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2013 Waste Recycling Industry Association Symposium: address by President Margaret de Wit

Waste Recycling Industry Association Symposium 

Cr Margaret de Wit, President, LGAQ 

Brisbane 12 June 2013


'Local Government Perspectives for Future Waste Policy'

Good afternoon and thank you to the WRIQ for offering me the chance to address you today at this important symposium.

I would particularly like to thank CEO Rick Ralph, for the invitation. I would also like to commend Rick on the excellent work he is doing in the waste and recycling space and for his efforts to foster collaboration and innovation within the sector.

It has become something of a mantra within the local government sector that the out-dated view of councils as merely dealing in ‘roads, rates, rats and rubbish' needs to be dispelled once and for all.

However, if anything has highlighted the expanded modern reality of the role of councils, it is the upcoming September referendum to recognise the existence of local government in the Australian Constitution. This recognition is vital to ensure we can secure Federal funding. Local government has truly cemented its place as an important and invaluable provider of community services and an increasingly innovative sphere of government.

This Symposium is a perfect example of the kind of forward-thinking collaborative policy making and partnerships which are being replicated across our sector on a daily basis. It would seem the ‘rubbish' component of the old ‘roads, rates and rubbish' slogan has become a woefully inaccurate description of the thriving waste, recycling and resource management within which our member councils are proud to participate in and deliver to their communities.

As the peak body for local government in Queensland, LGAQ is pleased to be involved in the industry-led approach taken by the Queensland Government in developing its Waste Strategy. I would like to congratulate Minister Powell for the consultation he and his department are delivering throughout this process.

LGAQ sits on the Waste Avoidance and Resource Productivity Strategy Steering Committee, established to guide the review of the current strategy and to ensure the development of the new strategy aligns with the needs and concerns of our members.

The current Strategy is underpinned by the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011. This Act, particularly prior to recent amendments, placed a number of onerous requirements on local government, including the installation of infrastructure, new or updated software and extensive reporting requirements.

While councils did some good work under this Strategy, committing to better waste management and resource recovery and in many instances appointing staff to manage the waste levy and reporting requirements, they were hindered by a general need for increased funding from the State.

I don't need to tell you that financially speaking, most sectors are doing it tough, and none more so right now than local government. The recent Auditor General's report into the accounts of 68 Queensland local governments earlier this year highlighted the financial challenges councils face in the wake of real declines in funding support from governments.

As an organisation we have been foreshadowing the impact of falling government revenue on our members. By all accounts, local government is set to be buffeted by both its own declining local economies and the spending and taxing imposts of state and federal governments.

The answer is thinking smarter – doing more, with less.

Improved data collection required for enabling comprehensive waste analysis, policy setting and performance management must make use of leading communication technologies which will improve productivity and save time and money.

However we are by no means behind the eight-ball on this.

The introduction of a new State grants program for local government by the Litter and Illegal Dumping Unit, for instance, will provide successful councils with portable surveillance cameras to help identify illegal dumping offenders and hotspot areas. While this initiative has been criticised as reactive only, it is but a single tool and is often enhanced by proactive council patrols. However again, council patrols are expensive.

Wherever possible, councils need to save time money and resources. It's smart policy, doing more – with less.

Our knowledge and research into Alternative Waste Disposal technologies should also be advancing alongside the best. This is where organisations such as WRIQ make such an invaluable contribution - by combining their resources to advocate for change and share information amongst members. This ultimately leads to better outcomes for not just the community but also local governments.

Our members are chomping at the bit to deepen their engagement within this space. Calls for the Australian Government to establish a fund to assist local governments to assess the applicability of alternative waste treatment technologies to organic waste streams within their local government areas have been aired by councils like Brisbane City Council.

LGAQ whole-heartedly supports greater access for local government to climate change mitigation and adaptation funding streams and considers it worthy of consideration in the development of the Queensland Government's new Waste Strategy.

Our participation in the Waste Avoidance and Resource Productivity Strategy Steering Committee coordinated by the State Government offers us a real opportunity to influence change in this area for our members.

Once again, I acknowledge the inclusive approach of the State in its industry-led and collaborative response to developing the new Waste Strategy.

Under Tony Roberts, Deputy Director-General for the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and Chair of this Committee three working groups have been developed in the areas of:

  • Data and Reporting
  • Regulatory Reform; and
  • Regional Collaboration

A discussion paper seeking feedback on the Waste Management framework is expected to be released by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in the near future. We'll be encouraging councils to respond with feedback with LGAQ to provide a consolidated response.

It is worth noting that that the debate about a new Waste Strategy for Queensland has absorbed the energy and efforts of the sector, governments both Local and State and a myriad of stakeholders for close on a decade and it will be a day to celebrate when we finally have it in place and we can get on with the job of making it a reality.

For our part, in late 2009 when the previous State government ramped up the development of a strategy the Association developed the "LGAQ Waste Strategy Key Principles" to provide information on the issues that the Association and our members felt were essential for inclusion in any waste strategy for Queensland.

Some four years later those principles still guide our position and input to the current discussion on the development of a new waste strategy. I'd like to share some of these key principles with you so that you know where we are coming from.

The first is the waste hierarchy.

Waste Hierarchy

  • The new waste strategy should be developed around the well known waste hierarchy and in particular, using waste avoidance, minimisation and resource recovery as the key objectives.
  • Associated with this objective, the Association endorses greater application of Extended Producer Responsibility and Product Stewardship as essential to good waste management outcomes.

The hierarchy is a decision-support tool that states that avoidance is the preferred option, followed by reduction, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and, finally, disposal. It is as valid today as it was when first created.

The Association also believes product stewardship, user pays, local solutions, partnerships, engagement, communication and knowledge management, and legislation as being essential to really changing the behaviour around waste management and resource recovery in Queensland.

The second principle relates to national waste policy issues.

National Policy Issues

  • The Queensland Waste Strategy should have regard to and seek to influence national policy issues including:

a) Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Product Stewardship Schemes (PSS),
b) Container Deposit Legislation (CDL),
c) Australian Packaging Covenant, and
d) Problem wastes.

It is essential that our State's waste strategy has the maximum possible alignment with the national agendas. We support the national strategy focus based on extended producer responsibility and product stewardship schemes and acknowledge the priority on electronic waste and tyres.

LGAQ also supports the Australian Packaging Covenant as a demonstration of the essential partnership between governments and industry and we trust it will receive ongoing support here in Queensland and Canberra.

LGAQ's official policy position is opposed to the introduction of Container Deposit Legislation in Queensland on the basis of its high cost, limited impact on the overall waste stream and inequitable impact across the state. The introduction of CDL to Queensland would have a serious impact on the viability of kerbside recycling services by removing valuable products from the bins. The plastics and aluminium collected through the kerbside recycling system contribute to making the service economically viable in all areas and placing these items in a CDL system would force the close down of kerbside recycling in many areas. Surely, this is not what we want to see happen in Queensland! These kerbside systems are well established across the state and well accepted by residents.

However, we acknowledge that there are many councils that support the concept. Given the national scale of the beverage container industry it therefore makes sense that this issue is resolved at a national level and we'll await the outcome of those deliberations.

The next principle I wish to highlight relates to institutional arrangements.

Institutional Arrangements

  • Establish a Waste Advisory Panel to advise Government on waste policy, strategy and regulation consisting of representatives of State Government, Local Government and the waste industry.
  • Regional collaboration amongst councils should be encouraged and supported to promote economies of scope and scale in the development of regional waste facilities and services. Legislative provisions already enable councils to establish regional entities and other collaborative arrangements.

This principle highlights that if there is to be an effective and enduring waste strategy developed for Queensland it must be based on a strong partnership between State and local governments and the waste industry. The open door and inclusive approach by the State Government to the operation of the current Waste Strategy Steering Committee and sub-committees has laid the foundation and I thank the Minister and the department in this regard.

It is essential that we all recognise the problems faced in waste management and resource recovery in regional Queensland. In a state as decentralised as Queensland effective waste management and resource recovery is more likely to be achieved on a regional basis and the Association supports and encourages councils working together to achieve best practice outcomes. The priority issues to be addressed at the regional level include organics processing, material recovery facilities, establishing strategic regional resource recovery infrastructure, local market development and waste processing for construction waste. I'm sure these issues are on the table of the Regional Collaboration sub-committee.

The next principle relates to infrastructure and planning.

Infrastructure and Planning

  • Planning for the provision of landfill sites and the location for alternative waste technology facilities requires greater priority in regional planning processes including the need for appropriate zoning, buffering and transport networks for both new and existing sites.

In a state with a growing population and industry expansion virtually along the entire length of our eastern coastline, south east Queensland and resource communities an effective and responsive land-use planning system for waste management infrastructure and activities is essential. Perhaps the current development of new regional plans should play a role in identifying potentially suitable areas to establish waste and resource management precincts for infrastructure.

Planning and securing waste infrastructure, for both local government and industry, is vital to ensure long term protection of waste management facilities. Appropriate zoning, buffering and transport networks for both new and existing sites will be increasingly vital to our future waste policy and a holistic approach to community planning and growth.

Reforming regulatory arrangements is the next principle.

Effective Regulation

  • The waste strategy should incorporate appropriate regulations to drive improved waste management outcomes and consumer behaviour but be developed in recognition of the diverse needs and circumstances of Queensland communities. For example, the 'one size fits all' approach currently applied to landfill licensing is inappropriate.
  • For regulations to be effective there must be public recognition that they are realistic, relevant, appropriate to the circumstances, achievable and able to be implemented by the responsible agencies.

Within the context of red-tape reduction the opportunity exits to revisit the current legislation and regulatory framework and this is being addressed through the regulatory sub-committee.

One all important aspect that should be addressed is the 'one size fits all' approach to landfill licensing. Rural and regional councils are not sufficiently resourced to carry out landfill activities that are deemed best practice in metropolitan areas. Licensing conditions need to reflect the localised conditions in these communities. It is not proposed that public health be compromised, rather that the issues specific to remote communities be acknowledged and that DEHP work in partnership with local councils to ensure the best service possible is provided with the resources available.

We need to look to the future so consideration of alternative waste strategies is essential and is another of our principles.

Alternative Waste Technologies

  • Research into and incentives for Alternative Waste Disposal technologies should be included in the development of the waste strategy as an alternative to landfill disposal where socially, environmentally and economically viable.
  • Federal and State Government assistance in the form of subsidies or grants may need to be considered if local government is to be encouraged to utilise these options, where appropriate, in lieu of traditional landfill operations.

We need to look ahead to the time when land-fills will no longer be environmentally and economically acceptable particularly in densely populated areas. Assistance to local governments considering alternative waste technologies by establishing assessment guidelines to aid decision making is most timely. This information would be invaluable to local government to ensure that decisions around expensive technology are made with accurate and relevant information.

Central to any strategy is identifying what you want to achieve. That leads to the next principle of goals and targets.

Goals and targets

  • Goals and targets, jointly developed and agreed, should be set to provide direction and enable outcomes to be measured.
  • Improved measurement against goals and targets will enable better monitoring of policy and strategy to ensure continuous improvement.

The setting of waste reduction and recycling goals and targets across the diverse make-up of Queensland is no easy task. But we do have to find a way to set targets which recognise the different circumstances and waste and recycling systems maturity across the metropolitan, regional and rural areas of the state. Everyone is not at the same starting point so setting single targets for all waste streams for all council areas is not realistic. Such an approach would only be feasible if it was supported with a massive injection of funding.

Notwithstanding these difficulties this is a discussion that must be had for after all if you can't measure it you can't manage it. That is why our next principle relates to data collection.

Data collection

  • Improved data collection is required to enable comprehensive waste analysis, policy setting and performance management.
  • Data collections processes should be more comprehensive than at present seeking input from both public and private sector stakeholders.

It is pleasing to see that this important issue is being addressed by a separate sub-committee. Working towards identifying and collecting detailed and accurate data for all wastes regardless of source, including construction and demolition, and commercial and industrial is essential to the workings of the new strategy. The Association has long been a supporter of the Government obtaining good data to ensure evidence based policy decisions are made and it supports the government in developing whatever tools are required to ensure that appropriate and accurate data is collected.

To conclude let me say that experience tells us that developing the Waste Avoidance and Resource Productivity Strategy will be no easy task. The complexity of the issues and the costs involved are at the heart of the challenge that lies ahead for us all. That aside, the importance of this endeavour to the health and wellbeing of Queenslanders and the impact on key sectors of the State's economy requires we commit ourselves to getting it right.

I hope you enjoy the remainder of the symposium and take full advantage of the opportunity to interact with such a committed group of stakeholders.

Thank you.

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