Managing our green garden and kitchen organic waste

The ACT Government is about to spend $33.3 million on providing a third ‘green’ waste bin for all households in Canberra. This follows a ‘trial’ in Weston Creek and Kambah in 2016-17 at a cost of $1.3 million to over 7,000 households. It seems providing a ‘green’ bin is very popular with residents. But how many Canberrans know the difference between ‘green’ as in garden waste, such as tree and shrub pruning’s, soft weeds and leaf litter, and kitchen food waste? Do Canberrans think this new green bin will also manage our kitchen food waste?

To put this into perspective for over a decade Canberra has had a very high ‘resource recovery’ of ‘green garden’ waste at over 90%. This has been achieved via a free or gold coin fee at garden organics drop-off centres and small business offering fee for service Trash Packs at place of residence. This garden organic material is then converted into compost which is then on-sold.

If we already achieve a 90% resource recovery rate for garden organics – why spend $30 plus million on doing it differently via a green bin. Be great to get the figure up closer to 100% but … are there better policy options to achieve this more cost effectively? Wouldn’t it be better to spend the money on managing our domestic kitchen food waste and organic commercial waste which is 16% of our waste to landfill compared with ‘domestic green waste’ at about 2% of our waste to landfill.

The decision to roll-out the ‘trial’ to all of Canberra was made before the ‘trial’ had even started let alone been evaluated. Some key questions that should be answered by the trial are:

  • how much garden organics in tonnes was collected?
  • when will the evaluation be available? Will the roll-out stop until the evaluation is complete?
  • how much cross-contamination was there and how much of this was kitchen waste?
  • will the 2017-18 trials include ways to collect food waste, to see if it possible to combine both?
  • should we ‘trial’ a domestic food waste only bin?
  • what are the policy options to reduce organic waste from the commercial sector?

Did you know?
* almost 50,000 tonnes of organic waste goes to ACT landfill each year. This is a wasted resource as with appropriate systems this could be converted to useful materials – like compost.
* 45% of household waste to landfill is organic waste (FOGO) with 35% being kitchen food waste (Food Organics – FO) and the other 10% green waste (Garden Organics – GO) that is almost half of your waste to landfill
* 15% of commercial waste is organic waste
* for the last decade over 90% of garden organics is recovered – and this was before the proposed garden waste bin!

Domestic food waste

In Australian households, 33% of food waste is from fresh food every year, 27% is from leftovers, 15% is packaged and long life products and 7% is from takeaway food.

The amount of food waste thrown on average amounts to around $1036 per household per year.

The ACT is the third most wasteful state within Australia, generating up to 14.52kg of food waste per household per week.

A 2014 garbage audit of ACT estimated that 35% of our household waste to landfill is food waste.

Reducing household food waste is good for households, saves money, reduces waste management costs for the ACT Government and is better for the environment.

What is needed:

  • better public reporting on our progress in reducing organic waste to landfill
  • a publicly available review of the Weston and Kambah green waste bin trial as soon as possible
  • consider improvements to the existing green garden waste system as an alternative to the green waste bin for all households – e.g. concessions for seniors, people with disabilities and others who cannot manage delivery of their own garden organics to the collection points or afford to utilise existing Trash Pack services
  • provide for collection of food organics as well as garden organics in the in third green bin (sign our petition)
  • measures to improve uptake of use of ‘compost’ made via the garden organics recycling system.
  • community education: more $$ for community education to highlight food organics and garden organics (FOGO) measures
  • Waste-to-energy: ACT Government to say no to use of waste-to-energy for garden organics or food organics as it is not a “last resort” measure and there are other ways to manage this material
  • Reduce: food waste through community education.

Print version: If you would like a double-sided A4 version of this page download this link Managing our green garden and kitchen organic waste [PDF 841K]

Contact: Executive Director: Larry O’Loughlin: 02 6229 3202 or 0419 266 110

Board Members and Office Bearers

The Conservation Council ACT Region 2017 Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held 9 Novembers 2017.

It went through the business of confirming and accepting the minutes from the previous AGM held 4 November 2016 and heard and accepted reports from the Board (President) and the Executive Director and the statement of accounts and the reports pursuant to section 73 (1) of the Associations Incorporations Act 1991 (Treasurer).

The AGM also appointed our Auditor and the following nominees will be members of the Board and office bearers for 2017-18:

  • President: Rod Griffiths (National Parks Association ACT)
  • Vice-President: Christine Goonrey (NPA)
  • Vice-President: Nick Tebbey (NPA)
  • Secretary: Helen Sims (Friends of Aranda Bushland)
  • Board member: Anthony Burton (Pedal Power)
  • Board member: Jenny Bounds (Canberra Ornithologists Group)
  • Board member: Christopher Dorman (Sustainable Population Australia)
  • Board member: Ian Falconer (Friends of Aranda Bushland)
  • Board member: Peter Ottesen (Southern ACT Catchment Group)
  • Board member: Glenys Patulny (Southern ACT Catchment Group)

In accordance with the Constitution the Board at its first meeting after the AGM on 14 November appointed a treasurer – Charlie Salter – who renominated for a second term.

Biodiversity offsets: are they working in the ACT?

The Conservation Council has long had an interest in, and concern about, biodiversity offsets.

At first glance offsets are about destruction of some area of nature with a promise of future replacement of those destroyed values. Offsets are designed for development that is undertaken by developers and government. What could possibly go wrong?

But offsets are here with us for the time being. They have been adopted as a tool by governments and are being used for development here in the ACT and across Australia.

The ALP-Green Government passed legislation on 23 September 2014 that we suggested would lead to a net loss of biodiversity and needed to be fixed in relation to biodiversity offsets.

The Planning and Development (Bilateral Approval) Amendment Bill 2014 did not adequately apply the avoid, mitigate hierarchy through a referral and assessment stage to ensure offsets are only considered when appropriate and as a last resort. It did not include a referral stage which is currently available under federal environmental law. Further, it did not consistently apply the principles of additionality, like-for-like and security of offsets. Finally, there was inadequate transparency and accountability in the legislation in regards to proponents and how and when effective offsets management and reporting would be undertaken.

There was no public involvement in Offset Management Plans. It did not provide for public input and it did not actually even require the development of offset management plans.

The Conservation Council subsequently said in its 2016 election “asks” policy document:

Offsets: ensure annual public reporting of biodiversity outcomes of offset sites, offset management plans are subject to formal public consultation and the offset calculator reports are included on the public biodiversity offsets register.

At our Environment Exchange of 31 October 2017 we asked: Biodiversity offsets: are they working in the ACT?

We had a range of speakers who have looked at, studied, or implemented offsets. The discussion was a look at the processes used for offsets and how they are delivering in practice.



Phil Gibbons

Phil Gibbons discussed biodiversity offsetting over ten years in New South Wales. ACT’s biodiversity offset policy is based on the same assessment methods as the NSW Native Vegetation ACT 2005. 

The majority of offsets in NSW (82%) are currently obtained by averted loss i.e. avoiding future loss of biodiversity through protection and maintenance, for example clearing firewood. In theory, this approach offsets impacts on biodiversity that cannot be easily restored. However, averted loss will ultimately only slow the rate of biodiversity loss.

Restoration also has its issues. Seedlings can not compensate for clearing mature trees and the loss of native plant species richness, over-storey cover, and trees with hollows. Mobile species such as birds are particularly affected, with bird species richness observed to decline with clearing of woody cover.

A no-net-loss policy will only work if introduced alongside actions that address parts of society/the economy that represent the drivers of biodiversity loss.

ACT Parks and Conservation Service

Next we heard from a panel of ACT Parks and Conservation Service (PCS) officers responsible for implementing ACT biodiversity offsets.

Matters of environmental significance (MNES) currently requiring offsets in the ACT  include:

  • White Box – Yellow Box – Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland
  • Natural Temperate Grassland
  • Striped Legless Lizard
  • Golden Sun Moth
  • Pink-tailed Worm-lizard
  • Superb Parrot

Lexi Williams outlined how PCS are delivering offset commitments by securing long term funding, standardising monitoring, prioritising strategic data collection and increasing collaboration between different sections of government.

Michael Mulvaney, ecologist with ACT Parks and Conservation Service, described how research of Canberra’s Superb Parrot and other species will help to inform future planning and offset activities

Bethany Dunne presented a case study on Isaacs Ridge tree thinning. Previous land management practices left the site severely lacking strong and healthy tree canopy and minimal diversity in mid-story plants typical to Box Gum Grassy Woodland.

High densities of regenerating eucalypts are competing for limited resources and the trees are in poor health, showing signs of stunted growth, heavily infested with parasitic insects, and showing high levels of die-back across all age cohorts.

The project aims to thin regenerating eucalypts and wattles (targeting smaller trees) to reduce competition for nutrients and water.

You can view notes on Ranger Bethany Dunne’s case study on strategic conservation grazing in her presentation Environmental Offsets: Implementation case studies [PDF].

Jenny Bounds – Biodiversity Working Group

Our final speaker Jenny Bounds and members of the Conservation Council Biodiversity Working Group have looked at existing offset arrangements in ACT and developed assessment criteria from studying seven of the sites on the ACT offsets register. The criteria ask important questions relating to offset conditions and plans; habitat improvements; monitoring and reporting; and community involvement.

TheBiodiversity Working Group identified several issues and preliminary conclusions from the site assessments, amongst them a net loss of habitat; untested restoration projects being deemed unachievable; “False offsets” (one site was already a reserve and another a reserve enhanced by community/Parkcare); and issues with Commonwealth in compliance and auditing.

TheBiodiversity Working Group agreed with Friends of Grasslands that the three key questions on offsets are:

  • Have procedural requirements been fulfilled?
  • Has environmental quality of the site improved?
  • What lessons can be learned to improve policy and practice?

Further action

  • If you have knowledge or experience of any ACT biodiversity offsets sites please send your comments on the three key questions:
    • Have procedural requirements been fulfilled?
    • Has environmental quality of the site improved?
    • What lessons can be learned to improve policy and practice?
  • The ACT Government is developing a monitoring and planning framework for offsets (and broader) to inform land management decisions. Contact ACT Government Offsets Planning Team to make comment or add yourself to a mailing list to be kept informed of developments.
  • If you would like to get involved in the biodiversity offsets discussion you can direct any insights or questions to us here.

Zero Emissions – Canberra

The Conservation Council is continuing to engage with the ACT Government on developing a good process for community consultation on getting to zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

All political parties in the Legislative Assembly – Liberals, Labor, Greens – support this goal. We need to take this high-level party political agreement and build genuine community engagement so that we reduce our greenhouse emissions in a fair, shared, fast and effective manner with people understanding how and why steps will be taken.

There should be a place for community organisations – like the Conservation Council and many others such as ACT Council of Social Services, Unions ACT and the Canberra Business Chamber – to be involved in developing and obtaining community engaagement on measures.

Minister Rattenbury has established the Climate Change Ministerial Advisory Group (CCMAG) to meet for the first time 16 November. The Minister’s invitation says:

I am establishing a Climate Change Ministerial Advisory Group (CCMAG) to provide a mechanism for community organisations and businesses to provide input to me from their sectors and member groups as we develop the pathway to net zero emissions. The CCMAG will also be an avenue for communication from Government through CCMAG members to their respective organisations.

The Minister’s intentions seem good – it will be interesting to see how officials react. The ACT Government has already obtained consultants’ reports on emissions from various sectors and is preparing a discussion paper without broad community engagement.

The ACT Government is also seeking economic modelling on emissions reduction options to help develop a new climate change strategy and action plan to 2050. The Conservation Council has provided feedback that one useful approach might be a model where measures would be assessed for the amount of emissions that would be obtained against the overall cost of the measure as in this example for Australia as a whole.

Developing a similar model for Canberra to take account of our main greenhouse gas emissions would allow different measures to be compared and then also be considered for their fairness, likelihood of uptake and overall benefit.