The benefits of energy from waste

In Australia, waste that can’t be recycled – also known as residual waste – is simply sent to landfill. Of the 67 million tonnes of waste that Australia produces annually,
40% goes into the ground.

As our growing population continues to drive an increase in waste generation, we face the problem of existing landfills reaching capacity, while land for new sites remains limited.

Energy from waste (EfW) diverts waste away from landfills by converting residual waste into sources of energy, including heat and electricity.

As well as creating sustainable sources of energy, EfW facilities help create new, skilled jobs while reducing reliance on fossil fuels, cutting emissions and protecting people and the planet.

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Less waste, more energy

EfW has an important role to play in Australia’s transition to a circular economy.

In a circular economy the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible. Waste and resource use are minimised and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value.

Residual waste also contains inert materials such as sand, bricks and glass as well as ferrous and non-ferrous metals. In an EfW facility, these materials remain after the thermal decomposition of the waste as incineration bottom ash, which can be recycled for use in roads and construction.

By extracting energy from residual waste using EfW, we can ensure it makes a final contribution to the circular economy.

We can better support our economy, protect the health of our communities and reduce environmental impacts if we harness the value of materials we dispose of and return them to productive use.

National Waste Policy: Less Waste, More Resources, 2018

Less fossil fuels, more energy recovery

Just like solar and wind, our waste has the potential to become a sustainable energy source that can help in the fight against climate change.

In Western Australia, SUEZ is the waste management partner for the East Rockingham Resource Recovery Facility. Upon completion, the facility will deliver a cost-effective waste treatment solution and a vital source of dispatchable renewable energy, while achieving a 96% diversion of residual waste from landfill. The project will generate 28.9 MW of energy and operate for 8,000 hours per year.

This is enough electricity to power 36,000 Perth homes every year.

Our EfW facilities at Maryvale, Victoria, and Botany, New South Wales will convert non-recyclable materials that would otherwise go to landfill into energy (electricity and steam) for use in the Opal Australian Paper Maryvale Mill and Opal Paper and Recycling’s Botany Mill respectively. These EfW facilities will provide an alternative baseload energy source for the mills, thereby reducing their reliance on fossil fuel-based electricity and natural gas. Excess electricity generated will be sent to the grid, increasing supply in the electricity market.

The Opal Australian Paper Maryvale facility will reduce the reliance of the paper mill on coal-fired electricity and natural gas, enough to power 50,000 homes per year.

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Less waste to landfill, more sustainable

Efw is a proven alternative to landfill in Europe where countries including Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands now landfill 3% or less of their waste.

In Australia, we see EfW as having a valuable role to play in an integrated approach to waste management, providing hygienic treatment of waste that isn’t suitable for sustainable recycling. At the same time, we’ll generate energy from it, rather than it being sent to landfill.

Less emissions, more efficient

Waste is responsible for 2.2% of Australia’s emissions and consists largely of methane gas from the decay of organic material in landfill.

Although waste is buried in landfill, out of site, the reality is it doesn’t disappear. Food scraps and organic matter disposed of in landfill release methane – a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Although SUEZ landfill sites use smart cell technology to capture methane emissions, not all landfill sites are as sophisticated, meaning that much of the methane produced by landfill in Australia is released into the atmosphere.

Top recycling countries rely on EfW as a highly efficient and effective way for treating residual waste.

Suffolk County had one of the highest rates for household waste recycling in England, at more than 50%. However, this still left thousands of tonnes of household waste – plus business waste – going to landfill.

Today, residual waste from across the county is converted into energy at the SUEZ EfW facility in Ipswich in an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective way. The facility will save the council at least £350 million over the life of our 25-year contract, compared with landfilling. It also reduces greenhouse gases by 75,000 tonnes a year (according to Environment Agency calculations).

Less impact on people and the planet

Modern EfW facilities, such as the ones we have underway or are proposing in Australia, are equipped with sophisticated filtration systems to prevent harmful pollutants entering the environment.

Safe for both people and the environment, we use the latest state-of-the-art technology to ensure that virtually all toxic particles are removed from emissions, keeping them well below acceptable levels as set by environmental regulators. In fact, standard BBQs or fireplaces can release much more dioxin into the air than our modern EfW facilities.

Countries such as Sweden, Japan and France have developed large-scale EfW facilities in the centre of densely populated metropolitan areas. When combined with strict emissions controls, these projects have enhanced public awareness and community support for EfW technologies.

More employment and support for communities

EfW has the potential to create employment across the country and support Australia’s economy.

In Victoria, our proposed Maryvale EfW facility in partnership with Opal Australian Paper is projected to create more than 500 jobs during the three-year construction phase and 455 ongoing full-time jobs.

In all of our EfW projects, we regard the community as the number one stakeholder, engaging people through the environmental and development approval processes, open days, presentations and the media. Once operational, our sites will be open for tours and open days with a focus on waste education. Our website will also be regularly updated to communicate the environmental performance of the projects.