16/07/2009 - 00:00

Local government does the heavy lifting

16/07/2009 - 00:00

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THE peak body representing regional councils has called on the state government to clarify its long-term strategic vision for waste management.

Local government does the heavy lifting

THE peak body representing regional councils has called on the state government to clarify its long-term strategic vision for waste management.

According to the Forum of Regional Councils, the overarching body that guides the strategy of local regional councils across Western Australia, the state government has dropped the ball with regards to its zero-waste landfill 2020 policy.

FORC chairman Doug Thompson said the lack of a clear strategic vision had plagued local governments for a number of years.

"We are certainly of the view that the state government needs to re-look at waste per se and start to deal with it as an essential service, along with things such as power and water," Mr Thompson told WA Business News.

"We've known from some experiences where there is a crisis in waste management or recycling goes down, or a landfill goes out, there is not the spare capacity in Perth to deal with that.

"We actually think it should be an essential service."

Mr Thompson said the state government also needed to give waste management its own portfolio, rather than come under the responsibility of the environment minister.

"Waste should achieve some specific portfolio recognition with appropriate ministerial responsibilities within the state government," he said.

"We're not necessarily sure it fits all that well under the environment minister; we actually think that there should be a portfolio that takes a much stronger interest in waste management as an industry."

Mr Thompson said FORC would push for the introduction of an integrated waste system covering not only municipal solid waste (MSW), but construction and industry (C&I) waste and construction and demolition (C&D) waste also.

"At the moment, the focus of state government, particularly the DEC, is perhaps too much on planning and regulatory functions and there is a need for a strategic overview," Mr Thompson said.

"We are very keen on having an integrated waste system that covers MSW, C&I and C&D, and we would want to work with the waste authority and the state government to achieve this.

"We do recognise that MSW is a major concern for us but it doesn't capture the whole of the waste stream.

"The big difficulty is with construction and demolition waste, because currently a lot of that, some 60 or 70 per cent, goes to landfill and that's a major area of concern.

Local governments have experienced difficulty in delivering on the state government's zero waste 2020 mandate, according to Mr Thompson.

"Local governments have been left to do the heavy lifting in terms of waste management," he said.

"In one sense, local governments have been forced to wear the costs and do all the work required in meeting a state government target, so again it's a matter of strategic vision that's missing."

FORC is a voluntary alliance that focuses on waste management issues related directly to members.

Regional councils aligned under FORC are the Mindarie Regional Council, Southern Metropolitan Regional Council, Rivers Regional Council, Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council, Western Metropolitan Regional Council and the City of Geraldton-Greenough.

FORC members and constituent councils provide MSW processing services for a total of 1.5 million people.

According to Mr Thompson, the fragility of waste processing infrastructure in WA was providing distinct challenges for the regional councils.

While the MRC opened an $80 million waste treatment plant in Neerabup in April with the capacity to divert 70,000 tonnes of waste from landfill annually, 40 per cent of Perth's recycling capacity was knocked off-line by a fire which gutted the recycling plant at the SMRC's resource recovery facility in Canning Vale in May.

Mr Thompson said although the fire was a setback for the SMRC, it opened up opportunities for the implementation of new waste processing strategies within a difficult environment.

"It's certainly difficult; there's a number of things contributing, the falling commodity prices, the fire at the SMRC, the ongoing issues we've had with regulation and the DEC, which unfortunately the SMRC felt we were just about on top of and then we had the fire.

"I think the other thing the state government needs to address is the downstream market for recyclables."

"The difficulty with the global financial crisis is the market for recyclables has fallen nearly 60 per cent; so its one thing to recover recyclables, it's another thing to be able to move them so they have a beneficial use."

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