Progress towards No Waste by 2010
I have reviewed progress of implementation of the ACT's No Waste by 2010 strategy, just under three years into its program. ACT Waste has done some good work to date, but there is a very challenging task ahead.
The strategy seeks to achieve a no waste society within about 14 years of its launch in December 1996. The Vision of a waste-free society is exciting, and I am very keen to see ACT Governments progressively stimulate the community to achieve that goal. But to be successful, the strategy will require successive Ministers to ensure that it retains a high profile, both in the ACT Legislative Assembly and in the community. I believe the strategy cannot be successfully implemented without enormous combined support of Government and the businesses and residents of the ACT. That support needs to have a formal structure.
The Vision of a waste-free society is unambiguous. A waste-free society is one which has adopted certain practices. In the strategy, by 2010 all "waste" that is generated will be transformed into a resource or stored until technology is available to transform it into a resource. However, I have experienced some confusion in ACT Government about the goals of the No Waste by 2010 strategy.
Clarify and publicise the Government's goals for the strategy.
My recommendations based on the review cover two concepts. Recommendations 1-4 can be interpreted as essential to clarify the target of the strategy and to maintain and extend the current effort of ACT Waste. However, it is my assessment that with these recommendations alone the goals of the strategy would not be achieved.
Recommendations 5-9 are directed to the need for additional effort and focus. Rather than specifying who should take the initiatives in implementing those recommendations. A possible mechanism is suggested that would involve government and community representation.
My review of ACT Waste's activities since the launch of the strategy has established that there were very good measures in place leading up to development of the strategy. Progress has been made in relation to all five of the initiatives identified in that section of the strategy titled "Making it Happen". None of those actions has yet been completed to my full satisfaction. Satisfactory progress is dependent on completing the benchmarking exercise and identifying the full costs of each type of waste in the current year.
Ensure that actions identified for the first two years are completed - in particular, identification of full costs of each type of waste, and comprehensive benchmarking.
Also, a much stronger focus is needed on community commitment (fostering and developing a strong community commitment to responsible waste management).
Develop a strong focus on initiatives to engender community commitment to achieving the goal of no waste by 2010.
This requires initiatives under "Information programs and community support" and "Public Recognition". As part of that focus, consider:
- a wider distribution of annual progress reports- for example, introduction of household distribution each year (as done in 1997)
- ways to encourage and recognise community initiatives in waste management
- revitalisation of community interest and participation in achieving the no waste goal through:
- a booklet/guide such as was produced when recycling was introduced,
- a media campaign (television and radio); and
- strengthening the role of schools
- continuing participation in events such as Floriade, Recycling Awareness Week, etc.
ACT Waste must be acknowledged for having initiated considerably more actions than those specified for the two-year period. However, I believe there is a demonstrable need for a more coherent program for implementing the strategy over the remaining timeframe than currently exists.
The work within ACT Government to date has addressed the immediate issue of an accumulation of waste that required practical attention. The emphasis on reuse, recycling and recovery to address that issue is understandable and must be developed as planned.
Ensure that development of infrastructure for Resource Recovery Estates and the National No Waste Education Centre is implemented, and that the Resource Recovery Estates are managed in such a way that they do not replace landfills as repositories for waste
Levels of waste to landfill, and the dumping and littering that one observes in our community, lead me to believe that community commitment to this strategy, and acceptance of the "no waste" concept, are by no means comprehensive. There is no doubt that kerbside recycling has been well-adopted by the community, and that it has reduced the total amount of waste to landfill. However, the domestic waste stream in 1997-98 was again as high as it was in 1993-94 - before the introduction of recycling - having dropped some 5,000 tonnes after the introduction of the recycling program. A significant whole-of-community effort and leadership from Government will be required to minimise domestic waste.
From ACT Waste figures, "domestic", "building and construction", and "commercial and industrial" are the major waste streams going to landfill. Ways to reduce specific waste streams need to be identified and targets for progressive reduction identified through a consultative process to engender commitment.
ACT Waste plans for the current year indicate activities against all of the Broad Actions in the strategy, and these should proceed. However, I am concerned that the "Avoidance and Reduction" aspect of the strategy may not progress adequately. There is nothing evident in current planning to address Smart Buying - developing programs that will allow consumers and resource users to make well-informed choices for minimising waste in their purchasing and production decisions, or Reduction Agreements and Cleaner Production - establishing waste reduction agreements with key industries operating in the ACT and region.
Targeted activities need to be identified in relation to smart buying, reduction agreements and cleaner production. Also options for legislation to avoid and/or minimise waste generation need to be considered, along with economic instruments, particularly incentives for best management practice.
To implement the following recommendations, a central structure in Government is needed, or one that may cross agency or business unit boundaries. That structure needs to have appropriate expertise, power and the resources (or access to them) to facilitate the necessary government, community and private sector involvement to achieve the goals of the No Waste by 2010 strategy.
Use an appropriate central structure in Government or one that may cross agency or business unit boundaries to prioritise actions for implementation of the strategy to 2010.
Before the end of 2000, an update of the strategy should be initiated to identify action plans to 2010. That update should ensure the inclusion of:
- initiatives under the Broad Actions, "Community Commitment" and "Avoidance and Reduction" with commencement of their implementation as an urgent priority, during the current triennium
- other priority actions and a clear timeframe for their implementation
- a series of short-term targets to reduce specific waste streams based on the waste inventory (eg not less than a 30% reduction of household waste over the next 3 years)
- options for legislation to support the desired results
- options for economic instruments, particularly incentives for best management practice
- introduction of innovative ways to achieve the goal of the strategy, and
- at least two reviews of progress/the program between 2000 and 2008.
This "structure" is particularly needed to create awareness of the adverse impacts of wastes and of ways to avoid wastes, as well as the sustainable benefits of a "no waste" society. Residents of the ACT need to be made aware of the social and economic aspects and opportunities associated with the strategy. At every step there must be indications of increased community commitment.
Use an appropriate central structure in Government, or one that may cross agency or business unit boundaries, to identify and articulate the socio-economic and environmental consequences for the ACT of moving towards no waste to landfill by 2010.
ACT Waste has established good working relationships with members of the 'waste/recycling' industry. These relationships must be continuously strengthened. ACT Waste also has a keen sense of its roles as a resource manager and of facilitating business opportunities. However, the technology and markets associated with this business are characterised by rapid change. There must be suitable flexibility and resources (including assets and infrastructure) to meet the demands of the industry and to respond appropriately to changing markets and technologies.
Recommendation 7 - Use an appropriate central structure in Government, or one that may cross agency or business unit boundaries, to ensure adequate and appropriate resources are provided to implement the no waste strategy in accordance with the demands of the operating environment.
I have also found a major impediment to successful implementation of the strategy is a lack of a strong commitment across ACT Government to achieving no waste by 2010. Commitment is very strong in ACT Waste, which has had responsibility for implementing the No Waste by 2010 strategy, but, across Government agencies, there is no comprehensive strategy nor targets, for example, for waste minimisation and resource recovery. The ACT Government has received positive feedback for its goal of no waste by 2010, but is not providing a leadership model for the community and business, nor for its own employees. I believe the ACT is unlikely to achieve its goal without a high profile Government commitment. That, currently, does not exist.
Initiate a whole of Government approach to achievement of the No Waste by 2010 strategy, and implement Best Practice Waste Management in all Government agencies/departments.
Practical ways to achieve cleaner production processes and cradle-to-cradle planning in production and packaging need to be identified. In this regard, while the ACT can achieve some benefits within its own boundaries, it must be acknowledged that significant progress can only be achieved by national strategies addressing production and packaging issues, aided by regional co-ordination.
There is a need to integrate efforts taken in the ACT with regional and national efforts, specifically;
- take a leading role in implementation of the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure as appropriate in the ACT, and in formulating national guidelines and codes of practice;
- through appropriate inter-governmental avenues, pursue development of a national rating system, which will provide information on the environmental characteristics of a product, including by-products, energy consumed in production and use, packaging used and the potential for reuse and recycling of the product, by-products and packaging; and
- formalise cross-border arrangements regarding waste minimisation.
The structure that is devised to deal with Recommendations 5-8 above should be responsible for overseeing or coordinating such activities.
In February 1999, under section 12(1)(c) of the Commissioner for the Environment Act 1993 , I initiated an investigation into progress by the ACT Government towards implementation of its No Waste by 2010 strategy. The strategy was developed and is being implemented by ACT Waste.
The six Terms of Reference identified in consultation with ACT Waste are:
- Review the implementation of the No Waste by 2010 strategy to date, having regard to the effectiveness and efficiency of actions taken, and assessment of outcomes.
- Analyse the program of the strategy for the financial years 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.
- Identify desirable objectives for implementation of the strategy from 2001-2010.
- Consider any current policy, program or legislation that may impede implementation of the strategy.
- Analyse each component of the Vision for the No Waste by 2010 strategy for its strengths and weaknesses, and comment on the overall viability of the Vision.
- Make such comments and recommendation as are considered necessary to achieve no waste by 2010.
For this review, ACT Waste funded research against the six Terms of Reference and preparation of a draft report by Synectics Creative Collaboration. Synectics Creative Collaboration had considerable background in the waste management aspects of the ACT, having prepared an issues paper, A Waste Free Future, for the ACT Government, prior to commencement of the process for preparation of the waste management strategy.
The terms of the contract provided for Synectics Creative Collaboration to produce a report that would serve as a basis for a final report. I had to confirm that the terms of the contract had been satisfactorily completed.
Following the commissioning of the consultancy to Synectics Creative Collaboration, this office was approached by the Australian National University Internship Program. A 10-week internship resulted, based on the No Waste by 2010 strategy, and the findings provided by Synectics Creative Collaboration.
In this final report, I therefore acknowledge the financial assistance and information provided by ACT Waste and the combined input of Synectics Creative Collaboration and post-graduate ANU student, Ms Rukshi Perera.
In conjunction with rapid economic and population growth of cities, the continuing growth of urban waste together with its environmental impacts is among the most critical problems that nations around the world are faced with today. The problem of solid waste is highlighted in the Bruntland Report. Agenda 21 recognises the need for strategies and measures to halt and reverse the effects of environmental degradation, in the context of increased national and international efforts to promote sustainable and environmentally sound development in all countries. Sound management of waste was identified as an environmental issue of major concern in maintaining the quality of the Earth's environment.
The term 'waste' embraces liquid, solid and gaseous wastes produced at industrial, trade, agricultural and domestic sources. Waste falls into a number of categories related to its physical form, degree of inertness and source. (Box 1 gives an indication of waste categories, but is not comprehensive.)
Box 1 - Waste Categories
Putrescible household and commercial waste that rots over time:
- Inert household and commercial waste that does not rot
- Builders' spoil and clean fill generated during construction
- Commercial waste from food processing and distribution
- Office-generated waste
- Industrial waste from manufacturing processes
- Waste from research activities
Products including all waste water from the urban water cycle and other liquid wastes, such as:
- Treated sewage effluent
- Sludge from drinking water and sewage treatment processes
- Screened wastes from stormwater booms and sewage treatment plants
- Oils and chemicals
- Greenhouse gases
- CFCs from refrigeration systems and other ozone depleting gases
- Emissions from wood-burning heaters
- Motor vehicle exhaust emissions
The idea of waste arises from the perception that material by-products of production and consumption have no further value. Any definition of waste is therefore related to the material needs of a given society or community, and is a dynamic, historically determined concept. The composition of waste varies as a result of a number of factors: the level of urbanisation; the degree of prosperity and the local employment structure; the housing type and the urban morphology; and the time of year. Municipal waste streams in developed nations are divided into three categories: combustible waste which makes up 50% of waste by weight; non-combustibles which account for 20% by weight; putrescible material which constitutes around 30% by weight and includes some paper as well as some vegetable waste.
It is widely accepted that for the achievement of a sustainable city, minimisation of waste generation and maximisation of resource reuse and recycling are essential. Agenda 21 states that environmentally-sound waste management must go beyond the mere safe disposal or recovery of wastes that are generated, and seek to address the root cause of the problem, by attempting to change unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. This implies the application of an integrated approach, which presents a unique opportunity to reconcile development with environmental protection.
In the early 90's the adequacy and sustainability of waste management systems, based largely on sanitary landfills and incineration, were severely questioned. In developed nations it was soon accepted that much of the waste disposed of by a society represents valuable resources that can be reused, recycled or reclaimed for subsequent use, and that such resources are too commonly 'wasted' by disposing of them. Globally, a shift was witnessed from the conventional disposal-based system to a system where waste was treated as a resource. Zero waste represents a new planning approach for the 21st century, and defines the discipline required to create a more sustainable interaction with the environment.
Recent global trends in waste management and increased community awareness of environmental issues and landfill site scarcity, have led many countries to formulate national waste minimisation and recycling policies and strategies. . In Australia, the (then) Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency in consultation with the Australian and New Zealand Environmental and Conservation Council (ANZECC) released a National Waste Minimisation Strategy in June 1992.
The national strategy set the target of a 50% reduction of waste going to landfills by the year 2000. Resource recovery through recycling, reuse and composting were principal components of this strategy. To complement the National Waste Minimisation Strategy, the National Kerbside Recycling Strategy was introduced in the same year.
In keeping with the provisions of the National Waste Minimisation Strategy, the ACT Government released its Waste Management Strategy in December 1996. The ACT strategy was produced after a well-designed consultation process - from the 1995 issues paper, A Waste Free Future , to a series of workshops, and then a Draft Waste Management Strategy (more than1,000 copies distributed), to a further series of meetings, and finally the strategy itself. This consultation, and progressive development towards the final product, allowed maximum interest group participation.
That strategy sets out to achieve "a definite goal which is meaningful and not just a partial solution -a waste-free society by 2010" -defined as a society "in which no material is regarded as useless; where all resources find another application or useful function".
The five broad actions of the strategy - "Community Commitment", "Avoidance and Reduction", "Resource Recovery", "Residual Waste Management" and "Creative Solutions" -closely resemble the established hierarchy for waste management.
Thirteen programs and 21 initiatives are proposed within those five broad actions. The strategy set out to achieve certain specific actions in the first two years - following its launch in December 1996. These were identified in the last section of the strategy, "Making it Happen". A number of actions had been implemented prior to the launch.
The Vision and the broad actions of the strategy, including the programs and initiatives , can be found on the NoWaste website.
Several specific comments in the strategy merit attention, with respect to the image one may develop about what could happen in an integrated planned program or process. These are:
"In a consumer society waste is an accepted part of life. A strategy is needed to reverse this trend and prevent leaving future generations the legacy of our waste."
"There needs to be increased awareness of waste issues and long-term attitudinal change to achieve a waste-free society by 2010. The public cannot shoulder this responsibility alone. There is a role for industry and government to work together to find innovative non-regulatory measures to ensure goals are met."
"Improving current waste management practices will provide opportunities to develop new and innovative businesses with significant employment potential as well as establishing Canberra as a centre of excellence in sustainable resource management."
"Individuals will be encouraged to reduce waste by making sound decisions when they buy products. Specific programs will be developed to enable people to adopt smart purchasing practices."
"ACT industries will be encouraged to adopt cleaner production practices in order to reduce emissions and by-products during production."
"Introducing a national rating system, which provides information on the environmental characteristics of a product, including by-products, energy consumed in production and use, packaging used and the potential for re-use and recycling, will be supported."
"There are benefits in making agreements with key industries in the ACT and these agreements will be pursued in the context of any national agreements. Waste reduction agreements with specific local industries will be progressed on the basis of the waste hierarchy which promotes waste avoidance as the first step, followed by waste reduction and recycling."
"Industries will be encouraged to audit their waste to improve their environmental performance."
"The development of Resource Recovery Estates, dedicated to separating, reprocessing and value-adding materials, will help solve many disposal problems and provide employment opportunities. These estates will include educational centres, workshops and cottage industries."
"Given the level of innovation, the Resource Recovery Estate would become a model centre of excellence, foster eco-tourism and provide a focus for regional cooperation."
"A Resource Exchange Network will also be established to match the unwanted outputs from one process with the needs for such resources in other activities."
"Promoting best practice in waste management will require the development of systems that are safe and environmentally responsible."
"Landfill charges will need to recognise the full environmental costs of disposal and encourage resource recovery. The ACT's landfills will be full within the next 15 years."
"Research and development will play a key role in identifying innovative solutions to maximise resource recovery. Links will need to be fostered with peak community, government and industry groups."
"In recognition that existing waste practices need to change for ESD to be achieved, all Australian governments have made a commitment to minimise waste."
"The absence of heavy industry in Canberra limits wastes to those generated by tertiary industries, such as public administration; tourism, building and construction and householder."
"Identifying achievers in waste reduction will go hand in hand with targeted information and promotional programs. It may be possible to attract sponsorship for reward programs."
"Economic instruments, including the concepts of polluter pays and full-cost pricing, are being increasingly accepted by governments in Australia and overseas. The principles of polluter- and user-pays will be applied."
"Education centres, providing seminar facilities and tours for schools, industry and other groups, will help change people's perception from waste to resources."
"The establishment of processing plants to separate, reprocess and value-add materials will resolve a great number of disposal issues and provide jobs."
"Canberra's community-based recycling company, Revolve, operates by salvaging and selling recovered goods at the two landfill sites. Revolve has created 30 jobs by recovering 7,000 tonnes of material a year from landfill; and Canberra's organic recyclers compost more than 95,000 tonnes of garden waste each year."
From these comments I derived the following expectations and assumed goals associated with the No Waste by 2010 strategy.
- A "no waste" society is one where all sectors adhere to the hierarchy of avoidance-reduction-reuse-recycling-recovery-disposal where the maximum effort is committed to avoidance, and the desirable output is an absolute minimum of material sent for disposal only because it cannot be recovered, recycled or reused.
- A "no-waste" society is one where producers design their products and packaging in a way that ensures those products are useful for their designed purpose and also useful at the completion of their designed purpose. The driving force of the concept is that of "cradle-to-cradle" planning.
- A "no-waste" society also has consumers who refuse to buy products that do not satisfy the "cradle-to-cradle" concept, and who purposely avoid waste at the source. If waste cannot be avoided at the source, the society as a whole pursues innovative ways to reuse, recycle or recover the products and their packaging.
- A "no waste" society has governments which lead by example in waste avoidance and management. They reward producers and consumers who practise and communicate waste avoidance and management.
The No Waste by 2010 strategy challenges us to consider the practicability of achieving a waste-free society that deliberately sets out to mimic "a natural ecosystem whereby the wastes from one process become the resources for other processes."
In such a society, if a product or by-product of one process is not able to be used as a resource for other processes, one might assume that the said process would be immediately discontinued. One might challenge that such an assumption is valid in current consumer society, which in many respects, has little regard for availability of resources nor for generation or disposal of its waste products.
The strategy acknowledges the goal as "ambitious (but) achievable with the willingness, co-operation and participation of all sectors of the Canberra community."
While discussion in the section of the strategy, "Waste Management - Past to Present" focusses on landfill, the implication of the term "a waste-free society" is for a goal of absolute and categorical elimination of waste.
It was with this expectation that I commenced my review of progress towards the implementation to date of the strategy, and of the likelihood of achieving the stated goal.
I commenced my review taking literally the strategy title No Waste by 2010 and the Vision that guides it. Part way into the investigation I was informed by staff of Environment ACT and ACT Waste, that this strategy is in fact, targeted at the narrower goal of no waste to landfill by 2010. In the final draft stages of my report, I have subsequently been advised that my first impression was correct insofar as "no waste" means that even if "waste" is generated, it will be transformed into a resource or stored until technology is available to transform it into a resource.
In conducting this investigation, I have received inconsistent messages about the goals and targets of the No Waste by 2010 strategy. I therefore believe there needs to be a clear statement about the ACT Government's goals for the strategy. (See Recommendation 1.)
The No Waste by 2010 strategy was produced in 1996 with an action plan for two years, and data as at 1996. In addition to the need for a clear statement about the goals of the strategy, I believe the document should be revised to update action plans for implementation of the strategy to 2010.
Implementation of such an update requires what I have referred to in my Executive Summary and Recommendations as "a central structure in Government, or one that may cross agency or business unit boundaries ... with appropriate expertise, power and resources (or access to them) to facilitate the necessary government, community and private sector involvement "to do business and to seek solutions" to achieve zero waste to landfill." (See Recommendation 5.)
The No Waste by 2010 strategy contains an appendix of statistics on landfill and recycling tonnages. Before reporting against the Terms of Reference devised for my investigation, I believe it useful to report on the current situation. There will be some reference to these statistics in the discussion against the Terms of Reference.
The statistics show the drop in overall tonnage to landfill as a result of measures taken since 1994 to reduce waste. A rise in waste to landfill in 1998-99 is partially explained by the notes under the table. The metal flock of around 15,000 tones from Sydney was debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly on and around 12 October 1999 (see Hansard).
Domestic kerbside recycling was introduced in the ACT in December 1994 following suburban trials the previous year. ACT Waste provides each ACT household with a 240-litre wheelie recycling bin with a yellow lid, collected fortnightly, and a 140-litre wheelie garbage bin with a green lid, collected weekly according to a recycling calendar and collection/cleaning/replacement instructions distributed to each household. The bins are made from a special grade of HDPE plastic, made in part from old bins and bread crates, and have a life of up to 15 years.
The waste collection service provides the same service for households within developments of 10 or fewer units.
To save space in the case of multi unit developments the waste collection service provides red wheelie bins or red lid hoppers for glass, plastics and metals recycling, blue wheelie bins or blue lid hoppers for recycling paper and cardboard, and a garbage hopper. The recycling depots located in the six regional shopping centres and regional recycling centres accept larger quantities of glass, metals and plastics from households. An excess paper recycling service is provided at six regional recycling centres but not the recycling depots.
Recycling and garbage collections for non-residential areas, shopping centres or town centres are arranged privately with the private contractors.
Free of charge Recycling Opportunities are provided as follows:
- Access to the existing recycling facilities at the landfills. Sorted loads of paper and cardboard, glass, aluminium cans and PET and HDPE plastic can be deposited at the Recycling drop off point as well as at other regional and shopping centre drop-off points.
- Used motor oil (no cooking oils or fats) can be deposited at recycling facilities located at both landfill sites.
- Car bodies, refrigerators, stoves and other metal can be dropped of at the Mugga Lane Landfill.
- Garden Waste can be deposited at the Green Waste Recycling Centres located next to both landfills or at the Canberra Sand and Gravel site at Vickers Street, Mitchell.
- Soil Exchange Sites are located at: Mitchell - Vicars Street (Canberra Sand and Gravel); Fyshwick - Tennant Street (Refill).
In addition, for reprocessing concrete, brick and similar materials minimal charges are applied, based on the ease of reprocessing. These charges are significantly lower than landfill charges. Such material can be taken to Concrete Recyclers Pty Ltd at Fairbairn Avenue, Pialligo.
ACT Recycling/Resource Recovery Results (statistics are at the NoWaste website, and they show the effectiveness of the recycling arrangements over a ten-year period to 1998-99, increasing recycling amounts from 35 156 tonnes in 1989-90 to 331 362 tonnes in 1998-99.
Despite the success in domestic kerbside recycling rates, the pattern of domestic waste to landfill has not declined in the way one might have expected. The challenge is for tonnages of waste to continue to decline in the face of changes in population, number of households and the economy. The statistics show the initial drop in domestic waste to landfill following the introduction of kerbside recycling in December 1994. The amount of domestic waste collected increased initially with the introduction of landfill charges for private deliveries to landfill in January 1996. The ACT's economy took a turn for the better in 1997-98. Interestingly, domestic waste to landfill rose sharply in the same year. The annual volume (tonnage) of domestic waste to landfill for every person did drop marginally from 0.148 tonnes in 1993-94 to 0.146 tonnes in 1998-99.
Amounts of domestic waste to landfill for Queanbeyan have generally followed the ACT pattern over the recorded period, except for 1997-98 when the Queanbeyan waste to landfill dropped.
There has been a reduction of material finding its way into landfill for building and demolition, commercial and industrial waste and private deliveries.
Building and demolition waste includes builders' spoil, clean fill and asbestos. A Development Code for Best Practice Waste Management aimed at reducing demolition waste to landfill is proposed for introduction during 1999-2000 (see discussion under Term of Reference 1 - Broad Action 2 - Avoidance and Reduction)
An upswing in 1998-99 may also reflect the improved economy and increased activity in building, particularly housing renewal/modifications. Commercial and industrial waste is an area that still requires concentrated attention, although there was a significant reduction in 1998-99 from the previous year.