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Delivering kerbside collection based on recovery

Is it possible to create a kerbside collection system premised on recovery - not landfill?

Cleanaway, in partnership with Local Government have been on a 31-year journey to find out. This story starts on the NSW and Victorian border, on the highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne.

This region includes Albury City Council, the City of Wodonga and the Shires of Towong, Greater Hume, Corowa and Indigo. Together, these authorities represent a population of more than 125,000 people - and manage key civil infrastructure in a region of economic importance.

While metropolitan Councils manage larger budgets than regional centres - this border group has control over its own infrastructure - along with a vision to create a nationally leading kerbside recovery system.

This turned out to be the right ingredients to create what is likely to be Australia’s best performing - and most progressive kerbside resource recovery system.

A vision for change

Key to creating this change was the vision put forward by the border region Councils and Shires. Starting in 2010, the group began a program called Halve Waste, with the goal of reducing the mass of resources sent to landfill by 50% by 2020.

A radical experiment, this was a small region with a big goal. Yet so far the program is on track, having reduced the mass of material buried at the Albury landfill by 33% in six years.

Meanwhile, Cleanaway has been a long term partner to these local government organisations. It has held the local kerbside collection contract for the region for 31 years.

Mathew Kiervan is the current regional project manager for Cleanaway. He along with 70 operational and administrative staff have spent the last three years co-ordinating the partnership to deliver to the region’s new kerbside recovery service.

Collection premised on recovery, not landfill

Cleanaway began collection in the region back in 1985, when Bob Hawk became the world record holder for the fastest drinking of a yard of beer (and served as Prime Minister).

At the time, waste collected at kerbside was sent almost exclusive to landfill across Australia. Now, over a 31 year period Local Government in partnership with Cleanaway has turned this system around.

With regional kerbside dry recycling beginning in 1998, the next step for diversion was organics. With ‘red lidded’ kerbside general waste bins typically containing 40-70% organics, no high performing recovery system is possible without organics collection and processing.

To put recovery first, Kiervan explained how the region transitioned to a 240 litre kerbside organics service, which includes both food and garden organics, as the primary weekly collection. Around this, a 140L landfill stream and a 240L dry recycling service alternate fortnightly.

However, removing a weekly kerbside general waste collection is a radical step for many communities, requiring careful community engagement.

From and for the community

Prior to the kerbside organics collection system being introduced in April 2015, both the region’s Councils and Shires and Cleanaway partnered to introduce a community education program on the new service.

The community change program implemented by Cleanaway used the community based social marketing method. This method focuses on consultation, and removing barriers to change, rather than information provision.

Rather than just telling people what to do - “our engagement program with the community was tailored to the community needs,” Kiervan said.

The approached worked, producing record low contamination rates only 12 months after its introduction. “The average contamination rate is 1.2% on presentation (for the kerbside organics recovery service). Our highest period of contamination was Christmas, but contamination then was still less than 2.5%.”

Returning organics to the region

Along with the new kerbside system, Cleanaway is also responsible for the delivery of a regional infrastructure to convert this organics to compost, and get them to market. Like its other organics processing centres around Australia - Cleanaway will use its Gore Cover composting technology to process the organics produced in the region.

The Gore system uses aerated static piles covered with an air permeable membrane. This system allows air to flow, improving the compost - while trapping moisture, maintaining temperature and most importantly, controlling odour.

In essence, the Gore Cover system simulates enclosed composting, while keeping organics processing at a cost that Councils can afford. With organics currently being sent to a processing partner in Wagga Wagga, Cleanaway expect to deliver the Gore Cover Composting plant within 36 months.

Organics processed from the plant will be delivered to broad acre cropping in the region. “This means organics generated in the region return to the region,” Kiervan explained.

With this program now producing kerbside recovery rates in excess of 80% - and average contamination rates of less than 1.2% - the system is arguably the nation’s best performing kerbside recovery system.  

It provides a template for other Councils in NSW to meet and exceed the 70% municipal diversion Waste and Resource Recovery (WARR) target set by the State by 2021.

Resource Recovery News is proudly sponsored by Cleanway