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Publications archive - Waste and recycling

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

On-farm Composting of Municipal and Commercial Organics as an Environmentally and Socially SustainableResource Recovery Scheme for Rural Communities

June 2003,
Environment Australia


1 Introduction

Over the last decade, waste management, recycling and resource recovery in Australia have advanced dramatically. Understandably, the push to recycle, reduce waste going to landfill and improve resource recovery were strongest in the urban centres. There, the amount of waste was ever increasing. In 1997, a point was reached where Australia had one of the highest per capita municipal solid waste (MSW) generation rates in the world (Anonymous, 1998).

The main contributors to a significant change in waste management were on the one hand an imminent shortage of landfill space (e.g. Brisbane and Sydney), political and community pressures and the emerging notion of sustainable development.

To date, municipal waste management and recycling activities in Australia have focused overwhelmingly on the urban population centres and on the collection and re-processing of dry recyclables such as paper, glass, metals and plastics. Waste management and resource recovery schemes generally offer kerbside collection of dry recyclables in combination with subsequent sorting in large-scale materials recovery facilities (MRF) and re-processing in centralised industrial operations. Waste is usually disposed of in engineered sanitary landfills that are sealed and have a gas extraction system. Such systems represent, arguably, the most suitable and beneficial system for urban areas, at least for the time being.

The development of appropriate recycling and resource recovery schemes for rural and regional areas on the other hand, has by and large, not been addressed yet. This is starting to happen only now.

In broad terms, waste management in rural and regional areas is often characterised by the following:

Nevertheless, many rural and regional local government authorities wanted to offer their residents a recycling service also. In many such cases, kerbside collection of dry recyclables, developed specifically for urban areas, was adopted as the standard recycling activity. This was notwithstanding the fact that collection of dry recyclables showed limited potential for landfill diversion, provided limited environmental benefits and frequently incurred high costs for transporting segregated materials to distant sorting and reprocessing facilities.

However, rural/regional local authorities had little choice but to opt for the only 'available' kerbside recycling scheme. There was no alternative model and due to a shortage of resources, councils were not in a position to investigate or develop and assess recycling and resource recovery schemes that were appropriate for conditions in rural and regional areas.

This project was designed to do exactly that, to develop and assess a resource recovery model for rural and regional areas:

The proposed new resource recovery model for rural and regional areas comprised the integrated collection of municipal and commercial organics and their subsequent processing (composting) and beneficial use at local farms. The kerbside collection of organics could be complemented by a collection service for dry recyclables via drop-off centres and hence provide a substantially improved service to rural / regional communities.

The collection and subsequent on-farm composting and beneficial use of municipal and commercial organics were seen as a particularly promising approach as they offered a wide range of potential benefits in areas considered critical for triple bottom line accounting and hence sustainable development. The potential benefits of such a system are listed below:

Waste management benefits

Environmental benefits

Social/community benefits

Benefits for the farmer (composter)

Funding from Environment Australia's Recycled Organics Initiative and cooperation with Crows Nest Shire Council (QLD) made it possible to implement and assess kerbside collection and on-farm composting of organics as a recycling scheme for rural/regional areas. The ensuing project had a very broad approach and aimed at accomplishing the following objectives:

  1. Determining the extent of organic components in the municipal and commercial waste stream in rural areas.
  2. Developing a public education campaign and implementing kerbside collection scheme for garden and kitchen organics.
  3. Developing criteria for the selection of on-farm composting operations.
  4. Establishing an on-farm composting facility and monitoring operation.
  5. Monitoring and assessing the performance of the kerbside collection scheme.
  6. Determining the experiences of participants and the attitude of the wider community regarding potential future recycling activities.
  7. Establishing costs for on-farm composting and the entire organics recycling scheme.
  8. Comparing efficiency and costs between existing and organics recycling scheme.
  9. Developing an appropriate strategy for recycling activities in rural areas.
  10. Assessing the possibility of collecting organics in biodegradable bags.
  11. Developing and trialling appropriate treatment processes for septage from rural residential properties.
  12. Publicising the on-farm composting project and its results.

Work and results associated with kerbside collection and on-farm composting of organics form the main body of the report, while the use of compostable bags and the development of the biological treatment facility for septage will be presented at the end.