Wastes (resources with no further use) are an indicator of how we live within our environment. The amount of waste indicates how efficient we are in using resources. The type of waste shows what we value. The way we dispose of waste shows our concern for our environment.

The ACT is one of Australia’s largest waste producers per capita. On Government figures, the ACT once had the best recycling performance in Australia. In 2005-06 it was 75%, however, the overall waste recovery rate reduced to 72.6% in 2014-15.

Total waste to landfill continues to increase, as does our overall waste generation per person from 1.65 tonnes per person 2001 02, increasing to 2.06 tonnes 2007 08 then 2.64 tonnes 2010 11 and still 2.6 tonnes in 2013. Total waste to landfill 2014-15 was 243,793 tonnes.

The current end of the line for ACT waste is at Mugga Lane as landfill. Mugga Lane has finite capacity and will reach its limits within a few years. This waste is creating a hill out of a red gum yellow box grassy woodland valley. Old landfill cells ‘re-shaped’ in 2014 to address landfill shortage created significant odour issues for surrounding suburbs. Two new landfill cells opened since provide expected capacity until 2018 at a cost of $21 million in the ACT 2015–16 Budget.

The No Waste By 2010 Strategy adopted in 1996 was reported on in 2000 by ACT Commissioner for the Environment saying “to be successful, the strategy will require successive Ministers to ensure that it retains a high profile, both in the ACT Legislative Assembly and in the community. I believe the strategy cannot be successfully implemented without enormous combined support of Government and the businesses and residents of the ACT.”

Successive governments, however, did not fund actions set out to achieve no waste by 2010. The ACT Government should: return to a policy of no waste to landfill; prioritise waste minimisation and recycling as well as doing waste management, and; take an active role in determining the materials that enter the waste stream. All ACT waste should be managed and disposed in the ACT with only recovered resources leaving the ACT. Management of waste can generate social capital through development of local reuse, resource recovery and recycling services as demonstrated by recent establishment of the mattress recycling initiative.

Apply waste hierarchy

  • Embed hierarchy: Avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, treat, dispose – in waste management policy, objectives, outcomes and contracts, and encourage and communicate to residents and business. Strengthen the waste hierarchy in education through the ACTSmart schools program. Disposal is a last resort not necessary with closed-looped systems.
  • Emphasise avoid including ‘refuse’ and ‘reject’: ACT has reduced use of plastic bags and could restrict single use polystyrene products. ACT should work to manage use and reuse of products so if their only fate is landfill after a single use then we should not be using it.
  • ACT Government should be leader working with other governments to develop national standards to support product stewardship and to restrict and ultimately phase out production of materials that cannot be reused or recycled. ACT Government should help develop markets for recycled products by preferential purchasing of recycled products where performance and price are comparable.

No Waste Policy

  • Zero Waste Objective: return to target-based policy objective of no waste to landfill as ultimate aim after problematic wastes (asbestos, CCA treated timber etc.) are safely removed.
  • Establish statutory Waste Agency: with authority and mandate to achieve waste targets
  • Publish accurate reporting: Reinstate open and transparent public reporting as used to occur with all prepared reports made publicly available including on waste generation, recycling and best practice benchmarks. Waste streams data to be updated more quickly, more frequently and reported directly to community and Legislative Assembly.
  • Waste strategy: require Waste Agency to develop and implement ACT Waste Strategy with key focus on short and long-term targets for waste reduction, resource recovery and diversion of waste from landfill. Waste Strategy to be revised and renewed at least every five years.
  • Stop the practice of cheap landfill disposal by regulating disposal of waste that should instead be reused or recycled.

Reduce Waste Generation

  • Community Education: Conduct program on waste avoidance and waste reduction including on difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’, and; an emphasis to reduce food waste given each household throws away about $1000 food p.a. and food is about 40% of domestic waste
  • Change food labelling: Work with national, NSW and regional local governments to change ‘use by’ labeling to ‘best before’ in all possible cases to reduce good food being thrown away.
  • Packaging Requirements: Move to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging through targeted education, regulation and contributing to national forums.
  • Develop options to ban sale of bottled water in ACT: as for Bundanoon, San Francisco.
  • No non-recyclable products: Restrict use or sale of products that cannot be recycled (e.g. cling wrap, polystyrene) or develop systems for recycling. Disallow packaging not be reused or recycled through ACT’s waste system. Use of plastic should be reduced given environmental damage done by plastic litter and waste in waterways and eventually world’s oceans.
  • Reduce Food Waste Program: provide funding for delivery by community organisations.

Reuse and Recycling

  • Support growth and development of local reuse industry
  • Develop, implement strategy to support a robust local recycling industry to maximise local reprocessing and markets
  • Progress development of Hume Resource Recovery Estate to assist local industry.

Reduce Waste to Landfill

  •  Household Organic Waste: Develop closed loop systems for garden and food waste to maximise nutrient retrieval and recycling. Divert all garden and food waste from landfill and use sustainably including as compost available to local producers at no or low cost.
  • Review past garden and food waste systems to develop best model for ACT region. Establish composting system for domestic organic (putrescible) waste including some through existing treatment businesses and consider developing community and locality composting
  • Implement food waste charge on outlets. Use revenue to support food recovery charities.
  • Commercial and industrial Waste: Establish waste reduction system, perhaps similar to source-separated domestic recycling scheme, to apply to commercial and industrial sector.
  • Construction and Demolition Waste: Establish systematic higher-end use value from demolition material including through allowing on-site sale of materials.
  • Provide incentives for construction companies following proper procedures of sorting at source and delivery and also apply to other parts of commercial and Industrial waste stream.
  • Waste from Multi-Unit Dwellings: Introduce recycling program focused on residents of multi-unit dwellings including changes to planning regulations to ensure that all new multi-unit developments have built-in exemplar recycling and waste management arrangements.
  • Waste in Public Places: Introduce easy to use recycling bins alongside rubbish bins in all public places, including town centres and all sporting and cultural spaces
  • Legislate for extraction of resources: Legislate that no material be accepted to landfill, or ‘Energy from Waste Solutions’, unless it is first processed to extract all resources possible.