Q&A: Waste and Recycling in Southern Sydney
At next week’s Film & Feast, Transition Bondi will be screening the film Waste Land and hearing about Southern Sydney’s waste and recycling strategies from Louie Leung, waste educator for the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC). To prepare for Film & Feast, we presented some questions to SSROC. Here’s what the organisation had to say.
Over the past few years, councils have been doing bin audits. What have been the main findings?
Generally over the region, councils are seeing more textiles coming into yellow bins and an increase in soft plastics. Containarised food is also a consistent contaminant across the region, leading to a loss of recycling potential for containers.
We learned through the ABC’s ‘War on Waste’ that some of our ‘recyclables’ aren’t actually being recycled. Is this true in Southern Sydney?
This is not the case in our region. One of the things that more of the general public is learning, however, is that recyclables are – like other resources – international commodities. That means the prices and money earnt can go up and down. With that context, recyclers can legally stockpile materials temporarily (within their license’s conditions) to wait for prices to go up again. And we’re also learning that the quality of the material affects the price. So this makes it even more important to recycle as carefully as possible.
The region has a 75 per cent overall diversion target by 2021-22. How does Southern Sydney plan to achieve this goal?
SSROC councils are working towards an overall 75 per cent diversion of landfill waste with several approaches:
- Increase processing red bin waste to recover resources (materials and energy)
- Capturing more recyclables, food organics and garden organics from the red bin
- Decreasing contamination of recycling and organics bins
- Processing clean-up material to recover resources (materials and energy)
- Engaging residents to improve bin and kerbside clean-up behaviours
- Supporting councils to undertake internal stakeholder engagement about energy from waste
It appears that the Veolia bioreactor facility at Woodlawn is playing an increasing role in resource recovery and energy generation from waste. Some argue that bioreactors are ‘beasts that need to be fed’ and therefore reduce incentives for waste reduction. Could you tell us more about this facility and respond to such an opposing argument?
Woodlawn is a facility that produces compost for soil improvement; it’s not a thermal treatment plant / incinerator. The ‘it’s a beast that needs to be fed’ is a phrase used commonly against incineration or thermal energy recovery facilities in Europe. The Woodlawn facility is neither of these.
It’s a mechanical biological treatment (MBT) facility that produces a compost-like product used to remediate the old mine site. Veolia has been doing a number of initiatives over the years using renewable and recoverable energy. The Woodlawn facility is a good example of a closed-loop system. It’s well worth a look at their website and a site tour. The NSW parliamentary enquiry findings on the broader discussion about recovering energy from waste can be found here.
What are the most common ‘problem wastes’ or ‘contaminants’ that show up in the waste stream that people should either avoid entirely or dispose of responsibly? What is being done to make proper disposal easier for residents?
By weight, most of the collection at Community Recycling Centres and Chemical CleanOut events is paint followed by oils; gas bottles and fire extinguishers; and poisons and other liquids. Leftover paint can be donated to organisations such as The Bower Reuse & Repair Centre in Marrickville.
By mid 2017, 60 Community Recycling Centres had opened across NSW, helping councils to collect common household problem wastes. Future grants aim to achieve more than 90 per cent reach of NSW residents (one centre for every 50,000 metropolitan residents), providing disposal sites for the most frequent problem wastes year round.
The Chemical CleanOut program will continue to run as more CRCs are rolling out on selected dates throughout the year. In the future CleanOuts will focus on collecting household chemicals (a less frequent problem waste), while CRCs collect the core household problem wastes. E-waste is commonly collected by councils as well as recycled through the National TV and Computer Recycling Scheme – a form of product stewardship where companies like OfficeWorks and The Good Guys collect electronics at the end of their life cycle. Drop-off points can be found here.
Of course, there are plenty of other items (such as plastic bags, soft plastics and coffee cups and lids) that people think are recyclable but are not. What is SSROC doing to address these challenges?
Our newly launched Dumping Is Rubbish web hub redirects residents to their council’s waste service information; it is promoted through digital advertising and social media videos as well as street ads. The website also educates the public about what reuse options are currently available. We are also looking into raising awareness about the contamination of yellow bins by soft plastics through another social media video campaign.
Over the past months, there has been a big focus on English students at adult colleges (e.g. TAFE), who may be hard to reach in mainstream communication due to language and cultural barriers. Last year, we reached 2,200 participants in face-to-face workshops, and another 1,600 during the past six months. We’ve conducted many radio interviews as well.
What have we learnt thus far from the new container deposit schemes that have rolled out across the state?
Overall, the initial trend shows the community is using the facilities and increasing the number of containers being returned week by week. Councils are keen to see better coverage and suitable facilities for the community to use.
Is there anything unique to the Sydney area when it comes to waste and resource recovery?
No, nothing unique. The main challenge for metro areas is a lack of facilities for reuse and resource recovery; a lack of land suitably zoned; and a lack of planning, which is a state government matter. The lack of forward planning creates enormous challenges for industry and councils who have to manage the waste – including, unsurprisingly, getting the community to accept any new facilities in the Sydney region. At the same time, we have population expansion, which means more and more people producing waste that has to be reused, recycled, treated for energy recovery, or landfilled.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities in terms of household waste reduction, positive behaviour change, or council intervention?
We see great opportunity in changes to composition of packaging so that recyclable materials are used for packaging in the first place. Charging household waste by weight is an option worth exploring as well.
Thankyou for a very detailed and informative survey of many important issues around waste, on a small and large scale. It is good to be able to dig deeper (excuse the pun) into this huge topic, with the help of the questions and answers provided
Please note that the image of the Veolia MBT should be credited to Veolia Australia and New Zealand.
Thanks for letting us know. All fixed.