Food waste recycled
The Bunbury-Harvey Regional Council have led the way in WA in recycling food waste from householders though their third bin initiative. After three months of operation results are now flowing through and it’s possible to get a clear picture of the operation and its success. Food waste is such a pressing issue that the eyes of every local government authority are watching with great interest. While a small number of regional WA councils have set up an additional bin for garden organics the Bunbury initiative is the first in WA to tackle food waste as well.
The council decided to adopt the third bin for food and green organics after an extensive survey of households and industry conducted in 2009 on the subject of waste recycling. The results showed a real appetite for improved organics recycling particularly in the vexed area of food waste.
An additional bin with a green lid was delivered to households in the Bunbury and Capel areas. Two dedicated pick-up trucks have been added to the service and each bin is emptied on a weekly basis. Both the general rubbish and the recycled bins are collected once a fortnight in rotation so there are only two bins out by the road at any time.
These trucks deliver the collected material to the Banksia Road facility in Dardanup onto a hard stand area dedicated to the composting operation.
Bunbury have invested in what’s called a MAF Composting System. This system is used by professional composters and a WA regional company, C-Wise, provided equipment, training and support. MAF stands for Mobile Aerated Floor - a system where air is pulsed through a pile of organic material at a controlled rate that delivers oxygen from ground level to the top of the heap. This makes for more efficient composting and is also able to quickly manage the risks of any smell from the food waste.
Education is very much the core of the successful operation. Two council officers have been employed to help the community to understand all the how, whys and wherefores of food recycling. Apart from guiding householders to bring out the right bins each week, the major push has been about what can and what cannot not go in the organics recycling bin.
After the first three months of operation the results have been excellent on a number of fronts. Firstly the community has enthusiastically adopted the new recycling system – so much so that the volume of material received in stage 1 of the project was up nearly 50% on estimates. This resulted in a greater diversion of waste to landfill which is an important measure of success. The flexibility of the mobile aerated composting units has allowed the operators to adapt to the increased volumes and keep the process under control until more units could be ordered for stage 2 of the project.
Contamination rates are coming down. One of the methods used to reduce contamination is compliance checking. In this instance a council officer looks in the organics bins on the roadside before collection; checking for plastic, glass and other non-organic items. Should a contaminated bin be found it is marked appropriately and pulled aside then a general rubbish truck is called up to empty it. A note is left for the householder explaining what is required. Over 80% of note recipients have heeded the message as revealed in post infringement bin testing - a remarkable result.
The improvement has been monitored at the Banksia Road facility where further evaluation takes place. Contamination rates have continued to decline.. So this too is an excellent result. Well done to the residents of Bunbury and Capel.
The versatility and manoeuvrability of the MAF system makes these units ideal for regional waste handling. Setting up a new waste recycling facility today, like the large facilities in capital cities, would cost somewhere between 80 to 100 million dollars for 100,000 tonnes of mixed waste per year. The solution employed by Bunbury-Harvey Regional Council was designed to handle about 10,000 tonnes of organic waste and has a price tag of less than two million dollars. This is far more affordable for regional councils, both for installation and ongoing maintenance.
It is also a relatively simple process to expand the operation as demand from the community grows. Current demand is already running at more than 25% above the expected capacity so it looks like the community demand is there. This flexibility is really important for smaller communities wanting to minimise the financial and operating risks when starting these recycling initiatives.
Perhaps the most important measure of success is the quality of output. One batch of final product has been screened to separate different particle size fractions. This equipment also removed most of the soft plastic contamination. Testing against the Australian Standard for Compost Soil Conditioners and Mulches resulted in a pass. Some of this first batch was used at the facility to grow a range of vegetables. These look bright, green and very healthy.
Where to from here? The day before my visit the next 8 MAF units for stage 2 of the project arrived and these will go into service immediately. So it looks like the residents of Bunbury and Capel will be showing their capital city cousins an alternative way to successfully recycle organic waste.
Easy to read instructions show homeowners which bin takes the different forms of rubbish and collection days
Dedicated truck collects food and organics bin
MAF unit ready to take a fresh load
MAF on the job blowing air through the pile
The final product ready to bring life to sandy soils