Post C — Waste management systems

The amount of organic waste currently entering landfill in Australia is deplorable.

The EPA (NSW Environment Protection Authority) estimate that 50% of NSW household waste is organic (EPA 2015). According to the 2010-2011 Australian organic waste profile, about HALF of this organic matter was not recovered, but rather disposed of to landfill in NSW from 2010-2011 (Australian Govt 2011). This organic waste fills limited land space, breaks down and releases methane contributing to climate change and releases the pollutant leachate into waterways.

This offers space for improvement — pressing the need for research into alternative waste management methods. In 2005 Sven Lundie and Gregory Peters from the University of NSW, Sydney, assessed the current means of alternative organic waste management in households across the Sydney region. The waste alternatives that they considered were; the In-sink-erator food waste processor system, home composting, landfilling food waste with municipal waste (‘codisposal) and centralised composting of food and garden waste. To assess these systems, Lundie and Peters adopted a life cycle assessment method (LCA) — similar to the methods explored in post A — where waste systems were mapped in terms of their inputs and outputs. These inputs and outputs were considered against an array of environmental indicators and impact categories such as; energy usage, climate change contributers, water usage, human toxicity and aquatic and terrestrial eco-toxicity potential, acidification and eutrophication potential (Lundie & Peters 2005). Below is one such map from the assessment — detailing the current organic waste management systems of households in Waverley, Sydney:

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Image: Lundie and Peters’ LCA map (Lundie&Peters 2005)

A key finding from the assessment suggests that home composting has the least environmental impact in all impact categories. This is also the simplest system — which connects the kitchen with the garden, via a standard polyethylene compost bin (5kg), requiring no transportation nor electricity (Lundie & Peters 2005).

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Image: Camden Community Gardens’s home compost system

So if home compost systems are so efficient, then why are they so often deferred by Australian homes and businesses? Clearly a repositioning of current waste management systems is needed.

Waverley council (my local council), has taken an active role in repositioning current waste management systems in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. The council collated data from a waste audit conducted in 2008 (APC Environmental) of the neighboring areas of Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra to determine a means of reducing organic waste outputs. A small selection of the data follows:

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Image: Waverley Council’s audit data (Michener 2009)

The data from audit offered that food waste in these areas was slightly higher that the NSW state average of 38% in 2009 (Michener 2009).

In response to these data sets, the council called for members of the public to take part in the ‘Compost revolution’ — offering free workshops and support, as well as a kitchen bin, compost bins, worm farms and herbs. Workshops for the campaign were run locally by experienced facilitators, at a variety of locations — providing education on home composting and its benefits. Household compost bins were taken home by locals on the completion of such workshops. Here we see a community based initiative implemented by a local governing body, to drive education and culture — and so, reposition current waste management methods (Michener 2009).

The Compost revolution campaign is perhaps limited to only targeting the public at home or places at their of residence. But what about work and industry? Is it more difficult to inject such ethics and culture into a work/business context?

The ‘Zero waste SA’ initiative of South Australia, is a great, state government initiative which enables businesses to improve their recycling and waste avoidance practices at work through collaboration, advocacy, financial incentives and education (Zero waste SA 2012). One such company that has collaborated with the Zero waste initiative, is Southern Cross care — an aged care facility in South Australia. Aged care has particular relevance in the conversation of Wealth for Waste — as the facilities are a place of work and residence, and contribute very substantial organic waste outputs. It is estimated that the sector has one of the lowest rates for recycling, at about 20%. Which is well below the South Australian strategic target of 75% for commercial and industrial waste.

John Freeth, the director of waste management consultancy Directed Resources, was commissioned by Zero Waste SA to conduct the audits. The reviews found that “because wet waste was not being separated, waste going to landfill ranged form from a high 74% to 85%. In all cases the review demonstrated that this could be easily be reduced to about 40%” (Freeth & Hutcheon 2015, p. 3). Through a collaboration with Freeth, Southern cross care was able to properly separate their waste and to stimulate a culture of recycling and composting of organic waste — and so, reduce waste to landfill:

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Image: Freeth and Hutcheon’s waste data sets for Southern Cross Care

Exterior businesses such as ‘Zero waste SA’, seem to allow a businesses a means of re-evaluating internal processes . Perhaps all businesses with high organic waste outputs should be coupled with external companies for waste management by law? There is certainly incentives for businesses to do so — both in terms of the environment and savings. The coupling of these businesses also allows for an injection of education and culture into the workforce, which is perhaps a less considered context for sustainable practices.

References:

Australian Government Department of the Environment 2013, Australian national waste reporting 2013cat. no. 6227.0, ABS, Canberra, viewed 9 June 2016, <http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/0a517ed7-74cb-418b-9319-7624491e4921/files/overview-organics_0.pdf&gt;

Freeth, J. & Hutcheon, A. 2015, SA aged care case study, Zero waste SA, <http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/upload/REAP/93171%20Zero%20Waste%20SA%20Aged%20Care%20Case%20Study%20FIN%20WEB.pdf&gt;.

NSW Environmental Protection Authority 2015, Data: local council waste and resource recovery, Sydney, viewed 9 June 2016, <http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/waste/organic-waste.htm&gt;.

Lundie, S. & Peters, G. 2005, “Life cycle assessment of food waste management options”, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 275-286.

Michener, L. 2009, The Compost Revolution in Sydney, Environmental Services Division, Waverly Council Australia <http://www.ewmce.com/Resources/Documents/Lauren_Michener_-_Compost_Revolution_in_Sydney.pdf&gt;.

Zero waste SA 2012, At work: business recycling methods, viewed 9 June 2016,<http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/at-work/business-recycling-resources>.

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