Sustainable Waste and Resource Management

Waste Management Association of Australia

Now the bad news: in several states, landfill prices are so low as to make it uneconomic to recycle effectively. “In the states where landfill is very cheap there is not much incentive not to send waste there because it is the cheapest disposal option. In New South Wales [for example] where the landfill cost is high and a levy is applied which is very high, it then starts to make resource recovery more attractive.” But there is no consistency from state to state.

These are the views of Val Southam, Chief Executive Officer of the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA). This is an independent, not-for-profit association for waste and resource recovery professionals and organisations, formed in 1991. It is Australia’s peak waste industry body. The WMAA has a growing and broad-based membership across Australia, as well as international affiliations, representing the diversity and depth of the Australian waste management and resource recovery industry. With more than one thousand members from the waste and resource recovery industry including large business, SMEs, local, state and federal government agencies, and individuals, the association is committed to providing growth opportunities to showcase members’ products and services; helping the industry continue to raise environmental and other standards; and delivering the best service, innovation and value to its members.

The WMAA continues to develop a range of policies which reflect the requirements of the day-to-day operations of the association. The legal requirements and needs of the members are paramount in the development of these policies.

It is a stakeholder organisation as opposed to an industry organisation,” explains Val. “Any stakeholder in the waste management supply chain can be a member.” These include waste generators (which is everyone, really, although some companies and industries are more significant producers of waste), transporters, waste treatment companies and waste processors and recyclers (including composters who deal with green and organic waste), academics doing research, government agencies and local councils, and EPAs, involved in the qualitative aspects of waste management. The association runs programmes, brings experts from around the world to seminars, organises training courses and generally makes itself as accessible and helpful as possible in this dirty business. “We are trying to keep people informed, share ideas across the networks, put on events where people can hear about new technologies, and so on,” explains Val.

The carbon tax affects this business because Australia has included landfills in a carbon pricing system. We are the only country in the world to price landfill emissions with the complexity of a time-delay (waste deposited today will be emitting for decades). “We have been more successful than any other sector at reducing emissions by capturing methane gas and generating electricity from it. However, under the carbon pricing system our members face many difficulties. These include how to measure the carbon liability for organic material that has been taken to landfill, predicting future gas capture rates, and working out how to charge customers for emissions generated in future years from waste deposited today. It is not an exact science and there is no simple methodology. It’s one of the biggest issues the industry has.

“The model that must be used is highly complex, including default waste composition values that may be incorrect for a given landfill. But it is very difficult and expensive to determine the actual composition in a statistically meaningful sense.” says Val.

As issues of global sustainability, resource depletion and climate change have become more prominent, the role of the waste management and resource recovery industry has become more central. In terms of waste minimisation and resource recovery, the WMAA supports initiatives on the avoidance of waste generation that promote cleaner production and use of the waste hierarchy as a general guide for prioritising waste management approaches. The association also supports federal government endeavours to provide a national strategic framework for the delivery of cost-effective and sustainable resource recovery services, and is pushing for development of integrated policies at all levels of government and initiatives that further improve resource recovery and industry development.

Another area where the WMAA welcomes progress is in improvements to the scientific and accounting practices associated with cost benefit analysis for resource recovery operations and the disposal options for residual materials. Targets for waste reduction need to be developed by government at local and state level as well as federal and should involve meaningful consultation, achievable time frames, year-to-year milestones, clear accountability, incentives and appropriate sanctions and support where necessary via financial and regulatory measures together with help for planning and development of requisite infrastructures.

Val says the association has a branch in each state and a sub-branch formed just a few months ago for the Pilbara, where a group is working very closely with the Western Australia Waste Authority. They are currently collecting data on what waste is out there in this important mining and resources region and how it can be improved in terms of waste management. This will provide valuable experience about remote regions in general and the northern WA area specifically. WMAA’s main contact with the mining industry so far has been in connection with mine rehabilitation – the use of recycled organics to rehabilitate the land and waste tailings and such – and helping them find solutions “is something we would be involved in.” The association supports the parallel delivery of energy recovery from landfill activity.”

Miners and resource companies would be welcome, Val says, to join the association if they would like advice or closer contact with the right people to help them make their business cleaner, and she adds that she would recommend everyone to do just that and get a waste audit of their business. “If you don’t know what you are wasting, you can’t look for opportunities to improve.”

WMAA is strictly an industrial organisation and stops short of trying to educate consumers, which is seen more as a task for local government. It has an industrial ecology group which has been looking into the possibilities of a resource exchange along the lines of a project in the UK, examining what company A generates as waste and comparing it with what company B is looking for as input. Val’s team has run workshops with the head of the UK project already and it is bringing local businesses together and starting to do some data matching. “We have already found hundreds of cases where a company is throwing away a material which is a waste for them but for someone else it is a usable resource. There is a cost to establishing this kind of information source and we have been talking to federal government about trying to get funding (from the Department of Industry as well as Environment) to expand this activity.”

Is it expensive to be responsible about waste management? “I think you can actually save money if, instead of disposing waste to landfill, there might be an alternative market. There is a lot of help available and a lot of programmes out there and if companies want to see what can be done in this sphere we would certainly be a good port of call.”

It’s a two way exchange and members are keen to hear from others about their experiences which can often foster new ideas; “we like to be a forum for debate. People have different views about what is right and what is wrong and we hold events where those views can be discussed and debated and information can be shared.” The association can also be of value in training companies’ staff to better understand what is required, but also what is the value, of more effective waste management. All in all, it’s not rubbish!

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September 26, 2017, 7:13 PM AEST