Good Start for C&I Waste in the West

On paper the new waste strategy to be implemented in WA over the next 20 years looks good, but will it boost recovery of business waste, wonders Mike Ritchie.

In its review of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste in WA released last year my company, Mike Ritchie and Associates (MRA), found the state continued to lag well behind other states in its diversion from landfill rates. So it’s welcome news that the newly released WA Waste Strategy, titled ‘Creating the right environment’, now includes a formal target for the increased diversion of C&I waste from landfill.

In a series of workshops conducted by MRA for its review, involving around 70 representatives from a range of businesses of varying sizes as well as local and state government, a number of barriers were identified in relation to C&I recycling. They were the cost of recycling, transport distances, contamination, lack of education, lack of markets or volatile markets and cheaper materials from overseas.

Does the new waste strategy address these issues? Well, let’s start with a positive, the recognition of the role of landfill in an integrated waste hierarchy. The strategy states: “Without sufficient financial incentives to drive change and underpin the activities of those investing in alternatives to landfill, the waste strategy is likely to face significant hurdles in driving change. The Waste Authority will investigate and provide recommendations to government on the staged increase in the landfill levy required to support the achievement of this objective.”

It is now pretty clear to most people, that low cost landfill acts like a big vacuum cleaner sucking up both useless waste and useful resources, equally and indiscriminately.
Changing that dynamic is a first and vital part of developing an integrated waste management system. Only with adequate landfill charging can you turn down the vacuum suction (both tonnes and geography) and turn up the available revenues for recycling and reuse.

As far as waste strategies go, this one is pretty good – nothing untoward, reasonably clear, high level. It’s hard to disagree with, so well done.

The strategy sets out diversion from landfill targets for municipal solid waste (MSW), C&I and construction and demolition (C&D) wastes, as follows:

  • MSW recovery of 50 per cent by 2015 (up from 36 per cent in 2009/10), rising to 65 per cent by 2020;
  • C&I recovery of 55 per cent by 2015 (up from 46 per cent in 2009/10), then 70 per cent by 2020; and
  • C&D recovery of 60 per cent by 2015 (up from 29 per cent in 2090/10) and 75 per cent by 2020.

I can hear some saying nine per cent improvement in C&I diversion from now to 2015 is pretty lame, but even that will be a challenge.

The Waste Strategy also outlines five key objectives designed to focus action – better planning, better regulation, guidelines for best practice, economic instruments to divert waste from landfill and better communications. It seems hard to justify the amount of time it took the state to produce this waste strategy given such recommendations are fairly standard as far as waste strategies go.

But now comes the hard part – implementing the strategy. Will it work? The answer is, ‘it depends’, namely on whether the government will actually push for real reform.

Will it work?
Fundamentally, implementation relies on three, and only three, levers – planning, money and regulation. Any of the levers will be an improvement on the status quo, but you must activate at least one.
To date, WA has been pretty good on waste planning. The regional waste boards have been very active and most major developments have been facilitated by the boards finding, securing and planning for waste infrastructure. It’s a system most other states would benefit from.

The strategy makes a couple of useful references to planning, which are concerned with long-term planning. One is to develop and maintain a State Waste and Recycling Infrastructure Plan and promote the inclusion of its requirements into the state planning framework. (Hear that, NSW?)

Furthermore, it suggests providing funding support for the public purchase of strategic sites and buffers throughout the state in consultation and association with the Western Australian Planning Commission. (Hear that, NSW Department of Planning?)

Finally, the idea of making necessary strategic sites across WA available for the establishment of waste and recycling processing facilities on a commercial leasehold basis really puts their eastern cousins to shame.

On the money side of things, the strategy doesn’t provide a lot of guidance. However, better hypothecation of levy funds is addressed and tied to good outcomes such as better infrastructure and systems for waste collection and processing.

It will also use funds to undertake economic assessments to determine the relationship between increased landfill costs and reductions in waste to landfill to inform the Waste Authority’s recommendations on landfill levy rates that best support the achievement of the targets in the strategy. It aims to establish a five-year plan for the application of landfill levies.

Hopefully this means future increases in the levy will be flagged early so industry can make sensible infrastructure investment decisions now.

How about regulations? There isn’t anything particularly meaty in the document. There’s passing references to enforcement and the development of a priority statement on extended producer responsibility schemes but other than the levy references, that’s about it.

So will it work, particularly for the C&I sector? Only if the Waste Authority can convince the government to take a number of critical actions (see Fact File). It comes down to planning, money or regulation.

It’s not hard to get right and it’s not rocket science. It just requires the right advice (the strategy provides it) and political will, with the latter being the key going forward.