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A New Industry for the Hunter - Material Recovery Facilities

My previous blog revealed that the size of Australia’s landfill problem is a gigantic 27 million tonnes of waste per year (2018-2019). The solution required is to find a way of processing this material at the rate of more than half a million tonnes per week, and we must find that solution before available landfills close.

Wheelie bins need a colour change

The problems start at home and in the factory, where the waste begins its journey. One of the desired outcomes as a result of the National Plastics Plan was the need for consistency in wheelie-bin waste collection in Australia. At the policy launch, Sussan Ley, Federal Environment Minister, said that it was important that all councils and the government work together to make the collection systems standardised.  Mike Ritchie (MRA Consulting Group) remarked that not only is the colour of a bin lid important but that the body colour matters: the recycling content of the body of your wheelie bin determines the amount of recycled plastic that can be used in its manufacture. Green-coloured bodies (the bulk of the bin) can only absorb 30% recycled plastic content. On the other hand, black bodies can be made using as much as 70% recycled content.  A black dye is added to black bins, which therefore can contain more mixed colour recycled input than green ones.

Black bins – not green – with appropriately coloured lids

To achieve high levels of recycling, ‘pure’ or uncontaminated waste streams are required. This will require at least four bins: yellow (recycling), green (food and garden organics), blue or purple (glass) and red (residual municipal solid waste). 

Yellow lids

Yellow bin contents have an exciting future when they are transported to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Check this out at Recycle Right Material Recovery Facility. The technology for new MRFs continues to advance, as shown by the new Cleanaway MRF for Perth. The Perth MRF will process 200,000 tons of recyclables a year and is designed to address Perth’s recycling needs for years to come. It was completed for a cost of $26m. 

Job creation

This type of facility can also add jobs to the local workforce as seen in South Australian when the NAWMA MRF provided more than 40 full-time jobs when Holden closed its doors in 2017. NAWMA has already expanded this facility to cope with the impact of the China Sword Policy: 2019 Expansion contributed to the Circular Economy.

Keeping plastic out of the environment

The recycled output from an MRF is the start of another story which continues with organisations such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. A future blog will focus on technologies which can keep plastic out of the environment, including the recovery and recycling of KitKat wrappers. 

The importance of clean waste streams is reinforced by the adoption of Container Deposit Schemes (CDS) which keep bottles and cans separate for more efficient recycling at Cleanaway’s Container Sorting Facility.

Extended Producer Responsibility programs

Plastic bags and recycled glass have already been used to resurface roads on the Central Coast. Increased recycling will help reduce the amount of waste, but a concurrent strategy needs to be adopted which provides for Extended Producer Responsibility. This will involve programs where the companies putting packaged products on the market remain responsible for the packaging after its use and are required to pay for its collection, sorting, and recycling. Such programs are called extended producer responsibility (EPR). 

Green lids

By separating garden waste into a green bin, recycling of other materials is improved and this permits recovery of compost at plants like Suez Lucas Heights Organics Facility. Progress in this area now includes the addition of food organics into the green bin: Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO). This has resulted in a new installation in northern NSW, the Soilco facility at Tweed Heads. Further advances are leading to the development of anaerobic digestion facilities by companies such as Biogass, which can turn organic waste into biogas for transport or electricity generation. More food for thought for additional blog contributions.

Purple lids

In Victoria, trials are taking place to separate glass into a Purple Bin. When glass is collected in mixed recycling bins, it can break. Glass fragments can stick to other materials, particularly paper and cardboard, contaminating them. It is very difficult to separate glass from other collected materials. It means neither the glass nor other materials are properly recycled.

Red lids

The red bin is perhaps the least popular bin, and the contents have generally been consigned to landfill, which is unsightly and often results in methane emissions (a dangerous greenhouse gas when released into the atmosphere) from putrescible waste. A common international solution for this residual waste is in a specialised plant which recovers energy from waste. Waste is treated at temperatures exceeding 850°C in large-scale plants with low emissions monitored on a continuous basis. Two such plants are now under construction in Western Australia, including the East Rockingham Waste to Energy Project  which will treat 300,000 tonnes per annum of waste previously destined for landfill. This will generate 28.9 MW of electricity which would power 36,000 homes. Another exciting episode coming up.


East Rockingham Waste to Energy Project due for completion in 2022

Building and construction waste

Last but not least are industrial-scale operations to recover waste materials from building and construction sites and other manufacturing activities. A very recent addition to this sector is the Bingo Centre for recovery of Commercial and Industrial, Construction and Demolition Waste. More details of Bingo’s Materials Processing Centre 2 can be found here: MPC2.

Investment needed

If we are to make a considerable reduction in waste going to landfill and improve the environment throughout Australia, there will need to be considerable investment across every State. In a detailed report, Energising Resource Recovery, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has identified a potential investment pipeline of as much as $7.8 billion between now and  2025 across Australia’s waste, bioenergy, recycling and resource recovery sectors, delivering a triple impact in terms of economic, employment and emissions benefits.

The ideal recycling hub is ready and waiting

The Hunter Valley is ideally placed to provide the location for the infrastructure required to solve this major problem and recycle massive amounts of waste from Sydney and nearby regions. Access is available by rail, road and sea, and there is an existing highly skilled workforce of 93,600 people employed in direct and indirect jobs in mining and mining services.

Planning, approvals, finance and construction of these large-scale plants can require timeframes of six years or more. It is important that initiatives to achieve this goal commence now to assist in the economic transition and diversification away from the dependence on coal mining in the Hunter.