Reducing Australia’s reliance on landfill through Energy from Waste, one of the safest and most technologically advanced means of recovering valuable energy from non-recyclable waste.

Moving towards a circular economy

Overview

Australians are determined to manage and dispose of waste in a more environmentally-friendly, safer and more cost-effective manner. Research conducted by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) in 2018 showed that 91% of Australians agree that we need to stop seeing waste as rubbish and start using it as a resource, and that 89% of Australians support Governments taking more action to create a sustainable recycling industry. 

In 2017, Australians generated 67 million tonnes of waste. Only 2 per cent of that waste was converted to energy, a rate significantly lower than in developed countries in Europe. 

In Australia, non-recyclable waste is diverted to landfill where it contributes to local environmental damage and greenhouse gas emissions. RPA is taking a leading role in closing the loop by realising value from this waste and reducing Australia’s reliance on landfill.

Energy from Waste (EfW) is one of the safest and most technologically advanced means of recovering valuable energy from non-recyclable waste. Converting waste into energy solves two problems at once. Firstly, it diverts waste away from landfill and prevents it from contributing to harmful greenhouse gasses such as methane and prevents the local environmental impacts of landfill. Secondly, it allows for a higher order use of this waste by generating clean, baseload energy. EfW facilities contribute to the future of Australia’s resource recovery industry, creating exciting new opportunities for economic development and skilled employment in local communities.

Benefits of EfW

Moving Towards a Circular Economy

EfW facilities prevent thousands of tonnes of municipal and industrial waste from ending up in landfill sites. Unlike landfill, waste treated in an EfW facility does not generate methane, which is a highly potent greenhouse gas. As a result, EfW facilities have a net positive impact on emissions reduction. EfW facilities use highly advanced air purification technology to capture any by-products of the waste treatment process, which can be used in other applications such as road bases and construction materials. When treating waste in an EfW facility, waste is delivered and processed in an entirely enclosed facility, thereby eliminating the odour normally produced by landfill operations.

By co-locating EfW facilities with recycling facilities, further recoverable material can be removed from red-top waste streams. This recyclable material can be up to 10% of red-top waste, which would otherwise go to landfill. By integrating EfW with these types of advanced pre-treatment processes, the overall recycling rates in the community can be increased to realise the goal of a truly circular economy. 

Local Jobs and Economic Development

As Australia moves towards a circular economy, the growing resource recovery industry will need to be supported by a new skilled workforce. 

The development of an EfW facility generates several hundred jobs during construction, with a large number of ongoing skilled jobs once operational. An EfW facility further contributes to the regional economy through an increase in demand for regional suppliers of various products and services during operations, as well as further indirect jobs in complimentary waste treatment and recycling facilities.

Self-Sufficient & Clean Energy Generation

EfW facilities are an environmentally friendly, affordable and reliable means of recovering valuable energy from non-recyclable waste to power homes and industry. EfW overcomes the challenges of other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar by producing stable, baseload power consistently throughout the day. 

Proven & Safe Technology

Energy from Waste (EfW) technologies have been developed and implemented for decades throughout Europe, the USA and Asia. The use of EfW in the waste management hierarchy has allowed European countries to reduce landfill rates to below 5% in many cases. In contrast, Australia still sent 40% of core waste to landfill in 2016-17.

Today, there are over 300 EfW facilities operating in Europe. These facilities are constructed to the strictest European Union environmental, emissions and health standards and controls. As a result, they have developed a track record of reliability and efficiency. As a testament to their safety and reliability, these facilities have been constructed in the middle of urban areas such as Paris and Vienna. 

Case Study: Germany

Germany has been at the forefront of EfW technology, with this progress being driven by landfill bans for a number of waste streams and high energy prices. In 2018, Germany sent only 20.6% of its core waste to landfill, which has in part been attributed to the strong role of EfW in the waste management infrastructure mix. In 2017, 68 EfW facilities were in operation in Germany, with a combined waste processing capacity of 20 million tonnes. In 2018, Germany generated 5,768 GWh of energy in electricity through these facilities.

Today, EfW facilities are at the heart of German communities. As an example, the Lippe facility in Lunen, Germany uses EfW technology co-located with recycling facilities to reduce carbon emissions by 488,000 tonnes each year. The facility is situated in the middle of agricultural and residential areas. 

The Science

There are a variety of ways of turning waste into energy. The most common form is through combustion – a process whereby heat is produced by combusting waste to produce thermal energy. The thermal energy heats water in boiler tubes to create high-pressure steam, which is then used to drive turbine generators that produce electricity. Steam produced by these facilities can be used in other industrial applications, while energy can be fed into the grid to power communities and surrounding industry. 

EfW facilities use local fuel – everyday household and business waste – that cannot be recycled or recovered to generate clean energy for local communities. Unlike other forms of renewable energy generation like wind and solar, EfW facilities have the benefit of producing a constant, steady stream of power throughout the day. EfW facilities use a variety of proven technologies and processes that enable them to meet the strictest environmental standards, including the European Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). 

Policies & Approvals

All current Australian EfW policies draw on the most stringent, modern standards and environmental controls developed by the European Union in recent decades. 

State and Territory Governments in Australia have recognised the need for an approach to waste management that further progresses communities towards a circular economy. As a result, Governments have sought to develop policy frameworks to allow for safe and considered development of EfW facilities as part of our waste management infrastructure.

The New South Wales Government published the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement in 2015. The NSW Government’s key policy objectives for EfW are enshrined in State legislation: 

1. the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 sets the framework to ensure that human health and the environment are protected from the inappropriate use of waste. 

2. the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001 aims to ensure that consideration of resource management options occurs in the following order: Avoidance of unnecessary resource consumption; resource recovery (including reuse, reprocessing, recycling and energy recovery); and disposal. 

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, including the EPA, is currently leading the development of a 20-Year Waste Strategy for NSW. The Strategy will provide a long-term whole-of-government strategic focus on building sustainable and resilient services and markets for waste resources. Importantly, the Strategy is expected to recognise that EfW will be an essential option for materials that cannot be recycled or reused. The accompanying NSW Issues Paper for ‘Cleaning Up Our Act: The Future for Waste and Resource Recovery in NSW’ explains that: 

“Energy from waste can play an increasingly important role as an alternative to landfilling over the next 20–30 years, as a means of recovering some value from residual waste where other higher order methods of recovery are not financially or technically feasible.”

We welcome the release of the 20-year Waste Strategy for NSW in the near future. 

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Contact us or register your interest in the community engagement process. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

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