Imagine Canberra's food scraps being used to fertilise the region's grape vines and produce local wine.
Chris Steel already has. The idea is one of several on the newly minted ACT Minister for Recycling and Waste Reduction's mind as he grapples with the pressing need for Australia to build new domestic industries and markets from scratch and refocus others to make the most of our recycling.
Australia sent a whopping 4.3 million tonnes of waste overseas last year, but the days of shipping our rubbish off-shore will soon be over. The Council of Australian Governments resolved in August to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, and instead work to build the country's capacity to generate high-value recycled products.
The decision prompted Chief Minister Andrew Barr to increase the ACT government's focus on waste management by creating a new portfolio for Mr Steel, who was already responsible for city services, in a ministerial reshuffle on Monday.
The nation's environment ministers are yet to set a timetable for Australia's withdrawal from overseas waste export markets, but Mr Steel said it was important to act quickly in anticipation.
One of the first things in his sights is food scraps. They make up 37 per cent of Canberra's average weekly waste collection and just 38 per cent of ACT households have registered for a green waste bin, meaning there is an opportunity to divert significant volumes of waste from landfill each year by establishing a food organic waste collection service.
Mr Steel said the ACT government had made a commitment to start planning such a service, and he was already thinking about where the recycled food waste could be used to benefit the local area.
"I recently came back from the United States, where we visited Recology, a materials recovery facility in San Francisco," he told the Sunday Canberra Times.
"They are sending all of their food scraps, turned into high-grade compost, to the Napa Valley to be used in grape plantations. That's been really successful and I can see an analogy here for us, with Murrumbateman and the Canberra wine region, and with the agriculture going on around us.
"Could we have a situation where Canberra's food scraps are actually being used to create local produce for our region? I think that'd be a fantastic story to tell and that's what we've got an opportunity to do."
Canberra is already well-placed to take advantage of some recyclable materials.
The Container Deposit Scheme set up last year gives people a financial incentive to drop off empty drink containers that might otherwise end up in landfill, or contaminated by other waste. More than 33 million containers have been returned since the scheme began in June last year and Mr Steel said there were "reasonably good markets" for them.
Strong markets for paper and cardboard exist in the region because of the large pulp and paper mill in Tumut.
Glass is also now being processed into sand in the ACT, and used in projects including the construction of roads.
But for many other recyclable materials, the answers are not so clear-cut as the ACT government works towards its goal of 90 per cent resource recovery by 2025.
To help the government achieve this target, it has rolled out a number of programs including the Container Deposit Scheme and the "Recycle Right" education campaign, while nearly 71,000 Canberra households had registered for a green waste bin at the end of July this year.
The government is also examining options to extend its ban on single-use plastic shopping bags to include all single-use plastic material.
But Mr Steel said more work needed to be done for the Canberra region to create a "circular economy" that eliminated waste and promoted the continual use of resources.
"What we need to do is build brand new markets that haven't existed before for some of these resources [in Australia], and that's going to be a huge challenge," Mr Steel said.
"But it's exciting at the same time and there are also huge opportunities for our region in terms of creating industries and jobs to manage this waste."
One of his first acts as the new Minister for Recycling and Waste Reduction will be to meet with the NSW councils that are part of the Canberra Region Joint Organisation and identify opportunities for market development in the area.
There is also a need to look at improving existing waste facilities. Mr Steel said the Recology facility in San Francisco was able to effectively sort recyclables into 16 different materials. But the ACT's Materials Recovery Facility, in Hume, can only sort recycling into nine different categories, suggesting improvements can be made.
"That really constrains your ability, because if you haven't sorted [materials] effectively there's contamination," Mr Steel said.
"Reducing contamination allows you to get a much more clean product, which can then be used and goes through various other processes.
"We've been working closely with Re:Group, the [Materials Recovery Faciliity] operator, to identify what the opportunities might be.
"If there is funding on the table, the ACT government and our local industry need to be well-placed to be able to bid for that so we can bring our plants up to spec and participate in the new [domestic] commodity markets that we've decided as a nation that we want to participate in.
"We simply haven't got some of those markets at the moment, so it's going to be a huge challenge."
While the focus is on recycling, there is still a continuing need for landfill capacity. In the ACT last financial year, 256,276 tonnes of waste went to landfill in Mugga Lane and West Belconnen. The annual figure is decreasing, having dropped from 511,291 tonnes in 2016-17 and 340,931 tonnes in 2017-18. The slow-down in Mr Fluffy demolitions is largely responsible for the decrease.
The West Belconnen tip is closing in 2021, but work is under way to expand the Mugga Lane landfill site, with $25 million announced in the 2017-18 budget being used to fund upgrades that will provide the necessary capacity until at least 2030.
Beyond that, Mr Steel said there was the potential to fund further expansions at Mugga Lane that could see the ACT through until about 2050, when he conceded the "geographically constrained" territory may have to look at using landfill facilities outside its borders.
The abandoned Mugga 2 quarry site on Mugga Lane is also being redeveloped to accept clean fill and inert construction and demolition waste. It is expected to begin operating in early 2020.