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Canberra, why so wasteful?

By Kim Fischer - 10 August 2015 94

stock photo tip rubbish

The ACT has been ahead of the curve when it comes to municipal waste management for almost two decades now. It was the first government in the world to set a zero waste goal all the way back in 1996.

The no waste by 2010 goal may not have been achieved, but we successfully lifted our recycling rates from 40 per cent to more than 70 per cent of our total waste steam – the highest in the country at the time. We also have the lowest litter rates per capita.

This chart from the ACT government’s updated waste management strategy shows how over the past 15 years the ACT has managed to decrease its waste levels sent to landfill annually.

Waste to landfill and recovery of waste since 1994-95.

Source: ACT Government.

The same chart also illustrates a real challenge. Our population has only increased by 16 per cent in a decade and a half while the total amount of waste generated across Canberra has grown by over 100 per cent.

In fact, per capita the ACT generates the highest amount of waste in the country. (However, it should be noted that this increase has largely come from the commercial and construction sectors, and not from households.)

The business of recovering and reselling waste products is now a significant money-earner. The most recent national statistics show that waste management organisations in Australia were paid $8.6 billion annually, with $2.4 billion in waste products shipped overseas for processing.

While it is obviously better to recover waste than to leave it in landfill, it is better still not to generate the waste in the first place. Having manufacturing processes that allow continual reuse of its materials is sometimes referred to as a “circular economy”.

For example, in the US the jeans maker Levi Strauss wants to reuse cotton from old garments in new products to eliminate its waste by 2020.

Customers are given a 20 per cent discount when purchasing a new item if they bring in an old garment for recycling. Subaru recently celebrated 10 years of zero-landfill manufacturing of cars, where all waste is either recycled or turned into electricity.

In the construction industry, there is increasingly a shift towards building deconstruction instead of demolition. Deconstruction is a process of taking a building apart with sufficient care so that the materials can be reused and recycled. As disposal charges for building materials increase, deconstruction will become normal.

This encourages innovations in modular, prefabricated building materials that are easy to assemble and disassemble. Reuse rates of 95-100% are typical when fully modular building components are used.

Lastly, no discussion of waste would be complete without looking at the option of a third bin for garden waste (grass clippings and plants) and/or organic waste (kitchen scraps) – a long-time topic of discussion for ACT residents. With around 25 per cent of waste going to landfill coming from residential sources at the moment, there is scope to do better.

A 2011 consultancy found that a third bin for green waste would be largely ineffective since the ACT already recycles more than 90% of its green waste. The same report also found that a third bin for organic waste would be much more expensive ($20m / year) than using dedicated machinery at the landfill to extract organic material from both residential and commercial waste ($8m / year).

With a separate organics bin, on average households will place no more than half of their organic waste into this third bin. So even with a third bin, the regular bin will still contain significant amounts of organic waste that go to landfill.

From this point of view it is regrettable that in 2012 the Greens and Liberals joined together to block the purchase of the specialised equipment required. As a comparatively straightforward way to reduce waste sent to landfill by half or more, it would be nice to see this put back on the agenda.

Are we doing enough to reduce our waste in the ACT? What else would you like to see done?

What’s Your opinion?


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94 Responses to
Canberra, why so wasteful?
Maya123 4:25 pm 10 Aug 15

Tarinedier said :

Nilrem said :

“A 2011 consultancy found that a third bin for green waste would be largely ineffective since the ACT already recycles more than 90% of its green waste.”

Hang on, we compost all our organic kitchen waste and lawn clippings, but we still need to pay for a trashpack every month to deal with all leaves, pruning etc. Is this really than unusual? We would certianly put a third bin to good use, and would happily divert the money we currently spend on the trashpack to a slight increase in rates.

Perhaps instead of forcing all ratepayers to pay for something that only some will utilise, the ones that want it could pay for it separately…. Like they do already….

I would guess now that most people are putting green waste in their bins (how else can they have full bins week after week), so those of us who do compost have been subsidising them for years. You too, if you put vegetable scraps in your bins.

rommeldog56 4:15 pm 10 Aug 15

Tarinedier said :

Perhaps instead of forcing all ratepayers to pay for something that only some will utilise, the ones that want it could pay for it separately…. Like they do already….

Oh, you mean similar to Light Rail from Gunners to Civic ?

Tarinedier 3:50 pm 10 Aug 15

Nilrem said :

“A 2011 consultancy found that a third bin for green waste would be largely ineffective since the ACT already recycles more than 90% of its green waste.”

Hang on, we compost all our organic kitchen waste and lawn clippings, but we still need to pay for a trashpack every month to deal with all leaves, pruning etc. Is this really than unusual? We would certianly put a third bin to good use, and would happily divert the money we currently spend on the trashpack to a slight increase in rates.

Perhaps instead of forcing all ratepayers to pay for something that only some will utilise, the ones that want it could pay for it separately…. Like they do already….

Nilrem 3:35 pm 10 Aug 15

pajs said :

Nilrem said :

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/report-rubbishes-green-waste-bins-20111215-1uva6.html

This apparently is the reason. Which begs the question, why is it clearly viable almost everywhere else?

Because Canberra already has very high rates of self-hauled, clean garden organics. Very differemt to other cities. That’s your baseline when considering the costs and benefits of moving to a kerbside green waste bin.

That’s the baseline , because there is no other choice. I’m sure most of those people who currently transport trailer loads of garden waste themselves, or use a trashpack, would happily switch to an organic waste bin! I for one would happily pay the increased rates required – with the money I currently spend on a trashopack.

pajs 3:27 pm 10 Aug 15

crackerpants said :

Nilrem said :

Maya123 said :

As someone who composts and only puts a garbage bin out (rarely full even then) every few weeks, I would agree that most Canberrans are very wasteful. Otherwise, why do they put out a full bin weekly? (And before someone comes back with something like that they bring home waste from work to fill their bin with, this is not most people’s reason for a full bin.)

Agreed. Our landfill bin is ususally less than half full each week. Why can’t we put garden waste in there? The trashpack people take their loads (mainly garden waste) to landfill.

Our service was at pains to assure us that around 90% of trashpack contents were recycles (mostly garden waste to mulch). But happy to stand corrected – that would certainly make us review what we’re doing at home.

Green waste loads with trashpack providers go to mulch/compost. Way cheaper for the providers than taking it to landfill for disposal to the tip face and paying those higher costs.

pajs 3:24 pm 10 Aug 15

Nilrem said :

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/report-rubbishes-green-waste-bins-20111215-1uva6.html

This apparently is the reason. Which begs the question, why is it clearly viable almost everywhere else?

Because Canberra already has very high rates of self-hauled, clean garden organics. Very differemt to other cities. That’s your baseline when considering the costs and benefits of moving to a kerbside green waste bin.

crackerpants 2:48 pm 10 Aug 15

Nilrem said :

Maya123 said :

As someone who composts and only puts a garbage bin out (rarely full even then) every few weeks, I would agree that most Canberrans are very wasteful. Otherwise, why do they put out a full bin weekly? (And before someone comes back with something like that they bring home waste from work to fill their bin with, this is not most people’s reason for a full bin.)

Agreed. Our landfill bin is ususally less than half full each week. Why can’t we put garden waste in there? The trashpack people take their loads (mainly garden waste) to landfill.

Our service was at pains to assure us that around 90% of trashpack contents were recycles (mostly garden waste to mulch). But happy to stand corrected – that would certainly make us review what we’re doing at home.

crackerpants 2:41 pm 10 Aug 15

Nilrem said :

“A 2011 consultancy found that a third bin for green waste would be largely ineffective since the ACT already recycles more than 90% of its green waste.”

Hang on, we compost all our organic kitchen waste and lawn clippings, but we still need to pay for a trashpack every month to deal with all leaves, pruning etc. Is this really than unusual? We would certianly put a third bin to good use, and would happily divert the money we currently spend on the trashpack to a slight increase in rates.

Based on the Crace post, it probably is unusual. But I’m with you – we have 3 compost bins for kitchen/pet/garden waste, and a warm spot on concrete for “cooking down” some prunings and vegie garden waste after harvest so they can fit in the bins, and we still need a regular trashpack service. Our regular wheelie bin goes out every second week with the recycling, only half full, and that’s mostly nappies (much to my chagrin). We would happily fill a green bin every week or two – even holding back the best stuff for composting for our gardens.

Nilrem 2:26 pm 10 Aug 15

Maya123 said :

As someone who composts and only puts a garbage bin out (rarely full even then) every few weeks, I would agree that most Canberrans are very wasteful. Otherwise, why do they put out a full bin weekly? (And before someone comes back with something like that they bring home waste from work to fill their bin with, this is not most people’s reason for a full bin.)

Agreed. Our landfill bin is ususally less than half full each week. Why can’t we put garden waste in there? The trashpack people take their loads (mainly garden waste) to landfill.

Evilomlap 1:24 pm 10 Aug 15

dungfungus said :

While the statistics may show waste to landfill has decreased there is nothing about the smell increasing during the stewardship of the Labor government.
And it wasn’t simply a matter of “The no waste target by 2010 goal MAY NOT have been been achieved”, it wasn’t, full stop!
The foul odour from the Mugga Lane landfill invades the suburbs of Macarthur, Fadden, Gowrie, Wanniassa, Chisholm and Isaacs whenever wind conditions are calm or bearing from the east.
This was not considered when the Labor government arranged to extend the life of the facility by 30 years just before the 2012 election despite 80% of people surveyed raising the issue of the smell. Before you blame the Liberals and The Greens for blocking purchase of equipment for the landfill, please consider that bit of information.
By the way, you should state the fact that you are standing for election at the next election as a Labor candidate if you intend to make a political statement.

It’s clearly stated on her profile, though I agree in the interests of transparency it wouldn’t hurt to remind people. Particularly if any of these issues are going to be part of her political platform.

Maya123 1:15 pm 10 Aug 15

As someone who composts and only puts a garbage bin out (rarely full even then) every few weeks, I would agree that most Canberrans are very wasteful. Otherwise, why do they put out a full bin weekly? (And before someone comes back with something like that they bring home waste from work to fill their bin with, this is not most people’s reason for a full bin.)

Nilrem 12:28 pm 10 Aug 15

“A 2011 consultancy found that a third bin for green waste would be largely ineffective since the ACT already recycles more than 90% of its green waste.”

Hang on, we compost all our organic kitchen waste and lawn clippings, but we still need to pay for a trashpack every month to deal with all leaves, pruning etc. Is this really than unusual? We would certianly put a third bin to good use, and would happily divert the money we currently spend on the trashpack to a slight increase in rates.

Nilrem 12:23 pm 10 Aug 15

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/report-rubbishes-green-waste-bins-20111215-1uva6.html

This apparently is the reason. Which begs the question, why is it clearly viable almost everywhere else?

dungfungus 12:22 pm 10 Aug 15

While the statistics may show waste to landfill has decreased there is nothing about the smell increasing during the stewardship of the Labor government.
And it wasn’t simply a matter of “The no waste target by 2010 goal MAY NOT have been been achieved”, it wasn’t, full stop!
The foul odour from the Mugga Lane landfill invades the suburbs of Macarthur, Fadden, Gowrie, Wanniassa, Chisholm and Isaacs whenever wind conditions are calm or bearing from the east.
This was not considered when the Labor government arranged to extend the life of the facility by 30 years just before the 2012 election despite 80% of people surveyed raising the issue of the smell. Before you blame the Liberals and The Greens for blocking purchase of equipment for the landfill, please consider that bit of information.
By the way, you should state the fact that you are standing for election at the next election as a Labor candidate if you intend to make a political statement.

Nilrem 12:13 pm 10 Aug 15

Why doesn’t the ACT have a wheelie bin for organic/garden waste? Queanbeyan, and most councils in Sydney do, and yet we are the “garden city”.

During the last election campaign, the Government said that it would cost too much, and also affect the employment of the people that run the user-pays trashpack services. But then it announced it would be spending millions on a facility to separate organic waste from the balance of the material currently going to landfill.

Why not get the residents to do this separating, with an extra bin? I assume the employment impact of cutting into the trashpack business would be offset by the extra employees needed for a third household bin?

I don’t understand. Can anyone explain?

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