Infrastructure critical for future waste management

By Angela Dorizas

The waste management industry has called for government intervention and investment in alternative waste technologies to prevent carbon pricing from crippling local communities.

Speaking at the New South Wales Sustainable Development Conference in Sydney, state president of the Waste Management Association of Australia, Mike Ritchie, warned that without government intervention the increasing volume of landfill would lead to price hikes in waste management.

“No Australian government has addressed the infrastructure needs properly or systematically,” Ritchie said.

“Government needs to get serious about this and fundamentally improve the roll-out of infrastructure across Australia.”

Ritchie said the level of residual and organic waste diverted into landfill would continue to increase, generating massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

He said industry was prepared to turn to cleaner Alternative Waste Treatment (AWT) but not without public policy intervention in the form of price signals and infrastructure funding.

“We, as an Association, have generally supported landfill levies,” he said.

“The problem we have at the moment is that industry is largely sitting on its hands, waiting until it gets a price signal or regulatory signal.”

He called for landfill levies to be introduced and raised across all jurisdictions to increase the pace of AWT uptake.

“The NSW waste levy is currently at $46. It’s increasing by $10 a year for the next seven years to $120,” Ritchie said.

“As a direct consequence of those price signals, NSW is going forward in leaps and bounds in AWT technology that can divert 70 per cent of waste from landfill…at a very low margin of cost to the economy.

“It does require some kind of price signal and the NSW Government is to be congratulated for doing that.”

He said Western Australia was the only other state moving in the same direction, but through regulatory intervention instead of price signals.

“Regional groupings of councils have simply said, ‘We don’t care about the price, just get on and do it. We need Advanced Waste Treatment because we need the sustainability and environmental benefits.’”

With the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) before Parliament, the uptake of alternative waste treatment has become an industry priority. It is expected that the cost of running landfill sites will increase with carbon pricing.

“The deferral by the Rudd Government last week of the CPRS commencement really increases the uncertainty in the waste sector, because right now even though we don’t have the legislation, we are bearing a liability for disposing of waste,” Ritchie said.

“That waste will be emitting from my landfill for the next 30 years and 28 years of that will be under a CPRS. I have to make a choice today whether to charge customers the CPRS liability or not.

“I imagine we’ll see in the next six months a number of companies increase their prices at landfill to cover the long-term liability under the CPRS. Local government might well consider doing the same.”

Federal Environment Minster Peter Garrett last year announced his plans to develop a National Waste Policy. The Department of Environment has received 106 submissions to the National Waste Policy consultation paper, which closed on May 13.

The Minister is due to discuss the national waste strategy with state environment ministers at next week’s meeting of the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC).

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