The IFAT conference in Munich.

May 2022 was a “conferences” month for me and I thought I’d share some of the news and trends I “discovered”, especially as they help confirm some of the things I have written about before and dispel some of the myths that are being paddled.

In early May I attended the Waste 2022 conference in Coffs Harbour. Established in 1996, the year I permanently moved to Australia, it is probably the best known and largest conference in the waste industry. Others have already said a lot about this conference but for me, two things stood out in particular, confirming what I have written previously about in this publication.

Firstly, Chris Horsey, waste manager for Hornsby Council, posed the question whether Sydney was already in a waste crisis, citing the access problems councils had to landfills during the heavy rainfalls earlier in the year. Of course, his was a rhetorical question. Sydney is running out of landfill airspace, as the government well knows and acknowledges. But the government’s behaviour seems to be to wait for a miracle to happen, instead of starting to implement solutions. Anyone who’s got a landfill approval coming up? Now would be a good time to apply.

The second stand-out presentation for me was the one from David Snashall from EMM Consulting. Snashall explained he has been involved in every Energy from Waste (EfW) project in NSW to date. He discussed the number of projects and at what stage they all failed. There have been seven projects so far, and, of course, none have succeeded to get an approval. Not that the state government would get the message, though. Quite the opposite. As one of my colleagues in the consulting industry pointed out, the policy environment in NSW for energy from waste projects is “hostile”.

But back to David Snashall. The first project he worked on was the Eastern Creek Project, lodged in October 2013. It has been rejected by the government, of course, went to the NSW Land and Environment Court, and is currently being re-exhibited. I think the industry is “holding its breath” on this one because if it succeeds, the government has two ways to go: it can scrap its policy, which essentially forbids EfW in Sydney, or it passes legislation properly forbidding EfW in Sydney. 

The big question (on which the government seems to act like the three monkeys: can’t see, hear or speak) remains unanswered: why would any community in NSW accept an EfW facility if it is ruled out as an option for Sydney? 

Population density cannot be the argument. The communities of Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, Tokyo and many more cities around the world all have EfW facilities in their bustling hearts.

But it seems the age of reason was last century. Or, maybe NSW is just not the state to expect reason from? 

In late May/early June I attended IFAT in Munich, which is the world’s largest trade fair for the waste, water, recycling and water/wastewater industries. I have been there a few times now, but it never ceases to amaze me how huge and interesting it is. The technologies and approaches available to the waste and recycling industry are vast with potentially huge application for Australia.

IFAT provided me with some interesting takeaways.

I learnt a few new things from URT, a company specialising in recycling of white goods and e-waste. Firstly, I didn’t know that the foam used in fridge insulation contains twice as much gas as the compressor. I know that in recycling of white goods in Australia the compressors are de-gassed before dismantling, but I don’t think anyone much thinks about what to do with the foam. As far as I know, it ends up in landfill, but I would be very happy to be proved wrong.

Secondly, I learnt that the European Union is looking at banning new cars being equipped with internal combustion engines (ICEs) from 2035 onwards, although a lot of countries find this too ambitious and are resisting it. 

Sounds good in one way but URT told me they cannot build new car battery recycling facilities fast enough to make the industry comply. That then caused me to think about what this new trend means: more minerals for car batteries will be needed, some of them (such as cobalt) are being mined in Central Africa under horrendous conditions for the miners. 

Others are mined using mobile mining equipment, which of course runs on diesel. We still make the chassis of cars from steel, which uses coking coal. Are we really thinking this through or are we just running after another First World trend on the back of the rest of the world, which cannot afford electric vehicles? But wait, the age of reason was yesteryear, wasn’t it?

Thirdly, I learnt that EfW facilities are still being built and commissioned in Europe, despite the myths that are being peddled by some that EfW was on the way out in the EU. For example, the government of Slovenia has decided to build three new EfW facilities to avoid exporting waste.

Also, a new EfW facility for 480,000 tonnes a year was approved in Brandenburg, Germany to replace brown coal as an energy source.

A Swiss consulting firm registered 104 new jobs for modernising or building new EfW facilities in 2021.

I know, the two last articles are in German, but this is part of the problem of the Anglosphere, that anything not written in English is treated as if it doesn’t exist.

I also learnt at IFAT that so called “slim line” EfW facilities are being built. These are smaller, less energy efficient EfW facilities than the usual bigger facilities we are used to in Europe. The reason such slim line facilities are popular in some areas is that they look less threateningly large. The design of one of those facilities is Italian, of course. Built by a company in Northern Italy, whose owners have a German surname. A combination of Italian design with German engineering. 

Interesting to note that the European Parliament approved including EfW facilities in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme from 2026.

Really amazing was the progress in robotics and artificial Intelligence in waste sorting. I have done a few assessments for new MRF (Materials Recycling Facilities) technologies over the last few years and did not expect robots to be so advanced. 

One particular company offered machines that could do 40, 60 or even 120 picks per minute. I can see a particular council waste manager, who shall remain unnamed, breaking into a big smile right now, because he was right, and I was wrong.

Such is life.

Frank Klostermann, Full Circle Advisory

Frank Klostermann is director of Full Circle Advisory, a specialist sustainability and environmental consultancy firm. He has over 25 years senior executive management experience in the waste and recycling industries. More by Frank Klostermann, Full Circle Advisory

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  1. Full Circle Advisory doesn’t “square” with EfW. Where’s the closed loop here?
    Please explain.