Monday, 1 April 2019

Where does my Green Bin waste go

Hands up if you have a Green Bin?

Have you ever wondered what happens after the truck comes and empties your Green Bin from the kerb? Well the Green Waste Education Team of JJ Richards runs monthly tours of the Corkhill Brothers green waste processing facility, and can answer all of your questions.

I recently went on one of these tours which started at the Weston Creek Community Centre, just next to Cooleman Court. About a dozen of us met with Katherine and Jules from the Green Waste Education Team where for around 15-20 minutes they told us all about the scheme, what you can and cannot recycle, and what happens at the processing facility. We asked questions ourselves, and shared in our experiences using our Green Bins. After that we hopped on a small bus which drove us to the processing facility in Symonston and, while staying on the bus, we drove around and stopped at various points to see the facility in action.

So who are the players in this recycling initiative? Well firstly the ACT Government sets the recycling policy for the ACT and oversees the implementation of this scheme. JJ Richards are contracted to provide the Green Bins, empty the bins on a fortnightly basis from householders, and transport it to the processing facility. Corkhill Bros is partnered to provide this facility, process the green waste material into something usable, and make the end product available for sale.

Let’s examine the process by starting with the Green Bins:
The process all starts with you, the householder, signing up and obtaining a Green Bin. The cost of each bin is a one-off $50 fee, but the bins are free to if you hold an ACTION Gold Card, a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold Card, Centrelink Pensioner Gold Card, MyWay Seniors Card, or a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Pension Card.

The Green Bin rollout started as a pilot program back in 2017 and was rolled out initially to residents in Kambah and Weston Creek. Proving popular it was then extended to Tuggeranong in January 2018, and a few months later to Belconnen residents in Sept 2018. From 1 April 2019 the scheme rolls out to the remaining Canberra districts of inner north and south, Woden, Molonglo Valley and areas of Gungahlin. Take up so far is around the 45% mark which is pretty good. Yes, this has had an impact on local trash pack style businesses that too offer regular collection services, but green waste collection was always on the cards as a government service. As too in the future, is kerbside food waste collection, which is already being collected in many jurisdictions across Australia. 

Photo credit: ACT Government
The aim of the program is to divert green waste from entering landfill by providing a regular pick up service that households can easily take part in. It is estimated that prior to the program starting, 5000 tonnes of green waste made its way into landfill site every year. 

Now what can you put in your bin? Well you can put in the following items:

- Grass clippings, and it doesn’t matter if they are a little wet
- Branches and twigs, as long as they are under 45cm long, and less than 10cm in diameter. - Anything larger cannot be broken down by the machinery.
- Leaves of all sorts including palm fronds and ivy
- Garden prunings
- Flowers, either from the garden, or bouquets bought from a florist or supermarket, just be sure to remove any rubber bands, and
- Weeds. Yes! as the heat of the broken down material will kill off any weed seeds and spores

You cannot put in the following:

- No plastics of any kind, especially plastic bags
- No soil
- No rocks or boulders
- No bricks
- No concrete
- No building materials
- No sawdust
- No treated or timber wood due to the chemicals used in their manufacture
- No food scraps or bones, and
- No animal waste of any sort.

Keep your bin under 50kg in weight, or it could damage the equipment on the truck. A good way to test if its too heavy is if you can’t wheel it to the kerb... its probably too heavy. The bins are regularly inspected by JJ Richards staff before they are picked up from the kerb, and if they find contamination in your bin you could receive either a simple notice if its not too bad, or a big red cross and your bin will not be collected if they find it majorly contaminated.

Bin collection:
Bins are collected from 7am onwards on the collection day, so don’t think you can dawdle on the morning. The collection schedule has just changed from 1 April 2019, so it will now be collected on the same weekday as your recycling pick up but just on the alternate week. So one week you will put out your garbage bin + recycling bin, and the next week it will be garbage bin + Green Bin. This schedule change will make it more efficient for the trucks, and easier for householders to remember when is collection day. JJ Richards has nine trucks in total that service all of Canberra, and they are dedicated for Green Waste pick up only, so they are not the same trucks that pick up your garbage and the recycling.

The facility:
The facility is run by Corkhill Brothers and is located at the Mugga Lane tip which is the same place the public use to drop off (for free) their own green waste. While we were there, several cars with trailers stopped and offloaded their garden waste and grass clippings.
The JJ Richards trucks that have collected your kerbside Green Bin green waste drop off their loads next to where the public drop off their green waste. As they unload the trucks contents onto the ground, workers scan the pile and remove any contaminants. While we were there we saw a couple of plastic bags being removed from one truck load. On the whole, the contamination level of green waste from ACT households is extremely low, only 0.05%, which is great. Just remember, to never bag up your green waste in plastic bags, and to remove any bird netting, plastic ties and labels, and any other foreign material from your green waste.

After the green waste is checked for contaminants, it is then scooped up and moved to the Shredding Machine. This machine costs roughly about $1 million, and is built in the USA. It grinds down the material into small pieces. This shredded matter is then moved to another area of the site where it is laid down on the ground in long wide rows. These are called “wind rows”, and are at the mercy of the sun and the rain. The sun allows the rows to heat up which is good for killing off weed seeds and nasty spores, and the rain gives the material much needed moisture so nutrients can thrive. As the material in the piles breaks down, they are regularly checked using a long probe which measures the ratio of carbon, nitrogen and nutrients. They even send samples offsite to be checked in a lab. Too much of any element is not good, so they can mix in other materials to keep the balance just right. Every month each of the rows is “turned” using a large machine that moves slowly over each row and tosses the material around. This ensures that the piles are evenly mixed and don’t get too hot or too wet. The rows are managed like this for 4 months during summer and 6 months during winter, after which the material is then ready to use.

Back to nature:
When the material is ready to use, it is further sorted into two different sizes; coarse forest litter, and fine forest litter. The coarse litter is sold as a form of garden mulch, whereas the fine litter is used as an additive for a variety of soils available from Corkhills such as Super Soil and Vegi Mix. Both the coarse and the fine forest litter are available for purchase by the public, and are sold at discounted rates, ie wholesale prices. This means that the public can purchase this material for the same price as paid by a commercial landscaper. The material is also used by Canberra’s city services at events such as Floriade. As the contamination levels in this forest litter is very low, and weed spores and seeds are killed off due to the heat levels raised in its processing, it is a very clean material to use around the garden.

Want to know more about the scheme? Use these handy links for more information.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Blockchain in the Food Industry


It’s a term most often associated with bitcoin, but what exactly is it?

On a basic level, it is a non-centralised system used to store information, and it is based on authorisation and trust. Let’s break that down a little further…

The non-centralised part means there is no one single database holding the data, instead the entire database is stored as copies on a wide number of servers across the internet. Each of these copies stays in sync, and the moment a dodgy record tries to be inserted, it is rejected by the others, so it isn’t allowed to be inputted. Also these databases cannot be tampered with, and no entries can ever be deleted. To reverse an entry, a new entry is made.

Authorisation means that only approved persons can be granted permission to make entries into the system. Trust is a computing term revolving around cryptography, which means that complex mathematical algorithms are used to encrypt and decrypt data when it is in transit from the authorised person to the database, and to those authorised to read the database. This is to ensure the data is secure at all times, and makes it hard for others to “eavesdrop” when data is moving within the system.

So how can this system be applied to the food industry, and what are the benefits?

First and foremost is traceability.

People want to know where their food comes from, and how it has been grown, farmed, manufactured, and produced. With so much emphasis on ethical food production, this point is super critical for both peace of mind, and for sustainability. Our planet is a finite resource, and due to unsustainable farming practices, arable land loss, and loss of animal species is both irreversible and disheartening.

Imaging knowing with certainty that the eggs you purchase at the supermarket have 100% been raised free range? I know that the term ‘free range’ has been applied a little loosely in the egg producing industry as it has not been nationally defined in legislation, so maybe that’s not the best choice. OK, how about knowing if the pork meat you purchase, or consume in a restaurant, has been raised free of using sow stalls? Or for a real life example, that Matt Moran knows with certainty exactly where the Patagonian toothfish he just served in his Aria restaurant this week came from. Food labelling could then be a point of certainty, rather than a minefield of questionable and unsubstantiated terms.

Having a blockchain system in place could also fast-track food safety recalls. Knowing where a particular product has been grown / shipped / stored and purchased would aid in speedy identification, and quicker notification to the public and all involved in that supply chain. For example, an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts grown on a farm in the US could be easily and quickly traced to not only where the whole nuts were shipped and sold, but also what other foods were made using milled versions of those nuts.

Such a system is only dependable if only trustworthy entities are involved from the onset, and in producing the tags, stickers and labels applied when the products are first harvested, caught, or butchered. Independent observers are crucial to the process too, and regular audits required to ensure any attempts to circumvent the system are prevented.

Does the idea of blockchain technology in the food industry make you more confident in your food purchases? Leave me a comment below.