Focus on Australia & New Zealand: Composting Developments In Australia And New Zealand


Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

 Composting Developments In Australia And New Zealand

An Emerging Industry Takes Shape

To deal with the waste stream in Australia and New Zealand, all strategies refer to organics recycling as a “fundamental vehicle for reaching future waste reduction targets,” notes Edmund Horan of RMIT University in Melbourne. “Composting provides a mechanism, not only for reducing this organic waste, but also for converting that waste into a reusable resource for soils.” Researchers are investigating new uses for composts to utilize the predicted increases in supplies entering the marketplace. Waste Boards in New South Wales and elsewhere are helping to establish markets and partnerships as well as communicate critical data that brings stakeholders together to overcome challenges. Support organizations like EcoRecycle Victoria are funding innovative organics recycling companies, market development initiatives and field trials with compost and mulch. Groups like COMMPOST NSW have emerged to help coordinate efforts nationwide that improve industry performance. Partnerships between cities and waste services firms — such as the one between Stirling, WA and Atlas Group — lead to technological, economic and environmental advances. And goals such as those advanced by Zero Waste New Zealand Trust become more attainable when educational programs link up with entrepreneurial vigor and public policies.

On The Composting Trail In Australia
Edmund Horan and Ralf Hartmann

The emerging composting industry in Australia is having a complicated journey. Many aspects such as collection and processing costs, product quality concerns, marketing and low landfill fees are proving to be obstacles.

The industry is being supported by local government, regional groups of councils and by EcoRecycle Victoria, the State of Victoria’s primary recycling organization. Melbourne — the capital city of Victoria with a population of approximately 3.4 million — has four Regional Waste Management Groups, each of which have undertaken contracts with composting companies to recycle green organic material from gardens. These facilities have a combined capacity to convert over 100,000 tons of garden organics per year. EcoRecycle Victoria has provided significant assistance for Melbourne’s first large-scale food organics processing facility, which will come on line later in 2000.

Australian topsoils have been highly weathered over long periods and are now very thin and low in organic matter. These problems have been compounded by farming methods adopted since European settlement. Large forest areas were cleared for grazing and crops. Agricultural processes gradually reduced the organic matter and mineral content. This has led to erosion breakdown of the soil structure. Increased mineral fertilizer is applied to accommodate this lack of quality. As more fertilizer is added, the microbiological activity in the soil reduces and the soil becomes more unstable.

The higher the instability of the soil, the greater the probability of wind and water erosion. As more nutrients are applied to the soil, there is the increased likelihood of nutrient runoff into the river and stream systems, resulting in the formation of algae blooms in our waterways.

Organic material comprises up to 50 percent of the material being deposited in landfills in Australia. The concept of composting organic residuals from urban centers, and returning the new soil product back to the land, brings together two of the most pressing economic and environmental problems facing Australia today and in the future — land degradation and waste generation.

Teaming Up With International Expertise

Composting is an emerging industry in Australia. It is important to gain from knowledge and experience from other parts of the world where composting practice has occurred for longer periods. RMIT University in Melbourne has established links with composters in Europe and the USA. The University of Bremen, Germany and RMIT University have developed a research collaboration on compost and its use in agriculture. One member of the Bremen research group, Dr. Albert Klasink, former head of the Research Department of the Institute for Agriculture Analysis and Research, has undertaken extensive research over a decade on the application of compost in agriculture. The experiments have shown that compost reduces the soils’ demand for nitrogen fertilizer.

The important benefits of composting are confirmed by another German researcher, Ralf Hartmann, who is now an adjunct researcher at RMIT University collaborating on compost research.

RMIT University is also developing links with the University of Maine. The Compost School at the University of Maine visited Melbourne in May as a precursor to an extended visit in November. The team will be contributing to the International Composting Conference in Melbourne in November, 2000.

Australian Research

Australian researchers are now investigating new uses for composts to accommodate the predicted supply of green organics coming into the market. John Buckerfield has undertaken intensive work with CSIRO in South Australia to use recycled organics to improve soil conditions to sustain efficient plant production in intensive horticulture. The trials are aimed at developing appropriate uses for recycled organics in rural industries.

In Melbourne, the Institute for Horticultural Development has been involved in field trials to assess the benefits of composted green organics products in horticulture. Two field trials involved the use of recycled organic material in roadside landscaping and in intensive vegetable cropping.

While research in composting is a new area of research in Australia, significant benefits are already flowing from the growing pool of expertise.

Edmund Horan is with RMIT University’s Environmental Engineering Department in Melbourne; Ralf Hartmann — an adjunct researcher at RMIT University — is with the University of Bremen’s Institute of Geography in Bremen, Germany.

Waste Boards Target Organics Marketing
Chris Rochfort

The Waste Board of New South Wales under the direction of the Central Coast Waste Board (CCWB) has embarked on an intensive campaign to increase utilization of recycled organics. Over 300,000 metric tons/year of organic materials are being diverted away from landfill in the Greater Sydney Region. With an estimated 800,000 metric tons still to be diverted, CCWB has implemented a series of programs to increase knowledge and use of mulch and compost in existing markets and develop strategies for emerging markets.

Following completion of initial market studies, CCWB instigated a household awareness campaign known as Healthy Gardens that targeted householder avoidance, on-site processing and the use of products containing recycled organics. Healthy Gardens is conducted throughout garden centers and hardware stores during peak seasons. Three in-store presentations are given to gardening customers with give aways and supporting information ensuring good attendance at each venue. A related program has also been developed for public sector employees known as Healthy Parks and Gardens. This program has the same elements of the retail sector program, but includes more technical detail, product analysis, cost benefit analysis and the establishment of demonstration sites. The result has been a significant increase in the use of products containing recycled organics by the government sector, which has been one of the hardest markets to penetrate in Australia.

Marketing to Agriculture

CCWB has also worked with other government departments such as Agriculture New South Wales to increase utilization of mulch and compost. Market analysis has identified the viticulture market as having significant potential; however, there is a perception among grape growers that diseases may be imported into the vineyards through use of recycled organics.

In particular, Phylloxera was identified as a dangerous, transferable disease. To rest concerns, CCWB has commissioned Agriculture NSW to conduct research into the likelihood of such a disease surviving a rigid composting process. Industry sources believe that not only will the results dispel skepticism, but quality compost could be suppressive to Phylloxera.

A series of workshops involving Agriculture New South Wales field extension staff and agriculture advisory professionals were organized by CCWB to encourage a greater use of mulch and compost. While the aim of the workshops was to increase the use of recycled organics, other benefits included increased awareness of minimizing chemical fertilizer and the effects of mulch and compost on reducing pesticide and fungicide use. The workshops also identified commercial opportunities for manufacturers of products containing recycled organics. Approximately 70 percent of produce consumed in the Greater Sydney Region is grown locally.

A Regional Marketing Plan

E.C. Sustainable Environment Consultants was commissioned to develop strategies to help the Waste Boards of New South Wales develop marketing strategies for the intensive agriculture, rehabilitation and bioremediation markets for mulch and compost. The strategies will then form the basis of the boards’ future marketing campaigns in these markets with the development of specific implementation plans for each. While the intensive agriculture sector has some market penetration and a number of existing programs for better utilization, the rehabilitation and bioremediation markets have few or no existing programs in place. Both offer the additional benefits of numerous positive environmental outcomes such as the restoration of degraded and contaminated lands and the purification of waterways.

A core strategic interface group has been formed to address future needs of the organics industry in development of a “metalibrary” information resource, terminology standardization and marketing. The interface group includes the Waste Boards of NSW, NSW Agriculture, NSW EPA, Recycled Organics Unit and the Center for Organic Resource Enterprises.

More information on The Central Coast Waste Board (as the lead board on recycled organics) can be found on the CCWB website,, or contact Darren Bragg at

Chris Rochfort is with EC Sustainable Environment Consultants. E-mail:

Partnership Supports Composting Industry
Mark Jackson

Approximately 25 percent of Australia’s population — nearly five million people — lives in the Greater Sydney Region of New South Wales (NSW). As in many other cities, reduced landfill space and increasing landfilling costs have created demand for alternative disposal and/or recycling options. In response to this, the State Government established the NSW Waste Boards to manage and minimize waste to landfill. There are eight Regional Waste Boards covering the Greater Sydney Region. The NSW Waste Boards bring together the community, councils, business, and industry to provide a focus for reducing waste going to landfill. The boards have developed strategies and programs which promote the avoidance, reuse and recycling of waste.

Of all material going to landfill in the Greater Sydney Region, approximately 30 percent (by mass) is comprised of residual garden organics, food residuals, wood and timber. Given that the organic fraction is the largest component of all waste streams — municipal, commercial & industrial (C&I) and construction & demolition (C&D) — recovery of compostable organics is being pursued as a priority.

The combined Waste Boards of NSW have developed a Cross-Regional program in Compostable Organics Management, which is being led by the Central Coast Waste Board (CCWB). One of the major projects undertaken by CCWB is the development of the Recycled Organics Unit (ROU), a partnership between the NSW Waste Boards and the University of New South Wales to support the development of the recycled organics (RO) industry through improved product quality and production of marketable products.

Support For The NSW Composting Industry

In a recent Environment Australia Organics Market Development Strategy report, it was identified that the lack of information exchange among stakeholders is a major hindrance to industry development. Consequences have included duplication of research and development, lack of industry coordination, lack of knowledge in a wide range of areas, inefficient use of limited resources and decisions made without access to detailed information.

In response to this, the ROU team has used the Internet to provide timely and expert information to support the development of the composting industry. It has developed an on-line ROU Information Centre at, a webring of Australian RO websites and a RO Library to provide timely access to accurate, expert and easy to read information and contacts on the management of compostable organics.

ROU manager Angus Campbell said: “The use of a free access Internet site is
effective for wide dissemination of information and other resources to the NSW composting industry. Information can be accessed anywhere any time of day, completely free of charge. If visitors to the site can’t find information regarding organics management in the ROU Information Centre, the RO Library catalogue can be searched from the same site.” He adds, “The ROU Information Centre and the RO Library are essentially a one-stop-shop for information relating to the management of compostable organics in NSW. This development will support informed actions, and in combination with industry training programs, this will raise quality standards across the industry. Our capacity to divert increased quantities of compostable organics from landfill requires accelerated market development for RO products. Market satisfaction in turn relies on our capacity to consistently produce RO products of proven performance for different market sectors. This approach marries RO industry development with waste minimization outcomes.”

Content for the ROU Information Centre includes descriptions and reports on various aspects of education, collection, processing and product formulation issues relevant to organics management. To ensure a high quality of catalogued resources, the RO Library has a restricted pool of content providers from government, academic, and commercial sectors, and key resources will be peer reviewed.

Dr. Mark Jackson is with the Recycled Organics Unit at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. E-mail:

Providing Funds To Organics Recyclers
Sarah Minchinton

Since its founding three years ago, EcoRecycle Victoria has demonstrated its commitment to support organics recovery in many forms — funding innovative companies, developing markets, conducting field trials with compost and mulch, setting up an organics accreditation program and quality standards, and sponsoring conferences and special publications. EcoRecycle Victoria is committed to ensuring a sustainable green organics recycling industry, which will continue to be a high priority in future years.

Food residuals comprise 41 percent of the domestic waste stream in Australia and 17 percent of the commercial/industrial stream. The agency is negotiating with a company to establish a major food residuals processing facility in the Melbourne metro area. EcoRecycle Victoria has provided almost $1.2 million to support infrastructure developments for green organics and food residuals collection/processing.

Projects which have received support include: Natural Recovery Systems (Universal Recycling, Collex and Craig Hudson); Food residuals processing facility in Dandenong; Greenchip Recycling – Mobile screening unit; Howmans Gap Alpine Centre – Composting facility; Swan Hill Rural City Council – Robinvale yard trimmings processing facility; Scato Plus – Epping compost facility development; Organic Recyclers – Brooklyn compost facility development; Wormology – Composting facility at Heinz; Royal Botanical Gardens recycling center; South East Region Waste Management Group – yard trimmings collection; and Enviro Mulch Pty Ltd. – Paving of yard trimmings facility.

EcoRecycle Victoria has provided almost $300,000 in grants to support market development for composted green and food organics over the past three years — Organic Recyclers – Recovery of timber residuals for mulch; State Chemistry Laboratories – Setting standards for testing of composts; Seymour Rural Equipment yard trimmings mulch spreader; Melbourne Zoo – Zoopost market development; Desert Fringe Regional Waste Management Group – Animal litter – green organics, paper and duck litter; Goulburn Valley Regional Waste Management Group Marketing green organics mulch in vineyards; Pinegro Products – On-farm composting; Mulch Master – Cranbourne horticultural trial of garden organics products; Grampian Regional Waste Management Group – Organics into agriculture Greenchip recycling – Yard trimmings compost in viticulture, agriculture and animal husbandry; Scato Plus – Regional composting – market development; and Serv Ag Field testing of Organic Nutrient Technologies products.

Additional details about the full scope of EcoRecycle Victoria projects can be obtained by contacting Ian Coles, Executive Director, Level4, 478 Albert Street, East Melbourne, 3002, Victoria, Australia. Sarah Minchinton is with Palace Publicity in Melbourne.

Organics Recycling On A National Level
Garry Kimble

As the Australian community became increasingly aware of the imperatives of sustainable development and organics diversion from landfills, groups have evolved in each state of Australia to address critical issues. One early group was COMMPOST NSW — an acronym for Cooperative Organization for the Management, Marketing and Processing of Organics Soils and Technologies, New South Wales. Similar groups have emerged in other states, often set up as divisions of the Waste Management Association of Australia.

There is now a need to coordinate these efforts nationwide, across Australia, as the issues to be addressed are similar in all states and territories. At a national conference on recycled organics in Brisbane in November, 1999, the delegates resolved that a National Directorate on Recycled Organics should be set up within Environment Australia (a federal government agency) to focus on a national approach to addressing the issues facing organics recycling. Equivalent state directorates would act as communication links to the federal body to ensure that issues facing processors of recycled organics could be heard at the federal level.

The main issues facing the industry in Australia at the moment include: A need to demonstrate that the industry is run professionally and based on sound scientific and technological principles; The regulatory framework within which the industry works could be more conducive to achieving best practice or market development; Further market development; Reduced contamination of feedstock; and Relevant training for industry participants through the Vocational and Educational Training framework.

Garry Kimble is chairman of COMMPOST NSW.

Combining Systems To Be “Clean ‘n Green”

“Organics recycling in Western Australia is equal to the best in the world,” writes Viet Nysen, waste services development officer for the city of Stirling, the largest local government in Western Australia. Located north of Perth, Stirling’s 186,000 residents produced more than 117,000 metric tons of waste in 1997/98. Nysen provided the following information on innovative techniques used by the city and its partner, the Atlas Group, to divert compostables and recyclables from the landfill:

Stirling and Atlas have a disposal contract that runs from 1984 to 2004. The driving forces to find landfill alternatives were a nationwide call in 1990 to reduce landfilling by 50 percent and stringent new landfill site management standards by Western Australia’s Department of Environmental Protection. The first strategy involved household hazardous waste (HHW) — keeping materials as batteries, asbestos cement products, etc. out by such measures as school educational programs, prizes and eventually a permanent HHW collection facility.

Collection methods for mixed waste, clean green materials, etc. were drastically revised, so emphasis was on separation via rate incentives, etc. Result: almost 10,000 metric tons of clean green material were recovered, shredded and made available to city residents “to drought proof their gardens.” Counting recyclables, total diversion of “trailer waste” in 1998 amounted to 36 percent. Subsequent strategies focused on yard trimmings collection over a six-week period and weekly curbside collection of recyclables.

More than 66,000 metric tons of mixed domestic waste were sent to the Atlas composting plant, where about 47,000 metric tons of organic residuals and 2,000 tons of scrap ferrous metal were recovered. “Stirling has been sending its domestic waste to this composting plant since May 1, 1997,” says Nysen. “The waste sent to landfill from the domestic waste stream is about 24 percent of all domestic bin collections. Total diversion from composting and curbside collections is therefore 76 percent.”

Materials handling by Atlas works this way: After trailers are unloaded at the reception bay, oversize materials are removed by hand (i.e., engine blocks, tires, carpet, etc.) Remainder is placed on a conveyor belt and mechanically sorted in trommels, then separated into an organic stream (up to 70 percent), scrap ferrous metal (up to three percent) and inert material.

The organic material is transported to the Atlas farm at Calingiri, which is about 60 miles northeast of Perth. After 12 weeks of being mechanically turned in windrows and monitored for temperature and moisture content, composted material is given a final screen and compressed into pellets to farm fields. Laboratory analyses show the compost meets the Australian standards for unrestricted use.

Anaerobic Composting

Besides aerobic composting, sorted organics can be pumped into three 23-meter high digestion tanks (each of which weighs 2,00 metric tons when fully loaded). Commissioning of the first of the three anaerobic digesters took place in January, 1999. The digesters at the Atlas facility are designed to be continuously fed. Organics are conveyed to the top of the sealed reactor vessels and removed from the bottom after 20 days.

When fully operational, the methane produced will be used to generate electricity; target generating capacity has been set at 2 MW. The sorting plant will require 500 KW , and the surplus will be available for other on-site use (including brick manufacturing). The digestate will be transported to the Atlas farm for open air windrow maturation until local planning statues are amended to allow such composting operations closer to Perth.

Despite a highly developed agricultural sector, the Swan coastal plan and Perth region have large areas of very sandy soils with poor water retention properties and low nutrient levels. The potential market for compost is considered to be huge. Atlas Group forecasts that once the market is established, demand for the compost will rapidly outstrip supply.

Concludes Nysen: “The city stands proud as one of the ‘cleanest and greenest’ municipalities in Australia. The client/provider relationship that exists between Stirling and Atlas illustrates how government and the private sector can work together for mutual benefit and still retain their own independence. The mechanized sorting facility is a unique invention that has eliminated the contamination of compost.” Nysen can be contacted at the City Administration Centre, Civic Place, Stirling, Western Australia 6021.

New Zealand Takes Steps To Minimize Waste
Kim Reed

With assistance from Zero Waste New Zealand Trust, Massey University with its 10,000 population in Palmerston North is working on becoming New Zealand’s first “zero waste” campus. According to recent information from the Trust, more than a quarter of all territorial local authorities have joined in an ambitious plan to make the country a leader in waste reduction.

Research students at Massey’s School for the Environment began by targeting food residuals and disposables at the largest cafeteria. Recycling bins for food, paper, plastics and aluminum were placed in the student center and surrounding concourse. Kitchen staff at the cafeteria have added extra compost buckets and bins for source separation and program evaluation. Polystyrene cups are no longer supplied at breakfast and dinner (replaced by a “lug-a-mug” scheme), saving an estimated 470,000 cups from going into the landfill each year. The program is still in its early stages, but is being received well by staff and students. Future plans for the university include creating a compost demonstration site and organizing “recyclathon” competitions.

Meanwhile, in a Waste Minimization Program in the Bay of Plenty region begun in 1993 with 29 local schools, children from ages seven to 13 have been taught innovative recycling and composting approaches. Seven years later, that number has more than doubled with the program now reaching over 500 classrooms and 18,000 children. Six different units are taught: reduction, reusing and recycling of waste, composting, worms bins and resource sustainability.

In 1999, approximately 23,000 cubic meters of material were recycled, compared to 3,000 cubic meters produced in the first year of the program.

In addition to running the waste minimization program, Bruce Trask and Marty Hoffart recently formed the Environmental Education for Resource Sustainability Trust. The Trust with support from Zero Waste New Zealand is implementing a “Paper for Trees” program where each class in participating schools has been given a plastic bin for paper and cardboard recycling. The contents are then placed in large woolsacks for collection by local recyclers. Four of these sacks represent approximately 100 kilograms. For every 100 kilograms collected, the Trust will give the school a native tree to plant on its grounds. Future plans include introducing worm bins systems in all the schools in 2001.

The Mid-Canterbury Wastebusters Environmental Trust (MCWET) in the South Island began with two women — Sheryl Stivens and Anita Coghill — along with the Ashburton District Council and local businesses that work towards the ultimate goal of zero waste. In 1994, MCWET began by initiating a community and school education program. It now operates three rural recycling centers, the Reuse Waste Materials Exchange, which helps businesses track their waste and make it available to other businesses, an annual Waste Fest, and a 15-meter worm farm and composting demonstration site.

Several reports have been compiled from the demonstration site in regard to winter management of worms, comparisons between precomposting and feeding on fresh putrescible food, and growth trials with vermicast potting mixes. The aim of these growth trials has been to increase the nutrient value and moisture retention properties of MSW compost and market potential.

Ashburton District has reduced its waste to landfill by 45 percent, investing in a large Willibald shredder and composting yard trimmings. According to Stivens, by blending this material with nutrient rich vermicast, it will produce material rich in microbial activity to service the growing organic market.

MCWET plans to further develop and improve existing projects under its 2000 Waste Minimization Program. One example is the training of worm farm and compost managers in the school programs. Students are lining up with great enthusiasm to wear the manager’s badge and take responsibility of the daily routine. In some instances, these schools are now selling vemiliquid and vermicast to their communities.

Under the Reuse Waste Exchange, thousands of animal feed sacks that were once burned are now being returned for a refill. Wooden pallets are being used by kindling businesses and as compost bins for schools. MCWET plans to collect and trial organic materials listed on the Reuse Exchange as a commercial source of food for worms (such as hair, wool scour waste and vegetable processing waste.)

Imaginative Technologies

As examples of innovative approaches by private companies, two developments come to mind. A composting tower (25 feet high) was installed at the UNITEC Institute of Technology last year when the New Zealand manufacturers learned that UNITEC was interested in working as a partner “to introduce more into their Sustainable Horticulture curriculum.” The Vertical Compost Unit (VCU) is described as being able to convert organic residuals in a 14-day cycle “into stabilized, pathogen-free organic fertilizer.” Ninety-five percent of feedstocks in the VCU come from within campus boundaries. As yet, no substantial quantitative data has been gathered; areas of particular interest include the ability to inoculate specific composts with bacteria “that hold associations with specific crop root systems.”

Another process, which is based on a patented microbe, is available from Bio Cosmo New Zealand Limited. Its BC 7500 is described as a five-ton system that is being tested and priced for a poultry farm to process up to seven cubic meters of waste in 24 hours. To date, tests are reported to have been done on poultry residues including manure and feathers, as well as fish offal and sewage screenings. The government’s Forestry Research and University of Auckland are reported to have shown interest in the rapid waste transfer technology pioneered by Sanyo-Techno Japan.

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