The Barnett government has lifted the lid on its long-awaited waste strategy, pledging to improve recycling and regulation but has held off on increasing the landfill levy.
Environment Minister Bill Marmion and Waste Authority chairman Peter Fitzpatrick launched the plan this week – almost five years after the authority was established to create a strategy and two years after its first draft was published.
The plan has updated targets for diverting waste from landfill and outlined schemes for improving education, infrastructure and support for changing behaviour around waste.
But the issue of whether achieving the targets will require an increase in the landfill levy remains unclear.
Mr Fitzpatrick said the goals set out in the strategy could not be achieved without an increase in the levy.
The current levy, which came into effect in January 2010, charges $12 a cubic metre of inert waste and $28 a cubic metre for solid, putrescible waste.
“A priority (of the strategy) will be on determining the relationship between higher landfill costs and reductions in waste going to landfill to inform the decision on what landfill levy increases will be needed to achieve the targets,” he said.
“The authority is well aware of the industry view that achievement of these targets will require an increase in the levy.”
But Mr Marmion said increasing the levy was not part of the government’s immediate plan to reduce landfill use.
“We will try and use education as one of the strategies (to reduce landfill use), but of course there are the incentives, and one of the options is the levies – but at this stage there is no intention to bring it up at the moment,” he said.
Mr Marmion’s comments appear to be at odds with the strategy paper, which states that the increasing cost of operating landfills should be reflected in gate fees as a way of driving major reform.
It states the 300 per cent increase in the landfill levy imposed in 2010 had improved recovery performance and decreased landfill use.
But the cost of using landfills was still low and meant targets were unlikely to be achieved because it undermined investment in alternatives.
Mr Marmion said the key focus of the strategy was to reduce waste from the construction and demolition and commercial and industrial sectors.
The construction and demolition industry has been set the biggest challenge of doubling the rate of waste recycled; the government wants it to have 60 per cent diverted from landfill by 2015 and 75 per cent by 2020.
In 2009-10 only about 29 per cent of the sector’s waste was being either recycled or reused.
Master Builders Association of WA spokesperson Geoff Cooper said it supported the reduction of waste going to landfill but the targets would be difficult to achieve and would affect the construction and demolition industry disproportionately.
“(The target) seeks to double the recycling rate in less than four years,” Mr Cooper said.
“Master Builders questions how feasible this is given the challenges associated with recycling some construction wastes in WA, such as glass and plasterboard and, particularly, in regional areas.”
WA Local Government Association president Troy Pickard said it was fair to put more pressure on those industries because their waste accounted for 75 per cent of all landfill waste in metropolitan areas.
However, Mr Pickard said the success of the strategy depended on a significant increase in funding, which had previously been inadequate, and the strategic use of money gained from the landfill levy.
Mr Marmion said the current arrangement was that 25 per cent of the levy fund went to establishing landfill improvement initiatives, with the remainder funding the Department of Environment and Conservation.
“I’m happy with that arrangement,” he said.
The waste authority said it was working on a variety of different business plans relating to a range of potential levy increases.
The final plan would be published “in the coming weeks”, Mr Fitzpatrick said.