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CCSA envisages a future where our current notion of 'waste' has become a foreign concept: where energy and resources are highly valued and infinitely recycled; where manufacturers are responsible for creating products that can be taken apart and reused; where our culture no longer rewards consumerism, and minimises the need for individual possessions by maximising sharing arrangements within the community.
In 2006/07, South Australia recycled 2.43 million tonnes of material sending 1.14 million tonnes to landfill, a diversion rate of 68%. South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) lead the nation in terms of recycling - diverting an estimated 1.5 tonnes per capita, with South Australia having a recycling rate of 68%, narrowly behind the ACT at 71.4%. We also have the second lowest level of waste to landfill at 0.7 tonnes per capita, once again trailing only the ACT.
High recycling rates and the use of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approaches such as Container Deposit Legislation have seen South Australia producing consistent high volumes of quality clean recyclate. As a result our state has a well developed reprocessing industry. Accordingly, of the recycling collected in South Australia a massive 80% is reprocessed locally, 4% goes interstate and the remaining 16% is exported overseas.
Despite this well-established industry, South Australia remains the second highest generator of waste and is starting to lag behind the other states in tackling issues of over-consumption and resource efficiency. To address this issue, the South Australian Government has a long term vision of 'zero waste' for South Australia. Following the establishment of Zero Waste SA (ZWSA) in 2004, South Australia has steadily improved its recovery rate, with waste to landfill declining by 10.4% while the population has grown by 3.3%. Data also shows, however, that total waste generation has grown faster (by 7.8%) than the population in the same period and as a result waste generated per person has grown by a total of 4.3%, to 2258kg per person per year.
By national standards this is a high waste generation per capita - only Western Australia has a higher per capita waste generation. It is apparent that addressing excessive consumption is a key issue for South Australia that needs to be given further priority.
As climate change starts to bite, the waste sector emerges as a substantial player. First, if the 'business as usual' approach is adopted emissions from the decomposition of waste will escalate far beyond its current 2.7% contribution of Australia's total Greenhouse Inventory. Some experts have estimated that methane from the degradable carbon in landfill could represent as much as 85% of Australia's total Greenhouse inventory in 2050 if action is not taken immediately. Second, if properly addressed and managed, waste and recycling has the capacity to not only eliminate its entire Greenhouse footprint, but could, by harnessing the embodied energy contained within products and materials available for recycling, actually become Australia's first carbon negative industry reducing Australia's total Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2020.
Within this context, South Australia needs to play a vital leadership role. South Australia is the nation's leader on the recovery of waste, with a 68% recovery rate in 2006/07, and its performance is widely recognised across the world as one of the best practice jurisdictions. However, there is more to be done and in a carbon constrained economy will need strategies to develop frugal consumption and resource efficiency practices if it is to become a truly sustainable economy. It is widely recognised that action on reducing waste consumption and recycling is a starting point for this shift.
What are the key waste issues in South Australia?
There are three categories of waste in South Australia:
1. Municipal Waste - 17% of the total waste stream by weight
Household kerbside waste collection plus all street and public place waste collection - basically all waste collected by local councils
2. Commercial & Industrial (C&I) - 36% of the waste stream by weight
All waste generated by manufacturers, the hospitality industry, offices and all other non-residential operations (apart from the construction industry). This sector generates about 250,000 tonnes of waste to landfill per year
3. Construction & Demolition (C&D) - 47% of the waste stream by weight
This waste may contain heavy materials generated by the building and demolition industry - concrete, soil/fill, asphalt and bricks. Concrete is the largest component (81% of C&D waste).
South Australia's overall generation of waste is excessive and more action needs to be taken to reduce growing patterns of resource consumption. Although South Australia is a leader in recycling, resources lost to landfill costs the South Australian economy approximately $79 million per annum.
When considering the waste hierarchy it is preferable to avoid, reduce and reuse. The trend of increased waste generation indicates that there is currently insufficient public awareness of the advantages of such processes. There is also a lack of producer responsibility for these higher targets in the waste hierarchy. Greater attention by government and industry is needed for adopting these targets.
The government also needs to address the key issue of illegal dumping in their waste policy and planning. Illegal dumping refers to the dumping of large items of rubbish in public areas such as roadsides or illegal land fills on private land where waste is dumped without Council or EPA approval. Increasing waste levies and charges without consideration of differential rates for users can lead to an increase of illegal dumping. Areas such as the Hills Face Zone and Mount Lofty Ranges Watershed Zone are particularly susceptible to illegal dumping in South Australia.
The environmental impacts of illegal dumping are significant, with dumped rubbish leaching contaminates into our bushland, harming our plants and animals and altering the aesthetic value our landscape. In areas such as the Mount Lofty Ranges Watershed Zone, rainfall can cause illegally dumped rubbish to impact the proper drainage of run-off, making areas more susceptible to flooding when waste blocks ravines, creeks, culverts and drainage basins.
Pollution is another significant threat to our state's environment through processes including: the disposal of treated waste water and urban stormwater into waterways; seepage from septic tank systems; faecal contamination from grazing animals; disposal of excess irrigation drainage and illegal waste dumping. Local pollution from industrial discharges and spills can introduce nutrients, pesticides, heavy metals and organic pollutants to South Australia's ecosystems and seriously degrade them. Pollution can significantly harm groundwater, surface water and the state's habitats, and needs to be incorporated into waste management planning to limit these effects.
It is important that government agencies are accountable for the impacts of the pollution they introduce to our environment. An example of the system failing is PIRSA's rehabilitation of the Maslin Beach quarry which lead to large amounts of silt polluting the Gulf and causing significant degradation of the local coast and marine environment; yet the EPA did not prosecute or take action to enforce requirements such as the preparation of a Sediment Erosion and Drainage Management Plan.
We currently lead the nation on waste recovery, we have had container deposit legislation for decades, and we have taken the very significant step of banning single-use plastic shopping bags. It is vital that we maintain this momentum, and that we do not become complacent, neglecting areas for further improvement. It is also vital that we address current limitations such as high levels of consumption, illegal dumping and pollution.
While big business is an obvious target for reducing waste, we must not forget the key role to be played by smaller businesses and the community. We can't rest on our laurels - now the real work begins. One way we can begin is by taking the following actions at the state government level:
- Examine an increase in waste rates and strategies to address associated issues.
- The polluter pays principle should be enshrined in waste legislation.
- Priority Waste and Wastes of Concern should be identified and prioritised within the state Waste Strategy and the ZWSA business plan.
- Broad head powers should be established to allow Extended Producer Responsibility schemes via regulations instead of legislation, which will allow the South Australian Government to more readily act on waste of concern.
- Where Environment Protection and Heritage Council reforms do not add value to South Australia's existing Waste Strategy, the South Australian Government must ensure it remains able to act in its own right.
Waste materials with degradable organic carbon, including food, paper, garden and wood wastes decompose and emit gas when buried in landfill. This landfill gas contains methane, which has a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Put simply, if action is not taken to stop the greenhouse legacy of landfill, up to 85% of Australia's carbon budget in 2050 will be accounted for by waste and therefore unavailable for future wealth creating activities.
Immediate and significant action to tackle emissions from waste needs to be developed. Policy options to address these issues include: conversion of organic waste material to 'Biochar'; alternative waste technology; widespread composting in residential and commercial localities; and/or adoption of a tradable certificates scheme like the UK Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme. Current Waste Strategy targets would be more meaningful and effective if they were benchmarked to a particular date and based on decreasing the proportion of residual waste over time.
Currently, the people and environment of South Australia are subjected to considerable amounts of industrial pollution due to the unwillingness or inability of the EPA to enforce the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1993. This creates an impression that the EPA's role is the licensing of pollution rather than its elimination or minimisation. To adequately address this, there needs to be an investigation of the barriers to proper enforcement, and environmental protection needs to be given far higher priority and properly resourced.
We are yet to achieve the true zero waste mindset in South Australia; to do so will require a range of incentives for action so it becomes easier to conserve resources, rather than waste them.
1. Amend the targets in the Waste Strategy and South Australia's Strategic Plan so they are benchmarked, to reduce waste to landfill in real terms and drive a decrease in the total volume of waste generated.
2. There should be a target in South Australia's Strategic Plan to increase state and local government procurement of products that are reused or have recycled content, especially from local sources, to create and grow markets for products that can then be taken out of the waste stream.
2.1. State government to require contractors to use recovered materials and goods in the work they do for the state (e.g. road building etc).
Waste levies and charges
3. Ensure that the true cost of waste is factored into waste levies and charges and rewards efforts to minimise the production of waste.
3.1. Increase the landfill levy to at least that outlined in the Levy Review recommendation of a legislated staged increase to $55.00 per tonne by 2013/14. Differential rates should be considered to reduce the likelihood of illegal dumping. Ensure that levy revenues are hypothecated with at least 50% channelled back and made readily accessible for infrastructure investments and programs to further improve resource recovery rates.
3.2. Institute uniform levies and charges on waste and allocate a substantial proportion towards the development of collection and reprocessing infrastructure. Local government, in particular, needs to receive rebates at a rate of at least 150% of any charges to reflect their already substantial investment in recycling.
3.3. Pay-per-use rubbish collection based on weight/volume/type should be considered for commercial residual waste collections.
3.4. An increase should be made in the waste disposal levy for hazardous waste, so that it is equal or greater than the Victorian levy of $250 per tonne.
3.5. Support should be provided to social enterprises for the recovery and reuse of second hand goods or 'waste' materials. Assistance to such charities and recycling operators should be given so they are able to effectively manage the residual waste from their schemes and reduce their overall costs (e.g. landfill levies).
4. The South Australian Government should develop a strategy to minimise greenhouse gas emissions from the waste stream.
4.1. This strategy should include:
o mandatory gas capture from all significant landfills (over 10,000 tonnes)
o mandatory methane gas generation from all major landfills (over 25,000 tonnes)
o diversion of at least 50% of all organic materials away from landfill (compost mulch, processed fuels etc).
4.2. Food waste collection should be expanded to all councils in South Australia, following on from Zero Waste SA's pilot to 10 councils.
4.3. Once food waste is collected weekly, organic waste should be banned from landfill and all organic waste should be composted or, if contaminated, used for waste to energy. Residual waste collection should then be conducted on a fortnightly basis.
4.4. A dual strategy of promoting composting and worm farming should also be employed. This will involve less transport and can promote people gardening at home. Rebates for worm farms and compost bins should be provided at the local council level (with state government support).
5. South Australia needs to act locally and nationally to continue the increase in recycling rates.
5.1. South Australia should push to introduce a market-based instrument via the Environment Heritage and Protection Council that focuses on capturing high volumes of recyclate (particularly for materials with high embodied energy such as metals, plastics, paper, glass and organics).
5.2. The South Australian Government should consider expanding the current container deposit provisions to include recyclable and frequently littered items such as takeaway cups and containers.
5.3. The South Australian Government should urge the Environment Protection and Heritage Council to adopt a national policy to:
o reduce over-packaging
o increase the recycled content of packaging
o ban non-recyclable packaging from sale as soon as possible.
5.4. It should be ensured that the beverage industry owned 'super collectors' do not restrict the use of technology or establishment of convenience collection facilities in commercial shopping areas. Such facilities will reduce the handling costs and increase convenience to assist consumers to recycle.
5.5. Investment should be made into facilities so that all hard waste collections are sorted to extract recyclables prior to any material going to landfill.
Commercial & Industrial and Construction & Demolition waste
6. South Australia needs to set targets to require the pre-sorting of all Commercial & Industrial waste before disposal to landfill by 2011, and establish a timetable to ban products which can be recycled from landfill. Recyclable Construction & Demolition waste must also be banned from landfill, once markets are established.
6.1. The current Clean Site program via KESAB could potentially be expanded to include sorting waste prior to landfill.
6.2. A ban-from-landfill timetable should be drawn up for different materials and products depending on the existence or development of recycling opportunities and market demand. For example, cardboard and steel could be banned from landfill immediately as recycling facilities exist and market demand is high. For other waste items, such as timber, 12 months notice could be given of an intention to ban from landfill. Education of consumers and industry is essential for implementation to be successful.
6.3. The Environment Protection Authority should investigate (with Zero Waste SA) whether building waste management regulations are causing Construction & Demolition companies to send waste to landfill or dump it illegally - and accordingly regulations should be altered to assist the industry with recycling the waste.
6.4. The EPA and Zero Waste SA should work with the building industry and Construction & Demolition waste recycling companies to identify markets for bricks, rubble and other similar waste products that are not currently being recovered (e.g. in the landscaping industry).
6.5. Where feasible all regions should be supported to establish material recycling facilities (MRFs) at all transfer stations and landfill sites to pre-sort all Commercial & Industrial, for reuse and recycling. Increased community involvement in some regions could help to reduce illegal dumping and build resilience into the recycling industry if value-added activities were conducted in South Australia rather than offshore.
Hazardous waste and pollution control
7. South Australia needs to upgrade its facilities and policies to phase out or manage certain hazardous wastes. The Environment Protection Act 1993 should be subjected to a judicial review to determine the reasons for failures in its implementation and enforcement. The EPA needs greater resourcing to carry out its responsibilities effectively.
7.1. Immediate action should be taken to collect nickel cadmium, lead acid and lithium batteries for recycling. Drop off facilities should be negotiated with retailers of relevant electrical and electronic products pending the establishment of a national collection and disposal program for unwanted nickel cadmium batteries. Support should be given to businesses that already provide this service.
7.2. The production of copper-arsenic treated timber should be phased out and replaced with more environmentally benign alternatives. A plan should also be implemented to dispose or reuse existing stocks in the most environmentally friendly way.
7.3. Waste treated timber must be separated from untreated timber in recycling and energy recovery applications and disposed of.
7.4. Treatment facilities for medical wastes should be upgraded to comply with world's best practice gas emission standards.
7.5. Mine tailings and overburden should be adequately remediated to ensure that the mine environment is left in as good or better condition than before mining took place.
7.6. The frequency of household chemical disposal opportunities needs to be increased, with funding from producers, such as paint manufacturers, and development of ways to reuse and recycle some of the wastes collected. Existing schemes such as Bunnings Paintback in Victoria should be expanded.
7.7. The state government should:
o roll out a light globe recovery program for the mercury-contaminated compact fluorescent light (CFL) globes
o mandate health warnings and breakage clean-up procedures on CFL packaging
o ban products containing mercury from landfill sites and mercury discharge to trade waste water in South Australia and call for the same to occur at the national level.
7.8. Greater clarity is needed for classifications under the Dangerous Substances Act 1979. The Act and its regulations are currently unclear on what falls into the different classes of substances mentioned in the Act and what consequences ensue.
7.9. There needs to be greater clarity as to which agencies are responsible for dealing with pollution control to reduce confusion about who is responsible for action.
7.10. Some concerns or suggested changes to the Environment Protection Act 1993 include:
o Regarding civil remedies for breaches of the Act (section 104): orders for security for costs and undertakings as to damages should be removed particularly in public interest matters. Also the civil penalties provisions and calculation policy under section 104A require review after approximately two years of operation.
o Whilst most Site Contamination provisions in Part 10A are yet to come into force, there are serious concerns that they do not cover 'orphan' sites and third parties are arguably limited in obtaining court orders etc if the EPA will not act in relation to remediating a site.
o The public register created under the Act requires an overhaul to improve accessibility - preferably it should be made available online.
Extended producer responsibility
8. Zero Waste SA to develop an Extended Producer Responsibility strategy for South Australia to identify wastes of concern and those for priority focus and identify programs for take-back and re-use/recycling of key end-of-life products in a national context.
8.1. This would include the development of rigorous Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and other market-based instruments that will deliver at least 90% recycling from products that are problematic in their disposal or contain high levels of embodied energy. Priority wastes for action include:
o CFL globes
o TVs, computers, and other electronics
o car and other batteries
o gas bottles.
8.2. Once take-back systems are established for computers and other electronic equipment, these items should be banned from hard waste collections.
Education, behaviour change and sustainable consumption
9. Community understanding of the significance of waste as an environmental issue needs to be increased, with investment in a variety of educational and behaviour changing programs.
9.1. State government should co-ordinate and fund the trialling of sharing facilities at the local level as an ongoing program. These facilities may be attached to existing establishments such community centres and community gardens.
9.2. Existing sharing schemes at the local council level could be expanded. For example a borrowing facility could be connected to the book/toy library with tools, garden equipment (e.g. lawnmowers), sporting equipment, camping equipment, events and catering equipment (e.g. urns, tables etc), bicycles, art and craft equipment (e.g. art easels) and many other goods that people only require on an occasional basis.
9.3. Education about waste issues including specific solutions for apartment dwellers should be considered to boost the recycling and the food waste collection program, as apartment dwellers traditionally divert less waste and may have trouble using compost or worm farms.
9.4. Programs to expand recycling in the Small-to-Medium Enterprise sector should be a priority.
 Zero Waste SA (2008) Review of Recycling Activity in South Australia 2006-2007, Prepared by Hyder Consulting for Zero Waste SA, May 2008
 Derived from Hyder Consulting 2006 using ABS population estimates for all states except Qld. Current Qld estimates are used to provide a more accurate picture of performance (2002/2003 data showed waste generation at around 1 tonne per capita). Note that this information is based on the State of Waste series of reports produced by Warnken ISE published by Total Environment Centre <www.tec.org.au>
 Zero Waste SA (2008a), Review of Recycling Activity in South Australia 2006-2007, Prepared by Hyder Consulting for Zero Waste SA, May 2008
 Peter Allan, Hyder Consulting, Personal Communication (referring to a forthcoming federal government report) 25th August 2008
 Zero Waste SA (2008) 'South Australia's Waste Strategy: How Sustainable Practices are Making a Real Difference', Focus, August 2008, p. 3
 Zero Waste SA (2008) 'South Australia's Waste Strategy: How Sustainable Practices are Making a Real Difference', Focus, August 2008, p. 3
 Dave West, Boomerang Alliance, Personal Communication (figure based on 2006-07 data from Zero Waste SA).
 Clean Up Australia Limited (n.d.) Illegal Dumping, Accessed online <http://www.cleanuptheworld.org/PDF/au/cua-illegal-dumping.pdf>
 Environment Protection Agency (2003) State of the Environment Report, Government of South Australia, Adelaide
 Warnken ISE (2007) The Potential Greenhouse Gas Liability fro Landfill in Australia: An examination of the climate change risk from landfill emissions to 2050, Report produced for the Total Environment Centre, see Accessed online <http://www.tec.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=591&Itemid=270>