Fast-growing urban populations and limited availability of land are putting increasing pressure on cities to manage waste.
In 2016-2017, Australia sent 1.2 million tonnes of waste to China. However, recent changes in Asian imported waste regulations and the subsequent review of kerbside recycling programs by councils, has presented the nation with an opportunity to re-evaluate the way we deal with waste.
Creating a circular economy is touted as one of the ways to transform waste management. This promotes repair, reuse, remanufacturing and recycling rather than straight to landfill.
“Almost half of our household waste – over 21 million tonnes per year – goes directly from kerbsides to landfill,” says Peter Skindberg, WSP’s Section Executive, Power and Energy. “Today’s problem will become larger in the future as our waste production increases and finding suitable landfill sites becomes more difficult.”
“Waste to energy is an opportunity for our cities to limit waste going to landfill, thereby reducing their environmental impact and to use this valuable waste to generate reliable power,” explains Mr Skindberg.
“The technology for waste to energy has been around for decades and has been thoroughly road-tested in numerous plants around the world. Europe and Asia currently have approximately 450 and more than 1,500 waste to energy plants respectively.”
In some communities, waste to energy plants are still a contentious issue. However, a mixture of legislative drivers and technical innovation have recently led to vast improvements in energy efficiency and environmental outcomes.
Waste to energy can offer long-term environmental and societal improvements.
Good business model for Australian cities
Can treat different types of waste
Diversion from landfill
Compact, so suitable for our changing cities
Lower CO2 emissions than landfill
Generates heat and electricity
Reduces truck traffic
Reduces truck fuel use = CO2 reduction
Improved resource recovery, e.g. metal
High capital expenditure (CAPEX)
Requires policy change where landfill fee levies are currently set at $0
Needs long-term supply contracts (this could also be an advantage)
Negative public perception
“Australia is at a crossroads,” adds Mr Skindberg. “There is an opportunity to unlock vast value and contribute to the country’s long-term energy reliability by putting our waste to work. Taking a holistic approach across the waste hierarchy is key to generating commercial returns, while contributing to a more sustainable future.”
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