Post C: Tackling the issue, Organic Waste Management.

Investigation into organic waste in Australian: problems, potential solutions and the facts

Organic waste management is a crucial function society should actively be working together to reuse in a productive method. As the means of reusing organic waste is readily available to us to reuse in a variety of different ways that are highly beneficial for the environment and have great benefits for ourselves as well, I feel everyone should be making a conscious effort to reduce their impact.

Our current environmental status both on a global scale and as a country is under threat. With the world producing 2.12 billion ton of waste per year this is have a significant impact on the world’s environment. This figure is even more unsettling when we know “99% of the stuff we buy is trashed within 6 months” (Esben Larsen, 2016). With an ever growing population and consequently desire for resources to sustain this population the amount of waste being produce will be increasing exponentially. With many proven waste management tools in place to already minimize and divert waste from landfills and give waste a knew life it is important we invest in these schemes to hopefully reduce our environmental impact.

The main environmental problem being encountered due to poor waste management is greenhouse gas emissions rising due to the production of methane and carbon dioxide. It is when our organic waste end up in landfills that they start producing methane, which is contributing to climate change, this contribution is around 20% (Sellew, 2013). It is through such schemes as composting and using biogas for electricity that we are able to redirect waste to be used in a productive manner for the environment instead of a negative impact. This compost could therefore be redirect to a large agriculture industry providing a higher quality nutrient rich soil instead of ending up in landfills. Other landfill related environmental problems include air, ground and water pollution and contamination (Australian Government Aid Program, 2011), (Sellew, 2013).

With the wasting of organic wastes true potential we are creating costs for ourselves from lost productivity. As the transportation and landfill costs of storing organic waste in landfills  creates lost revenue for operations and lost potential for the environment and lost potential for economic growth. This is evident as we look at the economic potential of our organic waste. We also must consider that as landfills reach capacity and our populations grows and experiences urban sprawl the ability to have accessible landfill sites in close proximity will become another challenge (Sellew, 2013).

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 5.45.38 pm

(Australian Government Department of the Environment, 2013)

In Australia in 2010/11 47% (6.63 Mt) of organic waste ended up in landfills. If we look at the break down of the organics in the figure above we see that this is a large portion of waste being produced with only 9% going into energy recovery and 44% being recycled (Australian Government Department of the Environment, 2013). This is still a extremely large portion considering some places such as states in the US have banned organic waste from landfills, and from production to plate we create $180 billion of waste. This over consumption is further seen as $5.2 billion was spent on food that was never consumer in 2004 (Institute for Sustainable Futures UTS, 2011). In terms of creating an economy from waste if this 6.63 Mt of waste was recycled into compost it has the potential to generate $5.22m for the economy based on the rate of $85/ton (Australian Government Aid Program, 2011). Not only is this of significant economic value but also is of significant environmental value as we reduce methane production effecting green house gases, reduce landfill which also becomes a space problem with an increasing populations and reduce air ground and water pollution (Australian Government Aid Program, 2011).

Another problem, which could easily be fixed by the direct use of composting, is land degradation in agriculture and specifically loss of farmland and loss of soil. Due to the use of land for a singular crop or type of agriculture current agriculture is becoming more unsustainable as soil is not getting any nutrients as nutrition is not being returned to this land. Furthermore the land is being hit with chemicals to protect against pests making the soil poorer quality. By simply composting organic waste and returning this back to farming sites. This highly rich nutrient soil improves the physical chemical and biological properties of soil. It also ads beneficial microorganism that can fight disease and reduce the use of chemicals both helping the environment and cutting agriculture cost. Other factors include increased water retention inducing irrigation demand.

Another problem, which is affecting Australia’s ability to fully grasp the problem and make real change, is our poor current management of organic waste. Organic food waste has not been properly investigated in a holistic and consistent way across the different points of wastage from farm to plate as well as across different industries and nationally. There are also no consistent definitions and gathering methods making current data inconsistent and fragmented. More importantly organic waste is still considered part of general waste, which is seen as to have no value. This is a major problem as “Without a more comprehensive understanding of the food waste being generated, it is very difficult to improve the environmental performance of our waste management systems, or improve our ability to make the most use of increasingly scarce resources” (Institute for Sustainable Futures UTS, 2011).

As you can see the outlined problems associated with organic waste show us the importance of its management and harnessing it for its full potential, instead of the unsustainable methods we are currently using.

Below we see the potential cycle of organic waste if managed properly. Starting with organic waste we move to innovative technologies such as anaerobic digestion technology and composting. Here the organic matter can turn into bio gas or compost. From compost we can grow plants and ultimately food from this organic waste. This sums up the overall potential of organic waste and its potential to be apart of a sustainable system.

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(Sellew, 2013)

Practicing Waste Management:

In this video you can see how UTS contractor off site facility, Wastefree Recycling separate and recycle our rubbish from co-mingled bins around UTS. Click Here.

UTS is already an organization working towards overall better waste management and with the goal of eventually becoming zero waste (Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2013). A key element of this plan is organic waste. From analyzing the UTS waste management plan of 2013-15 as an organization that already recycles 83.3% of its waste (2013) and from this 16.7% that is not recycled is made up of organics and low-density plastics. That means there is room for improvement. As discussed above there are many options that organic waste can be reused for. The main viable option for an organization such as UTS with vegetable and plant gardens is composting. In order to successfully allow for composting at UTS, UTS needs to create a bin separating system for organics separate from the co-mingled bins.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 2.41.35 pm.png(Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2012)

Such as in the image above we already see UTS successfully prioritizes the management of waste with this hierarchy system. So we will focus upon the current stage of disposal minimization through redirection. In the UTS action plan they have already outlined other specific separation systems for kitchens and the UTS food court. These include:

  • “UTS union food court organic waste collection trial” to be used.
  • “Empty all kitchen waste into a food waste stream separate from general waste/recycling stream”. See the video below to see how a chef is turning his restaurant kitchens an industry with some of the highest producers of organic waste in zero waste exemplars.
  • “Onsite composting system (similar to he hungry giant food waste machines) could be installed to reduce the quantity of food waste sent offsite”. (Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2012)

These are part of the potential action plan for UTS waste management. In order to successfully move towards zero waste and reduce this 16.7% of general waste we must redirect organics into a composting system. These actions will need to be enforced within these UTS business kitchens and food court. This is important as these businesses produce the largest quantities of organic waste at UTS. Another point made on the action plan is “further education measures to inform staff and students of the benefits of separating clean paper and cardboard into the correct bins”. This is an important point but an additional point should be added to educate staff and students through signage about the importance of separating organics from co-mingled waste bins in order to ensure recycling and future zero-waste goals by changing current bin habits. From educating staff and students implementing organic waste bins around campus and along side co-mingled bins will allow for comprehensive separation of organic waste around UTS campus (Institute for Sustainable Futures, 2012).

This video is an insightful look at a Chef creating zero waste restaurants. This could be a exemplar for UTS to follow his successful restaurants in reusing all our organic waste, Click here (Dawson, 2010).

 

Overall UTS need to implement the potential action plan points outlined. Furthermore they need to focus on adding an organic bin separation along side co-mingled bins. Most importantly the use of educational signage and considered design need to be explored to lead to successful implementation and changing of bin habits. These ideas will be elaborated upon in post D.

 

Bibliography

Australian Government Aid Program. (2011). Toward sustainable municipal organic waste management in south asia. Mandaluyong, Philippines: Asian Development Bank.

Australian Government Department of the Environment. (2013). National Waste Reporting 2013. Canberra: Australian Government.

Esben Larsen, K. B. (2016, 6 13). The World Counts. Retrieved 6 13, 2016, from World waste facts: http://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/shocking_environmental_facts_and_statistics/world_waste_facts

Dawson, A. P. (2010, 7). A vision for sustainable restaurants. TedGlobal . UK: Ted X.

Institute for Sustainable Futures UTS. (2011). National Food Waste Data Assessment: Final Report. Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Evironment, Water, Population and Communities. Sydney: University of Technology, Sydney.

Institute for Sustainable Futures. (2012). 2013-2015 Waste Management Plan. UTS. Sydney: University of Technology, Sydney.

Institute for Sustainable Futures. (2013). 2013-2015 Waste Management Plan. UTS. Sydney: University of Technology, Sydney.

Institute for Sustainable Futures. (2013). 2013-2015 Waste Management Plan. UTS. Sydney: University of Technology, Sydney.

Sellew, P. (2013, 7 12). Composting King: Paul Sellew at TEDxBoston. Ted X . Boston, USA: Ted X.

 

 

 

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