For years, Ballarat was one of the foremost manufacturing and innovation centres in Australia with world leading industries – Ronaldson Tippet, Jelbarts, M B John Ltd, Phoenix Foundry, Jack Smith, Ballarat Bitter, Selkirk Pty Ltd, to name just a few.
Many of these companies had small beginnings and yet grew to achieve international fame.
Around these industries, we fostered people and innovation and developed talent and skills in a School of Mines that was admired internationally.
Today, Ballarat still has what it takes to be a world leader.
As a result of consumer awareness and government environmental regulations in areas such as airborne pollution and odours, contaminated run-off into waterways, and the control of methane gas emissions to the atmosphere, the waste management sector now has the potential for massive growth around the world.
And Ballarat is in a unique position to capitalise on this new industry of waste management.
However, in order to achieve this, we need to develop a new mindset about waste.
That means thinking of it as a valuable resource. We need to make better and smarter use of this – and all our resources – as they are finite.
While kerbside collection and recycling has recouped some of the value from our waste, there is still a large volume of organic material that goes to landfill which could easily have a second life and deliver considerable value.
Processing this organic material through a bio-digestor produces methane gas which can be captured and used to run large generators for electricity and heat, as well as other applications.
Treating waste through a bio-digester has other benefits, rendering it free of pathogens producing an odourless, nutrient-rich fertiliser.
Some businesses in Ballarat and surrounding areas have recognised the need to address issues around waste management.
And in the process, they have reaped economic benefits from reduced landfill and energy costs.
In doing so, these businesses have been instrumental in developing hardware and processes that are acknowledged as world’s best practice.
If we can build a collaborative approach between these existing industries, Federation University and our regulatory bodies, Ballarat could capitalise on these new opportunities and become a centre of excellence in waste management.
Rather than being an expense, modelling done so far based on existing farms employing bio-energy demonstrates that this sustainable industry can be a significant net contributor to the economy and the community.
While Ballarat has some leading exponents in this field, the bio industry needs a range of specialty skills to run and manage the plants.
There are opportunities for jobs in the fields of training, biology, chemistry, engineering, manufacturing, fabrication and construction.
If the will is there, we could grow these sustainable jobs and the careers of the future, here in our own backyard.
Ballarat could once again be the hub for innovative development.
Janet Dore is chairwoman of the Committee for Ballarat. Written on behalf of the committee’s Innovation and Sustainability Project Team.