[ASC-media] Media release: towards zero waste

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Thu Sep 7 19:59:33 CEST 2006

CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment

Media Release 06/08

September 8, 2006


Australian industry and society is undergoing a revolution - to seeing waste as a valuable national resource, a source of new business opportunities and jobs.

"The zero waste industry is taking off in a big way," says Associate Professor Neal Menzies, who heads the prevention technologies programme for the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE).

"Large companies are investing in it, and selling materials they once sent to the tip.  It's becoming increasingly competitive as more and more companies are making profits from it

"Zero Waste is less about total elimination of waste than a profound change in the attitude of society and industry.  For thousands of years we've been throwing things away which contain a great deal of value, if we could just alter our processes slightly." 

Zero Waste is about developing industrial systems that minimize unwanted byproducts in the first place, and which find effective and safe uses for those that are produced, Prof. Menzies says.

"For example old metal scraps and turnings of copper, brass, zinc and so on are now being used as micronutrients in advanced fertilizers - so putting a true value on the metal.

"Another is the 13 million tonnes of fly-ash produced by Australian power stations each year, much of which is now being used as roadbase, to make concrete or, potentially, to make slow-release fertilizer."

There will always be waste streams from industrial processes, he says - but these can be fine-tuned to the point where waste disposal costs nothing or, better still, turns a profit.

"If we keep on dumping our waste in landfills, we are creating problems for future Australians - the same sort of problems which CRC CARE is now endeavouring to solve in Australia's tens of thousands of historically-contaminated sites.

"The best approach is to design industrial processes where waste is made safe and re-used for something else."

On average Australians produce almost 750kg waste per person per year, which is currently choking landfills and posing a costly headache for municipal authorities.

Especially critical is the problem of wet waste or effluent, which contains a large amount of water that is currently lost.

CRC CARE managing director Professor Ravi Naidu says the recycling of water is of special urgency. "Global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth. More than a billion people on earth already lack access to fresh drinking water 

"By 2025 the demand for fresh water is expected to rise by 56 per cent more than is currently available and recycling becomes a critical issue. Australia has already seen this in cities such as Toowoomba and Goulburn, where water is now very scarce."

Water and other substances can only be recycled if toxins can be identified and separated from them. Prof. Menzies says a key driver is the scientific ability to analyse the content of waste streams in minute detail, in real time, to identify contaminants and design ways to deal with them.

"Our programme is helping to redesign industrial systems so that their byproducts become feedstocks for other industries.

"For example, for years society did not re-use sewage, despite its nutrient value, because of the heavy metals in it.  We can now control the entry of heavy metals into effluent streams.  We can also assess how much heavy metal a soil can lock up without creating a hazard to the food chain.  This means we are now in a position to make use of the nutrients from sewage to food production."

Prof. Menzies says the new techniques of waste re-use will depend critically on understanding, acceptance and support from the community.

"The public today is far more able to understand the science and the effort industry is making to recycle and re-use waste.  But a major effort must be made to explain new techniques and technologies to them, so they truly understand the risks and the advantages."

CRC CARE's prevention research programme will include 
-	finding ways to deal with contaminants in agricultural wastes, so they can be used to improve soil fertility without damage to soil structure 
-	developing ways to treat solid waste, manures and composts, so they release nutrients at a predictable rate and can be used as fertilizers
-	studying the uptake of metals by various grasses and pastures, to minimize the amount of heavy metals entering the food chain via livestock so the waste stream is safe for recycling.

More information:
Associate Professor Neal Menzies, CRC CARE and University of Queensland, 07 3365 2059 or 0403 176 934. Email: n.menzies at mailbox.uq.edu.au
Professor Ravi Naidu, CRC CARE, 0407 720 257
Kim Sinclair, CRC CARE communication, ph 08 8302 3933 or 0416 095 324
Kim.sinclair at crccare.com



CRC CARE is an Australian partnership of scientific, industry and government organisations set up to devise new ways of dealing with and preventing contamination of soil, water and air. 

Its goals include:
- Cleaner, safer food supplies, water  and living conditions leading to a reduced toll of disease due to toxic contamination of our food, water, air and living conditions
- Benefits of up to $1.8 billion per year from direct savings in remediation and improved values or remediated land
- A cleaner natural environment for Australia and its neighbours.

CRC CARE is part of the Australian Government's Cooperative Research Centres Program.

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