Landfill should no longer be considered a necessary evil, but instead a growing opportunity for the Australian waste management industry and communities around the country.
Australia has a strong dependence on landfill as a form of waste management. The majority of waste not recycled or reused is disposed of at landfills across the country, a situation that is set to continue in the coming decades.
However, the waste management industry in Australia is moving towards more environmentally friendly outcomes at landfill sites, driven by new technologies and evolving government legislation.
In the past, landfill practice in Australia may not have focused on sustainable outcomes as much as it could have. Landfill practice has developed rapidly in the past decade, however, with sustainable opportunities, such as landfill gas-to-energy conversion, becoming more popular with local governments and waste management companies around the country.
Understanding the opportunities that landfill sites offer in Australia, and building awareness of them among waste generators, has emerged as the next challenge for the industry.
And through this education of modern landfill practices another opportunity presents itself – that is to shift the common perception that this method of waste management does little to positively impact the environment.
Our waste has to end up somewhere… it is about understanding the potential of our waste and making sure it finishes up being reused in a way that is best for the future of the industry.
Eliminating landfill gas
Converting landfill gas to energy offers environmental and economic benefits to waste managers, energy users and communities. Landfill gas is generated by the breakdown of organic matter under anaerobic circumstances. Food scraps, garden organics, wood, paper and cardboard all make up the waste matter that generates this valuable resource.
Landfill gas can consist of up to 60 percent methane, which is about 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping the atmosphere’s heat and contributing to global warming.
The REMONDIS Australia-operated Swanbank Renewable Energy and Waste Management Facility in Queensland is an example of a landfill site in Australia that is positively impacting the environment by converting landfill gas to energy.
Swanbank, which is located in Ipswich, about 40 minutes from Brisbane, is a licensed regulated waste landfill that operates under several relevant environmental activities.
[quote style=’1′ cite=”]Understanding the opportunities that landfill sites offer in Australia, and building awareness of them among waste generators, has emerged as the next challenge for the industry.[/quote]
Set on a 250-hectare area, which was formerly a coalmine, the landfill site has been in operation since 1997 and has a 45-year expected operating life. Its annual intake of waste is in excess of 500,000 tonnes.
Minimising landfill gas emissions and producing energy has been a priority at the site since the renewable energy facility was launched in 2014. REMONDIS is a strong supporter of including renewable energy as part of Australia’s energy mix, alongside both coal and gas.
The renewable energy facility, a joint venture between REMONDIS and renewable energy expert LMS Energy, is now leading the way as a landfill gas-to-energy operation in Australia. The facility extracts gas by drilling holes into the landfill, before the gas is then used to fuel an engine, which generates electricity into the energy grid for the local community.
It creates reliable base-load renewable energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The renewable energy facility exports about 12,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity each year, powering more than 2000 homes in the Ipswich region.
In addition to the energy generated, the conversion of gas is also an effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by destroying and reprocessing the methane. The combustion of landfill gas from the facility abates more than 61,000 tonnes of carbon each year.
This has been achieved by extracting about 7.2 million cubed metres of gas from the landfill operation, which has also resulted in a saving of about 26.4 million litres of water.
While the renewable energy facility is the latest development at Swanbank to deliver benefits to the environment and local community, the site has focused on limiting its carbon footprint since being opened 20 years ago.
As waste management technologies have evolved so has the Swanbank facility, which features three landfill cells: lined landfill, unlined landfill and monocell.
The waste received by the lined landfill includes contaminated soil, municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial waste, quarantine waste, putrescible general waste, regulated waste and green waste. The unlined landfill waste (also known as hardfill) received at Swanbank includes low-level contaminated soil, inert general waste, construction and demolition waste, asbestos and timber.
Waste received by the monocell includes blackjack and grease, highly contaminated soil, and untreatable waste.
A by-product of the landfill process that is closely managed at Swanbank is leachate, which is commonly known as the liquid that drains, or leaches, from landfill sites.
REMONDIS believes it is essential that leachate be managed effectively at its landfill sites to avoid it running into the local aquatic environment, and potentially having a detrimental impact on the area’s biodiversity and the sensitive species that inhabit it.
As part of the lined cell, Swanbank collects and manages any accumulation of leachate to ensure it never leaves the site to damage the environment.
Ongoing landfill commitment
REMONDIS Australia is committed to reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfill through a strategy of resource recovery, recycling and reuse. To achieve this the company has established significant relationships or partnerships with both government and businesses to deliver a sustainable future where waste is effectively managed.
While the Swanbank facility has a life expectancy of 45 years, its environmental benefits will continue well beyond the proposed closure, as will REMONDIS’ commitment to the region and local community.
[quote style=’1′ cite=”]While the renewable energy facility is the latest development at Swanbank to deliver benefits to the environment and local community, the site has focused on limiting its carbon footprint since being opened 20 years ago.[/quote]
The Swanbank facility is well-placed to deliver long-term benefits to the local community, with which the company continues to have strong interaction. The facility stimulates economic development in the Ipswich region by creating local jobs and contributing to the growth and diversity of the area.
Beyond the site’s proposed closure REMONDIS will continue to manage the site for a further 25 years and help transition the area into a recreational space for community use.
As the waste further degrades at the site over the years, the renewable energy facility will also continue to generate gas for the local electricity grid. The generators of the waste that finishes up at Swanbank can be assured that it is going to continue to have a positive impact for the community.
David Wrenn is sales manager for REMONDIS Australia at the Swanbank Renewable Energy and Waste Management Facility in Queensland.