The ACT will be urgently seeking about $10 million from the Commonwealth to upgrade its recycling facilities as part of a region-wide approach to meeting the challenges posed by the imminent ban on waste exports agreed to by COAG.
ACT Minister for Recycling and Waste Reduction Chris Steel and mayors of the Canberra Region Joint Organisation met in Canberra today to thrash out a regional strategy on waste infrastructure priorities, with the Prime Minister leading the waste export ban and Commonwealth funding set to be on the table
The meeting agreed to develop a Regional Waste Infrastructure Prospectus to identify recycling projects, potential plant sites and seek funding from the Commonwealth to develop them, particularly facilities to sort mixed plastic materials, paper and cardboard and glass, and turn them into usable products.
The regional leaders want to see as much material as possible recovered, processed and re-used locally to support regional economies.
Hand in hand they will be examining opportunities to use more recycled material in local infrastructure projects.
They also want to collaborate on facilities to process organic food waste, much of which is going to landfill.
A key goal is to develop new markets within Australia for recyclable products.
It is hoped the region can make its pitch to the Commonwealth in the first quarter of 2020.
Mr Steel said the ACT Government needed to expand its Hume Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) which also serves the region, and install a new machine that will sort, wash and shred mixed plastics into 14 different types of polymers to be turned into products.
It also needed new plants to process paper and cardboard to reduce contamination to 5 per cent and to wash glass so it can be reused.
While the ACT does not export much of its waste, Mr Steel said the region as a whole would come under pressure when the export ban comes into force.
“This is a huge challenge but also an opportunity for the region to create jobs, attract new investment and to be able to deal with our waste locally rather than shipping it overseas,” he said.
Yass Mayor and chair of CRJO Rowena Abbey said Goulburn received 120 containers of waste a day from Sydney so it was not just the region’s waste that needed to be managed.
She said the region would be looking at whatever new technologies could be applied to the problem, including controversial waste to energy.
But Mr Steel said the region was focused on resource recovery before looking at alternatives.
“The ACT is not particularly interested in incineration of waste as an option, but what we are interested in is working regionally to recover as much resource as possible and that should include the latest technology to be able to do that,” he said.
Mr Steel would not be drawn on the possible role of Capital Recycling Solutions’ proposed Fyshwick plant which seems to be stuck at the EIS stage. Capital Recycling Solutions wants to take all of Canberra’s rubbish bound for the Mugga Way landfill, extract recyclable materials, and send it and organic waste away by rail.
Mr Steel said any proposals needed to be assessed for environmental risks and private industry needed to show it was genuinely recovering waste from landfill rather than stockpiling.
“We want to encourage companies in the private sector to be involved in the recycling industry but we also don’t want to create a bigger problem of stockpiling that creates risks like fire,” he said.
Mr Steel said there was huge potential to use recyclables in roads across the region and specifications were being drawn up at a national level.
CRJO has agreed to look at such opportunities and the ACT was already investigating how recycled materials could be used in the Territory’s road resurfacing and building program.
Ms Abbey said CRJO wanted to see new business opportunities and infrastructure across the region, saying all governments needed to work together.
Mr Steel said the ACT and CRJO were working with waste industry and welcomed private sector investment.
“We’re not necessarily asking for the Commonwealth to fund state and local government to do this stuff; it’s actually an injection into our local industry in the region as well,” he said.
He said the meeting outcome was an unprecedented sign of cooperation between local governments in the region and the ACT Government to manage waste.
“Its something we urgently need to do because if we don’t, in relation to the COAG export ban, we’re going to see material landfilled and that is incredibly expensive to do, but it’s also morally the wrong thing to do.”
But local governments could not meet the timeframe for the phasing out of waste exports without Commonwealth assistance, he said.