As some people love to tour chocolate factories, I love to tour recycling facilities, and recently I enjoyed a tour of the Veolia Organics Recovery Facility in Bulla, courtesy of Melbourne University. I could write pages and pages about the fascinating chemistry and logistics of large-scale composting, but instead I will attempt to limit this blog post to the essential need-to-knows.
I am a diligent recycler, as explained graphically in an earlier post (“Bagged“) and have been known (more than once) to yell at family members and visitors who place their waste incorrectly. But the truth is, I too experience that niggling doubt about what really happens once the rubbish leaves the kerbside. Further undermined by the recent episode of Four Corners (“Trashed – The Truth About Your Rubbish” 7th Aug 2017), I wonder whether my strict adherence to recycling guidelines is driven by my conformist personality rather than real conviction in the value of doing so. And that is why it is so important to see things first hand.
The Veolia Organics Recovery Facility in Bulla receives green waste from 12 North West councils of Melbourne and turns it into compost. There are two stages in the process: pasteurisation in closed bunkers using heat generated by naturally occurring bacteria; and maturation when the organics are composted in the open air. The resulting material is sorted into different grades of compost before sale. I left feeling satisfied that indeed our organic waste was not treated as useless rubbish, but is actually a valuable resource waiting for the next stage of its life. I also walked away with a few key dos and don’ts that we as householders need to know to ensure the system runs as efficiently as possible.
· “Garden waste” does NOT include old hosepipes, rusty barbeques or broken plant pots even if they have spent the past 10 years in your garden. This possibly sounds too obvious to mention, but Veolia has to deal with all those that get into the system, contaminate the compost and jam the machinery.
· Plastic bags must NOT go in the green bin (or in your recycling bin). The issue with plastic bags is twofold – they contaminate the compost and they could conceal other forbidden items. This ban extends to biodegradable plastic bags. “Biodegradable” bags only biodegrade over very long periods of time – much longer that the turnaround period of facilities such as Veolia, and compost containing these bags in a partially degraded state is considered poor quality. Again the contents of biodegradable bags are unknown until opened and so will be rejected outright for safety reasons. (‘Biodegradable’ cups, plates etc are also not compostable in this type of facility – they need very specific conditions to breakdown.)
· Fruit and vegetable peelings and scraps can go in the green bin. There is a lot of confusion around this issue and I was glad of the opportunity to understand it better. Councils often discourage this waste from going in the green bin but that is mainly out of fear that people will start putting all kitchen waste in the green bin, such as bread, rice etc. There is also the yuck factor. Imagine your green bin was completely filled with orange peel, apple cores and watermelon rind and left outside your house for two weeks in summer. You don’t need to picture this for long to realise that before it is collected by council it would evolve into a slimy, smelly, putrid mass of flies. Imagine now that everyone in the council did the same, and imagine the mess that the garbage truck would be emptying out at the composting facility. And imagine the complaints by those who live near the facility. And that is why fruit and veg scraps are discouraged. This is much less of a problem in winter, and even in summer it can be managed by mixing these scraps with other garden waste, such as leaves and grass clippings, if you have a garden.
· DO wrap your fruit and veg peelings in newspaper to take out to your green bin, if you find that convenient. Newspaper in small amounts is definitely ok. You can even line the bottom of your green bin with a couple of sheets of newspaper to absorb liquid and make your green bin a much more pleasant place.
Hopefully I’ve cleared up a few grey areas of this green issue, and perhaps I’ve also inspired you to take a tour of an organic recycling facility – a sure way to spend an interesting, and slightly smelly, morning.