Councils in NSW and Victoria will be required to collect household food and organic waste by 2030, with Adelaide and Perth also moving on mandates and calls for the rest of the nation to follow suit. Government News takes a look at what this means for councils and why they need to start planning for FOGO if they aren’t already.
The NSW Government’s waste strategy makes it mandatory for councils to introduce FOGO collection services as part of the target to cut food and organic waste in landfill by 50 per cent, with a similar target contained in Victoria’s response to a 2019 parliamentary inquiry into waste and recycling.
While stakeholders say the change is widely backed, it does throw up significant operational and financial challenges for councils – which face thorny issues around infrastructure and markets – and organics processors, who want regulatory and economic certainty.
Benefits in moving early
The NSW strategy says FOGO made up 41 per cent of red bin waste in 2019, while a recent waste and recycling summit in Sydney heard the figure could be as high as 73 per cent. For councils that provided a separate FOGO service the figure was 25 per cent.
Mike Ritchie, managing director of waste and recycling consultants MRA, says banning FOGO from landfill nationally would divert 7 million tonnes of waste to composting and anaerobic digestion a year. He wants to see the mandate brought forward to 2025, bringing NSW councils in line with targets for the commercial sector.
Mr Ritichie says there’s not only huge interest from investors in FOGO processing infrastructure, but he believes many councils are able to get FOGO in place before 2030.
“I’d recommend a staggered arrangement that recognises existing contracts,” he told Government News.
If there are no immediate barriers the deadline could be brought forward … with exemptions for councils with existing contracts.Mike Ritchie
“If there are no immediate barriers, that deadline could be brought forward to 2025-26 with exemptions for councils with existing contracts.”
Councils can also benefit from carbon credits by introducing FOGO services ahead of deadline, he notes – an option that no longer applies once the mandate is in force.
He’s also calling for QLD, the NT, the ACT and Tasmania to get on board with mandates.
But hurdles exist for councils – the two biggest being lack of infrastructure and lack of markets for recycled FOGO.
Resource recovery and waste services manager at Blue Mountains City Council Ziggy Shlemon says many councils are locked into inflexible contracts that can impede their ability to meet waste targets.
“They have to deal with the tide of waste coming to them each week and if there’s no practical solutions to direct materials they just stick to their contracts and don’t move forward,” he told the recent AWRE Summit.
Mr Shelmon said while the mandate is a positive step, councils need markets to take the processed product.
“If there’s no long term market we’re going to have challenges as more councils bring FOGO in,” he said. “The material has to have a place to go.”
Corey McArdle is waste manager at Camden Council, which is part of a regional procurement project to secure a long term waste solution for councils in Sydney’s south west.
He says while councils play a role in waste service delivery, they rely on industry to provide the transport and processing infrastructure, particularly in metropolitan areas.
Mr McArdle says local government harmonisation is also crucial to reaching the target.
“We need to make it simpler for councils to work together towards joint procuremens and contracts so we can offer tonnes to the market and allow industry to deliver capital investment in infrastructure to process the waste,” he says.
“We don’t have the infrastructure in Sydney now to cope with what’s coming in regards to FOGO.”
Crisis in infrastructure
Mr Ritchie agrees there’s a crisis in waste infrastructure but says one way of getting around it is for councils to modify existing sites, such as old landfill sites, and get planning consent for a Design-Build-Own composting facility.
“In terms of building new infrastructure it is much simpler to get an approval as a modification of an existing landfill approval than to find a greenfield site,” he says.
He’d also like to see councils buying back 25 per cent of the processed FOGO, which would not only partly de-risk commercial contracts, but send a positive message to the community.
“Councils are already large buyers of compost for parks gardens and playing fields, by buying it from their own FOGO household supply it shows the community there’s a circular economy and its being reused productively,” he says.
Time to review contracts
Boyd Russell is a director at Sphere Infrastructure Partners, which consults on environmental infrastructure.
Mr Russell says the biggest challenge for local government around the looming FOGO mandates is addressing the scale and immediacy of the problem while going through the appropriate frameworks, with many new and upgraded facilities expected to be tendered ahead of 2030.
He says while some councils will establish an inhouse capacity to process FOGO, others will be looking at outsourcing or collaboration with the private sector.
Whatever the case, councils need to be getting their house in order now.
“The first step should be reviewing internal capital investment methodologies and frameworks to see how they could proceed with the project, and review existing contractual arrangements to see when they will end and how close to 2030 it’s likely to be,” he says.
“They should be reviewing existing contracts to see when they are being terminated, if there’s any options for extending those, and how they might go about procuring new facilities.”
Mr Russell says while some local governments are more ready than others for a FOGO mandate, “as a sector we’re not prepared at this time to start addressing that solution”.
However he believes councils are “quite sophisticated” when it comes to capital investment and have the capability to deliver on the mandate over the next eight years.
“They definitely have the capability to deliver, its just making sure we give it the due attention,” he told Government News.
Joint procurement support
The NSW strategy acknowledges the need to expand and modernise resorce recovery infrastructure, and lists FOGO processing facilities and organics transfer stations among its “high level recovery infrastructure needs” over the next eight years.
It also commits the state government to funding a joint procurement facilitiation service for local councils, initially targeting the Greater Sydney Region.
“By consolidating local government waste volumes and approaching the market with scale, we can attract investment in new infrastructure and services,” it says.
According to the EPA’s waste delivery plan, work on a joint procurement facility service was meant to begin by July 2022.
Government News has sough clarification on where that plan is up to.
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