in Canberra using rubber crumb and recycled plastic began in February.

Just as the United States has had considerable success in clearing tyre stockpiles it is hoped the Australian projects will stimulate enormous potential for the national road network.

Where it’s working already
In his Churchill Fellowship report last year Jonathan Craven from Gippsland Water examined established composting and other waste reduction markets in seven countries including Israel, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, UK, United States and Canada.

At Vienna’s MA48 processing facility 120,000 tonnes of food and green waste is processed each year to create compost which is used in urban soil mixes, bagging, vineyards and cropping.

A viewing platform allows school children on excursions to see what’s happening and take what they learned home so families could ensure they get their recycling right.

Another 22,000 tonnes of commercial food waste goes to anaerobic digestion and incineration plants, which produce heat and energy for more than 49,000 households.

Similar projects are in place in many parts of Europe, providing lessons for Australia’s waste industry.

A local case study in rescuing resources: mattresses
They’re big, awkward and if the mattresses dumped in Victoria’s tips each week were stacked on top of each other, they’d be more than 1,100 metres high.

Victoria’s ‘mattress mountain’ is putting pressure on landfills – taking up 170,000 cubic metres of space each year.

Like every state we’re also losing vast quantities of reusable metal, foam and textiles which can be reused and reduce demand for virgin materials.

Supported by Sustainability Victoria, Australia’s first automated mattress recycling plant is now diverting around 100,000 mattress a year from landfill.

TIC Group in Melbourne’s west works with councils, hotels, hospitals and retailers and has the potential to recycle all of Victoria’s end-of-life mattresses. A new facility is being established in NSW.

Working with the social enterprise, Soft Landing (a subsidiary of the not-for-profit organisation Resource Recovery Australia), in both states, the venture is also creating jobs for people having difficulty finding employment.

Find out more about Australia’s first mattress recycling plant and what you can do to reduce our mattress mountain at www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhzrgQPsXE&t=20s.

Sustainable Insights with Stan Krpan is Inside Waste’s regular environmental sustainability column.
Stan will discuss how Victorians can lead more sustainable lives by making better use of their resources through energy, waste and materials efficiency.
He is chief executive of Sustainability Victoria, a Victorian Government agency working to reduce the impact of climate change and increase energy efficiency, reducing the creation of waste and maximising resource recovery.


Written by Stan Krpan for WME Business Entertainment Network.

This story was published on Inside Waste.