Mike Ritchie: Waste is like a river, it flows downhill to the cheapest price.
Mike Ritchie talked to ABC’s Sarina Locke about the effect of QLD waste levy cancellation on NSW waste.
The full article titled “Sydney Markets sends rotting fruit and vegetables to generate electricity in war on waste” is available on the ABC website and below.
Sydney Markets declared its own war on waste 12 years ago which has saved it $20 million in landfill costs.
The savings come from diverting 6,000 tonnes of inedible produce away from landfill, and by recycling all the packaging.
The NSW Environment Protection Agency’s landfill levy has risen from almost nothing a decade ago to $135 per tonne this year, a higher charge than all other states.
Landfill levies by state are: Victoria $60/t, South Australia $68/t (rising to $103/t in three years), WA $58/t (rising to $70/t), Tasmania has voluntary levy.
But Queensland waste levy was binned in 2012, and the state now has the lowest recycling rates in Australia.
“Queensland removed their waste levy … and recycling rates crashed by about 20 per cent overnight,” said Mike Ritchie, a waste management consultant with MRA Consulting.
“Waste is like a river, it flows downhill to the cheapest price.
“One of the effects of having no levy in Queensland, is we’re now seeing 600,000 tonnes of waste being trucked or railed, from Sydney and Melbourne, all the way up to Brisbane to take advantage of the ultra cheap landfill prices up there.”
“That’s a complete failure of government policy between the state of Queensland and the other states of Australia.”
A review by the Queensland Government reports the state has the lowest recycling and highest food waste in Australia.
“A recent Australian Government report into commercial and industrial waste found that the value of the materials is estimated at more than $26.5 billion per year.
The report points out that is equal to $5.5 billion of lost value in Queensland.
Queensland’s Environment Minister Steven Miles said Queensland Labor introduced the levy and for a time it was effective, but the Newman Government abolished.
He said that was what created this situation.
He said Labor had made a promise not to introduce new fees and charges in this term.
“So it’s unfortunate we find ourselves in this situation, but we keep our promises.”
“(Queensland) is considering landfill bans, and aggressively pursuing waste to energy projects,” he said.
Markets waste has new life
After the morning trade is over, rotten and inedible produce is brought to the Green Point, the back end of the Sydney Markets, at Flemington in Sydney’s west.
Along with waste food from supermarkets and restaurants it is taken to Veolia’s $50 million Earthpower waste-to-energy plant.
The organic mush is stored in a 12 metre-high tank which works like a stomach, with microbial digestion.
The methane created is piped off to cogeneration engines, producing energy for the grid.
“What’s remarkable is it can take minutes, where as in landfill it would take up to 30 years to degrade into methane,” David Clarke, Earthpower’s chief executive said.
“We’re exporting about 8,000-9,000 megawatts per year, and that can power 1,500-3,200 houses.”
The left over sludge is dried and pelletised to become organic fertiliser.
While Earthpower’s project is one of the first of its kind in Australia, another is in Perth, while a larger anaerobic digester is about to begin renewable power generation connected to Victoria’s Yarra Valley sewage works, diverting 33,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill.
In Perth, a company, Phoenix, is trying to become Australia’s first biomass combustion plant at Kwinana, to be complete by 2021, to burn waste, including plastic and food to generate electricity.
Meanwhile, Sydney Markets is now crushing and melting 60 tonnes of polystyrene a year to sell in China and be made into kitchen cabinets.
Instead of an expensive waste it is now an income stream worth $36,000 a year.