This week, the annual Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo (AWRE) was supposed to take place – an event where industry professionals, government, and private businesses from across the country gather together to find more advanced ways of getting rid of all our rubbish. Unfortunately, border restrictions and lockdowns have resulted in the event being cancelled for 2021, with plans to pick up where they left off next year. Nevertheless, AWRE has inspired us to look into some of the amazing developments in Australia’s plans for waste management – that’s right, we’re (figuratively) diving into the world of rubbish!
What would you think of a machine that eats your restaurant leftovers and gives you a cheaper water bill as thanks? To power their water treatment facilities, Yarra Valley Water are producing their own sustainable energy in a way that’s helping the environment, local businesses, and their customers all at the same time. Their ReWaste Facility, opened in 2017, uses a digestor to convert food waste into gas, and gas into electricity. Over twenty partnered businesses supply the food scraps that would have otherwise ended up in landfill, like rotten fruit and grease trap waste. Not only does this give the waste a new purpose – providing an excellent demonstration of circular economy – but businesses get to save on waste disposal costs and reduce their own environmental impact.
With an annual capacity of 33,000 tonnes of waste, the ReWaste Facility produces the equivalent energy to power 1,500 homes for a whole year. Just thirty percent of this energy is needed for the facility itself and the Yarra Valley Water sewage and recycled water treatment plant next door, meaning the seventy percent left over can be sent straight back into the grid for the community to use. This arrangement also saves Yarra Valley Water $6 million on electricity costs, which they pass onto their customers with more affordable bills. The whole process may seem unbelievable, but it’s been a great success so far, winning the Australian Water Association’s National Innovation Award for 2020.
Say goodbye to rubbish trucks waking you up at all hours of the morning. As part of building a new central business district in Maroochydore on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Australia is trialling its first ever underground waste disposal system. Partnering with Swedish company Envac, developers have fitted buildings with three waste inlets for organic, recyclable, and general waste that drop rubbish into sealed collection compartments well below the surface. Around twice a day, a vacuum pressure system hurtles the collected rubbish at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour along a 6.5km tunnel network, directing rubbish towards an airtight, soundproofed storage station just outside the CBD. From here, the assorted collections can be taken to the existing disposal and recycling facilities, completely bypassing traditional curb-side collection.
This sort of system comes with huge advantages. No rubbish trucks mean less noise disturbance and traffic, while replacing traditional bins with underground storage reduces odours and vermin populations. Cities like London, Beijing, Stockholm, and Singapore already use similar vacuum systems, and it is hoped that a successful launch in Maroochydore will encourage more Australian municipalities to adopt the system. The local project experienced delays due to COVID-19 restrictions limiting travel opportunities for Envac’s specialists, but they still managed to complete the first phase in early 2021, with further pipe work underway in the CBD’s south.
It turns out that all the waste we try to get rid of can be cool again – at least when its being digested into electricity or zooming along a vacuum tube. Innovations in waste management might not be the trendiest news, but these developments are both super important and really futuristic! We can only hope for a wider roll-out.
For more innovative solutions to global problems, check our article on the products making clean water accessible. To read more about businesses improving their environmental impact, check out our interview with the CEO of carbon offsetting start-up Carbon Click.
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