Ipswich Council in Queensland has announced all kerbside recycling will be sent straight to landfill, effective immediately, and expects other councils to soon follow suit.
The council on Wednesday said the impacts from China’s waste ban were now being felt locally, with recycling contractors warning that costs would have to increase by about $2 million a year for current recycling practices to continue.
Mayor Andrew Antoniolli said those costs could equate to a 1-5-2 per cent increase in rates – a figure the council has deemed unacceptable.
He said the council had been “backed into a corner” on the issue, and the national recycling system had broken “sooner than we expected”, predicting that all other councils would soon be impacted.
Part of the challenge has had to do with unacceptable levels of contamination in recycling bins, which Mr Antoniolli said had spiked following a 4 Corners investigation into the waste industry that had affected consumer confidence in the system.
“Since the 4 Corners program on waste was broadcast earlier this year, contamination rates of yellow lid recycle bins have doubled,” he said.
“Under the current and previous rates of contamination waste experts advise it would be almost unachievable even with the best and well-intentioned community education program to lower the rate of contamination to acceptable levels.
“In a nutshell, this means we were left with no other choice but to send yellow lid bin contents to landfill.”
Council turns to waste-to-energy
The council has said it is instead turning to waste-to-energy projects.
“We want to become a leader in the waste-to-energy space, which will in the medium to long-term provide us with an environmentally friendly energy source, jobs and a better economic outcome for Ipswich,” Mr Antoniolli said.
“We’ve actually been looking at waste as an energy source for some time, and this gives us the ideal opportunity to be ahead of the game in that space.”
However, the technology has raised concerns from some environmental advocates who see it as a low-value use of resources, with potential negative health ramifications.
In NSW the Department of Planning recently recommended a proposed western Sydney waste-to-energy incinerator not be approved, citing inconsistency with the Environmental Protection Authority’s energy from waste policy statement, with unknown impacts to urban air quality and human health. It was also opposed by the EPA and NSW Health.
State government disappointed
In response to the council decision, Queensland environment minister Leeanne Enoch said she was “disappointed”, though placed blame on the former Newman government.
“The Newman Government’s decision to repeal the waste levy in 2012 robbed Queensland of the opportunity to secure investment and growth for our state’s waste and recycling industry,” she said.
“Council’s decision today is the long-term impact of the LNP’s short-sighted decision.”
She said Queensland was in talks with other states and the federal government to come up with a solution to the waste crisis, with environment ministers to meet on 27 April to discuss a response.