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New recycling technology launched in Australia

A unique trash recycling facility will come online in Australia that will take unsegregated household garbage, categorize it, producing water and gas for electricity production while doing so.

This facility was developed by an Israeli environmental management services company called Arrow Ecology, which aims to conquer the world market for resource recovery from household garbage. For Arrow CEO Yair Zadik, the recipient of the Israeli Presidential National Defense Award, it's a closure of a sort. Ten years ago he celebrated another operational launch under his command, bearing a similar name: the anti-ballistic Arrow missile.

“I hope we succeed here like we did there,” he says. “At first they said I was crazy, but we presented technology that creates a new reality for garbage too. Nobody in the world has gone in this direction.”

Zadik, an air force navigator, physicist and computer scientist, abandoned his doctoral work in physics to concentrate on the Arrow missile. He then moved from Defense to high-tech until being urged by brother Boaz to help him and his partners with an interesting idea they were nurturing.

The idea sounded simple enough: to treat solid waste using water. But their point of origin, says Zadik, was revolutionary. “Europe was still considering how to treat segregated trash, and assumed they could teach the public to classify it. Our point of origin was that people would never segregate trash properly. So instead of educating the public, we invented a technology that would separate the trash and recycle it, too.”

The model developed by Zadik and his partners, Yeheskel Ezair and Israel Feig, was a new animal. Trash is automatically separated according to recycling technology, using streams of water that prevent environmental damage (by virtue of the liquid environment). The natural gas produced in the process is used to produce electricity and the water, including recovered from the trash, itself is reused.

Arrow claims that its technology can turn one ton of trash into 100 cubic meters of gas, 150 kilos of plastic, 30 kilos of metal, 50 kilos of cardboard, 200 kilos of fertilizer, 30 kilos of glass and 300 liters of water. The remaining 200-250 kilos of compound materials and textile is buried, minus organic contaminants.

“Today's garbage treatment involves burning, burying or biological treatment,” explains Zadik. “These methods have all failed, because they contain or produce contaminants. Our approach begins with cleaning contaminants and only then, treating the raw materials themselves. That's the breakthrough. We recycle 80% of everything discarded. The only method that achieves 90% exploitation is burning, but that costs much more and creates severe environmental problems.”

Is Arrow's method economically feasible? The initial investment is large but compared with competing technologies in Europe, Arrow's technology is cheaper, Zadik insists. The cost of building a facility for a 100,000-person town would run to $25 million, he says.

Arrow invested $20 million in model development and built its prototype at Hiriya, the Tel Aviv garbage mountain. The facility has become a Mecca for recyclers, a fact that Zadik brandished before potential financiers, returning with funding from the English firm Consensus Business Group and an Israeli company that today own 40% of Arrow. In 2006 Arrow and a local company won a roughly $50 million tender to build and operate a trash treatment plant in Sydney.

“That facility will change the future of garbage in Australia,” says Zadik. The consortium is presently contending in a second Aussie tender.

Meanwhile, Arrow has sold planning services to California and Scotland and signed a contract to build another plant in Mexico, again with a local partner. “Everybody who's inspected the system so far says it's the best in the world, in price and in produced quality,” he says.

Partnerships help the company reduce risks. Winning a tender and building a plant can take some four years. Arrow seeks alliances with local trash handling companies, no longer garbage truck drivers but recyclers. “Our clients abroad aren't local authorities, but local garbage companies seeking technology to survive in the changing garbage market. But in Israel, we're familiar with the (pertinent) regulation, and therefore aim directly for the end client - the local authorities.”

The economic feasibility of investment actually depends on pre-existing recycling plants, or natural gas consumers in the immediate surroundings of the plant?

“The moment you enter the area, you create an anchor,” Zadik explains. The others will come. “We intend for each such plant to be surrounded by recycling facilities, creating a sort of compound. Trash comes in and raw materials for industry go out. Our partners in Australia are already negotiating to build plants of that type next door, and that's the model we'll try to implement at Hiriya.” Meanwhile Arrow is trying to hawk its extracted products to industry, but recycling in Israel is an industry in diapers. Even so, he says, the mood has changed.

Locally almost all garbage is buried, because it's cheap, but Europeans for example have grasped the environmental hazards that burial creates, and charge fees, which can make recycling the cheaper option. In Israel burying a ton of trash costs $25, compared with as much as $200 in Europe, Zadik says. But he believes that changing sentiment and government assistance will change the methodology here too.

Yes, for now Arrow is losing money on each ton of trash that it treats in Israel but it needs the experience to market itself abroad. His aim is to grow his startup into a multinational. “My model is Ormat Industries,” he says, referring to the renewable energy empire founded, nurtured and run by Yehuda and Yehudit Bronicki, which builds and operates geothermal, heat recovery and other types of power plants worldwide. “I watch them, learn from them and aspire to emulate their model at several levels.” Meanwhile Arrow has introduced a stock options plan for its workers, down to the lowest level: “They also have horse sense that can help us make it.” (haaretz)