National recycling problems deepen
by DAVID HOGG
10th June 2019
AT A TIME when problems with weekly recycling collections have escalated beyond local council level to State and Federal Government, the Diary is still unable to find out exactly where the material we put in to our recycling bins ends up.
For this writer, and I suspect many of our readers, despite Councils’ best efforts to educate us, it has always been a problem understanding exactly what we can and what we can’t put in our recycling bin.
Different councils have different rules, some packaging carries a numbered recycling logo yet Councils say that some of these cannot be recycled, stuff that is obviously plastic such as coat hangers are not to be recycled, glass bottles are OK but drinking glasses and window glass are not.
We are told to put “soft plastics” into another plastic bag (Nillumbik only) but their recycling company tells us that nothing is to be inside plastic bags, and is that black tray that your BBQ meat came on made out of recyclable plastic or polystyrene?
It all gets much too difficult and I was slightly in sympathy with a non-politically-correct neighbour who told me, “I’ve never understood it; I just put everything into the green bin because it gets collected weekly and I don’t have to bother sorting it”.
But now even when we do get it right, we have to ask whether it actually gets converted into something useful or gets stockpiled or sent to landfill or, at worst case, left in a disused warehouse until it catches fire!
One of the problems is that the so-called recycling companies do precious little recycling themselves.
Their function is to collect the refuse from the local council, sort it, and then “make it available” to other companies, some of whom may be subsidiaries who do recycle the material, or they may export the material for processing overseas.
Local councils are very helpful in providing information; recycling companies are not.
Nillumbik residents are some of Victoria’s best recyclers, consistently achieving at least 65 per cent diversion from landfill, compared to the State average of 46 per cent.
Nillumbik is one of five councils in a collaborative contract with recycling processor SKM Recycling, administered by the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group on behalf of the councils.
This contract requires SKM to manage kerbside recycling in an environmentally responsible way.
Nillumbik delivers approximately 7,000 tonnes of kerbside recycling to SKM annually.
Of all the material collected in the Yellow Bin, the big hitters are glass, at 27.96 per cent, paper at 23.41 per cent and cardboard at 17.66 per cent.
Whereas soft plastics come in at 1.48 per cent and Tetra Pak (or liquid paperboard) at a low 0.45 per cent.
It is expected that SKM will sort, bale and sell this material through local and overseas markets for processing into new products.
According to SKM’s website, more than 60 per cent of materials remain in Australia for use in local industries.
In regards to whether any materials are being stockpiled, Council has not been notified of any non-conformance since SKM’s Laverton North and Coolaroo sites re-opened in March.
Residents can find out what to recycle or how to dispose of something correctly on Nillumbik Council’s website.
SKM Recycling has not responded to the Diary’s emails or phone calls.
In the recently adopted 2019/20 budget, ratepayers will see an increase of around 3.5 per cent in charges for waste and recycling collection, bringing the standard waste charge to $263.40.
Manningham have a similar arrangement to Nillumbik, but their contract is with Visy Recycling.
Visy would appear to have associated companies who produce PET plastic food containers and it would seem that their clients can select the inclusion of varying amounts of recycled content.
But as with all the “recycling” companies their website concentrates a great deal on “collecting” and “sorting” the waste and “recovering” the material but has very little to say on how it is reprocessed and what is actually produced from the material and where.
Our calls to Visy to find out about all of this fell on deaf ears, but Manningham Council were helpful in providing the Diary with the contact details of their person there.
However, despite numerous emails and phone calls, no-one at Visy has responded to us or returned our calls.
In the draft 2019/20 budget adopted in principle by Council in April with a final decision occurring at the June 25 Ordinary Council Meeting, Manningham ratepayers will see a domestic waste service charge increase of 2.25 per cent.
In February 2018, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio chipped in $13 million to help the Councils manage their recyclable rubbish, after China had refused to accept further plastic waste.
This was a stop-gap measure in the 2018/19 Budget.
In late May of this year, Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings announced that Infrastructure Victoria should look at what is needed to develop waste-to-energy projects and resource recovery from organic waste.
It comes at the same time as Malaysia announced that it would be returning plastic waste to Australia and after the earlier discovery of a dozen illegal waste sites in Melbourne’s north as well as toxic factory fires involving waste stockpiles at Campbellfield, West Footscray and Coolaroo.
The Australian Government has announced the appointment of an Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environment Management.
The new Assistant Minister, Trevor Evans, was appointed on May 26 as part of Scott Morrison’s new cabinet.
Evans said he is humbled to have been sworn in as the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management and was looking forward to the challenges ahead and working as a strong advocate for protecting Australia’s environment.
No more time to waste
With the recycling industry now in a deepening crisis, it is time for government — at all levels – to come up with a plan, and hopefully some sort of standardisation across councils and packaging, so that we all know what can go into any yellow bin in Australia and have confidence that it will be properly recycled.
It is clear from the 2019/20 Budget that a solution to the recycling crisis has not been found.
Maybe it is time for the community to handle this problem on a local level.