Are NSW and VIC rubbish at recycling?

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday June 7, 2019

Source: Getty Images

Two audits into waste management have been published this week.

The NSW Auditor-General’s Office and the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office have both found their states are struggling to manage their recycling.

Australian councils have had difficulties in effectively dealing with their waste since China imposed restrictions that limit its importation of recyclables, excluding 99% of the recyclables that Australia previously sold to China.

According to the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, the failure to recognise and act upon early signs that China was making changes left Australia’s waste management system vulnerable.


Victorians generated nearly 12.9 million tonnes of waste in 2016-17, with 80% of this coming from Metropolitan Melbourne, according to Sustainability Victoria (SV).

Only 67% of the total waste was recovered for recycling and the remaining 33% went to state landfills.

The Victorian audit looked at whether agencies responsible for the waste sector efficiently recover and reprocess Victoria’s waste. 

It assessed Banyule City Council, City of Monash Council, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG), and SV.

These agencies are not responding strategically to waste and resource recovery issues, the audit found.

It said that the lack of statewide policy “deprives” agencies and their stakeholders of a clear direction for waste management, and responses to waste issues have been “ad hoc and reactive”.

The lack of action to minimise waste, invest in infrastructure, and regulate the sector, occurred while the Sustainability Fund — set up to support best practices in waste management — had $511.3 million as at 30 June 2018, the audit found. The amount of waste going to landfills will continue to grow without clear plans.

The audit made 22 recommendations to the relevant groups, such as:

  • Develop an overarching statewide waste policy with strategies for waste avoidance.
  • Advise the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change on ways to improve waste and resource recovery outcomes, such as reducing the sector’s reliance on international markets for recyclable materials.
  • Update a number of statewide plans and frameworks.
  • Deliver a sustained statewide recycling campaign.
  • Improve the quality and reliability of state waste data by working with the relevant portfolios and agencies.
  • Develop and implement a prioritised action plan to address waste risks.
  • Improve the recovery of resources from commercial and industrial waste.
  • Expand capacity‐building initiatives to support councils in developing the skills of staff to plan and deliver waste services.

New South Wales

The NSW Government’s target is to increase the municipal solid waste recycling rate to 70% by 2021-22, according to the NSW Audit Office.

The audit assessed the domestic kerbside waste management of Sydney’s Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council.

It looked at whether councils’ efforts cause residents to use the correct recycling bins, whether they effectively and economically collect, transport and process waste, and whether the councils are meeting their targets.

“Both councils are grappling with some significant challenges, including a complex regulatory environment, limited competition in the waste industry and a diminishing market for recyclables,” the audit said.

Both Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council follow recommendations made by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to encourage residents to recycle correctly, the audit found.

However, they have not ensured all new multiple unit dwellings have sufficient waste storage facilities, hampering the management of waste.

On a positive note, both councils manage kerbside waste at a low cost and with high community satisfaction, and recyclable material is effectively recovered from their green-lid and yellow-lid bins.

However, almost all red-lid bin waste goes to landfill, which has made the recycling and diversion from landfill rates fall behind state target.

Sydney’s red-lid bin waste system is failing

Most red-lid bin waste goes to landfill because the treatment plants which service the Sydney metropolitan area do not have the capacity for the amount of waste generated, the audit found.

 The alternative waste treatment facilities in Sydney and Woodlawn have a combined capacity to process less than 500,000 tonnes of red-lid bin waste per year. However, data shows that households in the Sydney metropolitan area generated 1.1 million tonnes of waste in 2014-15.

There is no strategy for ensuring Sydney has access to adequate waste infrastructure

The EPA predicts the Sydney metropolitan area needs 16 more waste treatment facilities, including three alternative plants, by 2021 to achieve the State’s recycling target.

According to the audit, a push for narrower roads in new subdivisions may generate demand for smaller collection vehicles that need to be supported by nearby transfer stations.

The 2018 NSW Parliamentary inquiry into ‘Energy from waste’ technology also found a projected shortfall of waste processing services across the State and no plan to address this. The 2018 Senate Inquiry into the waste and recycling industry in Australia found governments had failed to make the policy decisions required to ensure adequate investment in recycling infrastructure.

The Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) says it is working with the EPA on a 20-year waste strategy to improve waste infrastructure.

It is also planning a guideline for waste transfer stations and recycling facilities, intended to help streamline the approval and construction of those facilities.

The audit made the following recommendations to the Campbelltown and Fairfield councils:

  • Better measure, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts to encourage residents to recycle with the correct bins.
  • Ensure all new buildings have adequate waste storage facilities so that residents can sort their waste easily and properly.
  • Obtain more information on the costs of other options for waste collection, transportation, processing and disposal, so they can assess whether they need to change existing arrangements.


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