13 August 2022 //
During 40 years in Australia REMONDIS has diversified to be a leading waste and recycling company but its goal has remained the same – for waste to be a resource.
It’s a sunny day as Norbert Rethmann pauses outside the Penrith City Council offices in New South Wales for a quick photo with RETHMANN’s then Chief Executive Officer, Dr Hermann Niehues, and Brian King, Mayor of Penrith. He’s relaxed and smiling. It’s 1982 and Norbert, the pioneer of a successful German waste disposal company, has just inked a deal that will transform Australia.
Fast-forward 40 years, and REMONDIS is the third largest resource recovery company in the world. In Australia, it employs more than 1100 people and operates from more than 35 sites.
From humble beginnings – REMONDIS supplied the first plastic wheelie bins in Australia when it secured the contract for waste collection services of Penrith Council – the company has evolved to play an important role in the nation’s economy.
And as the world begins to accept waste as a resource, REMONDIS Australia continues to search for ways to treat it, rather than dispose of it.
Jochen Behr, who took over the role of Chief Executive Officer in April 2022, paints a picture of new policies, ambitions and targets that will accelerate Australia’s recycling sector.
“There’s a big appetite for change,” Jochen says. “There’s a lot of focus by consumers and recycling is stepping into the spotlight.
“In the past, many customers were only concerned about whether their bin was empty. There were not many questions about what happens to that waste. That’s changed and people are more conscious. As a company we have to live up to that expectation. We have to be transparent, and we have to invest in recycling infrastructure.”
A global player
REMONDIS has been an active driver to develop the industry and be one of the major global players in the circular economy market for water, recycling and services solutions. Jochen sees scaling up investments in food organics, container deposit scheme innovation and product stewardship, as key for the business in Australia.
The fact the company is one of a few fully integrated players can only be of benefit. Still family-owned after almost 90 years, REMONDIS has a presence in collection, resource recovery, recycling, and disposal solutions, with a focus on technologies available globally.
“One of our key ambitions is supporting a circular economy,” Jochen says. “In Germany, landfilling was banned almost 20 years ago, which created a need to innovate. We are now proud of being able to draw from that experience.”
He sees organics recycling as one of the biggest opportunities in Australia – from food and garden waste collection and processing through to the potential to create green energy.
REMONDIS was one of the first to introduce in-vessel composting with a facility in Port Macquarie in 2001. Jochen says the next step is anaerobic digestion, a process that uses bacteria to break down organic matter to manage waste or to produce fuels.
The technology is being used in several countries to address landfill diversion targets on food waste and, while previously there wasn’t a market for anaerobic digestion in Australia, changes in the regulatory environment and rising landfill levies are opening opportunities.
“When you look at the Federal Government strategy to halve food waste going to landfill, there will be a big market for these kinds of facilities,” Jochen says.
Closing the loop
Björn Becker, Chairman of REMONDIS Australia and former Chief Executive Officer, is convinced it is the right step at the right time to improve the treatment of waste volumes in Australia.
He says it’s a core market for REMONDIS to further develop and achieve better recycling rates and help close the loop to bring recovered materials back to a production process.
Product stewardship, he believes, is also an important piece in the puzzle, helping to recover clean, quality resources that can be processed back into secondary materials for new products.
While there are a growing number of stewardship schemes and steps in the right direction within Australia, Björn believes government support is needed to make product stewardship mandatory or binding.
“Certainly, the best solution is not to generate waste in the first instance,” he says. “But once the waste is there, we need to get the best possible processing and recycling solution we can in order to get secondary raw materials.”
REMONDIS is a leading player in product stewardship program schemes including the Paintback and Big Bag Recovery and container deposit schemes including the multi-award-winning Containers for Change scheme in Western Australia.
Partnering with Paintback since 2020, the company is contracted to handle collections, processing and decanting across Queensland, the Northern Territory and Victoria. In the Big Bag Recovery scheme alone, there is the potential to collect 60,000 tonnes of polypropylene and low-density polyethylene bulk bags across Australia.
Jochen says it’s a way to find solutions for difficult waste streams and to address some regulations within that stream.
“It has a holistic approach, which we believe is important to address some of those more difficult waste categories,” he says.
An example of REMONDIS’ own holistic approach can be found in the largest recycling park in Europe – REMONDIS’s Lippe Plant in Lünen, Germany. Spread across 240 hectares, the park has various recycling facilities to process dozens of different waste streams on the one site, while generating climate-neutral energy.
It’s a scenario being replicated at REMONDIS’ Tomago Resource Recovery facility in Newcastle. Jochen says Tomago will have multiple sections receiving an array of waste for processing and recycling.
A centrepiece is a Refuse Derived Fuel facility that will process waste into a solid fuel that can be used for energy-making in industrial settings and as a cleaner alternative to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring together recycling facilities in one space,” Jochen says. “I do think it’s the future for wastes that complement one another when it comes to licences.”
That future also includes energy recovery, AKA energy-from-waste or EfW. REMONDIS operates 16 EfW facilities around the world. Despite the reluctance by some states to introduce EfW, two plants are currently being built in Western Australia. Björn is convinced once those projects are operating, there will be further progress nationally.
“Energy-from-waste is a superior solution compared to landfilling waste,” he says. “I predict that in the future we will see a lot of improvement in terms of recycling and a lot of diversion from landfill towards EfW and resource recovery.
“REMONDIS plans to be involved and take a leadership role in that development. When we talk about diversion from landfill it’s not just about building energy-from-waste facilities to replace these landfill capacities. It’s also about diverting other materials and separating them from each other.”
Jochen says there will be other opportunities for energy recovery projects, but it’s important there is social licence. With any change, comes questions and community uncertainty. It’s something the industry has to accept.
“We have a long-term approach,” he says. “Our mission is working for the future. We want to become one of the leaders in the circular economy. We want to be a partner who can bring technology and improve the infrastructure for recycling in Australia.
“There’s been terrific improvement in the past few years, and we see a lot of opportunities to bring new technology to the market. We are quite optimistic.”
Over the years, REMONDIS has implemented more recycling facilities to extend the value chain of services it can offer customers. Björn says the company has a lot more to offer, but government support is needed. Faster approval processes and regulatory support are needed to accelerate change.
“It feels a bit like we’re always seen as an industry causing problems – pollutions, noise, etc. But we’re here to solve problems,” Björn says. “We’re doing that by recycling materials and enabling the circular economy we’re all striving for.”
Reprinted from Waste Management Review