Organics: turning garbage into gold

by Michelle Dunner
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While there are long-established environmental and health reasons supporting the need to reduce the amount of organic waste headed to landfill, the business case is now gaining momentum.

There’s a concerted push for not only shared responsibility on organic waste, but to create the conditions so that businesses can participate in market-driven positive outcomes. The goal is to turn garbage into gold.

Late last year, the Victorian Government outlined a new organics resource recovery strategy. Sustainability Victoria chief executive Stan Krpan says it’s the first time an Australian state has been able to develop a whole-of-government strategy, embracing both state and local governments as well as regulatory authorities. He believes it should result in clear and consistent guidance as well as greater opportunity for Victoria’s business community and $2 billion waste industry.

While he isn’t aware of specific figures about the value of the organic waste industry in Victoria, Krpan says there are some telling economic indicators. “If you compare resource recovery to landfill, there are nine jobs in every 100,000 tonnes of recycled materials and only two in landfill for the same quantity.”

The most recent Sustainability Victoria figures show that, in 2011/12, approximately 2.25 million tonnes of organic waste were generated in the state with about 1.27 million tonnes ending up in landfill. The economic loss to the state was estimated at $30 million, while the waste is likely to generate more than 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 greenhouse gas over its lifetime, around 30 years. Clearly, a better solution needs to be found.

“We need to achieve best practice environmental management and recovery of organics, and that depends on a few things – a thriving industry, a robust market to purchase organic products created through recycling, good infrastructure, technology innovation and solid education programs that go across all levels of the community,” says Krpan.

“We are seeing strong growth in jobs, technology and innovation in this sector, and we need to encourage more of that.”

[quote style=’1′ cite=”]The most recent Sustainability Victoria figures show that, in 2011/12, approximately 2.25 million tonnes of organic waste were generated in the state with about 1.27 million tonnes ending up in landfill.[/quote]

Krpan says the community has a growing expectation of better recovery and management practices for organic resources.

“Significant volumes of organic material are being produced. It continues to grow and it’s a problematic waste stream. In recent years the market has been quite fickle and while some businesses are producing great products, they’ve had to deal with stockpiles. We’ve also seen a number of smaller operators not meeting the standard and had to close them down.

“Government stewardship needs to send clear market signals around policy and regulation and developing market partnerships. Along with the New South Wales (NSW) Government, we’ve been working with the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) to develop new standards and product specifications. The industry has huge potential to grow, but it must lift its game to meet the expectations of customers and the community.

“Some of the markets are national, producers in NSW service Victorian markets and Victorian businesses service interstate markets as well. Consistency across state borders is important. All the states have signed up to AORA (Australian Organics Recycling Association) and we work closely with our counterparty agencies in NSW and South Australia.

“Particularly in the first couple of years of this strategy, we see a three-pronged approach and all are equally important.

“We’re interested in viable markets. The industry doesn’t care which government agency it deals with, as long as there’s consistency. We’re not afraid to hear concerns or criticisms from the industry, because we use that to improve the quality of government service. Partnerships with industry are important; in the market development piece, you can’t recycle anything unless someone’s prepared to buy it at the end. Otherwise you’re stockpiling or eventually getting rid of it to landfill.

“And there needs to be an understanding of the customer – we’re not the best at that, but the industry is. Our role is to help improve the end product and we do that by assisting with research and development and supporting industry associations such as AORA.”

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