It’s been a year since China banned importing some recyclables – so what’s happened since?
Proposals to build an ‘all-waste interchange’ and waste to energy power plant at the Ballarat West Employment Zone are still in the pipeline, with a Malaysian company planning to make a “formal presentation” to council before the end of the month.
An international conference on waste to energy will be held at the Mercure in February.
Waste to energy, or incinerating rubbish to create electricity and heat, is becoming more common in Australia.
The Environment Protection Authority has granted approval to a waste to energy project attached to the Australian Paper Mill facility in the Latrobe Valley, and others are planned near Melbourne and in Western Australia.
It’s already a common technology in Europe - a state of the art plant in Copenhagen features an artificial ski slope open to the public, and City of Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh toured a plant in England last year.
However, while the proposed Ballarat plant could divert up to 60 per cent of the district’s waste away from landfill, it won’t fix everything.
Household recycling picked up from the kerb is still being shipped to contractors, who then try to sell the material on for processing.
Processing prices have gone up after the Chinese policy was enacted, which were passed on to councils - it remains expensive to sort household waste, especially when non-recyclables are placed in the wrong bin, and contaminated recyclables tend to end up in landfill.
There’s plenty of community efforts to deal with this problem, including bioenergy initiatives on farms and at the Beaufort hospital, and another waste to energy plant is planned in Creswick.
Some companies are quietly building innovative new ways to recycle other materials that are also becoming increasingly commercially viable.
Garden Recycling Centre, in Alfredton, takes tonnes of commercial waste, including concrete and green waste, and makes it into a product people are keen to buy.
Manager Peter Kuzmich, who’s been in the game for 20 years, said the company designed its own concrete crusher, which can adjust the grade and moisture content of the end product.
It’s now being used in foundations and roads across the district, he said proudly - on some days, the company processes up to 1000 tonnes.
“It’s virtually a closed loop system,” he said, adding the company would soon begin buying used concrete.
Weeds from Lake Wendouree are “baked like a cake” with other green waste to become valuable compost, a product Mr Kuzmich said is popular with everyone from landscape gardeners to grandmothers looking after roses.
However, the problem is still throwaway plastics - that’s something that can only change if the consumer demands it.
“The line of manufacturing, development, and the consumer ideas about products hasn’t changed,” he said.
“People are thinking more about the environmental footprint, (but), when I was a kid you’d buy a packet of biscuits in a paper bag, no plastics, but today you buy an apple, it’s pre-wrapped, in another bag, then in a supermarket bag - manufacturing is keen to have sales of big splashy colourful things to pull on all the senses of the consumers, they do that with big and unnecessary packaging.”
Constructing a waste to energy plant could reduce the need for landfill, but people are still cautious.
“It’s got to be long term, properly designed, and well planned,” Mr Kuzmich said.
“I believe it’s a fantastic project, I believe it’s got potential, but factors need to be nailed first - (especially) location, given the size of Ballarat as it expands and the type of development that it’ll need.”
This is echoed by Grampians and Central West Waste and Resource Recovery Group chief executive La Vergne Lehmann.
“There’s no quick fix,” she warned.
“Getting waste to energy lined up is complicated and expensive, council needs to do its due diligence to get it right.
“With waste, there’s three basic issues - infrastructure, or have we got enough and is it in the right places; service delivery, is it the best process; and education, are we getting the message out there in the right way.
“We’ve been working very closely with other councils on education, things like an app.
“The e-waste to landfill ban is coming in on July 1, so we’ll be rolling out a lot of education at events .. about what it is and how to deal with it.”
Like Mr Kuzmich, ultimately it’s consumer behaviour that will make the biggest changes, including companies that buy and sell waste.
“The biggest companies in the world are taking all of this extremely seriously, and how they can actually make their packaging out of recycled instead of virgin material,” she said.
“It’s like everything, they’re resources - whether we look at oil, which fluctuates, or iron ore, or gold, it’s the same with these recycled products as well, they’re part of a global market - we didn’t quite understand the impacts of global markets on resources, because we’re not in the market.”
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