More than $1.6 billion is being invested in waste treatment projects in WA, but it may not be enough to improve the state’s poor track record.
WESTERN Australia has for many years underperformed on waste treatment and recycling.
The latest data from Waste Authority WA shows the state continues to fall short of its own targets.
WA generated 6.4 million tonnes of waste in 2020-21 and, of this, 60 per cent was ‘recovered’.
That is broadly in line with the national average, according to the National Waste Report 2022.
However, it is well short of the state government’s 2025 target of 70 per cent and still leaves 2.5mt sent to landfill.
The recovery rate is highly varied by sector. For municipal (i.e. household) solid waste, just 32 per cent was recovered, well short of the state government target of 67 per cent.
The commercial and industrial sector was a little better at 40 per cent but still well below the state government target of 75 per cent.
The Waste Authority’s latest report acknowledges there has not been any sustained improvement in recovery rates in either sector since 2014-15.
The construction and demolition sector appears to be the best performer with a recovery rate of 84 per cent, above the target of 77 per cent.
This sector is particularly important as it accounts for half the waste generated in WA.
However, the Waste Authority acknowledges the good result for the construction sector is most likely influenced by stockpiles of unprocessed waste.
An estimated 2.1mt of waste was stockpiled at the end of June 2021, with most of this being construction and demolition waste.
M8’s Maddington facility targeted the recycling of construction and demolition waste but was not competitive with other firms that simply stockpiled the waste material.
“We are still finding that the construction and demolition waste sector’s structural problems caused by under regulation, or a lack of regulation, still exist and there hasn’t been much impetus from the state government in terms of addressing those issues,” Mr Rudas told Business News last year.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia is keen for action on this front.
State president Jason Pugh said the sector had three priorities for the state government.
The first was to finalise its longstanding review of the landfill levy, which is set at $70 per tonne.
The levy only applies in the metropolitan area, yet large amounts of metro waste is sent to landfills in regional locations.
The association wants the levy in WA aligned with the rest of the country, where it averages about $140/t.
A second priority for the association was for the WA government to finalise its resource recovery framework.
A key part of this is defining ‘waste derived materials’, which are no longer treated as waste.
A prime example is construction and demolition waste, which can be reused demolition waste, which can be reused as road base, while soil that is cleared from new sub-divisions could be used as clean fill.
This only applies if suitable regulatory settings are in place and if the waste material can be tracked to achieve quality control.
Mr Pugh said a third priority was for government agencies to lead the way in the use of recycled materials.
“It’s not good enough to talk about it, they have a role to kick start greater re-use,” he said.
The state government has a range of programs to improve recovery and recycling rates, but the industry wants more.
Notable initiatives include the Roads to Reuse program, which supports the use of recycled construction material in roads.
Main Roads WA has used a total of 183,000 tonnes of crushed recycled concrete in road construction since the program began in 2019.
This includes 65,000t in the six months to December 2022, which suggests usage is increasing.
A Main Roads spokesperson said it was committed to increasing the use of recycled materials, including crumb rubber and reclaimed asphalt pavement, which have been used in small volumes.
The state government has also launched an incentive scheme to encourage local councils to trial recycled material in roads projects but has allocated a modest $350,000 for this purpose.
In the municipal waste sector, the government has offered $20 million in incentives to encourage the rollout of three-bin ‘FOGO’ services across Perth and Peel by 2025.
Councils that have adopted a third bin for food organics and garden organics (FOGO) have achieved big improvements in waste-recovery rates.
The state government also recently launched a $10 million grants program to support projects that boost the collection and recycling of e-waste.
The incentive schemes operate in tandem with new regulations.
The government plans to ban the disposal of e-waste such as televisions, phones and computers to landfill by 2024.
Another key policy is the phasing out of a range of single-use plastics including cups, plates, cutlery, straws and thick plastic bags.
“We’re on the right track, but still have plenty of work to do to reach our target of 70 per cent by 2025,” she said.
Ms Carr noted that the Closing the Loop consultation paper contained proposals to improve waste management such as a levy on waste stockpiled at facilities.
However, that was released three years ago and has not yet been acted on.
Ms Carr also flagged that new FOGO processing projects, as well as paper and cardboard processing infrastructure, would be announced later this year.
That comes two years after the state and federal governments jointly announced $65 million in grants to kick start investment in recycling projects for plastics, tyres, paper and other products affected by waste export bans.
Progress has been slow on many of these projects, with the proponents saying COVID restrictions and shipping delays have stood in the way of progress.
Two of the largest projects planned for WA are yet to get off the ground. Most notably, French company SUEZ and Brisbane company Auswaste were earmarked to get $30 million of government money to help fund construction of an $86 million pulp mill.
This was designed to process 10,000t of paper and cardboard and was meant to be operational before the export ban on mixed paper comes into effect on July 1 next year.
However, SUEZ subsequently sold its waste business to another French multinational, Veolia, which has yet to commit to the pulp mill.
A second major project yet to proceed is a $20 million plastics recycling facility proposed by ASX-listed Pact Group Holdings and Cleanaway.
The facility was intended to convert 17,000t of plastic into flakes that can be used to make resin.
While Pact and Cleanaway are building several plastic recycling facilities on the east coast, they are still assessing options for WA.
If they have a change of heart, it may be difficult to break into the WA market after Chairay Sustainable Plastic Co beat them to the punch.
Chairay is on the brink of building its first recycling facility in Canning Vale and is already contemplating a phase two expansion.
Chairay is backed by privately owned Taiwanese company Ming Fu group, which boasts more than a dozen facilities that recycle batteries, plastics, e-waste and solar panels.
Director Howard Hsu said the company planned to spend about $20 million establishing its WA operations.
This includes a $5.6 million government grant to help cover the cost of its specialist equipment.
The company is importing 21 containers of equipment, which it plans to install at a leased site in Canning Vale.
Its initial focus is on sorting and flaking mixed plastics, such as HDPE, PET and polypropylene.
The second phase will be construction of a pelletising plant. Its facility will have an annual processing capacity of 21,000t, which exceeds the total volume exported from WA each year.
Its longer-term plan is to buy an 80,000 square metre site for a range of recycling activities.
It aims to sell the recycled products in the domestic market but also has the option of selling this material to existing customers in the Taiwanese textile industry and the Japanese automobile industry.
4M Waste director Marcus Raddatz at the company’s upgraded tyre recycling facility in Malaga. Photos: David Henry
The construction of tyre recycling facilities is another big focus.
Local company 4M Waste’s new and expanded premises in Malaga is now operational.
It secured nearly $3 million in government money to help fund the facility, which is scaling up to process 7,000t of used truck tyres into crumbed rubber.
Another local company, Complete Tyre Solutions, is developing a much larger facility in Jandakot.
It plans to invest more than $20 million (including a modest $3.5 million of government money) to recycle about 30,000t of used tyres per year.
Jandakot will be the only facility able to recycle haul-truck tyres, after the company bought special equipment from Italy to chop up the giant tyres.
The specialist equipment will also be installed at a facility in Port Hedland, from where the chopped-up tyres will be sent in bulk to Perth for further processing.
Complete expects to start taking deliveries of tyres by the middle of this year and begin processing by the end of the year.
Melbourne-based Tyrecycle, which claims to be Australia’s largest tyre recycler, is operating on a similar timeline.
It is spending a total of $22 million (including $5.2 million of government money) on two new facilities in WA.
Tyrecycle is building a facility in Port Hedland that will be able to process 27,000t of off-the-road (OTR) tyres used in the mining industry.
This was originally a joint venture with Kariyarra Aboriginal Corporation and was earmarked to receive a $6.9 million government grant.
A Tyrecycle spokesperson said the company was proceeding on its own despite the joint venture and the government grant not coming to fruition.
The company is also building a new facility in East Rockingham with the capacity to process 42,000t of tyres.
This will replace Tyrecycle’s smaller facility in O’Connor.
Tyrecycle anticipates selling 7,000t per annum of crumbed rubbed from its WA facilities into the domestic market, with the rest to be sold overseas.
The export of whole tyres and ‘baled’ tyres has been banned, but a large portion of shredded tyres are still sent overseas under the name of ‘tyre-derived fuel’ (TDF).
The TDF is burned in furnaces, particularly in the manufacture of concrete. The industry is seeking increased promotion of recycled rubber in local markets.
Current uses include mixing it into asphalt as a binder for road construction and using it as a permeable underlay in playgrounds and sporting facilities with astroturf.
“Government needs to step in and help create that market so we don’t export so much,” 4M Waste director Mark Waller said.
Howard Hsu (left) with Chairay purchasing manager Ruben Geisler.
Waste to energy
The scale of the plastics and tyre recycling facilities is dwarfed by two waste-to-energy facilities under construction.
Both projects have the potential to dramatically change the waste treatment landscape in WA, although they need to overcome construction delays first.
Avertas Energy’s Kwinana project, backed by investment group Macquarie Capital, is designed to burn about 400,000t of waste annually.
It was originally budgeted to cost $700 million and be completed in the second half of last year.
Avertas is not providing public updates but its lead contractor, Acciona, has claimed in court documents that the project has incurred $318 million in cost over-runs.
East Rockingham Waste to Energy, backed by Swiss technology provider Hitachi Zosen Inova, is designed to process 300,000t of waste per year.
It is running about 18 months late, with chief executive Jason Pugh saying he anticipated the first waste would be fed into the plant in the fourth quarter of this year.
Asked for a cost update, Mr Pugh said the company had a fixed-price $511 million contract with Acciona and was proceeding under that agreement.
The two projects have signed up most local government authorities in Perth for waste supply deals.
One of the last big opportunities rests with the Mindarie Regional Council, which handles waste management for about a third of Perth’s population.
Mindarie chief executive Scott Cairns said the regional council was going through a dual process that would define future waste treatment.
Its goal was to comply with the state government’s waste strategy and move up the waste hierarchy in terms of treatment options.
The first tender was for a three-bin collection system that would allow for separation of FOGO.
This aligned with the state government’s push for all local councils to implement a three-bin FOGO system.
Mr Cairns noted that all the incumbents operate south of the river, which would mean high trucking costs for material coming from areas such as Wanneroo.
An alternative closer to home was for the council to reopen and upgrade its materials recovery facility in Neerabup.
The second tender was for treatment of ‘residual’ waste streams: materials other than organics and yellow-bin recyclables.
Avertas and East Rockingam W2E will both chase this opportunity.
Mindarie Council has little option but to find alternative treatment options.
If it did nothing, its giant Tamala Park landfill is expected to be full in four to five years. Mr Pugh said East Rockingham was aligned with the Waste Authority, which has said that only residual waste should be fed into W2E facilities. “
We expect all our customers to go to FOGO,” Mr Pugh said. “Garden and food waste should go to composting.”
Resource Recovery Group (formerly the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council) has been assuring local councils that its Canning Vale facility has the capacity to process food organics and garden organics.
It has been collecting FOGO from household bins since 2019 and pre-processing the material to remove contamination.
It is then transported to partners Purearth and GO Organics to be made into products such as compost and garden soil.
Mr Thompson also insisted that FOGO processing fees were less than waste-to-energy gate fees.
“Waste to energy is an option to take residual waste, and definitely a better solution than it going to landfill,” he said.
“It’s vital, however, that we do not burn and waste the nutrient-rich resource that FOGO provides.”