Innovating waste management in remote Australian locations
Managing waste at remote mining or oil and gas operations is an ongoing challenge for resources and waste management companies in Australia.
While the resources industry is a significant driver of the Australian economy, most of the operations around the country are located in remote, sparsely populated areas.
According to the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP), 60 percent of Australia’s mining platforms operate in remote areas of the country.
When managing waste and recovering and reusing resources, remote mine sites and communities face a number of unique challenges, including limited access to markets for recyclables, distances from cities and towns, and poor road conditions between towns and waste facilities.
Delivering a high level of waste services to these areas requires modern equipment and leading innovation that is tailored to the characteristics of the region. Each mine site and community is different and there is no one solution that can be applied to every remote area.
REMONDIS Australia is currently taking on this waste management challenge in a partnership with Rio Tinto at the mining giant’s Weipa bauxite operations in remote North Queensland.
The agreement involves not only Rio Tinto’s mining operations, but also all of the waste management needs of the Weipa township, a coastal community of about 3500 people, located on the western Cape York peninsula between the Mission and Embley Rivers.
One of the most remote parts of Australia, Weipa is about 2500 kilometres north-west of Brisbane and can only be accessed via an unsealed road in the dry season between April and December. Outside of these months, the region receives around 2000 millimetres of rain and access to Weipa is often only possible via a seven-day barge voyage from Cairns.
In fact, the southern coast of Papua New Guinea is much closer to the mine than the nearest Australian capital city.
The region is rich in bauxite, the key ore in aluminium, with much of the surrounding land around Weipa leased to Rio Tinto. The mining company contributes significantly to the township and regional economy, including substantial investment in local waste management infrastructure.
MANAGING MINING WASTE
As one of the world’s largest mining companies, Rio Tinto is committed to controlling and minimising the amount of waste generated from its sites and the surrounding communities.
Rio Tinto’s mining and processing operations generate both mineral and non-mineral waste. The company aims to limit the negative environmental impacts of the waste, while reducing operating costs and other risks, by focusing on characterising, planning and managing waste effectively.
The Weipa mine, which produces about 26 million tonnes of bauxite each year, consists of two continuous mining operations at East Weipa and Andoom, two beneficiation plants, 19 kilometres of railway to transport bauxite to the port area, two stockpiles and two ship loaders.
“When managing waste and recovering and reusing resources, remote mine sites and communities face a number of unique challenges.
Rio Tinto also owns and operates two diesel engine power stations, which supply the mine, the Weipa township and the neighbouring community of Napranum. While Rio Tinto is the major contributor to the regional economy, the Weipa Town Authority manages the township with the support of local traditional owners under the Weipa Township Agreement.
As bauxite has been mined and shipped from Weipa since 1963, the original bauxite reserves are becoming depleted. However, Rio Tinto has identified significant reserves south of the Embley River at Amrun, a location that is even more remote.
In 2015, Rio Tinto announced plans to develop the Amrun bauxite project. REMONDIS Australia will also manage the waste from the expansion of the company’s operations in the region.
REMOTE WASTE INNOVATION
REMONDIS Australia’s partnership with Rio Tinto to provide waste and recycling services at Weipa was launched in October 2015.
Despite the remoteness of Weipa, REMONDIS set out to provide Rio Tinto and the Weipa township with services comparable to what is delivered in a city like Sydney or Brisbane.
To achieve this, REMONDIS first had to overcome the logistical challenges of mobilising its fleet at the Weipa township and mine sites. After forming the partnership, REMONDIS business units from all over Australia worked together to mobilise specialised equipment over a six-week period.
In addition to procuring and preparing the equipment in this tight time-frame, the team also had to charter two large barges to send the equipment on a 10-day voyage from Brisbane to Weipa.
Now that REMONDIS is mobilised and in operation at Weipa, the remoteness of the region provides ongoing logistical challenges that it must overcome to maintain the efficiency of its operations.
At the extremely remote Amrun project, which is a further 250 kilometres away via a dirt road, REMONDIS had to tailor a strategy that minimised the number of movements required by equipment travelling back and forth to the Weipa landfill.
To manage this REMONDIS is developing custom equipment in Germany, including a roller packer that will improve compaction of waste by three-to-one and reduce movements between the project and landfill sites.
REMONDIS has also introduced new, high specification equipment to the operation that is tailored to manage the off-road conditions and can carry up to four stackable bins at one time. This innovative equipment has been developed to carry solid and liquid waste simultaneously to enhance the versatility of our fleet.
WEIPA TOWNSHIP MANAGEMENT
Outside of the testing logistics, the REMONDIS Australia team faces some other unusual challenges at Weipa, including operating in extremely dusty conditions. Moreover, Australia’s largest saltwater crocodiles are prevalent in the region.
As the operator of Weipa’s landfill, which is located at Evans Landing, REMONDIS manages all waste generated in the area – whether it is solid, liquid, regulated or hazardous.
Since 2011, Rio Tinto has made multimillion-dollar upgrades to the 30-year-old landfill, including a new drop-off facility that includes a number of different points for paper and cardboard, aluminium cans, white goods, batteries and waste oil.
REMONDIS has focused on building Weipa’s previously low recycling capacity by introducing new services, such as regular collection of reusable items from residents in the township, since taking over as the region’s waste management company.
In addition, REMONDIS is also investigating opportunities to install an oily water treatment plant in the region. Currently, oily water from Weipa is carted to Cairns for treatment, when it has the potential to be converted into renewable energy for use locally.
REMONDIS Australia was well-positioned to manage the remoteness of the Weipa waste management partnership after gaining experience on other secluded operations in Australia’s resources industry.
Prior to the Weipa appointment, REMONDIS Australia managed the waste generated during the construction of BG Group’s mega liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on Curtis Island offshore Gladstone in Queensland.
From the solutions used at Curtis Island, which included the use of the innovative roller packer machine, REMONDIS has developed the capacity to share knowledge, experiences and learnings from that remote experience.
REMONDIS is now using this knowledge to deliver flexible and innovative solutions for Rio Tinto, and plans to continue to grow its waste management capability at remote regions elsewhere in Australia.
Nathan Radley is the national integrated and managed services manager for REMONDIS Australia. This article also appears in issue 4 of Corporate Waste Solutions magazine.