‘Backed into a corner’ on recycling: Ipswich

Ipswich council’s recycling announcement has escalated ongoing crisis.

Australia’s environment ministers are under pressure to agree on a national response to the worsening recycling crisis as a Queensland council stops recycling.

Ipswich City Council on Wednesday announced it is now sending all contents from recycling bins to landfill, blaming increasing costs and high rates of contamination for the decision.

Mayor Andrew Antoniolli warned that “eventually all councils would be impacted by the viability of recycling household waste.”

He said Ipswich was “the latest domino to be affected by a nationwide issue,” which required a three-tier government solution.

An increase in recycling costs of $2 million a year coupled with “unacceptably high” contamination levels of up to 50 per cent in the city’s recycling had led to the decision, Mayor Antoniolli said.

Since January local government peaks have warned that China’s new restrictions on the foreign waste it will accept for reprocessing threaten to derail councils’ collection of kerbside recycling.

Local governments and the waste and recycling industries have called for a national action plan to stimulate Australia’s domestic resource recovery sector.

Other councils could follow suit 

Queensland’s Local Government Association says Ipswich’s decision was driven by the fact its waste contract had come up for renewal.

“We’ve spoken to the 32 largest councils and they’re all facing elements of this at some point in time,” LGAQ chief Greg Hallam told Government News yesterday.

Other councils would confront the same issue either when their waste contracts’ escalation provisions were triggered or their contracts came up for renewal, Mr Hallam said.

“On the basis of advice from councils we’ve told the State Government today that over the next few years this will mean $40 to $50 million a year in additional costs to councils.”

Yesterday the Queensland Government announced it was bringing forward the re-introduction of a waste levy for the state, a measure it initially announced last month along with the development of a waste strategy.

Mr Hallam said he welcomed the State Government’s commitment to a zero-waste future, which required financial support that would come from the waste levy.

“The government is now considering moving the start of the levy forward from 1 July 2019 but we’re saying it shouldn’t be before 1 January 2019,” said Mr Hallam.

Call for national response at COAG

Meanwhile, Commonwealth and state environment ministers were being urged yesterday to agree on a policy response to the worsening situation at next Friday’s COAG meeting in order to avert similar decisions from other councils.

“The decision by Ipswich City Council is a timely warning of how councils across Australia might act if the Federal Government doesn’t put forward a plan to lead us out of this crisis,” said Greens spokesperson for recycling Peter Whish-Wilson.

Western Australia’s largest waste management authority told Government News on Thursday that no councils in the west were talking about sending recycling to landfill.

“Certainly we are starting to see upward pressure on prices, and the operators of material recovery facilities over here indicating that, but probably not to the same extent we’ve seen it happening on the east coast,” said Günther Hoppe, acting CEO of Mindarie Regional Council.

Municipal Association of Victoria chief Rob Spence said that Victoria’s landfill levy would make it more costly to send recycling to landfill than the costs being incurred by councils through renegotiated contracts with recyclers.

“The MAV anticipates many councils will have to increases their waste charges to cover a rise in recycling costs. This will equate to a rate rise of between 1.1 and 2.5 per cent for ratepayers, in addition to the state-imposed rate cap which cannot exceed 2.25 per cent,” he said.

State and federal government investment is critical to turn the current situation around, he said. “It’s incumbent on the state to use accumulated landfill levy revenue to support recycing in Victoria.”

Potential job creation

Elsewhere, the Australian Council of Recycling on Tuesday said that a new analysis it had commissioned found that 500 jobs would be created in Australia if half the material being sent to China was re-manufactured domestically.

“To check the China challenge, we are ready to reboot recycling as a self-sufficient sector that enables employment and prevents pollution,” the council’s CEO Pete Shingel said in a statement.

The ACR and the Waste Management Association of Australia recently called on governments to back its $150 million Australian Circular Economy and Recycling Action Plan, a wide-ranging framework that would see recycled content become a mandated component of government infrastructure projects.

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