Local government ready to help turn our waste crisis into a billion-dollar economic opportunity

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has hailed the Federal Government’s National Plastics Plan 2021 as an important milestone on the road to a more environmentally and economically sustainable future.

Released following long-standing ALGA advocacy for stronger action on national waste reduction and recycling, the plan will help achieve many of the 2020 National Waste Policy Action Plan targets endorsed by Australia’s Environment Ministers.

ALGA President Linda Scott said: “Better waste management represents a billion-dollar economic opportunity for Australia.

“Done well, it will lead to a greater recovery of valuable and finite resources, create thousands of new jobs, and protect fragile ecosystems from the scourge of single-use plastics.”

“We broadly welcome this plan as an opportunity for the Commonwealth to better engage with and enable local government to make further progress on managing waste sustainably and responsibly,” Cr Scott said.

Australia’s 537 local councils manage around 26 percent of Australian waste annually, either directly or through contractual arrangements.

Each year, local governments collect around 9.7 million tonnes of waste from kerbside bin services, sort it at material recovery facilities (MRFs), and dispatch what can be recycled to reprocessing facilities. The cost to councils is an estimated $3.5 billion annually.

The Federal Government’s commitment to the National Plastic plan includes:

  • Phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics such as expanded polystyrene (EPS);
  • Working with industry to deliver national packaging targets;
  • Investing in new plastics product stewardship schemes; and
  • Strengthening Commonwealth procurement rules to kickstart demand and an initial “pull-through” for recycled materials.

A further commitment by the Federal Government to “work with the states and territories to harmonise kerbside recycling collection” has, however, raised concerns across local government.

Creating the same bins for every area of Australia without significant additional funding for local governments is not a practical way to achieve increased recycling,” Cr Scott said

“A one-size-fits-all approach assumes Australian homes are the same size and ignores the reality that Materials Recovery Facilities vary enormously in capacity and capability across Australia.

“Bins that are designed for the Port Macquarie-Hastings local government area may not be the best fit for the Town of Port Hedland,” she said.

Besides managing the collection of nearly 10 million tonnes of household waste annually, local government also dedicates resources to administering community waste-education programs, collecting litter, addressing illegal rubbish dumping, and ensuring compliance with waste bylaws.

“Councils are proud to do all we can to support reducing waste and boosting recycling and stand ready to do more when funded by the Commonwealth,” Cr Scott said.

“I will continue to advocate for the Commonwealth to leverage its funding to states and territories and industry to maximise recycling to create jobs and reduce waste costs for our communities,” she added.