By Kaye Gartner
What if our community became a leader in the recovery of recyclable materials from our waste stream? What if our Council processed our waste into materials that are sold and reused? What if by 2023, only a tiny, tiny fraction (4%) of all that waste ended up in landfill? Yes, it’s possible and it must happen. Our climate and environment depend on it.
Waste is a big problem for modern people. It is a major source of pollution; it is a major reason for resource depletion; it is majorly expensive to do something about it; organic materials in landfill release methane – a nasty greenhouse gas; space for landfill is not available. The problem is wicked.
The Shoalhaven local government area has all these problems with waste. The growth in our waste production is outstripping our population growth. You, me, our family and friends, not to mention our tourists, have increased our waste production year on year for some time now. Consumer waste is on the rise, despite campaigns to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
In our peri-urban community, we also have the burden of city scale costs. The Environmental Protection Agency charges Shoalhaven City Council the same waste levy it charges the City of Sydney Council. Home owners see this EPA levy itemised under waste charges on their rates bill every quarter. It’s hefty.
Every community survey reports that the protection of the natural environment is a high priority for people who live in this stunning place. Plastic in the ocean and on our beaches, carbon pollution, resource depletion, excessive costs – we’re just not up for it.
Enter Bioelektra Advanced Recycling Technology. A technology devised by a Polish company to respond to the requirements of the European Union. BioElektra was developed by a young man who grew up working in his family recycling business. He watched the piles of material from German recycling bins build up on land in Poland and sit there. Much like the contents of recycling bins in Australia were stockpiled in 2018 when we couldn’t send our rubbish to China anymore. The myth of recycling was exploded.
This young Polishman designed Bioelektra to provide a real world solution to the severe environmental problems he was facing in the family business. Bioelektra can take tonnes of waste and extract from that waste high quality, reuseable products. Research shows that a majority of the raw materials found in mixed waste can be re-used 6-10 times, and some, like metals and glass, almost infinitely. This is one way the circular economy will operate; using precious materials over and over, reducing environmental damage, pollution and our carbon footprint.
With Bioelektra Advanced Waste Technology, in goes your red bin contents – toothpaste tubes, the afternoon’s weeding and potting mix plastic bag, wine bottle, screw top cap, and last night’s chicken bones; out comes valuable resources - colour separated glass, sorted mineral pieces and plastics, and clean sterile biomass. It’s that simple.
The ‘waste’ materials in your red bin are delivered into a massive autoclave where it gets steamed and sterilised. The water for the steaming evaporates from the organic waste itself, no extra resources are needed. After the autoclave, the material is sorted in an enclosed system to separate the metals, glass and plastics into discrete pathways. There is no odour, no burning, no nasty residues. Just clean, reuseable products, reclaimed from waste. The Bioelektra Resource Recovery Facility contributes to a cleaner, less polluted environment in every aspect of its functioning. It also extends Shoalhaven City Council’s landfill life from 10 to 50 years, creates new jobs and is capable of helping our neighbouring councils recover resources from their waste too.
The simplicity of the system – from bin to reuseable products - is the key to success. If you’re anything like me it’s very complicated to ‘do the right thing”. To get out my back door I pass a compost bin, a soft plastics bin, a 10c refund cans and bottles bin, a rubbish bin and a recycling bin. It takes time and effort to separate waste like this. It takes space! Like everyone else, I make lots of sorting mistakes. Here’s the evidence:
- 65% of the red lid ‘landfill’ bin is organic (food, garden and contaminated paper/cardboard)
- 13% of the red lid ‘landfill’ bin are materials that are recyclable and should be in the yellow lid ‘recycling’ bin
- 22% of the red lid ‘landfill’ bin is non-recyclable and currently landfill
- 9% of the yellow lid ‘recycling’ bin is not recyclable (classified as contamination)
Simply filling one bin with organic and waste resources means they will be separated more effectively by technology than by humans at home. Having one simple collection means lower costs and emissions. Having less rubbish bins helps our urban areas stay cleaner. Having simple rules means more people will participate and participate successfully. The circular economy will turn.
The Biolektra facility will be funded, built and operated by Biolektra Australia. Shoalhaven Council has committed some funding for the initial infrastructure such as site clearing, road works and fencing. Once the facility is in operation Council will pay the contractor a fee for each tonne of household waste deposited at the facility. The contract period with Biolektra is for 20 years with a potential to be increased for further five years. Once the contract is complete Council will take on ownership and operation of the plant.
Because the household bins and pick- up cycles, red lid and yellow lid, will not change, the annual domestic waste charge levied on all homeowners/ratepayers will not change with the new waste management facility. The running costs of the facility are managed by Biolektra and are separate from Council therefore annual waste levies will not be affected.
Meanwhile, many people anguish over a green bin. The NSW state government is helping fund councils in NSW to introduce green bins. Which is helpful because look at what a green bin potentially costs in the Shoalhaven LGA:
- Bins – at approximately $80/bin and 56,000 householders that would be approximately $4.5 million
- Additional collection costs for a fortnightly collection would be about $2.3 million or if a weekly collection would be almost double that.
- Building a processing plant to sort and sterilise the green bin contents could be in the region of $6 to $8 million
And can you imagine a bin full of organic waste sitting around your home for 2 weeks, waiting for the green bin collection?
In the Shoalhaven, surveys show only 50% of the community are even interested in a green waste bin. The extra cost is certainly a barrier. However many of us practice home sustainability measures such as composting and don’t need an additional bin. Neither does our rural community see much benefit for the extra cost. Green bins divert green waste from landfill, that’s all. In order to become something useful, the contents have to be sorted, cleaned and processed. Hang on, isn’t that what Bioelektra does? Bioelektra takes the red bin, every week with all your organic waste in it, not just garden clippings, and turns it into clean, sterilised product. Sorted.
Let’s be glad we can keep it simple. In 2023, you will simply recycle what you know you can in the yellow lid bin, dump everything else in the red bin. This simple sort at your place will be augmented by sophisticated technology at the Bioelektra Resource Recovery Facility. That simple sort at your place will result in 96% of all your waste being reused in industry, farming, building. That’s simply world class.
Shoalhaven City Council’s Resource Recovery Facility – Bioelektra Advanced Waste Technology- will be built at West Nowra, next door to the existing landfill site. Works will commence in 2022, our waste will be processed there and returned to being useful, useable resources, in 2023.
Many thanks to the dedicated staff at Shoalhaven City Council who have championed alternative waste technology and the raft of environmental and economic benefits it will bring.
Feature image: Biolektra Advanced Waste Management Technology. Photo supplied