Waste Less Recycle More: How New South Wales Is Transforming the Organics Recycling Landscape



This week we’re in New South Wales, Australia, to learn about the Waste Less Recycle More initiative and the Organics Infrastructure Fund that will see 70 million AUD invested into organics management in the region. We speak with the Director of Waste and Resource Recovery at the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Steve Beaman, to learn more about this initiative and their plans to pull more organics out of landfills, and discuss the importance of government support and strong policy for success.

We also speak with Robert Niccol of landscape and agricultural supply company Australian Native Landscapes, to get an insight into the processor’s perspective, the challenges that the industry anticipates with this increase in supply, and to discuss further the EPA’s plans to work with industry in developing new markets with their Organics Market Development grants.



The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is the primary environmental regulator for New South Wales. Our purpose is to improve environmental performance and waste management for NSW.

The EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More is a five year, $465.7 million initiative that’s transforming waste management in NSW. It includes funding for organics collections, processing infrastructure and market development, business recycling, drop off centres for problem wastes and programs to tackle litter and illegal dumping.




Photo by Pavel. Some Rights Reserved.




THE ORGANIC STREAM: We often talk on the organic stream about the importance of policy and government support for making a real impact with our sustainability programs, and the NSW government provides a great example of this – with a strong policy direction stemming from the objectives set out in their waste legislation, the EPA and the NSW government have initiated a host of strategies and programs to reduce waste and keep materials circulating within the economy.

In particular, a 5-year initiative that invests just over 465 million Australian dollars into increasing recycling and keeping materials out of landfill – an unprecedented amount of funding that’s pulled directly from the region’s waste levy. The Waste Less Recycle More initiative has a heavy focus on organics recycling in particular with the Organics Infrastructure Fund. To learn more about this program and the importance of a comprehensive and cohesive policy for success, we gave a call to Steve Beaman, Director of Waste and Resource Recovery at the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

And with a goal of diverting organics from landscape, this will of course mean an increase in organics supply at organic recycling facilities around the region. How will this impact the industry? Well after speaking with Steve we reached out to Robert Niccol of Australian Native Landscapes, or ANL, to get an insight into the processor’s perspective and discuss further the EPA’s plans to work with industry to develop new markets.

Pretty exciting episode – so let’s jump right in with Steve Beaman of the EPA…




TOS: So Steve, a lot is happening in New South Wales at the moment – can you fill us in?


STEVE BEAMAN: The New South Wales EPA and government has set ambitious waste targets, both in terms of waste avoidance and in greater recycling and recovery of material if we do generate it as waste. At the end of 2014, we just released a seven year strategy, the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery strategy, and that has six key focus areas. It’s about having programs in place to reduce the amount of waste being generated in the first place; it’s to increase recycling at a household, commercial and construction level; it’s about increasing the diversion of waste away from landfill; it’s about establishing community recycling centres across New South Wales to make it easy for the community to get rid of problem wastes and to do so in a safe manner; and finally it’s to reduce illegal dumping and prevent littering.

So there’s a very progressive agenda at the moment in New South Wales. And we’ve been able to have that funded from a waste levy. So, for every tonne of waste that’s disposed of in the populated areas, there’s a government levy that’s imposed on that waste disposal, and the purpose of that levy is to make recycling more cost effective against traditional landfill. And as part of that income stream, the government’s allocated over 465.7 million dollars for us to drive this change. And the change is really around three aspects, which are: greater education and community engagement, delivering new and improved infrastructure, and the last is about having a strong regulatory framework that underpins it, so there’s clarity right across the sector and the community of what the government’s expectations are around the rules about managing waste and recycled products.


TOS: Excellent – and there is a great emphasis on organic waste, I know – you’re directing 70 million dollars of that to an organics program.  So what is the key focus for you in terms of organics recycling at the moment?


SB: It’s really around those seven aspects. We’ve just run a series of grant rounds where we’ve got forty three million dollars available of that seventy million for new infrastructure. These are organic processing facilities that are typically a combination of food and garden organics processing and is usually around some form of composting technology. We didn’t have the infrastructure in place, so we’re pulling this stuff out of the bins but we needed the processing capacity to be built, and all that’s being built at the moment.

Our local authorities, our councils that provide the services to the community needed access to new and improved collection systems – and typically that has been mobile garbage bins. So, we’ve funded four hundred and forty three thousand new garbage bins and kitchen caddies, so people can sort out their waste in the kitchen and put it into the right garbage bin.

And this is an exciting one that we’ve just released, but we’ve got four million dollars around market development. And this is around the concept that now that we’ve pulled this organic material out of the system and it’s being processed in these facilities, we have to ensure that we’ve got sustainable and resilient end-markets for this material to be used. If the material gets composted it can go to urban restoration; it can got o mine-site rehabilitation; it can go back to farmland and pasture organic improvements. The thing about Australian soils is that they’re very low in organics typically, and then farming practices over the last two hundred years has depleted those organics even further.

So there’s great multiple benefits here with us taking this stuff out of landfill, processing it and putting it back on the land, improve the water-holding capacity of the land, and also improve the nutrient uptake in some of those soils that are organic poor. So we see this as a great opportunity.

We’re also, from that market development work, looking at how we can assist industry to improve the quality of the compost. Because it’s coming from the domestic waste stream, typically, it’s important to educate communities that they can’t put their used batteries into the organics bin, because it has a consequence: if that battery breaks open, you spread lead through the compost material and renders it useless for use on urban development or agricultural use.

So it’s a multi-faceted program. That’s the thing that’s really exciting about this, it’s trying to attack the issue on a couple of fronts: education and community engagement, industry development, the infrastructure component, and then having the regulations behind it that gives the community the confidence that using recycled products is the way to go.


TOS: Very good – and I’d like to talk about the importance of this strong policy framework that underpins everything and how that has contributed to the program’s success?


SB: I think the thing about Waste Less Recycle More is that success is really going to be attributable to having a really strong policy, certainty and clarity around it, and that’s why I started with the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery strategy. The government has set this long-term strategy, it’s adopted the targets to increase recycling, reduce illegal dumping and to prevent littering, and that really gives us the instruction that we need to go and deliver these. These are government priorities, and those priorities really stem from community expectations – the community wants to see these services being offered and want to see these improvements.

But the fact that we’ve actually been able to align a very strong policy commitment directly from government, and have that underpinned by a very strong funding program, really gives us the recipe we need to be able to deliver this program. And I think it changes the confidence in the community. They can see and engage with the EPA and government on waste and recycling now, and we’re able to provide that information out to the community – we have an excellent website called Love Food Hate Waste, which is around waste avoidance.

But this also has changed the approach by the waste sector, where it’s moving away from the traditional waste collection and waste disposal and towards trying to be a part of this new circular economy and a recycling and resource recovery agenda. So we see this as a great opportunity to change the agenda in New South Wales.


TOS: That’s very exciting. And let’s talk more about the market development side of things for a moment. Developing compost markets is quite a big task – can you tell me a little more about your plans here, and are you anticipating any challenges?


SB: with the markets for compost, I think we’re really pulling a lot of material out of the system, and we need to be careful. That’s why we’re investing in a market development program, so we get that balance right and we don’t disturb the system too much by pushing too much material through the system, thereby increasing the supply and affecting prices. So we need to think carefully and we’re working in partnership with industry around exploring how we can help industry and local government to stimulate the markets so that we’re actually resilient for the longer term, and when more material comes through we’ve actually generated the demand at the end-use level. And that the farmers and the urban restoration workers and so on are more comfortable in using the organics in their soils and agricultural systems, so we can get that market to mature as fast as we can and it then becomes a self-sustaining system.


TOS: It’s great that there is so much investment going into it. But moving out again – are there any pressing challenges you’re facing at the moment in terms of organics recycling – or any problem areas you’re focusing on?


SB: The single main challenge for us is contamination. This is around trying to educate the community and industry. And this is why it’s a very interesting program, because people have things in their household that they mightn’t know how to get rid of. Oil, paint, gas bottles, batteries, smoke detectors, light bulbs… And so if we find that they’re unsure, they’ll often inadvertently do the wrong thing and put it into the wrong bin.

And this is why part of another program of Waste Less Recycle More is the community recycling centres. So there’s another seventy million dollars to build these drop-off centres, and the aim is to have eighty-six of these centres where you can drop off all those problem items you’ve got in the household for free. So if we can make it easy for the community to easily dispose of these problem materials, and also educate them on why it’s important that they don’t drop these materials into their organics bins, then that’s going to keep improving the product quality of our organics and compost.

It’s a real issue for us, and we’re starting to do some exciting work on rolling out a state-wide education campaign to help improve the knowledge and behaviour of householders. And that’s what we’re starting to work on next.


TOS: And all this comes from the funding from the waste levy. Do you consider this waste levy to be the most important, or crucial part of the program’s success?


SB: I’d describe the Waste and Resource Recovery framework as an ecosystem – I don’t think there’s one part that dominates over the others. I think it’s getting all the parts to work in concert with each other. So it’s about having a very strong direction from government to do the right thing. The government has said that we want to achieve these very ambitious targets, and that sends a very strong message. It’s about having a financial and economic tool with the waste levy and that we’ve set a price signal for our landfills and we don’t want landfills to be the predominant processing option – we want people to think a bit more broadly. It’s about having education as well, and that sort of engagement with industry and community so that people are aware and we know how to influence the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.

None of this works if you don’t have infrastructure, and all this falls apart if you don’t have a regulatory regime that sets very clear standards and has offence provisions that say that if you don’t meet these standards, there will be very serious consequences. And I think, from my end, it’s not just the levy that’s important – although it is a very important aspect – but it’s getting all aspects to work well together that is important. And if we get it all operating together in a very clear and consistent manner, I think that’s when we’re going to get the best outcome.


TOS: It will be very exciting to see how it all works, and I’m sure you’re very busy focusing on this now – but as a final question now – I’d love to know – what’s next for the EPA in New South Wales?


SB: There are two things that are exciting for us. Looking forward to future population growth, and hopefully less waste generation, and looking at where we should have the next generation of infrastructure. Where should it be installed? Are there areas around the state where we’re short on infrastructure, and how can we stimulate that investment from the local community or industry? So it’s about making sure we’ve got infrastructure in the right locations.

And the second really exciting thing we’re working on – and we’ve just released it for consultation – is a new state-wide education strategy called Changing Behaviour Together. And this is really around building a platform for a conversation with the community at all levels – with local government, industry and residents – and finding out what their needs are in relation to their knowledge, attitudes and behaviours around waste and recycling, and how can we help standardise that and run state-wide programs to focus on that behaviour change that really underpins our investment in infrastructure.


TOS: Okay, so there’s a real focus on education and outreach there…


SB: Yes, absolutely. I think you can have very complex systems of multiple bins and recycling plants, but it takes an engaged community to make these systems work to their optimum. If people aren’t using these systems correctly, and they don’t understand why it’s important to separate properly, these systems do tend to struggle. And that’s where you get this issue of contamination really raising it’s head. So, I think you really get good bang for your buck from your investment in infrastructure if you have it underpinned by a strong education program.


TOS: Great stuff. And we’ll be following the progress very closely – and best of with the program in the next few years!




THE ORGANIC STREAM: And that was Steve Beaman of the EPA giving us an insight into the NWS’s organic recycling plans. Steve mentioned the need to be very careful in increasing supply of organics to not upset the market (blah?) – and this is indeed something that requires attention. What are the challenges that industry anticipates with this increase, and how big of a task will it be to develop new markets for organic products, compost in particular?

Another key challenge might be contamination rate – with plans to increase kerbside collection, are processors preparing for an increase in contamination as well?

We put these questions to Robert Niccol of ANL and this is what he told us…


TOS: Hi Rob, thanks for coming on the show. Just before we begin, can you give us a short introduction to Australian Natural Landscape?


ROBERT NICCOL: We began life as a landscape construction company about forty five years ago, and that grew into looking for materials to use in landscape supplies. Pat Soars who owns the company started going over the mountains and getting truckloads of bark, and coming back into Sydney and selling as mulch and what have you. We then got into composting, greenwaste, biosolids and all the urban waste streams that are around nowadays.

We currently compost or process about five hundred thousand tonnes of sorted organic streams at the moment. We’re a very strong landscape and agricultural compost supplies company. You name it, we’re into it – we’ve a very strong consumer market of packaged products, supply chain, bulk material supply and landscape construction – that sort of thing.


TOS: Right, and so as a processor on the ground, the government’s plans will have an impact on your business and indeed the industry as a whole. What will this impact be, and are there any concerns in the industry about this increase in supply of organics?


RN: The government, to their credit, is spending a quite extraordinary amount of money in industry support and in terms of processing and market development in a whole rage of areas. It’s the best part of half a billion dollars. It’s a huge amount of money, and we will never see the like of that again.

I think there are some concerns about whether or not we can grow the markets sustainably to consume all the additional tonnages. So I think that is a big ask. The government is certainly supporting market development of about seventy thousand tonnes of additional uptake, but the increase of supply will be greater than that, so there’s potentially an issue there.

Whether or not that becomes a problem will really hinge on how effectively the market development money is implemented and spent; what sort of strategies come out; how those markets are developed; and can we get structural change in the bigger markets, like the agricultural sector, which is really where we see the main growth potential being in terms of demand. So, is it going to be a struggle? Yes. I think there are a lot of opportunities for lots of businesses, but the additional tonnes…yeah, it will be a struggle.


TOS: What are some of the main challenges, or concerns, you have about market development – what barriers to you face at the moment as an industry that will need to be addressed in order for this to work?


RN: Where there’s an issue and a debate that needs to be had – and it has been had some extent – is that you do have different business models, and I’m sure that’s the same all over the world. In our case, we’re one of a number of private companies that started as a horticultural supplies company, and that business has grown and eventually got into what would be considered as the resource recovery and waste sector. But at heart, we are a horticultural supplies company, selling horticultural products.

Then you’ve got the other business model, which tends to be the larger corporatized kinds – those sorts of businesses who are in the waste sector. You know, the real waste driven companies. They don’t come into the market with a horticultural supplies philosophy – they come in with a waste management philosophy, and the two are quite different. Their business model is very much about getting cost recovery at the gate as soon as the material comes in, and then the products of their processing go into the marketplace at a very low dollar value. Whereas those of us in the horticultural supplies tend to have a lower gate fee because we’re expecting to have a value recognised in the output at the end. And they are different models, and there are obvious difficulties with that in the marketplace when you have those two models producing an output that’s competing differently with a different economic structure. That’s a problem.

I think that is something our industry has struggled with and the government has struggled with, and I don’t know that there is a good answer to that. But the difficulty is that when you’re looking to grow markets, like the agricultural sector – and we’re particularly looking at cropping and grazing – where there are more marginal growing sectors anyway, they have some very good years, but they have some very lean years in between. So they’re a relatively low return sector anyway. So you’re going into the hardest part of a market to actually get money out of them, in terms of value for your product.

And the products in those sort of applications are effective, but they’re still competing with fertilisers and bedded down systems. So part of what we need to do is engage in those systems, and get product uptake in those systems. They are inherently a conservative sector, so you need to get those people who have been growing often multigenerationally in a particular fashion. You need to engage with them and give them some comfort that what we have to offer is of value, and it’s sustainable and will work for them with their current cost models.

So we’re looking to actually see, out of the market engagement, the real value of what we have to offer recognised, and to try and penetrate those markets and show the effectiveness of the product. We have to do it at a competitive price, obviously, but unless you break that nexus, that market will never exist. If we don’t get past this first hurdle, where they’re used to using synthetic fertilisers, then it will never change.


TOS: Yes and here you mention education and outreach – which are key components to developing markets in New South Wales?


RN: I think when you look at the current supplies into those sectors, you have larger, agricultural chemical supplies companies who have been supplying into that sector for many, many years; their data is very good and they have a history of use with those products working well. They’ve engaged well, they have a lot of money behind them, and they’ve been able to set up their supply into that sector, well supported with good data, good technology and good advice.

Whereas we’re stepping into that without the dollars behind a Monsanto type of company. We don’t have those sort of resources and we’re stepping into a conservative area, so the education and engagement, and the extension of the good information and data that we have at the moment…we haven’t been very effective in getting that out. So there will be a lot of people who I think we will get to change – and are probably quite keen to change – but we haven’t yet spoken to them. We haven’t engaged with them and we haven’t explained the case well. So, the education side is very important.


TOS: And going back to the increase supply and perhaps another challenge you’re facing: the EPA is focusing a lot of their efforts on educating people about putting materials in the right bins and so on – really getting people to understand the importance of recycling in an effort to keep contamination low. With kerbside collection expanding in the next few years, are you concerned about contamination? What has been your experience so far?


RN: We’ve had quite a number of different contracts over the last twent y five years. Often the contamination is an issue given that most of these streams come out of local government. So they’re within a local area, and that local government facility or waste system is the driver for the recovery of whatever the new stream is – when they decide to introduce a green bin and kerbside collection for green and food waste, or whatever it is. If that council or local government authority has an environmental philosophy from top to bottom, where everything that flows from the top down is about closing the loop and understanding that the outputs of these materials will be coming back to our environment, then they see the issue is about contamination and how it affects the value or quality of the product. And they set up really strong and clear systems that are linked to their council philosophy.

When they start, the new services come in and that’s when you have early issues when it’s new to people and they don’t necessarily know what’s going on. If you have a council that sets up a contract, it’s well aware of that and as soon as those issues arise, they’re proactive – they don’t want the contamination and engage with local residents – and generally speaking, those issues evaporate because they’re driven from the council and local community. And someone has a contract to collect it, and the collecting contractor is a really important part of that as well because they’re the ones picking up the bins – it’ll end up coming to us and as a processor, it’s critical to us that we don’t have contamination. But if you have everyone in that loop with the same general philosophy, contamination isn’t an issue, because if you as a resident don’t care and you keep on putting garbage in your bin, they take away the service.

If on the other hand, and we’ve certainly had contracts where that’s not a driver within the government, then it’s very difficult to manage – because as the end contractor, you don’t have the power in the process to stop that contamination coming in, and that becomes very difficult. So it’s very much down to education and I know the state government is engaging very strongly with local government, and that’s absolutely where it needs to be – because they’re the drivers of the contracts; they’re the people who sign the contracts up with people like us, so if they’re not supportive of it and don’t have structures at the end of the day to remove a service if it comes to that, then we’re stuck with whatever comes in the truck.


TOS: And the government’s cooperation with industry is another important aspect. So, building up relationships and strong communication channels between them is crucial for success, I imagine?


RN: That’s absolutely critical. We’ve run a couple of different grants within our business, and I think personally that the process that we’ve gone through has just been exceptional. They’ve had people within government that understand our sector that we can go and talk to. So if you’re that person, I can go to you and say, “Eleen, this is the grant we’re thinking of putting” and I get very clear guidance, such as, “Yes that’s good, but I’d think about doing that, that and that”, or, “No, it doesn’t fit within the guidelines”. So very quickly you get an answer as to whether the idea you have fits with what they want. If it does, there is an opportunity to get economic consultants in to evaluate the business case and give you advice on whether or not they think economics of what you put forward is logical. After we’ve won our grant, they then have consultants – I think we have about twenty hours of free consultancy after the grant is approved to get through the approvals process and to get thought issues you have in in actually getting your facility built, or whatever it is, once the grant is up. And there’s support after the grant.

I think, really, as a private business, you can’t ask for more than that. It’s been very, very good. It’s a lot of money that they’re spending and it’s a pretty big achievement to get that sort of money out of treasury for our sector, so I think they’ve done a pretty amazing job, really, for the complexity of the programs they’re looking for.


TOS: So it’s an exciting time now in New South Wales, it’ll be very interesting to see how it all goes…


RN: Oh, definitely. It’s certainly going to be a lot of activity and it will be interesting to see where we are in our sector over the next couple of years, because an extra hundred and sixty thousand tonnes of material is what they’re proposing to generate, and that’s a lot on top of what we’re currently doing.


New Strategies For Recycling Commercial Waste: The Industrial Ecology Program of NSW, Australia


This episode corresponds to Lesson 3 and Lesson 5  of our online course.

This week we’re taking a trip down under, to highlight new and exciting recycling program created by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) of New South Wales, Australia. The program, called the Industrial Ecology Business Support Network, aims to facilitate and encourage the reuse of industrial waste materials between medium to large businesses in order to recover recyclable materials from the commercial sector. We speak to Phil Molyneaux of the EPA in New South Wales, who tells us more about the program and how it operates, what it will do for businesses, and how it may be replicated in other countries.

Thank you to Resource Recovery Australia for making this episode possible.

Resource Recovery Australia is a national profit-for-purpose business, providing coaching, consultancy and operational waste services, based on their award winning social enterprise model. They work with Councils, communities and businesses to maximise the economic, social and environmental outcomes from resource recovery. For more information, visit their website.

Three upcoming events that are on our radar this week:

The Joinville Zero Waste Week in Brazil,

The National Zero Waste Youth Congress, Brazil,


The International Zero Waste Youth Congress in Puerto Rico.




A Solution For Diverting Business Waste From Landfill


Q: How and why did the Industrial Ecology program come to be?

Phil Molyneaux: It started about six months ago. We were looking at this for a long time, trying to think of creative ways to work with businesses. And we set up a program to work with small to medium sized businesses – so, those who were employing up to two-hundred people, but mainly concentrating on those who were employing twenty people in their business, so the small businesses. And they’re notoriously contact; there’s an enormous number of them in New South Wales – there’s something like six hundred and fifty thousand of those in New South Wales alone. There’s a lot of small businesses. And we thought we would like a program looking at opportunities to work with larger businesses as well. And that was where the Industrial Ecology, or the Industrial Symbiosis program came about.

Q: Can you give our audience more on an idea of what exactly is the program, and how it runs?

PM: The program is about…we’re paying for facilitators who have a background and an understanding of local areas to work with local businesses and help local businesses to fin creative solutions for their waste. So what we’re doing is we’re paying for a person, called a facilitator, to work in a local area, and we split the state up into six regions – relatively arbitrary regions – and we’re working with the facilitators, providing funding and providing assistance to them to work with local businesses.

So what they would do is they would hold meetings in their regions and identify businesses that want to work to reduce their cost of waste disposal. In New South Wales there’s a levy on materials going to landfill; the government tries to encourage recycling, and one way of doing that is to put a levy on the tonnes of material going into landfill, and that is about one hundred and twenty dollars per tonne – and then the waste industry themselves have a gate fee. So, someone estimated that in Sidney, and the capital cities, the cost of putting material into landfill is something in the order of about three hundred and fifty dollars a tonne, with transport costs included.

That means it’s quite expensive to put material into landfill, but some businesses feel that that’s just the cost of doing business, and they’ll keep doing it. But what we’re trying to say is that the New South Wales government is working with businesses to try to encourage them to recycle that material, and therefore avoid much of that cost of disposal.

Q: What’s the timeline of the project – how long are you planning for it to go on for?

PM: We would like to keep it going for four years. We’re sort of half way, or a third of the way through the first year of the program. Our hope is to be able to suggest to the facilitators we’re working with – that we’ve trained and encouraged and supported – and encourage them to continue to do this work themselves, because they will have had the skills and experience, and see that there’s an opportunity for them to make money.

One of the people who is advising us in this program has said that he’s been doing industrial ecology, or industrial symbiosis, for a number of years himself and he says to businesses: “I can find a way to save you a hundred thousand dollars a year on your waste bill, are you prepared to pay me half of that?” And a number of companies have said to him, “Yes, sure we can do that”. So, at the end of the financial year he gets his check for fifty thousand dollars and is quite happy.

And that’s where we think a number of these people who have been trained in these regions – with skills and connections in those regions…because it’s local regions. We’re such a big state that there isn’t the money to move this waste from one section of New South Wales to another. It’s best if the local region deals with that waste in the best way – and it’s relatively expensive to transport these materials: food waste is heavy, timber waste is really quite heavy.


The Businesses And Organisations Participating.


Q: What kind of organisations or businesses are you looking to work with, and what qualities to the facilitators need to have?

PM: There are criteria, and we were very careful when we gave the original grants out. We were looking at companies that had a track record of working with local businesses; innovative in looking at recycling options; skills in leadership – we’re looking for a particular type of person who’s going to be the facilitator, and that person has to have a certain amount of charm, a bit of an ability to hold meetings and to network with people, and to be persistent.

So a lot of the time, how they’ll go about it is they’ll have a meeting in one of the small cities around the state. They’ll talk a bit about the idea of recycling and mention a couple of success stories of local businesses that are recovering, say, timber pallets or food waste in a region, and they’ll perhaps get one of the people doing this to talk. And they’ll say, “can we sit down and chat with you about that idea”. And they’ll give them a cup of coffee, get them to come back after a few minutes of networking, and they basically sit down with all the people interested in timber waste sitting down at one table, and the people interested in food waste or recycling plastic or metals and the like, sit down at separate tables and network together.

Then, the facilitator will try and gather that information and try to encourage those people that have been networking – someone who has food waste and wants to find someone who can use that food waste (maybe someone who is a local composter, or someone who has a farm and can take that food waste and it’s lawful for them to take that food waste), and then we assist those two to get together. And sometimes it’s just a case that they’re just down the street from each other, and they didn’t realise that both existed, or both had that need. Or, we need to organise some sort of transport between them. So it’s a case of negotiating, and it really takes someone with some skills and persistence: people are busy, people have always wanted to do this, but they’ve just never had someone to facilitate that connection.

Q: So the want is there, we just need to make it happen…

PM: That’s exactly right.


Goals and Outcomes: What Impact Will Industrial Ecology Have?


Q: Can you tell me then what are the core outcomes expected of the program?

PM: Good comment. Well, we’re going to invest four million dollars over the four years of the program, and we would like to see (and we’ve got some numbers to indicate this is quite possible) a return of something like twenty one million dollars in initial income or savings for the community. We’d like to target one hundred and sixty thousand tonnes of landfill diversion. We’re well on the way – of the first four months of the program, we’ve certainly seen a significant targeting of several thousand tonnes of material.

Q: What is the business case for the program?

PM: Well, the business case is that idea that there is a saving for business; there is a responsibility in government to reduce the amount of material that is being sent to landfill; there is a responsibility in government to reduce litter and waste, and to encourage business to be more efficient and competitive in an international market. And obviously, the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority has a desire and a responsibility to stop productive material from being wasted, and see that material return to the proactive economy – that’s our chief objective. But we also see that it’s going to be of benefit to business efficiency in the economy. And we’re already seeing benefits in our society of a cleaner environment, and environment where there’s less litter, less material going to landfill. Even though we have a large area, landfill space is very valuable, particularly in the cities that land can be sold and used very well if it’s not being used for a landfill.

Q: Have you any notion on how businesses are taking to the program so far? Is it popular, or are there any challenges to getting them interested?

PM: I think it’s like a lot of things with the environment and with businesses, you know – it’s always tough for businesses to keep their heads about water and keep going. Everyone’s trying to be more competitive and everyone’s trying to save some money. They often don’t consider their waste as a way of saving money; they often think that waste is just something they need to get out of the way so that they can get on with the business of doing business. So, they accept that waste is a cost of doing business, and what we like to say to them is: well, maybe we can pull this area apart a little bit, have a look at this idea, and maybe there’s significant saving in reducing the amount of material going to landfill.

And then the other benefit we’ve found with a number of companies is…you know, we started on this track a couple of years ago, thinking that were just going to save money. But the bosses have come back to us and said they’re really excited because staff are more engaged  and interested. We’re doing something in our business that we haven’t done before: we’re recycling at work and doing the things we’ve been regularly doing at home with our bins. We separate our dry recyclables at home, some have got compost bins, some have worm farms…  and they’re saying, “It’s really exciting, we’re doing something different at work!” And they’re motivated.

One company came to us and said to us that they were just so excited that it significantly reduced staff turnover, and to him that saving is just amazing because his staff were continually leaving. Not because there wasn’t anything bad about the company, but it just wasn’t really interesting. He’s saying, “Now we’ve got a much more interesting environment, my staff are engaged. We’re almost got to zero waste…they’re very excited, they’re very keen to come to work and try something different”.


Changing Hearts & Minds: Challenges Along The Way


Q: What kind of issues or challenges have you had so far, and how are you overcoming them?

PM: The thing that’s tricky is just the perception that businesses have: “You’re asking me to do something about my waste, but I’m asking my staff to change their habits. This could be a little bit more expensive that just sending the material to landfill…” And we’re trying to say to them, “Look, why don’t you just try that?” So, we’ve been tackling that by encouraging managers and facilitators to talk with the staff, and to look at the fact that they are recycling at home; they’ve been asked for a number of years by the New South Wales government to recycle material in their municipal bins, and they’ve been doing that very successfully. And we point to the real cost savings, and just encourage people to look at this as a social responsibility.

A number of companies respond to that. Not all – but there’s a certain politics of envy, when someone’s done it well other companies come along and say, “well, I think we could have a go at that”. And it’s always good to see someone who’s been successful in this area and likes to get up and say, “Well, we did this. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t all that hard, and we had a lot of fun on the way.” And a number of companies get up and say that.

Q: And I suppose the landfill levy that you have has really helped in getting businesses on board?

PM: It has. It’s certainly a driver in New South Wales. The levy operates in the major cities – in the country areas the levy doesn’t operate all that much. But in the cities, another big driver is the cost of transport, whereas in country areas you don’t have that cost of travelling around the city and spending time in clogged arteries.

In country areas the cost of doing things are significantly reduced, but there may not be as many opportunities. So, that’s what we’re finding the challenge is in country areas. They don’t have the population, they don’t have the number of reuse opportunities, but then again they don’t have the costs that are associated with a city operation.

Q: I see, so that is a bit trickier then to work with?

PM: It is a bit tricky, but what we’re arguing is that there are opportunities in both situations. There are a number of companies that are prepared to work, because they’ve got lower overheads in country areas, land is not as expensive. They want to keep staff, they’re looking at opportunities to reduce their costs, and recycling is a reasonable option.

Q: And looking at the future now briefly, what’s the long-term vision for the EPA in New South Wales after the completion of the program?

PM: We’re doing work on a succession plan for this. Basically, instead of supplying the fishing line, we’ve decided to go with the model of teaching people how to fish. And we’ve really worked at encouraging, with our facilitators, to take up this challenge, and to work with local people in their community; develop strong connections in their community, and look for local solutions.


Industrial Ecology – Can We Take It Globally?


Q: How do you think this program could be replicated in other countries around the world – would it be vastly different in another context?

PM: Yeah, I think it would. We’ve shamelessly borrowed a program from the UK that’s been highly successful: the National Symbiosis Program, or NISP. And we feel that it’s a simple, transferable model. A number of people we’ve spoken to in the UK have given us an indication of how they’ve done it; we’ve spoken to a number of people who have visited the UK. And what they basically do is what we’ve tried to apply, that is: you talk with a number of businesses in a local community, you try and identify opportunities, and you make sure you work with the willing – don’t try and drive people to work with you if they don’t want to do that – and, you look at creative opportunities with those willing people.

You just persist with those people and look for ways to do it. Sometimes it’s fairly tenuous or timorous and takes a little bit of time for that to work out. But once people start to see that this is possible to do, and there’s an opportunity to do it, they start to realise that this is quite good.

We had a meeting with our team facilitators the other day, and several of them said, “Do you know, I didn’t know how we were going to do this. I was a bit scared at the start. But you know, there’s some great opportunities out there – and I’m having a lot of fun!”

Q: Well that I’m sure is a big plus!

PM: It is! It is.


Creating Jobs & Building Sustainable Societies.


Q: Often times recycling initiatives have a great opportunity to create jobs. With this program, can you see jobs being created for local communities or?

PM: Look, certainly. I think there are opportunities to create jobs, but there’s probably more opportunities to save jobs from leaving an area. Obviously as technology changes, businesses tend to move people out of dangerous jobs and to reduce the workload, and obviously increased mechanisation has reduced the number of jobs. A way to meet that challenge is to provide better jobs, safer jobs. And there are some great jobs in recycling and opportunities in recovery. There are some estimates of quite significant savings in local areas through people who will recycle the material rather than see it go to landfill, and see that material return to the productive economy, rather than see it just sitting in a landfill.

Q: In relation to the Industrial Ecology program, do you see any opportunities that it could bring to empower disadvantaged groups in society?

PM: It’s a good question, and it’s interesting to see that there are opportunities to work in community groups. One of the regions is working with refugees and supplying them with organic material so that they’re growing their own food in a community situation, and that’s very exciting. So, there are some opportunities – a number of organisations are working with them at the moment and looking at opportunities to work in that space.

We find that, as with in all communities, a lot of disadvantaged groups move towards the lower cost areas and that often tends to be outside the cities, and that’s where a lot of recycling opportunities might be. And it’s an opportunity work; it’s certainly an opportunity where some of the disabled groups have thought, “well, let’s use staff to do that”, and a number of disabled groups are using leftover timber from manufacturing to make items.

It’s got to be thought-through very carefully, and there are some opportunities there if it’s done well.

Q: Do you have any final words about the program or to businesses out there who might be interested in becoming part of something like this?

PM: I think the idea is looking. Just go out the back of your building or their manufacturing site, or their business, and look over the fence and see if there’s somebody that could use something that you’re throwing away. So have a look what’s in your bin, and have a look at what other people are using. There are a number of companies that have said, “I didn’t realise that people were buying these boxes that I’m throwing away”, or, “Someone could use these plastic bags that I’ve just been putting in the bin”. And there’s some great opportunities to share, and to see waste as a resource rather than something that needs to be thrown away.


Food Recovery & Onsite Composting in Schools & Institutions


This episode corresponds to Lesson 3 of our online course.

In this ninth episode, we examine a food recovery school program in Oakland, USA, with program director Kelly Ernstfriedman and an onsite composting program in Ioannina University, Greece, with Prof. Georgios Pilidis, in order to get a vision of how a 360 solution can work in schools and other institutions.

Thank you to Big Hanna Composter for making this episode possible.

The original since 1991, and now installed in more than 25 countries, Big Hanna’s five standard models of on-site in-vessel composters range from 75 to 2400 kg of food waste per week, for housing areas, prison, schools, canteens and restaurants. For more information, visit www.bighanna.com




Kelly ErnstFriedman:

EM: Let’s just start I suppose with a little background information – you started the Food for Kids program back in May 2013, yeah?

KE: We did, we did. We were approached by Nancy Deming, who works for – she’s a consultant for the Oakland Unified School District, and she works for a program called Green Gloves, which is all about greening the Oakland school system. And she had been seeing a lot of the waste that’s been going on – she works on various initiatives in the schools, including a sorting program, which is the basis for our food donation program. Instead of everything going to the landfill, she’s working on getting the schools to sort their trash at lunch. And then they have something called a Food Share, which is basically, the kids – especially at the elementary and middle-school age, where their bellies are a little smaller and they’re required to take a certain amount of food and they often don’t eat it. So the Food Share bin gives them a chance to put that in there and if someone else decides “hey, I want another milk” then they can take that during the cafeteria period. But then after that cafeteria period, that food goes into the landfill, or the compost.

And so Nancy really wanted to connect with someone who could take that food and then donate it. Thanks to the Bill Emerson Food Recovery Act, which was passed in the U.S. In 1996, organisations are encouraged to donate food. It’s sort of a liability coverage that says that unless there’s gross negligence, non-profits can take this food, or businesses can donate this food and get it out to people that are hungry. So, we kind of had the legislation there behind us, we just needed to figure out a system that worked for Oakland. And we started our pilot in May 2013 with two schools – two elementary schools – and we recovered over three thousand pounds of food, and worked with about thirty families just in about six weeks.

EM: That’s great. And how much would you recover now per month, say?

KE: We…total, we’ve gotten about, I think forty-five hundred pounds of food in the last six months. And we average probably thirty to fifty pounds a week. One of the schools that we’re going to be starting in the next couple of weeks – we did a survey and they had fifty-five pounds of food from one day of lunch.

EM: That’s a lot of food.

KE: It is. It is (laughs).

EM: And does it all get distributed then?

KE: Yeah, all of the poundage that we note – all of that gets distributed.

EM: That’s very good. And to touch on the regulations again, is it primarily the regulations that are preventing schools and other public places from distributing food?

KE: It is, it is. Because the food comes from the Government, there’s very strict rules on what can and can’t go back to the kitchen, and that’s been another part of the program as well, sort of educating the kitchen managers and staff about what can be returned. So for example, if they have apples or pears that go out and go into the Food Share; if those are in pretty good shape, and the kitchen manager has the opportunity to make the call and say “you know what, I think I can use these again tomorrow, or the next day, they’re going to hold up”, they can take those back into the kitchen, clean them off and re-serve them. Anything that hasn’t had a, kind of, heat differential, that can go back in and be re-used.

But anything that has had some kind of temperature change – we see a lot of cartons of milk, for example – some of our schools are satellite cooking kitchens, which means packaged food comes in that gets heated up, so they’ll have a plastic wrapped piece of pizza, or a burrito, or a baked potato with cheese and broccoli – anything like that would have to go into the trash before we came along. But now that we’re here, then immediately after the period, that goes back into refrigeration or the freezer, depending on the site – and then that is distributed either to the students and their families during a distribution period at the school, or it’s connected with a community partner: a soup kitchen, a church – some organisation doing food assistance – and is given back to the community.

EM: Right, okay. And do the schools that you work with compost their waste already, or is that something that hasn’t been done yet?

KE: Yes. That’s actually a great first step to setting up a type of food recovery program, because you want to make sure you’re getting the food – you don’t want to have to actually, you know, go through the bin and do a dumpster dive type exercise where you’re cleaning things off. So having a sorting system that includes compost and includes a food share is absolutely essential. And that’s the first step in how we choose the schools that we’re expanding to is do they already have a Green Gloves in place, or can we get a sorting system up and moving relatively quickly so we can begin the food recovery.

Because that’s just…that takes a little bit of onus off the process when that’s already done, and you can say “okay, here’s the box of food that gets donated – great, that’s done, that’s neatly packaged – let’s hand that off to the parents,” or “let’s hand that off to the community organisation”. So definitely, I think composting and sorting is vital.

EM: Excellent, so they work well together side-by-side?

KE: Yeah.

EM: And would you say that composting and the food recovery program are a good educational tool for students as well?

KE: We hope so. That’s actually, sort of, the next phase that we would like to work on is getting the education component in there, because we have hand outs and, you know, we talk to the parents and the kids. And that’s one of the feedback from one of our pilot schools, Brookfield, saying “this is really important, this is the message that we want to be sending our kids, is that food…you know, food is a resource, food isn’t something you take a bite of and you throw away and you really have to think about that”.

Thankfully, you know, because of Nancy’s work with the Green Gloves program and the sorting, the kids are already getting a sense of that. One thing that’s really fun to see when we do site visits is; we go in at lunch and you see these kids, especially the youngsters that come over, and they’re really looking at the bins and saying “okay, is this landfill? Is this compost? Is this food share?” And you just, kind of, see them working it out, and then they put something in the food share bin and we say thank you, and they just get this big smile on their faces. So, you know, it’s definitely a group effort and all of these different things working together – the teachers as well have been very supportive of the program, and you know, they want to see the kids getting more nutrition and understanding about food and the food system, so

EM: Yeah, well that’s never a bad thing. And I know you’ve been running this in schools, but could you see this type of program running well in a university, say, or other types of spaces, like maybe restaurants, for example?

KE: I think that, not necessarily this program, but there is potential for other programs to work. In the United States, we have a lot of really exciting initiatives going on: there’s the Food Recovery Network, and Food Recovery Network is all about creating student-run food recovery networks in universities. And they have, I want to say over twenty or thirty schools that are participating, and then they had another sixty requests from students that want to start a program. There’s also really great restaurant initiatives that are going on. Out of Austin Texas there is Go Halfsies, which is a group that’s working with restaurants to help them offer smaller portion sizes. So they would have a meal, it would be half the size and the difference in price would be donated towards a hunger relief organisation. You know, there’s all different kinds of ways that businesses can get involved, really specific to what their business is. Restaurants have a great opportunity to donate food and to create compost programs. Schools, especially, you know, large universities with multiple cafeterias – there’s a huge opportunity there to divert waste, and also to get students involved in the process, which I think is really important as well.

EM: Yes, definitely. And for those listening in who might be interested in setting up a similar initiative – could you maybe give a bit of general advice or share some insights into how best to go about setting up a program like this?

KE: I think the biggest thing, you know, regardless of what country or what school district you’re in, is really working with the school and working with the parents and the staff. Because with any new program, to make it work you have to make sure it works with what’s already going on. Particularly with a resource-strapped staff, you don’t want to come in and say “here, we’re going to give you a whole bunch of new tasks”, you know. So, talking with them about the problem of food waste, and then figuring out a way that’s going to work best for them. Some schools are going to need to do distribution twice a week, some are going to need to do daily. You know, looking at the amount of surplus you have is a great way to start: doing some kind of survey with the kitchen management – just to look at okay, “how much milk are we getting in? How much extra food do we have?” And really working with each site and making it very site-specific. There’s not, sort of, a once-size-fits-all. There’s definitely steps you want to take in terms of talking with the schools and finding parent volunteers, or if you don’t have a strong parent volunteer group, which several of our schools don’t, you can partner with another community organisation. We have several schools that are going to start – they’re going to be working with community partners (churches and soup kitchens) that are going to come and pick up that food every day. So, it’s a much smaller ask for the community, but we’re still recovering that food, we’re still getting that food to people that are in need.

EM: Yeah, which is the most important thing. And what’s the future vision for food shift then?

KE: The large vision for Food Shift is that we can create a fee-for-service food recovery network. We believe that food recovery should be compensated in the same way that waste management is. In the same way that we pay for people to pick up our trash, our recycling, food recovery should be valued in the same way. It’s difficult with school districts because they’re so resource-strapped, but what we see, sort of the larger vision, would be policy changes around food recovery. So, you know, cities and municipalities, and maybe even the federal government would eventually put money behind this and say “yes, this is important, we’re going to pay for this service”. So not necessarily the schools themselves, and it’s not going to be, you know, it’s not a get rich quick kind of thing, but ideally yes, that that would be compensated. But that’s a much further down the line vision.


EM: That was Kelly Ernstfriedman, program director of the Food for Kids program, with some great insights and advice on running a food recovery program in a school setting. We go into detail about potential models for edible food recovery in lesson 3 of our online course, and list the key steps on how to get started.

And while our next guest doesn’t work directly with a food recovery program, he does have great experience with onsite composting in a University campus. Professor George Pilidis is a member of the Biological Applications and Technology department of the Ionannina University in Greece. Ioannina University is the first to start composting its waste in Greece and Prof Pilidis has been monitoring the composting program’s performance very carefully, so we’ll get into a little bit of detail on how it all works, and any issues they had along the way.


Prof. Georgios Pilidis:

EM: So Georgios, Ioannina is the fourth biggest university in Greece, I’ve heard you started recycling back in 2008, but when did you start composting organics?

GP: So I have to say, we have started earlier. Fifteen years ago, we had started to recycle our laboratory waste. This was the first step, and a very important one, because we were the first university [to do it] in Greece. We have started for the management of the solid waste in 2009, and the composting system was part of the solid waste management within the university campus; where we have approximately twelve thousand students – undergraduate students – plus two thousand post graduate students, so in total, fifteen-thousand people are living in this area.

EM: Okay, you must have quite a few restaurants and canteens then?

GP: We have two restaurants and we have fourteen canteens.

EM: So yeah, that’s quite a lot.

GP: Yes. (laughs).

EM: I imagine that’s lot of food waste too, then?

GP: Yes, we have approximately one hundred kilograms food waste per day.

EM: Right and how much compost does that make in the end?

GP:  So, according to our studies, fifty percent of the carbon is released in form of carbon dioxide, while the other fifty percent is being converted into a first-class compost. This means we have approximately fifty kilograms of compost per day.

EM: Okay, and how do you manage the compost then, do you sell it?

GP: So, this compost is used mainly by the gardeners of the university, and for this reason we do not have any chemical fertilisers within the campus. As well as, it’s used by people which are working in the university.

EM: Well, that’s a great use of compost.

GP: Yes.

EM: And you were the first university in Greece to start composting?

GP: Mh-hm, exactly.

EM: Yeah, how did the students react, did you have a lot of education to do beforehand?

GP: Yes, the students reacted very positively. We have located this composter directly under the student restaurant, in the basement – it’s an open-air basement of course – and we have also bought an air filter, therefore we do not have any bad smell. The only smell which is coming out is during the maturation process, which is taking place outside of the composter. And we use this composting unit also for didactical issues: many schools are coming here and visiting this composting unit, children, and….this educational process is excellent.

EM: That’s great. Yeah, the educational opportunity, I guess, is a good reason to have a composting unit in a school and university…

GP: Yes.

EM: And can you tell us a little bit about the composter itself?

GP: The composter is a big one – a closed system – the dimensions are approximately five meters long, and two meters in the height, and capacity is four cubic meters, the cylindrical capacity, and this composter is able to treat between four hundred kilograms and one thousand, two hundred kilograms food waste per week. We have approximately six hundred to seven hundred, so we manage this very well.

EM: That’s great. And it’s important to pick the right equipment for your specific needs – what was important in your decision, then, when it came to choosing a unit?

GP: The first and important thing is the material where this composting unit is made. The stainless steel, for example, the quality of the stainless steel is very, very important. And also, of course, the mechanical part, because our composter unit has temperature sensors automatically we have also aeration, and rotation of the drum [it all works] automatically, and this electronics should work very well. But the most important for me is the frame of the composting unit, and the material which is used.

EM: Right, and how do you handle contamination in the input stream of your composting unit?

GP: We are very happy because only one person is responsible for that from the university restaurant. And this person collects the waste, and we made recommendations to him, what kind of food waste he should [put] in the composting unit, and he’s very careful of course. The input is very important: you should avoid to have foreign subjects, for example glass or plastics or stones, or something like that.

EM: Yeah, it sounds like it’s a well controlled system – and this composting program was a pilot program to see if it could work elsewhere, is that correct?

GP: Mh-hm. The pilot program works very well, and Greece as [a] country is really far away from a good system for solid waste management. It’s the biggest environmental problem in Greece at the moment, and we thought that the university should play a pioneering work on that, and we made this, I think, [unclear] with success, due to the fact that we are going in many symposiums and national conferences, and we are presenting this…I think we’re well-known, at least in Greece at the moment.

And at the moment, as far as I know, the municipality of Ioannina is going to buy also such types of composters in order to place them in different places of the city: Ioannina is the seventh-biggest city in Greece with approximately one-hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants. And they’re going to place five or six such composters in places close to restaurants. I do not know exactly the plan, but they’re going to buy five or six composters like this.

EM: That’s great to see it expanding. And permits and regulations apply in most countries and can be quite strict – what’s the situation in Greece and did you have any issues?

GP: No, the Greek government has not any regulations on the quality of compost or the operation of composting units, but there is the European Compost Net, and they set some quality criteria. But according to my opinion, this criteria should be expanded also to organic compounds, not only to heavy metals and xenobiotics or foreign subjects etcetera, or microorganisms, they should also focus on organic compounds and this has been not done. And in order to be a member of this Compost Net, you have to produce a compost which has the regulation which was set up by this Compost Net. But these regulations, according to my opinion [are] very high – for example if you say, for lead for example, it’s approximately one hundred milligrams per kilogram and this is too much.

EM: That’s too much?

GP: Yes, it’s too much for me, or for nickel, it’s twenty-five milligrams per kilogram, this is also too much. They should be more stronger.

EM: Okay interesting, and compost quality standards is an important and quite serious subject that unfortunately we don’t have time to get into right now since we’re running out of time, but George just to finish up – do you have any final words on the success of the composting program or?

GP: No no, we’re very happy to have this composting unit here. We’re very happy that we’re the first university which is using this solid waste management system within the campus. And, of course, many people are coming and visiting us, and I’m going everywhere and giving lectures on that, and I’m very happy.

EM: Well that’s great, that’s great news. Thanks for talking to us today, Georgios.

GP: Okay, thank you very much.

EM: Okay all the best.

GP: Okay, bye.