Reducing Canberra’s Waste Mountain – Environment Exchange

Environment Exchange

According to a 2014 audit of the composition of red garbage bins – a large Environment Exchangecomponent is recyclables and food organics with only 20-30% comprised of residual waste. Obviously there is a waste management problem that requires: engagement, education and enhancement.

We have the overall vision to manage waste in the ACT. The challenge now is to examine how we can minimize our consumption in the first place. Waste management is more than the recapture and recycling of resources like plastic, paper and metal. It is also about how successfully we can reduce our overall consumption from the very beginning.  Without overall system change implemented by the government, individuals alone cannot successfully initiate change. How can we pivot our approach to focus on waste reduction rather than management? Especially when Canberra is high on the list of wasteful regions in one of the world’s most wasteful countries.

In the lead-up to the 2016 election the Conservation Council’s policy “Waste and resource management – being efficient through closed-lopped material systems” was in our 2016 ACT Election Agenda – Our future, our environment.

Our June 2017 Environment Exchange was Reducing Canberra’s Waste Mountain: Minimising our Consumption. Our Speakers, and their presentation, to look at these issues were:

    • Jim Corrigan – Deputy Director-General Transport Canberra and City Services. See the presentation.
    • Markus Dirnberger- Member Coalition for Pollution Reduction and current ANU engineering student. See the presentation. 
    • Mia Swainson – Environmental engineer and sustainable lifestyle writer for HerCanberra , worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. See the presentation.
    • Larry O’Loughlin- Executive Director Conservation Council ACT Region. See the presentation.

Jim Corrigan spoke on the ACT Budget 2017-18 allocations on waste and what is currently happening with the ACT Waste Feasibility Study.

The 2017-18 budget commitments for waste include:

  • Landfill expansion at Mugga Lane, costing $25.3m over four years, to ensure continued operations beyond 2020, when current capacity is expected to expire.
  • Landfill rehabilitation at West Belconnen and Mugga Lane, costing $34.8m over four years, a requirement to remediate West Belconnen site before closure and transfer to the Ginninderry development in 2020, and, rehabilitate landfill cells at Mugga Lane that have reached maximum capacity.
  • The roll out of the green waste bin service to provide an organic waste collection service to territory residents.
  • A container deposit scheme to increase recycling rates, reduce litter and encourage community participation in recycling.
  • Implementation of Waste Management and Resource Recovery (WMRR) Act 2016 and waste policy development. The Government will implement the WMRR Act 2016, which comes into effect on 1 July 2017, and support waste regulatory policy development.

The waste feasibility study is a two year study which commenced in mid 2015 to identify pathways to achieving the best practice waste management to achieve a sustainable, carbon-neutral Canberra by reducing waste and recovering resources.  Jim outlined the next steps for the study, including providing a roadmap for future initiatives and infrastructure, implementing  the WMRR Act and that there will be further Government consideration later in 2017.

Markus Dirnberger advocated for the ACT to implement some international lessons for reducing and avoiding wastes. Markus has spent time in Germany and Austria, these countries formed the foundation of his study on EU waste management. As with other speakers, Markus stressed that up to 50% of our general waste is made up of organic materials; in Canberra these produce methane in landfills. He argued that the new ACT green bins, which are being rolled out as part of the budget commitments, fail to address food waste and thereby the real issue. In comparison, in the EU, city municipalities must collect and appropriately recover energy from all organics (garden + kitchen). For example, the Munich “dry fermentation” plant produces biogas and compost for farmers and local residents. While in France it is illegal for supermarkets to throw away food, as it must be given to local charities and benefit for society instead of being disposed of, like in Australia. Unlike in the ACT, Markus highlighted that waste collection agencies in the EU operate as communal organisations. They are run by the society, for the society thus profits are returned to the community to improve infrastructure, education, research and development. A key recommendation by Copenhagen Resource Institute in a report commissioned for the EU Commission: “keep everything in municipal ownership and collect relevant waste streams on your own.” In addition, Markus is concerned about the ACT Government introducing a feed-in-tariff for waste-to-energy. It is considered “renewable energy” for electricity production by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This threatens recycling and thus incentivises the production of more waste. An alternative is investing in recycling as the recycling industry creates 5-7 times as many jobs as the incineration industry in Germany. However, Markus concluded by examining how we can move towards zero waste and therefore minimise our consumption from the beginning. Some suggestions included:

  • We need to set clear targets to reduce resource consumption.
  • Define separate reuse and recycling targets to ensure waste hierarchy is maintained, encouraging reuse over recycling.
  • Introduce an Australia-wide deposit scheme and encouraged extending the first phase of the scheme in the ACT to retail shops for reusables to enable true closed-loop-recycling.
  • We must acknowledge producer responsibility for a product’s end of life in the design process, rather than focusing on unsustainable replacement and recycling.
  • Finally, Markus advocated for transparency with the need for States and Territories to annually publish their data.

Mia Swainson examined how individuals might reduce waste within the system and some best options for dealing with waste. In the ACT approximately 40-50% of our household Landfill is organic waste (food and garden). Mia suggested the most effective form of waste management and reduction is to take out organic waste and implement composting systems. This may be chickens, garden compost and worm farms or community composts, such as the one at the Canberra Environment Centre, for those in higher density living. Redcycle is a great option for recycling soft plastics Find the REDcycle drop off point nearest to you. Furthermore, Mia suggested options for reducing our overall consumption from the very beginning. This included the buy nothing new challenge, buying food in bulk and naked at farmers markets or the food co-op, making your own food and clothes, clothes swaps, toy libraries, BYO coffee cup and water bottle, reusable sandwich wraps, re-purposing and repairing items, refusing what you do not need. These local solutions are already improving our diversion and recovery.
Larry O’Loughlin presented learnings from recent waste projects by Conservation Council ACT interns and from engagement in the Waste Feasibility Study. The long term implications of waste include impacts on biodiversity from expansions of landfill, impacts on region such as proposals to send waste to Woodlawn, and impacts of populations including more residences resulting in more overall consumption. The Conservation Council has had some very successful and insightful waste projects completed by interns and students. The Conservation Council has provided comments on legislation and budget measures including that legislation did not allocate responsibility for waste reduction and did not set targets and 2015-16 budget measures had set up a business case for waste to energy but this was not a priority until waste reduction and community education had been better implemented. Larry also flagged future issues for waste in the ACT region including government proposals to burn waste and stressed that all innovation is not necessarily good innovation. What is of high importance for the ACT going forwards is engagement, education and enhancement. Furthermore, while whole of government measures are good, whole of Australia approaches are necessary.

Register for our next Environment Exchange on 25 July

Beyond Gas: Moving away from the “transition’” fuel. 



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