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Rebuild after COVID-19: All governments should ban organics to landfill

Organics to landfill make up more than half of all waste to landfill in Australia. They are also responsible for a fair amount of the waste sector's GHG emissions. How can we create environmental benefits and stimulate the economic growth sorely needed post COVID-19?

By Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting Group

How on earth are Organics connected to a COVID-19 recovery plan you ask?

COVID recovery is all about investment and job creation in industries that add value and insulate Australia from international shocks.

There is a lot of talk about on-shoring manufacturing (and that is a good thing, but it will require grants or ongoing subsidies or tariff barriers to be sustainable) whereas there are plenty of local jobs and investment opportunities that do not require ongoing government support.

Composting and recycling of our organic waste is one such opportunity.

Recycling, including composting, generates 3 more jobs than landfilling. Yet we landfill over 10 million tonnes of organic waste every year made up of food, garden waste, timber, pallets, cardboard and paper. What’s more, these organic streams comprise half of all waste to landfill.

All of that can be recycled into compost for farmers. It can be created cheaply and sold cheaply to compete with superphosphate fertilisers.

In the process it will massively reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding methane emissions from landfill and also reduce the emissions associated with the making and using of superphosphate fertilisers.

All government has to do is mandate the collection of organic streams or ban their disposal to landfill.

Europe and many US States did it years ago.

Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne have all required compulsory collection of household organics.

All Australian cities and towns could follow suit and mandate kerbside organics collection or ban disposal of organics to landfill (the result will be the same). However, individual Councils or States should not have to do it. The COAG should agree to a National Organics Ban Date.

In fact Pam Allen, the NSW Environment Minister, promised to ban organics to landfill in 1998, to come into effect in the year 2000. Over 20 years ago.

Since that time we have put another 200 million tonnes of organics into landfill nationally, generating approximately 200 million tonnes of additional greenhouse gas emissions.

To provide some perspective, by allowing organics to landfill, we have out on annual emissions cuts equivalent to removing more than 2.1 million cars from the road.

We have also missed out on supplying 80-100 million tonnes of compost to our degraded Australian soils.

Banning organics to landfill would require over 200 x 50,000t/yr composting facilities to be built, employing 10 people per facility. Or 2,000 new jobs. It would stimulate the direct investment of over $2b worth of direct capital investment.

Those figures do not include the 5 fold increase in secondary job creation in collecting, transporting, marketing and spreading the compost. That is over 10,000 ongoing new jobs while there will also be plenty more construction jobs.

Therefore, yes organics can help rebuild after COVID and produce a good environmental and economic outcome.

It is not rocket science.

As always, we welcome your feedback on this, or any other topic on ‘The Tipping Point’.

This article has been published by the following media outlets:

Inside Waste, 23 April 2020


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