Australia’s poor recycling track record has an upside.
Cleanaway, Australia’s largest garbage company, has the potential to extract enough gas from rotting rubbish to produce electricity for as many as 80,000 homes, according to Chief Executive Officer Vik Bansal.
“Twenty years ago, this was all going to waste,” Bansal said in an interview last week in Melbourne. The gas was getting “flared up in the environment, now it’s creating electricity,” he said.
Australia is the eighth-largest per-capita producer of municipal waste among developed economies, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. A report last year by the Australian Council of Recycling showed the nation recycled just 41 per cent of that waste, compared with Germany on 65 per cent.
That’s proving a boon for companies such as Cleanaway, which extracts gas from landfill sites to power engines, in turn generating electricity that’s sold to the national grid. It’s adding innovative, if relatively small, supplies of power as Australia debates its future energy mix and seeks to curb emissions.
Melbourne-based Cleanaway sold 145,000 megawatt-hours of electricity to the grid from 120 million cubic metres of captured landfill gas last financial year, according to its annual report. The company has 11 of its own landfills, seven of which are providing electricity, Bansal said.
The company isn’t alone in turning rubbish to power.
Paris-based Suez generated 263,000 megawatt-hours of electricity from its Australian landfill sites in 2014, according to the company’s website. Veolia Environment says it currently captures enough gas to power 2,500 homes from a site in New South Wales state and within 10 years will power an additional 12,000 from a facility in Queensland.
Cleanaway says it has doubled capacity at its largest landfill site in Melbourne to 8.8 megawatts, which will come online by October. Within 20 years, depending on the volume of waste it collects, it could produce enough electricity nationally to power as many as 80,000 homes, Bansal said.
This article was originally published by Sydney Morning Herald.