Australian Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2015

Blog site for the 2015 MSU study abroad program.

5/25 – Alex F.

G’day mates! Today we left our home in Wagga Wagga and began our journey to Sydney, Australia! We started the day with breakfast and hit the road.

Goodbye to the gorgeous Wagga Wagga!

Goodbye to the gorgeous Wagga Wagga!

Our first stop before Sydney was the Orbitas Lead Recovery Plant. We met up with Shaun, Darren, and Matt at Orbitas’ main Wagga Wagga office. Shaun gave a presentation about what Orbitas does and what their company goals are.

Shaun giving his presentation to the crowd

Shaun giving his presentation to the crowd

Orbitas is a company that reprocesses used resources and turns them into lead and other elements. It opened in 2010 and is a relatively new facility located in Wagga Wagga, NSW. It is located there because that is the halfway point between Sydney and Melbourne.

The view from Orbitas' window

The view from Orbitas’ window

Orbitas uses recovered resources to create new and different commodities. They mainly take used lead acid batteries (ULAB) and extract the lead to be used in different projects for clients. They process 42,000 tons of ULAB every year. Lead batteries are typically used in cars, emergency backup systems, and computers. Recycling batteries produces elements like soft lead and sodium sulfate. Sodium sulfate can be used to create paper and plastic products. This cycle of using batteries to produce other products is a great way to create a more sustainable battery life. Many people don’t realize that lead can be recycled indefinitely, and so Orbitas tries to spread the word about this and pays people to take lead based batteries off their hands.

What sets Orbitas apart from other recycling companies is that 95% of the batteries they collect end up being recycled and used in new products. In 2015 they have been working on a new project where they can recycle batteries and used them to reproduce new lead based batteries.

After talking to the Orbitas employees, they took us to the actual plant where lead and other elements are extracted. Since lead is dangerous to breathe in, we had to dress in full jumpsuits and wear gas masks on the tour. We walked around the factory and observed the different machines used to extract lead. The processors were massive and unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures.

Entering RMT, the plant out of Orbitas

Entering RMT, the plant out of Orbitas

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We had to wear masks to prevent us from inhaling lead at the factory

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Dressed in proper tour attire!

The process of extracting lead from batteries was complicated, but as we toured around the facility we got to get a better idea of what the process entailed. Batteries are brought in and stripped down so that the lead components are all that is left. The lead is then put through a cleansing process where it is filtered using high heat in huge vats. The result is a solid bar of lead that can be used by clients.

Orbitas has made many strides in recycling batteries as well as other goods. Orbitas has done a great job in promoting recycling and reuse of products, but they still have some goals to reach in order to become a more sustainable company. Sustainability is defined as balancing social, economic, and environmental outcomes for future generations. While recycling certainly contributes to improving sustainability, there is more that Orbitas could do to become more sustainable. Using renewable energy to help power their plant is one major step Orbitas could take in making their company a more sustainable one. Even though they don’t use renewable energy in this way Orbitas has managed to make a profit while contributing to a more sustainable system. Without Orbitas, lead batteries would sit in landfills and have no use for people.

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Sitting on the train- Dani is excited

After leaving Orbitas, we boarded the bus once again and finally headed off to Sydney. We had a quick drive to the train station and then checked our bags. We took the NSW TrainLink from Wagga Wagga to Sydney, a seven hour trip including stops. NSW TrainLink is a train company dedicated to safe and environmentally friendly transportation. Taking the TrainLink at full capacity is one of the most energy efficient ways to travel. There are also less accidents as compared to driving a car, so it is socially sustainable as well. On their website, they encourage passengers to consider taking subways/trains more often and to respect wildlife areas. They also have a “Greenline” number where passengers can call and give suggestions on how to make the train more environmentally friendly or report any bad behavior. They also encourage using public transportation to minimize people’s carbon footprints. NSW TrainLink travels to most large cities in Australia, so it allows a large quantity of people to travel where they need to be while minimizing how many of these people are driving or flying. NSW TrainLink provided a comfortable and fun environment on our trek to Sydney, and it was a nice break from taking a bus!

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The NSW TrainLink

After a seven hour train ride, we arrived in Sydney. Everyone was excited to finally be done with traveling, even though we made the best of it by playing cards and talking with each other. The city was gorgeous and we can’t wait to see what adventures we get into next!

We made it to Sydney!

We made it to Sydney!

Sydney Central YHA, our hostel

Sydney Central YHA, our hostel

Sources:

http://www.orbitas.com.au/where-to-recycle/renewed-metal-technologies/

http://www.landlearnnsw.org.au/sustainability

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1388248112001270

http://www.nswtrainlink.info/about/environment

http://www.nswtrainlink.info/destinations

http://www.nswtrainlink.info/about/contact

http://www.orbitas.com.au/where-to-recycle/renewed-metal-technologies/

http://www.orbitas.com.au/corporate-overview/environmental-commitment/

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