Innovation roundup: waste management

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Innovation roundup: waste management

Newcastle City Council was seeking to boost its income from charging tipping fees, and was reported to have considered cutting or waiving dumping fees to entice developers back to the city's landfill tip. Many developers had apparently been taking their rubbish to a cheaper disposal site at Port Stephens, costing Newcastle an estimated $1.37 million from its budget. The council proposed the discount for large-scale dumpers, and so essentially offering an incentive to retain the business of high-volume customers. Newcastle City Council has often expressed its wish to turn Summer Hill into a true regional waste facility, charging other local government areas to dispose of their rubbish.

Various councils participated in the NSW Government’s fridge buyback program, which began in 2011. The program encourages households to surrender their old second (or third) fridges and upright freezers by offering free collection and a $35 rebate. Older fridges are invariably less efficient than newer models, they can add about $300 a year to the household power bill and also put around a tonne of carbon pollution into the atmosphere a year. To qualify for the program, the fridge or upright freezer must currently be in use, built before 1996, and be 200 litres or more in size. While this criterion was applied for rebates, any fridges or freezers would be collected to be collected to be degassed and recycled.

The Fridge Buyback Scheme in NSW collected 10,825 fridges during the last financial year. Shoalhaven City was active in the program with an estimated 12,500 Shoalhaven residents in possession of a second fridge or upright freezer, and many of its residents were amongst over 36,500 NSW residents that had saved an estimated $9.7 million in annual electricity bills. With fridges the third biggest energy using appliance in NSW homes after hot water and heating, and old fridges using up to three times the amount of energy compared to new fridges, it was estimated that each old fridge taken out of circulation could save an average of $265 on electricity bills. 

The Mayor of Dungog Shire (population 8,600 people in an area of 2,248 square kilometres) has challenged the imposition of a levy at more than $42 a tonne of waste (due to rise by $10 a tonne for each of the next three years). In rural areas rubbish can be too easily dumped beside some little-used bush track, with old mattresses and asbestos waste quite commonly disposed of this way.

The Mayor stated, “it should be cheap and easy to do the right thing, not expensive and difficult. I would like to see Dungog Shire removed from the list of areas required to pay this levy. Few other rural councils do”.

Bankstown City Council developed a scheme to give residents the chance to turn their garden waste into free, high-quality compost to promote sustainability. The ‘Wheelie Good Compost Campaign’ project involved closed-loop recycling where the waste or by product of one process or product is used in the manufacturing of another product. The council was collecting about 23,000 tonnes of green waste a year from 56,000 households, most of which ends up in waste facilities that increasingly struggle with a lack of space. The council’s resource recovery team would turn the waste into mulch and compost before offering it back to residents free. 

Recycled waste, available at most local nurseries, will be certified to Australian standards and packaged in 25-litre bags which would usually sell for about $10 in garden centres. Bankstown City Council also subjected residents to random bin inspections by council officers with yellow bins of the highest standard given smiley-face stickers, thus prompting healthy competition among neighbouring streets.

The conservative estimate is that Australians dump around 140,000 tonnes of hazardous e-waste every year (such as disused and obsolete computers, TV sets and monitors). In response, Maitland based Mai-Wel E-Cycling Services worked in partnership with five local government organisations to provide e-cycling services to residential ratepayers with the collection of unwanted electrical equipment for a small fee. While 99 per cent of items can be recycled, some can be refurbished for resale to local charities. 

Steel, cabling, circuit boards and precious metals can be sold on the open market to offset the costs of disassembly, while all cathode ray tube (CRT) glass is fully recycled in Australia by Australia's only CRT recycling facility in South Australia and all lead and glass is recovered for reuse. Hunter Resource Recovery (HRR), a commercial entity owned by Maitland, Cessnock and Lake Macquarie councils, manages the services. E-cycling contracts are also in place with Newcastle and Port Stephens councils. Further, Mai-Wel is the largest disability service provider in the Lower Hunter area

Chris Lewis is Visiting Fellow at ANZSOG Institute for Governance.

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