The City of Stonnington in Victoria resurfacing a road with sustainable recycled asphalt

According to Jeremy Thorpe chief economist for PwC, the waste industry has quite a way to go to capture its potential. But the signs are pointing the right way.

His company earlier this year put out a major report on the sector that outlines Australia’s potential for a staggering $1860 billion in direct economic benefits. See table below.

The disruption from the breakdown in the international waste market – with countries either refusing to accept or send waste abroad – is placing a big burden on Australia to recycle, Thorpe says. But the problem is that we’re not ready for the change and the infrastructure to manage the disruption is still being built and or conceived.

“The way we’re doing it is not the way we should be doing it,” he said.

More apt would be to design out waste. Which is starting to shift perceptions of companies, so they’re “seeing the value in not generating waste and also seeing the value in waste”, so twin forces driving change. That in addition to consumers demanding less packing and ability to fix products instead of sending them to landfill. 

Investors too are driving momentum through the environmental social governance (ESG) movement “wanting to direct funds to organisation that are being seen to be doing the right thing,” Thorpe says.

The image change in the industry is part of it. “It was seen as dirty before and now waste is seen as an opportunity.”

One big way to accelerate movement he says is through government policies. “Government is a major buyer of construction. It builds roads, it builds everything.”

If the government could specify a particular component of recycled materials that are guaranteed to be safe and to not fail in two years, say, then there could be a huge uplift in opportunity.  So it’s an issue of standards and how to assure those standards and Thorpe says, “they’re looking at it.”

In principle the government has buying power and he expects to see some interesting activity in the government sector, though his main focus is federal rather than state based.

The easiest way to ensure change is through government mandate “and the easiest mandate is if the Commonwealth does it, it would shift the market if the Commonwealth just says that all road base will now include this because they comprise 80 per cent of the market.”

This is not a fanciful idea. The federal government has a waste strategy that could be very positive in this direction.

So too the growing appetite from corporates to start redesigning for waste minimisation and recycling. 

“It’s about not being lazy in designing things and turning your mind to it. It might not be simple and there is a conception that it must be more expensive. That’s being increasingly challenged.” 

One waste company REMONDIS Australia continues its hunt for more staff, and is currently in the market to fill 40 roles to add to its more than 800 workforce not counting contractors and casuals. 

The roles are in the NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, in sales and new business development roles, which signals growth expectations. 

National marketing manager Lisa McCutchion says chief technical officer Alex Hatherly has placed a particular focus on recruitment of skilled staff in the sustainability, technical and engineering areas and the national technical team, headed by Amir Tadros has appointed three new staff in addition to the appointment of national sustainability and environment manager Helen McCarthy earlier this year.

According to McCutchion, “This growing investment in sustainability and technology skills is a function of rapidly changing customer expectations – especially with regard to reporting – plus increasing resource recovery ambitions from those same customers, and a tsunami of new technology entering the waste sector – including REMONDIS’ own determination to introduce energy from waste to Australia.”

Revenue ($m)EmploymentWages ($m)Revenue (% growth 21-22)Employment (% growth 21-22)Wages (% growth 21-22)
Solid Waste Collection Services in Australia $        7,412.4             17,268 $     1,337.
Liquid Waste Collection Services in Australia $            804.9                3,726 $         227.74.383.472.42
Waste Treatment and Disposal Services in Australia $        2,846.5                7,568 $         534.52.760.970.96
Waste Remediation and Materials Recovery Services in Australia $        4,884.2             11,642 $         953.20.27-1.58-1.16
Hazardous Waste Hauling in Australia $        1,645.6                4,160 $         433.32.892.712.79
Water and Waste Services Infrastructure Construction in Australia $        7,483.0             13,123 $     1,772.9-0.54-0.36-0.45
Medical Waste Services in Australia $            613.2                2,085 $         120.1-7.08-4.01-3.69
TOTAL $     25,689.8             59,572 $     5,379.2
Source: POwC
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