By Tess Macallan, Journalist, Council Magazine

As Australia progresses towards its net-zero targets, governments must contend with the issue of waste piling up in landfills and polluting the air with greenhouse gases. Employing circular waste management solutions, such as Energy from Waste (EfW) programs, can drastically reduce emissions and conserve natural resources – all the while generating renewable energy.

In October 2022, Maroondah City Council broke new ground by becoming the first Victorian council to contract the supply of municipal solid waste to a thermal Energy from Waste (EfW) facility.

EfW, also known as Waste to Energy (WtE), refers to treatment technologies which derive the energy value from waste and turn it into electricity, biogas, heating or fuel. EfW consortium partners Opal, Veolia and Masdar Tribe Australia (MTA) are responsible for the development, construction and operation of the Maryvale EfW facility, to be located adjacent to Opal’s Maryvale paper mill in the Latrobe Valley.

Maryvale Mill is a major generator of base load renewable energy in Victoria, through the production of black liquor biofuel from its pulping process. The EfW facility will further complement the mill’s use of alternative energy sources. EfW plants that produce both steam and electricity deliver Combined Heat and Power (CHP) for much higher energy efficiency than stand-alone electricity generation.

The Maryvale EfW facility will apply ‘moving grate’ technology that creates energy from the controlled combustion of non-hazardous waste materials that would otherwise go to landfill. The energy generated is base load power which is required to run Opal Australian Paper’s manufacturing plant.

Maroondah City Council CEO, Steve Kozlowski, said, “Reliable and proven technology was a core part of Maroondah City Council’s evaluation process, which required a demonstrated track record for efficiency and reliability. “Using moving grate technology utilised in over 90 per cent of European thermal facilities, like that used for the Maryvale EfW facility, was considered a significantly positive aspect.”

Emissions reduction

Sending waste to an EfW facility instead of landfill avoids methane emissions. It is estimated that the facility will achieve a net reduction of 270,000t per annum in greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to removing 50,000 cars from the road annually.

Mr Kozlowski said the facility “provides an essential source of renewable, sustainable energy and is a vital link in the waste management chain”. With numerous local government areas in and around the Melbourne and Gippsland regions, the Maryvale EfW facility is engaging in multiple council procurement processes to secure sufficient residual municipal waste volumes.

Up to 325,000t of non-recyclable residual waste from Councils and businesses will be used to produce energy for the Maryvale Mill, resulting in a net benefit of enough gas and electricity to power over 50,000 homes on Victoria’s energy network. Maroondah City Council will send roughly 20,000t of non-recyclable household general waste to the Maryvale EfW facility per annum.

A spokesperson for the EfW consortium said, “The decision of Maroondah City Council to commit its non-recyclable residual waste to the Maryvale EfW facility is testament to its environmental leadership and vision in sustainable resource recovery.

“It is a positive signal to other Victorian Councils that they too can embrace a circular economy solution for residual waste that reduces their reliance on landfill, maximises materials recovery for reuse and complements other resource recovery initiatives, such as recycling and organics processing.”

Moving towards a sustainable future

A sustainable approach to waste is one of the eight outcomes in Maroondah’s long-term vision for 2040. Council has already made significant progress in sustainability and was certified Carbon Neutral by Climate Active in March 2021 for its operations as a public statutory body.

Council has also developed its own Waste, Litter & Resource Recovery Strategy 2020-2030, which encourages these innovative ways to deal with waste in the future. “The strategy ensures Council continues to focus on more sustainable waste and recycling methods, with the main objective to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill,” Mr Kozlowski said.

Given this strategy is in place, Mr Kozlowski said that partnering with Opal, Veolia and MTA was the logical choice. “With 24,861t of recycling and green waste diverted from landfill in 2021/22, Maroondah households are leading the way with waste reduction and currently create less landfill waste than the average Melbourne household.”

Mr Kozlowski said being able to supply non-recyclable municipal solid waste to the new EfW facility will help Council exceed its strategic target to halve waste to landfill by 2030. “This will create a more resilient waste and recycling system, ensuring our reliance on landfill is minimised as the finite capacity of Victorian landfills diminishes in coming years,” Mr Kozlowski said.

Community on board

Opal has undertaken a range of consultation processes with the community throughout the planning and development of the EfW plant at Maryvale, including focus groups, establishing an information centre for locals to visit, and publishing regular advertisements in local news to provide information on the project.

As of February 2023, Opal has conducted more than 300 community and stakeholder engagement activities and engaged surrounding councils as well as community and business groups. Maroondah City Council also consulted its community and received widespread support for its EfW program.

Mr Kozlowski said people are quite engaged with waste reduction and recycling, in particular following the recent introduction of a food organics and garden organics (FOGO) service. “Consultation to develop Council’s ten year Waste, Litter & Resource Recovery Strategy 2022 2030 showed that the Maroondah community continues to be supportive of practical changes which reduce our environmental impact whilst contributing to a circular economy.”

For other Australian councils looking to implement similar programs, there will be a myriad of factors to consider. “It will be dependent on the particular region and their individual circumstances,” Mr Kozlowski said.

“Maroondah made its decision in the belief that the Maryvale EfW facility can deliver a cost-competitive residual waste solution, and supports the development of EfW facilities in appropriate locations as a superior environmental solution to landfill for residual waste.”

Organic waste sent to landfill produces a significant amount of methane gas that harms the planet. By diverting waste from landfills through EfW programs, councils can turn waste into a resource for generating sustainable energy, reducing emissions and creating better environmental outcomes.

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