Recycled rubbish ban sees local councils struggling to stave off national waste crisis
Australia’s growing waste problem has been dumped in the national spotlight at a forum of local government heavyweights in Canberra this week.
At the beginning of the year China implemented a ban on a range of imported recyclables, throwing the local industry into turmoil.
More than 600,000 tonnes of recyclable materials were previously exported to China every year.
Local councils have been unable to offload recycled rubbish, with companies refusing to accept the waste.
And the president of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), David O’Loughlin, said councils were running out of options.
“Waste is a dreadfully complex issue. It used to be easier when we dug a hole and pushed it all in,” he said.
Attitudes towards recycling are increasingly proactive, with the ALGA estimating more than 90 per cent of people are in support of a national action plan.
The industry has been struggling to keep up, with recyclables ending up in landfill, stockpiled on properties or dumped illegally.
“People who are processing recycling materials are not finding a market for them,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
He said illegal dumping eroded community confidence in councils but he stopped short of condemning stockpiling.
“Stockpiling on someone’s land is cheaper than landfill — not better, but means it’s available for future use,” he said.
“The real key is finding uses for recyclable materials and we all have to play a role in that.”
Looking local for answers
The ALGA has urged its member councils to foster a healthier relationship with the domestic recycling industry.
“Our sector is quite conservative in how it procures and I think we need to change that,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
“I’ve urged them not just to be a glorified collector of materials but to be a user of materials.”
He said recycled materials could be used for everything from street furniture to road maintenance.
Local road funding makes up more than 40 per cent of federal grants to local governments.
The ALGA has predicted a massive boost to the domestic waste industry if more roads were built from recycled materials.
Scrounging for a solution
A record number of councils have sent delegates to the ALGA conference in Canberra to lobby for increased funding.
According to the association, the proportion of federal tax revenue allocated to local government has almost halved over the past two decades.
Local governments had a small win in the May budget with the Federal Government lifting an indexation freeze on local government grants.
“That’s a big campaign push for us in the next federal election,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
“We cannot recover our sustainability without getting our funding sorted.”