The good, the bad, and the wasteful

by Corporate Waste Solutions
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In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have issues with waste disposal because most of what we produce would be reused in some way or recycled before resorting to landfill as a final option.

This is where we eventually want to get to, but until then, waste reduction, development of markets for recovered products, quality waste disposal and maintaining a ‘social licence’ from the community must be our priority.

Most Victorians have a weekly garbage collection from their local council. Many have a weekly or fortnightly collection of garden waste and recyclables and, increasingly, some have their food scraps taken away with an organics collection.

Household collections are most effective when people are aware of the rubbish they are generating and dispose of it correctly. And while Victorians strongly support waste management initiatives such as household garbage, recycling and green waste collections and litter programs, we can still do much more.

The challenges we face circle around long-term planning, minimisation of waste generation, increasing recycling, reducing contamination and the opportunity to improve that social licence.

Reducing the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill from households, businesses and industry is an increasingly important issue and we are working with communities towards addressing these challenges.

Sustainability Victoria’s new statewide Waste Education Strategy was developed in partnership with communities, local and state government, and the waste industry. The strategy focuses on increasing understanding of the need, and value of, waste and resource recovery activities.

To meet these challenges, we need everyone to get involved and play their part.

garbage waste

The facts

Victoria generates a quarter of Australia’s landfill and its population is growing quickly; since 2000 the population has grown from 4.8 to 5.8 million and by 2043 it is expected to reach 8.9 million.

Unless we take action to reduce consumption and garbage production or increase recycling and the recovery of our trash, by 2043 total waste generation will rise from 12.2 to 20.6 million tonnes every year. That’s simply not sustainable.

In 2013-14 more than eight million tonnes of valuable material was recovered from refuse streams in Victoria, representing an overall recovery rate of approximately 70 percent. If not managed properly,

If not managed properly, the materials going to landfill can have a significant impact on communities and the environment now, and in the long term. Of the three million tonnes of garbage sent to landfill in 2013/14, around 60 percent is organic, which produces environmental, economic and public health issues and there are opportunities to boost organics recovery for beneficial use.

Decomposing rubbish produces methane, a highly volatile greenhouse gas. One of the biggest challenges in Victoria over the next 30 years will be to reduce this and its harmful effects. Over its lifetime of approximately 30 years, this rubbish will be responsible for more than 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas.

Food waste is the second largest recoverable material being sent to landfill in Victoria. Over 800,000 tonnes of food refuse is generated each year and only three percent is recovered.

Increasing the recovery of food waste is important as it is putrescible in nature and can pose serious risks in landfill, such as offensive odours, leachate that can contaminate groundwater, and pathogens carried by vermin and pests. This is why we launched the ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign in Victoria – to help households think about how much food they dispose of and implement measures to change their behaviours.

We can do better, but to do that we must understand community issues. We must first demonstrate why good waste management is necessary.

We need the community to help us with opportunities to reduce pollution, recycle and create jobs that add value to the Victorian economy.

It’s a shame to think that the value of the organic matter that went to landfill in 2011/12 had an estimated value to the economy of $30 million. Rather than just putting things we don’t want in the ground, a better approach can be creating jobs and new opportunities as we extract energy from food and plant wastes, extract metals and plastics and put them to use again.

To achieve this, we must all change our behaviours and the way we think about garbage.

garbage waste

The need to build trust

Waste management is an important service for the community, with shared responsibilities across industry, local and state government.

Better community understanding of the processes and systems in place to manage our rubbish will help alleviate community concerns that may arise and help build trust in the waste and resource recovery sector. Working with the CSIRO, Sustainability Victoria has commissioned a program to explore factors that will help build this trust.

CSIRO, Sustainability Victoria and industry are working together to measure community attitudes and perceptions about garbage, its management and the sector as a whole. Once the issues are identified, we’ll work towards actions that will help to build trust and achieve community acceptance of the sector and its operators, facilities and activities. It will also help to shape education programs and practical actions to reduce waste, minimise environmental impacts and maximise value.

As a central part of the delivery of the 30-year Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan, this project is a world first and will establish a clear baseline for the Victorian community’s attitudes to, and perceptions of, waste and resource recovery.

It will help us to establish the critical factors that government and industry require to take a shared responsibility for engaging with the community around waste. CSIRO has completed similar research projects for Australia’s mining sector, but this is the first time it has worked with the waste and resource recovery sector on the topic of trust and acceptance for infrastructure and facilities.

To date, an important aspect of this project is working with stakeholders who own, operate, plan and regulate waste management facilities, as well as community groups interested in or affected by these facilities. We’ve worked with and surveyed a range of people who live near waste facilities in many parts of the state to hear their views.

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A series of project site facilities involved in the project so far have been in Werribee, Hampton Park, Mildura, Brooklyn and Clayton. These sites were chosen from a list of waste and resource recovery hubs considered to be of strategic importance in the Infrastructure Plan (released in mid- 2015).

One of our top priorities over the next decade is to increase the understanding of both the Victorian community and business that waste management is an essential service.

Working with stakeholders across the community will help to maximise resource recovery and reduce contamination so as much reusable material is extracted as possible. By having a statewide strategy, we hope to reduce duplication and improve effectiveness by cascading information to regional and local levels through the collaboration of government agencies, councils, business and the community.

We want to reduce duplications and allow programs to be tailored to local needs with help from local councils and waste and resource recovery groups.

A statewide approach will enable us to develop and apply evidence-based behaviour change initiatives and set up long-term statewide campaigns and consistent content.

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A business focus

There’s an old saying, ‘there’s money in muck’ and, by working to raise the profile of waste management and the need for the entire community to be involved, we’ll help to benefit Victoria’s waste and resource recovery sector. There are many opportunities to reuse and up-cycle products that are considered to be garbage and in the future more will be developed.

One of the important things we need to do is develop a broader understanding that Victoria leads Australia in the development of its waste and resource recovery sector, which has $2.2 billion in annual revenue and nearly 600 waste and resource recovery businesses. While there are opportunities to increase that, it can only happen through best practice behaviour and relationships between the community, business and industry.

If you would like to know more about Sustainability Victoria and the implementation of the state’s waste education strategy, visit www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/educationstrategy.

Written by Stan Krpan, who is the CEO of Sustainability Victoria.

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