Agreements lead to circular economy development

Barwon Water joins forces to circular economy development with local councils by transforming organic waste & generating renewable energy

Barwon Water and four local councils are joining forces to transform organic waste into high-value products for agriculture. At the same time, it will generate renewable energy in a big step forward for circular economy development in Victoria.

In a significant innovation in how the circular economy development can benefit societies, Barwon Water has signed Waste Supply Agreements with the Borough of Queenscliffe, City of Greater Geelong, Golden Plains Shire, and Surf Coast Shire. They will take organic waste from kerbside collection and process it at the Regional Renewable Organics Network (RON) when it is built at its Black Rock Water Reclamation Plant in Connewarre.

The project has received support from the Victorian Government with funding for the business case. It leverages Barwon Water’s expertise and infrastructure as a manager of organic waste from wastewater, including biosolids.

The project will create jobs and keep downward pressure on Barwon Water and the participating councils’ costs. It will further save money for customers and ratepayers in the region.

Circular economy development supported by biochar

Barwon Water Chair Jo Plummer said the Regional RON would deliver significant environmental, economic and community benefits for the region.

“The Regional RON is a key part of our response to the challenges of climate change and population growth. It has been enabled by new technology and a commitment to playing a leading role in circular economy development,” she said.

“The project will convert 40,000 tonnes of organic waste each year into 8,000 tonnes of high-value soil enhancers, including biochar, to support local agriculture.

“Biochar has amazing properties that help lock carbon into soils while helping them retain moisture. It will help make our regional farm soils more climate resilient.”

Plummer said that as well as creating biochar, the processing of the waste would generate enough renewable electricity to power the equivalent of 500 homes and reduce the region’s carbon emissions by between 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes.

“It also provides a local, long-term waste solution for councils and their ratepayers with lower financial and environmental costs. It reduces Barwon Water’s energy costs by powering the Black Rock Water Reclamation Plant through the production of renewable energy, keeping our customer bills affordable.”

Circular economy development to build jobs and sustainability

Ms Plummer said the Regional RON would boost the local economy by also creating 75 construction jobs and 36 ongoing jobs.

The project proposes the construction of a state-of-the-art and sustainable organics processing facility to be operational by mid-2025.

The facility will operate under similar principles to the Colac Renewable Organics Network at Barwon Water’s Colac Water Reclamation Plant.

The Colac RON was created in partnership with Australian Lamb Company and Bulla Dairy Foods. It converts organic trade waste from those companies into soil enhancers and renewable energy. It takes the Colac plant off the grid, saving money and reducing carbon emissions.

Barwon Water, Colac Otway Shire and other Colac businesses are exploring opportunities for processing additional organic waste at the Colac RON. At the same time, Barwon Water and Wyndham City Council continue to explore partnership opportunities.

Minister for Water Harriet Shing said the Regional Renewable Organics Network would help the water sector lead the way in circular economy development and tackling climate change.

“Projects like this play an important role in Victoria’s circular economy aims and target of zero emissions. It will also lower Barwon Water’s production costs, which will help keep water bills down for their customers.”

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said the project would help reduce waste in the landfill while producing cleaner energy.

“This project will recycle 40,000 tonnes of waste and reduce regional emissions by 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes, the equivalent of taking more than 4,000 cars off the road.”

Working with councils

Plummer said Barwon Water was delighted to collaborate with local governments on the unique and exciting project.

“The Regional RON will lead our region’s transition to a circular economy. Materials are continually reused and recycled to increase their lifespan, add value and reduce waste.

“Another great positive from the project is how it provides an innovative local solution for kerbside organics recycling, meaning it will be processed in our region rather than taking long distances for processing, saving carbon emissions and costs in transport.

“By working together, we can reduce waste and energy costs, create jobs and help our region prosper.”

City of Greater Geelong councillor Belinda Moloney said the sustainable organics processing facility would help the City meet its aim of rolling out a region-wide food waste collection service.

“There is currently no local facility capable of processing enough food waste to introduce this service across our entire community. This project will fill that gap, allowing us to remove and recycle around a third of red household bins.”

Surf Coast Shire Mayor Libby Stapleton said the shire was excited to be part of the Regional RON.

Excitement around circular economy development

“The Regional RON project is one of several ways we are looking to reduce our carbon footprint. It comes after a recent achievement of being carbon neutral-certified for our corporate operations. We hope our leadership in this area inspires organisations and individuals across the shire and the region to switch to renewables and seek sustainable alternatives.”

Golden Plains Shire Mayor Gavin Gamble said the project was a great initiative for long-term solutions for waste management. Golden Plains Shire Council was pleased to partner with the other councils and Barwon Water to develop the innovative project.

“For growing councils like Golden Plains Shire, waste management is expensive and challenging. This is a great example of a regional solution for innovative and sustainable waste management. It will allow our Council to introduce an organic waste service.”

Queenscliffe Mayor Ross Ebbels said the project’s environmental benefits were important to the Council. The Council is rolling out its Climate Emergency Response Plan to make the community carbon-neutral by 2031.

“Processing our organic waste locally to create high-value products for agriculture and renewable energy is exactly the innovative thinking we need in the fight against climate change.”

To learn more about the Regional RON, visit

Background to the agreement and circular economy development

The Regional RON involves exploring opportunities to take local commercial, industrial and household organic waste. The waste will be converted into nutrient-rich products. Those products can improve the soil for agricultural uses, capture carbon in the ground, and generate clean, green energy.

Barwon Water has engaged GHD, a highly experienced international engineering firm founded in Australia, to undertake a detailed options assessment and initial design works to meet the needs of the Regional RON facility.

The Regional RON will continue the evolution of the Black Rock site as a world-class facility for clean, safe resource generation, sustainable infrastructure and water security, from a sewerage treatment plant to a resource generation centre.

The facility will have a relatively small footprint once integrated into the Black Rock site. The site is already home to a 3-megawatt solar farm. The solar farm supplies up to 35 per cent of the plant’s electricity use. The Regional RON will provide an additional 14 per cent. The solar farm also supplies recycled water to the region.

The project and its benefits have received a lot of support from the local communities. Another round of community engagement is planned for later this year. It is an opportunity to share the outcomes of GHD’s assessments on operational aspects of the facility and to seek further community feedback.

The Regional RON facility should be operational by mid-2025, with construction starting in late 2023. The Regional RON facility will require a development licence from the Environment Protection Authority.

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