President’s column

The issue of waste and recycling has reared its head again this week following the decision by Ipswich City Council to send the recycled materials it collects kerb-side to landfill. This decision came about during contractual negotiations with a new contractor whereby unsustainable cost burdens would have been put on council and its rate payers. This of course directly relates to China’s decision last year to effectively institute a ban on our recyclables by dramatically lowering the threshold of contamination to unachievable levels.

As the fallout from China’s decision continues to spread beyond their initial customers, it is becoming more urgent that this issue receives greater attention from not only state and territory governments, but also our Federal Government. We need long-term, sustainable solutions to recycle as much waste as possible.

There are a range of options that can be considered in terms of recycling plastics, but we need to do much better. We can look to our success with other recyclable materials for examples – for instance the recycling of paper into other papers such as cardboard, getting food waste out of the landfill stream and into the composting stream, the recycling of bottles which we’ve been doing for nearly 40 years here in South Australia, or even the reuse of construction waste as road base. We can also look to Europe where, in many countries, paper packaging is used in lieu of plastic packaging and it works quite well.

There are ways to do it, but what we need is investment; councils acting on their own are too small to make the extensive investment needed in a private sector.

We’re calling on state and territory governments to reach into their waste levy funds – a tax on councils, and therefore on local households, that constitute hundreds of millions of dollars in aggregate – and invest in industry and in long-term sustainable solutions so that we have an outcome going forward that is worthwhile, profitable and sustainable.

The implications of China’s decision also go well beyond local government and into issues around other Australian exports. At the federal level, we must carefully think through the trade implications. If China can turn the tap off so easily in this area, who’s to say they won’t do it in another area? We also have imports coming from China full of plastics that they no longer want to take back. We need the federal trade and environment ministers to come to the table and talk about possible solutions that not just respond to this immediate crisis but provide a long-term, sustainable outcome.

Switching gears, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge this upcoming Anzac Day, one of Australia's most important national commemorative occasions. Councils throughout Australia work with their local RSLs and communities to bring the Spirit of Anzac to life through commemorative services and remembrance activities, reinforcing the important role councils play in bringing communities together for a common cause.

Ahead of the commemorations this Wednesday, I’d like to acknowledge the fallen and extend my gratitude to all servicemen and women for the sacrifices they have made in fighting for the freedoms we enjoy today.