Sydney sends more than two million tonnes of waste to landfill every year which means there’s no further opportunity to reuse, recycle or recover value from that material.
Currently, there are only two commercial landfills that accept Sydney’s red bin waste – one at Lucas Heights and the other at Goulburn. If waste generation continues at current rates, projections estimate the closure of the Lucas Heights landfill by 2032 and the closure of the Goulburn landfill by 2042.
It’s time we stopped seeing landfill as our only option for residual waste. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, using landfill is a missed opportunity for extracting valuable resources from waste. Secondly, it goes against current federal and state plans to waste less and recycle more. The NSW EPA has a target of diverting 75% of waste away from landfill but Sydney is currently achieving approximately 60% diversion.
With landfill closures quickly approaching and the need to increase diversion of waste from landfill, Sydney needs to work on maximising recycling, then finding a sustainable solution for the rest of the waste that cannot be recovered.
Maximising resources from ‘waste’
The circular economy is looked at as being a more sustainable model for consuming resources and managing the waste by-product. It focuses on breaking the traditional linear ‘make-take-dispose’ model where raw materials are used to make new products, used, then disposed of without the opportunity to recover resources.
A circular economy is about closing the loop on the products we consume by using recycled material in the remanufacturing process. From production to consumption to manufacturing, a circular economy brings a product back into the manufacturing process by closing the tail end.
While a great deal of progress has been made towards a circular economy, breaking the current linear model requires significant and systematic change across the waste management ecosystem.
Governments need to drive policy to encourage a shift to a circular mindset and develop viable markets for the recycled product, communities need to be diligent about recycling their waste and industry needs to recover more resources from waste.
To this end, Cleanaway has invested in resource recovery facilities across Australia to maximise the value of waste as a resource. Some of our innovative resource recovery facilities in NSW and Australia, include:
- Container Sorting Facility for NSW’s Container Deposit Scheme which has now seen more than 3 billion containers recycled
- A processed engineered fuel (PEF) facility in Western Sydney which takes up to 250,000 tonnes of non-recyclable commercial and industrial (C&I) waste each year and turns it into sustainable fuel to replace coal in the cement industry
- A 100,000 tonne per annum Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) processing facility in Dandenong, Victoria, that turns organic food waste into nutrient-rich fertiliser for use in agriculture
- Investment in and restructure of the restructure of Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in Victoria and Tasmania, to sort and process commingled recycling in the local market
- A new plastic pelletising facility to be built in Albury Wodonga to process approximately 28,000 tonnes of plastic bottles each year into recycled material for onshore packaging manufacturing, through a joint venture with Pact and Asahi
Energy-from-waste for waste that cannot be recycled
A circular economy does not mean zero waste – there will always be residual waste that needs to be managed.
A recent analysis of municipal red bin waste in NSW showed that there is approximately 73% of waste in the red bin that can be recycled or composted if properly separated prior to disposal. This means that even with best practice recycling, there is still approximately a third of waste that has no recycling option available. This is where energy-from-waste technology comes in to manage the waste that would otherwise go to landfill.
Energy-from-waste has clear benefits in managing non-recyclable waste as energy recovery allows us to extract the maximum value from this waste that has no other recovery pathway. Energy-from-waste is not the solution to sustainable waste management, it is a supporting piece in a much larger waste management puzzle.
Energy-from-waste has been used safely and effectively overseas for decades, creating energy and heat from otherwise wasted resources. Following combustion, metals are recovered and recycled from the ash. The majority of ash is also suitable for reuse in construction processes. This is commonly done overseas and has led to some countries being able to divert 100% of waste away from landfill and reuse, recycle or recover energy from it.
To manage Sydney’s growing waste needs safely and sustainably well into the future, Cleanaway and Macquarie Capital have proposed an energy-from-waste facility – the Western Sydney Energy and Resource Recovery Centre (WSERRC). This facility would accept non-recyclable household and business waste and convert it into electricity for more than 79,000 homes and businesses.
Understanding that shifts in recycling behaviours, infrastructure and the corresponding waste generation will happen gradually, over a period of time, WSERRC will use thermal combustion technology to accommodate changes in waste composition, without impacting the operation or safety of the facility.
Read more about energy-from-waste technology, the role it plays in the waste management ecosystem and the common misconceptions that surround the technology.
Visit https://energyandresourcecentre.com.au/ or call 1800 97 37 72 for more information on WSERRC and to get involved.