5 TAKEAWAYS | Waste to Energy
Can we solve Australia's waste problems while simultaneously providing alternative energy sources?
Renewable, reliable energy holds growing demand in the global and local markets. The UK recently announced a ban on combustion engines after 2030, as they shift towards sustainable options. How close are we to getting national agreement between states and territories on the role of recovering energy from waste in solving Australia’s waste problems while also providing alternative energy sources?
Modern European Waste-to-Energy plants are clean and safe, meeting strict emission limits placed in the EU Industrial Emissions Directive.
This session explored Australia’s future in using waste to provide alternative energy sources, as the practice continues to gain global traction in other countries such as Japan, the US and Europe. These countries are focused on diverting residual waste from landfill, generating energy and reducing emissions.
Missed our session? here are some of the key takeaways!
Community engagement is key
Justin Koek from the NSW Department of Planning, Infrastructure and Environment made it abundantly clear positive engagement is key when introducing waste-to-energy systems.
“A degree of confidence from (the community) in new projects meeting stringent environmental criteria is really important”.
Communities where waste-to-energy plants are built want to make sure energy from waste is not usurping resource recovery and recycling.
If Australia are to get the most out of new waste-to-energy plants, community support and engagement in providing solutions and support will be key to state-wide roll-outs of policy and facilities.
Australian policy is not following EU regulations
Marc Stammbach, veteran of the industry, commented on the lack of similarities between Australian waste-to-energy policies and those that have been successful in Europe.
“Commonality with Europe is stopping, only emission limits are still similar”.
Waste-to-energy plants are becoming more commonplace across the European landscape, and are enjoying greater success than those in Australia. Locally, waste-to-energy has been slow to adopt due to a lack of social license and desire to change, coupled with early proposal complexity and confusion.
Mark recommends we follow a national policy which is more standardized, while Justin argued a slower, thought-out process of implementation is important for each state, especially NSW.
Australia could benefit more from following certain aspects of European regulations, to capitalise on their success and leverage confidence in the community.
The waste hierarchy comes before energy production
One point all members of the session agreed on was that waste-to-energy systems are not a solution to waste, but rather one tool which must not unnecessarily take precedent.
“It’s not about energy from waste, but where it fits into the whole scheme. Its part of an overall hierarchy treating different materials.” said Richard.
Efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle must be at the forefront of any sustainable waste-management plan. Only after the community have successfully re-used and recycled all materials possible, can we sort the rest into residuals, which can be used for energy production.
“We want to see a top-down strategy for sorting” said Marc. “Recyclables, food and green waste are separated. Then we have residual waste which can be used for energy”.
Waste-to-energy systems increase other sustainability efforts
Richard Kirkman, CEO of Veolia, explained the benefits are further-reaching than simply new sources of energy production.
The amount of energy actually gained from the process is minimal in comparison with other sources. The greatest benefit is elimination of landfill and leaving a positive legacy for future generations, he explained.
It has been proven that employing energy-from-waste systems gets people to do more recycling and composting, as their awareness and level of education around the hierarchy of waste increases.
Additionally, communities where waste-to-energy plants are built can expect to see a great number of new long-term jobs available, supporting their economy.
Exporting waste-to-energy components is unproductive
The session turned to the topic of exporting waste to other countries, which has faced criticism and many changes in legislation in Australian history.
The panel argued against the export of waste-to-energy components. “Why export shredded waste for energy production and refuse exporting recyclables” said Richard.
Communities must consider landfill sites and geographical placement requirements when deciding on the location of new energy-production plants. Build them closer to landfill sites, reducing costs and de-incentivising waste export which has been done in the past, to keep energy production and benefits local.
Continuing to speak on a local-scale, Richard reinforced a benefit of waste-to-energy systems. “They are not dependent on weather as are solar or wind”. These facilities can power communities independently of the constraints of weather.
Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC)
Marc Stammbach, Hitachi Zosen Inova
Justin Koek, Department of Planning, Infrastructure and Environment
Richard Kirkman, Veolia