Some contractors from Victoria and New South Wales have been trucking rubbish to Queensland to take advantage of that state’s free landfill regime. But as Recycling Week got under way this week, it became apparent that a new NSW rule that came into effect on 1 November, the Proximity Principle, would start to stem the flow of rubbish, at least from one state.

The rule means that NSW waste businesses now have to dispose of waste within 150 kilometres of the point of collection or, in the case of remote areas, the “nearest lawful facility” or be hit by substantial fines and possibly face criminal charges. Suddenly, recycling just got even more economically attractive.

According to a new report from Planet Ark this week, Seven Secrets of Successful Recyclers, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are recycling less than half their waste, with NT the worst, achieving just a four per cent recycle rate.

According to Planet Ark head of campaigns Brad Gray, the lack of a landfill levy in Queensland has been causing distortions in the recycle rate in NSW, Victoria and QLD, making it economically viable for some waste contractors from Victoria and NSW to truck waste north for landfilling.

“The state government was losing money that would be otherwise used to drive recycling initiatives,” Gray says.

“The EPA has been investing the money from waste back into waste, for example, subsidising recycling companies, grants to develop new technology or for firms to put in proper recycling bins.”

South Australia and the ACT top the league table for recycling, with SA achieving a 67 per cent recycle rate for all waste, and the ACT achieving 74 per cent.

Gray says that almost all of the waste levy in SA also goes towards recycling and environmental initiatives, and while the ACT does not have a formal waste levy, it has the highest gate price in the country per tonne, and there’s only one landfill waste can go to.

Gray said Planet Ark has been undertaking a range of projects with the business community, and that analysis of the three waste streams – municipal [household], construction and demolition – shows that the commercial and industrial sector is the “poorest performer” overall in terms of recycling waste.

Mirvac out in front, again

There are some bright sparks doing better than most. Gray says he recently visited Mirvac’s new Pulpmaster at Darling Harbour.

This technology takes all the food waste from the food hall, shopfront food outlets and restaurants – including bones – and reduces it to pulp. When the machine is full, it automatically summons a truck that takes the slurry to Earth Power, where it is converted into energy and compost.

Grays says the set-up is working so well at processing thousands of tonnes of food waste a year, Mirvac is now looking at rolling it out to other buildings in their Sydney property portfolio.

“A lot of the building managers are looking at this direction,” Gray says.

Another of the initiatives being undertaken with the commercial sector is the Friday File Fling, which Gray suggests is a perfect way for office workers to celebrate Recycling Week.

One of the country’s leading banks, which he did not want to name, undertook a FFF trial recently, with six workers in one day filling six 240-litre paper recycling bins. The paper chase is now to be undertaken full-scale tomorrow, with 4000 workers at the bank’s branches around the country sorting through paperwork with the aim of recycling as much of it as possible.

There are other organisations also undertaking the FFF challenge, and Gray estimates there are between 6000 and 8000 people taking part nationally.

Gray says that the banks estimate that for every customer, there are about 12 archive boxes of paperwork created during the life of their account.

But while we might be getting good at flinging it out, Gray says there is a need for more businesses to close the loop and buy recycled paper for office use, with only 18 per cent of paper purchased nationwide a 100 per cent recycled product.

Another project the organisation has had a major innovation success with is the Cartridges for Planet Ark program, which collects old toner cartridges from photocopiers and printers. The program has been going for 10 years, but up until recently the left over toner powder did not have a use and could not be recycled. However, Close The Loop worked with Downer on uses for the powder, and discovered through research and trials that it can be added to road surface materials to create a stronger, more durable asphalt, and cut about 30 per cent of the energy required to manufacture conventional asphalt.

The new TonerPave has been in use in Melbourne for over six months, and Gray says City of Sydney is soon to commence using it also. The research team has also since discovered that the technology enables used tyres and left over paint to also be used in the same application.

“A lot of councils are now collecting cartridges and telling people ‘this will be used for roads in our area’,” Gray says.

Industrial ecology opportunities

Looking at the industrial ecology possibilities is a growing focus for the organisation, including how back-loading opportunities can be used to improve resource recovery to recycling, upcycling or re-use points.

An example is e-waste and old TVs, which are now subject – as is packaging – to extended producer responsibility requirements. Gray says these have improved packaging for example at both ends of the process under the Australian Packaging covenant, with manufacturers creating a better, more recycle-friendly product in the first place, and then taking responsibility for it at end of life also.

For electronics waste, Planet Ark is looking to assist suppliers that are subject to end of life stewardship requirements and have product going out to remote areas to build relationships with other suppliers to those areas, such as a major supermarket. This will enable old TVs, computers and other end-of-use products to be backloaded by the supermarket’s trucks to the metropolitan areas for recycling.

Gray says Officeworks already operates on a similar principle, with the cartridge collection boxes at each store backloaded to head office by the trucks delivering product to the stores.

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  1. The QLD State government tried but failed to implement a state wide waste/ landfill tax. Of all of the States in Australia, Queensland has the greatest population living in regional area’s. The cities of North Queensland in particular, have been very poorly resourced and lack recycling infrastructure in comparison to Brisbane. The tax was seen as very unfair in regional Queensland. The State government is based in Brisbane but it needs to address waste issues for the whole state if it is going to raise a state wide landfill tax.