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Wicked waste wanted

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08 Mar 2018

Wicked waste wanted

With our recyclable material now not wanted by China, uncertainly is rippling through our vertical villages as to what lies ahead.

It has been much talked about that as from January 1, China imposed a ban on the import of low-grade and contaminated waste. There are, of course, other markets which could take our waste – Malaysia for instance.

But according to Rob Spence, CEO of the Municipal Association of Victoria, the pressing need is for us to develop our own market in the local recycling industry.

By now most of us are well acquainted with the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. And slowly emerging is another term – “reward” (or ramification). The aim here is to design ways of encouraging “good” behaviour by providing value to those who participate, or to take away value from those who don’t “behave”.

This is the notion which has underpinned South Australia’s long running (since 1977) and successful container deposit scheme, which was adopted by NSW on 1 Dec 2017, with new schemes to start in Queensland and the ACT in 2018 and in 2019 in WA. These schemes focus on the “polluter pays” principle, meaning that the discarder of an empty container forfeits the right to the refund while someone else can benefit by returning it and receiving that refund. It also incorporates product stewardship legislation, meaning that industry is obliged to take greater responsibility for its packaging after it has been sold.

How might this principle apply to those living and managing vertical villages?

Our key challenge is that we have multiple layers: residents (or the apartment level), the building level and “the precinct”.

Starting with residents, we routinely do battle with two types of waste – organic and packaging. A previous SkyPad Living column mentioned the punitive actions being taken by other jurisdictions (such as San Francisco) where residents are charged and/or fined for their organic waste.

Locally, one discussion well underway looks at turning our organic matter into fertiliser for use by the individual contributor and/or, to service the growing array of roof-top gardens and urban forests. There is also some consideration about the commercial sale of this material. The key here is a system, for example, a sealable container given to each new resident upon entry to the building, along with the provision of facilities and protocols to process the waste.

As for packaging, most especially soft plastic, the current trend is towards involving the place of purchase (e.g. the supermarket) in the solution. Years ago, this saw our European counterparts removing and leaving excess packaging in the aisles of offending stores, but of more recent times many supermarkets have recycling bins at their exits and in France, for instance, customers are encouraged to remove packaging from their purchases, before returning home. In Australia, there is the REDcycle initiative where people can deposit their soft waste into bins near major supermarkets, to be processed and recycled and ultimately, turned into furniture. Unfortunately there are no such bins in Docklands or Southbank.

As regards the building level, communal recycling is well established and the latest eWaste Bins from City of Melbourne are a welcome addition. But while an efficient means of getting rid of waste, there is no additional value returned to the building. Perhaps this is where initiatives such as TRASHPRESSO – a semi-portable, solar-powered plant that transforms trash onsite - could be of use. Made by Miniwiz, it turns post-consumer waste into high-performance materials and does so on financially sustainable terms, referred to as the “circular economy”.

Finally, there is the less considered level of precinct rubbish, which becomes the problem of vertical villages when it blows onto our property. Included here is waste emanating from events hosted in precincts such as Docklands and Southbank as overloaded bins and high winds mean that this waste is “shared” with many neighbouring vertical villages, which then bear the cost of disposing of it. In fact, a related point was made at the recent “Green Innovators” session at the Sustainability Festival where a strongly-voiced message was delivered to the RMIT panel about the waste generated from their recent graduation ceremonies at Etihad Stadium. The irony was not lost on the audience that two of the green innovators had just presented innovations designed to replace disposable food containers (Moducware and Cutlery Carriage).

However, credit where it is due, and encouragingly, RMIT is also actively supporting a cohort of students at ‘The Exchange at Knowledge Market’. This is a 12-month industry research partnership with Lendlease (June 2017 - June 2018) aimed at exploring models of community engagement in Victoria Harbour. As part of the Sustainability Festival, they are hosting Zero - ​an exhibition of RMIT student work envisioning a “zero carbon” future in Victoria Harbour, Docklands.

As regards waste, there are two projects of particular interest:

Habitat Interface: A behaviour-change system that aims to educate the four user groups of Victoria Harbour about how to reduce their waste (Daryl Wong, Shi-Yue Chang, Hao He, Jia-Da Jin, Beatriz Chamsay, Catherine Ward, Si-Yi He)

Pipecelium: An organic waste and food security strategy that goes beyond a community garden and looks at reducing the overall carbon footprint of Victoria Harbour (Chen-Rui Li, Yu-Hao-Ze Gan, Matthew Meaden, Yu Li, Li-Li Zhang, Zachary Jones)

If you are interested in knowing more, visit the EXCHANGE located in Shop 8-10, 892 Bourke St (near the Docklands Library).

For links to the research or organisations mentioned, please visit and like SkyPad Living on Facebook.

Janette Corcoran

Apartment Living Expert

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