Driving the future of waste management with sustainable innovation

by FM Media
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Sustainable innovation is vital to the future of the waste management industry in Australia and the environment.

With a stable economy supported by strong population growth, Australia remains an ideal place to capitalise on opportunities to invest in waste treatment. The challenge is how Australia identifies and makes the most of these opportunities to reflect our environmental goals.

Australia has always had a can-do attitude in its approach to delivering waste management innovation. When REMONDIS first arrived in Australia from Germany in the 1980s it was obvious that the company had set up business in a country with a lot of unique activity in waste treatment.

For example, REMONDIS first discovered the side-loading truck in Australia at a time when waste management companies in Europe were commonly all using rear loaders. After shipping one of the trucks to Germany, it was found that in many cases the vehicle was more efficient than the rear loaders being operated at the time.

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REMONDIS Australia’s Gunther Neumann.

REMONDIS soon became one the first companies in Europe to widely use the side-loading truck, and before long our major competitors were also including the vehicles in their fleets.

Today, Australia remains in a unique waste management position globally, due to its geographical position, economic stability and population growth.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australia generates almost 48 million tonnes of waste each year – or about 2.1 tonnes per person. The ABS says that 40 percent of this waste is sent to landfill.

As Australia’s population increases so will these figures. And while landfill is here to stay in Australia for the foreseeable future, there is a greater focus on diverting waste to either recycling or composting. Diversion of waste from landfill to recycling or composting is a trend that isn’t going away – both options represent areas where sustainable innovation will be important in the years ahead.

The benefits of recycling are well-documented. Recycling conserves natural resources, saves a large amount of water and energy in the production process, cuts greenhouse gases, extends landfill life, protects land and saves the lives of marine animals.

Recycling – or the circular flow economy – has been a focal point of the waste management agenda in Europe for many years. In Australia, this agenda is emerging more rapidly than ever and innovation has a role to play in its future.

Through innovative technologies and processing systems, recycling not only diverts waste from landfill, but can also lower general operating costs.

Wollongong City Council, which has partnered with REMONDIS to manage the local government’s waste for the past 20 years, is an authority that has focused on sustainable innovation as part of its recycling and waste collection services.

With REMONDIS, the council partnered for recycling, recovery, reuse and the disposal of waste, helping residents reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill by recycling or reusing unwanted goods and materials.

Meanwhile, awareness of how organic materials can be sustainably managed is also building in Australia, with composting offering a broad range of opportunities from a sustainability perspective.

[quote style=’1′ cite=”]Today, Australia remains in a unique waste management position globally, due to its geographical position, economic stability and population growth.[/quote]

Through various partnerships REMONDIS currently processes around 75,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of food and green organics in New South Wales and Queensland, recovers around 200,000 tpa of biosolids from over two million people around Australia and collects green organics from nearly one million Australians.

Innovation has been a key element of REMONDIS’ relationship with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council in NSW – together we partnered to establish Australia’s first tunnel organic resource recovery facility (ORRF).

Since the facility was unveiled in 2001, the specialised tunnel waste technology has become standard in other ORRFs around the country. At the ORRF organic material is shredded and processed in climate-controlled tunnels for a set period to produce nutrient-rich compost.

As the operator, REMONDIS sells the compost to the agriculture sector, to landscape suppliers and directly to residents. Innovation has continued at the ORRF over the years, with it recently becoming one of the first to implement a solar power system, which in a country like Australia is a logical green energy initiative.

The solar power system, which produces an estimated 67,500 kilowatts per hour annually, is helping to reduce operating costs by as much as $17,000 a year and is reducing carbon emissions by more than 60 tpa.

In 2014, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council was successful in selling carbon credits gained through the Australian Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative, which relates to the operation of the facility and diversion of organic material from landfill.

Like Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, local governments, as well as commercial and industrial companies, can pursue partnerships with waste management companies to have organic materials processed into compost-based products, such as mulches, garden soils and potting mixes.

New products are also being continually researched and developed for other environmental applications, including erosion control and stormwater treatment. There are a range of organic materials that make up these products – from lawn clippings and leaves to wood and food wastes.

Management of organic materials will continue to be an innovation challenge and opportunity for waste management companies identifying uses for these valuable resources. Diverting more waste from landfill is the end goal, but a number of requirements should be considered before commitment to new innovation is made.

Most importantly, suitable volumes of waste are required to ensure long-term sustainability for the facility. A strong partnership with a local government, commercial firm or industrial company is then critical prior to a new processing facility being implemented.

Once these requirements have been satisfied, the technology that guides innovation in the facility must demonstrate it has been proven in the waste industry. It is about taking advantage of proven technology and then adding an innovative touch, which in Australia’s case often means adapting foreign equipment to the local environment.

REMONDIS in Australia

For almost 35 years, sustainable innovation has been at the heart of REMONDIS’ operations in Australia – ever since our first operation was set up in Penrith, New South Wales.

Since then, operations have been established in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and throughout NSW. REMONDIS now has around 1000 employees, a fleet of 530 trucks and 34 business sites in cities and regional areas across the country.

REMONDIS Australia is part of the REMONDIS Group, which was founded in Germany in 1934 and is one of the world’s largest environmental management organisations, operating in 34 countries.

While many of our international markets have suffered financial stress during the past decade, Australia has largely maintained a strong economy. At the same time many Australian government authorities have established municipal waste reduction targets and are using landfill taxes to drive compliance.

With this progress a lot of potential for investment in new waste management methods and technologies remains for Australia in order to make the industry more productive, efficient and environmentally friendly.

There will also be opportunities to export Australian expertise internationally, just as with the side-loading truck almost 35 years ago. To advance these opportunities, it will not only help the environment but benefit the business community as well.

The author, Gunther Neumann, is head of technical department at REMONDIS Australia. He graduated as a waste and water engineer and joined REMONDIS in Germany in 2007. He moved to Australia in 2012 to join REMONDIS Australia.

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