Road to Recovery

Rose Read, chief executive of NWRIC and Peter Olah, National Executive Officer of AORA, explore the challenges and risks of halving organic waste to landfill by 2030.

FOGO might be a hot button topic now with enormous potential for organics to step up and help meet the National Waste Policy Action Plan target of 80 per cent resource recovery by 2030, but there are plenty of challenges and risks to manage as we head down this pathway.

Food and organics is one of the largest waste streams and an important area of focus if there is a chance of reaching 80 per cent resource recovery by 2030, says Rose Read, Chief Executive of National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

“The National Waste Report 2020 showed 14.2Mt of organic waste was generated in 2018-19 with an estimated 6.85 Mt deposited in landfill,” she says.

“Halving this volume to landfill by 3.42Mt per annum will be a significant contribution to the estimated 12Mt to 15Mt of waste we need to divert from landfill annually to achieve 80 per cent resource recovery by 2030.

“Fortunately, organics are already trending in the right direction, with organic waste to landfill dropping by 4 per cent from 7.12Mt in 2016-17 to 6.85Mt in 2018-19.”

The current national organics recycling rate is about 52 per cent, however rates vary significantly from 19 per cent to 78.9 per cent across states and territories, along with their commitments to increasing organics recovery.

The Federal Government also has organics in its sights, with the announcement of a $67 million Food Waste for Healthy Soils Fund in the 2021-22 budget, to be matched 1:1:1 by state and territory governments and industry participants to build new and/or upgrade existing organic waste processing infrastructure and capacity.

Peter Olah, National Executive Officer, Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) welcomed the announcement of the fund and said that while the aim is to increase the food and organic waste recycling rate, there are several challenges associated with the organics recycling sector.

“Government modelling indicates that through this fund, up to 3.4 million tonnes will be diverted from landfill. However, funding is also contingent on several policy measures being considered.

“Around 30 per cent of Australians have access to a full Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) service, and while trials are taking place across metropolitan and regional councils with varying degrees of success, there are still several challenges in implementing FOGO, and it will not be a silver bullet.

“Not only has householder participation been an issue, contamination at the source is also a big concern. There is real need for the harmonisation of what can go in the green bin plus an extensive nationally consistent education campaign so that households know exactly what to put where.

“Access to local waste infrastructure, ideally within 90 minutes of the collection point, is also imperative, as the costs involved in processing FOGO are a big consideration in the success of council managed programs. This is in part why we have seen greater success of FOGO in regional areas.

“Increasing FOGO recycling within local councils is also not going to be singularly responsible for getting organics recovery to 80 per cent by 2030. Areas like commercial organic waste will also need to be included,” says Peter.

Rose adds that alignment of state and territory regulations on facilities processing food and organic wastes with what is accepted in green bins will also be important to help reach the proposed resource recovery targets.

“To get to 80 per cent resource recovery, we need to recover a further 3.4 Mt of organic material.

“The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council is, with the assistance of MRA Consulting and funding from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, currently mapping and assessing the impacts of recovered material specifications for sorting, primary and secondary processors including food and organics. The project will importantly identify minimum specifications and recommend actions on interventions throughout the resource recovery value chain from collection through to end use to enable greater resource recovery and reuse.

“Ultimately, creating more certainty for end users on the quality and supply of recovered materials gives industry more confidence to invest and build capacity in organics resource recovery necessary to halve organic waste to landfill by 2030,” Rose says.

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