Icon Water has an innovative resource recovery program they call ‘No opportunity wasted’ to tackle their complex and challenging outputs.
As part of their water utility services to protect human health and the environment, they generate sludges, soils, biosolids, treated discharges and office waste. The traditionally linear, process-to-product + landfill path is outdated and unsustainable. No opportunity wasted seeks to address these issues and is the cornerstone of Icon Water’s five year Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy 2017-23 which sets out their targets, approach and vision to be a ‘utility that transforms waste into resources’ and maximise upcycling and minimise disposal to landfill. This program actively contributes to SDG12 Responsible Consumption and Production, as well as several other SDGs.
The program’s eight initiatives include waste management and monitoring systems, reuse programs for agri-ash, spoil and water treatment solids, glass sand recovery, producing soil conditioners and more. Following a detailed assessment of their baseline waste data, they progressed to ideation and prioritisation.
This involved growing their resource recovery capacity as well as finding higher-value reuse options for other outputs, in accordance with the waste hierarchy. They researched innovative solutions as well as forging trusting relationships with regulators and establishing regulatory approvals.
They built strong collaborative partnerships with a symbiotic group of ‘can do’ partners to achieve shared objectives and outcomes, including enhancing the circular economy.
No opportunity wasted has led to:
• approximately 11 kilotonnes of agri-ash and spoil being diverted from landfill in 2019-20
• local farmers benefitting from agri-ash as a soil enhancer
• 13 tonnes of valuable materials from old water meters have been recovered
• a previously unwanted resource stream from glass recycling being put to beneficial use as glass sand at Icon Water and throughout the ACT
• biochar, a product that captures carbon, being trialled and proving viable as a potting mix
• hubs being established at our sites to collect a range of materials for recycling/reuse.
Dealing with the materials traditionally seen as ‘wastes’ is a problem across the water industry. Just determining their baseline was challenging due to the complicated waste streams involved. Several wastes were being sent to landfill because finding alternative solutions was hampered by little industry knowledge of alternatives, limited or no proven examples and limited support from regulators.
Through their program they have created numerous new opportunities for the water industry that have achieved multiple environmental benefits and significant financial savings, aligning perfectly with Icon Water’s public Sustainability and Environment Policy.
In addition, they have been publicly visible on these successes and increased awareness of what is possible, shown leadership consistent with government and community aspirations and instigated action by local businesses.
They see their approach as a series of stepping stones towards the vision of developing a local Canberra eco-hub where all outputs are inputs in a co-dependent, thriving and ultimately more resilient economy. Therefore, it is as much about us using upcycled or recycled products as it is about generating upcycled, or recycled products to be used by others.