Other councils will soon follow Ipswich in scrapping their waste recycling programs as service costs skyrocket, the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) says.
Ipswich City Council yesterday said China’s import ban on recycling and the rising level of contaminated or non-recyclable rubbish in yellow bins meant it had become too costly for the city to recycle, so from now everything placed in yellow bins would go straight to landfill.
More than half of the items being placed in Ipswich yellow bins is unrecyclable waste, and the city’s kerbside collections have already been going to landfill for four weeks.
Brisbane, Logan and Gold Coast councils have so far ruled out following suit.
Brisbane City Council said 80 per cent of its yellow top-bin rubbish was recycled locally, due to a successful education program.
But LGAQ chief executive Greg Hallam said Ipswich had set a precedent other local governments would consider seriously.
“We believe it’ll be the first of many in Queensland and indeed across Australia,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate and we would prefer it to be otherwise, but without any sort of subsidy for our recyclable materials, councils just can’t make the maths add up.”
Ipswich Mayor Andrew Antoniolli said the level of recycling contamination had doubled in the last six months and reducing it to the required level for overseas waste operators was impossible.
“We were very good at our contamination levels a number of years ago — I would contest that Brisbane could get down much lower than 20 per cent of contamination … but all of a sudden I think people were starting to see the stories about the China crisis and they’ve started to lose faith in recycling,” he said.
It has now been revealed that several councils in New South Wales, including some in Sydney, are weeks away from abandoning their recycling schemes.
President of Local Government New South Wales Linda Scott said a number of councils were struggling to process recycling and funding was needed.
“This has been a really urgent, big problem around NSW,” Cr Scott said. “We hope [the affected councils] will be able to avoid this. We really need urgent support to develop new industries in NSW, so that we can process our waste here in a sustainable way.”
Cr Scott said they had asked the NSW Government to review the waste levy, a line of state revenue, which is collected by councils.
“It’s $659 million collected in 2016-17, for the purposes of managing waste, but only 18 per cent of that has been returned to local government to actually manage waste.”
Ipswich City Council said recycling contractors notified the council the current rate paid to them would soar by $2 million a year if recycling was to continue, which could potentially lead to a rate rise of up to 2 per cent.
Mr Hallam said it was a cost ratepayers were unlikely to accept.
“I think our understanding and long-term polling of these issues says that’s not the case,” he said.
Ipswich residents ‘deeply mortified’
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said Ipswich City Council has let down its ratepayers by throwing in the towel on what was an important service.
“For Ipswich residents, they would be deeply mortified, absolutely outraged, that they have been putting out their recycle bins for the past four weeks and all of that recyclable material … has gone into general landfill,” she said.
The Queensland Government said it was bringing forward the re-introduction of the state’s waste levy, before the middle of next year.
It is pledging to pour that money directly into incentivising more recycling, as some other states do.
“It won’t be starting on the 1st of July 2019. We think there is a very compelling case for us to bring that forward,” Ms Trad said.
Ms Trad also wants to establish a waste to energy industry but has not said how.
“We know these are big ambitious plans but quite frankly we don’t have options left to us after since China pulled the floor out of the recycling market,” she said.
But experts like Brisbane-based sustainability expert John Moynihan do not agree, attributing the dumping of recycling service to poor planning.
“This thing isn’t out of the blue, it’s not something that’s insurmountable … it comes down to a responsible council,” he said.
Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said Ipswich council’s step had taken her by surprise and she only found out this week alongside the city’s residents.
Ipswich move ‘a frightening development’
Mr Moynihan from Ecolateral said Ipswich Council’s decision was a backward step and set a dangerous benchmark.
“The majority of the Western world now recycles and recycles quite effectively — industries are built up around the recycled material that’s been supplied via household recycling, so it’s quite a frightening development,” he said.
“There will be a domino effect council to council — before you know it, everybody will abandon it because it’ll be a case of, ‘Well if it’s good enough for them, we can save some revenue, so it’s good enough for us’.”
Mr Antoniolli said Ipswich was the latest to be affected by the nationwide issue but that eventually all councils would be impacted by the viability of recycling household waste.
“I think [Australia is] going to be grappling with waste, particularly recyclable waste, for some time,” Cr Antoniolli said.
“It’s not just for Ipswich, it will be this whole nation will be affected by it, so we do need to come up with other options to handle our waste.
“That may even be looking at waste to energy as an option.”
On January 1, China stopped accepting 24 categories of solid waste, disrupting the export of more than 600,000 tonnes of material out of Australia each year.
Mr Moynihan said the younger generation was highly educated about recycling and the council’s decision sent a mixed signal to them.
“We’re now talking about getting rid of plastic bags, I mean what’s the message? You can’t have a plastic bag in the supermarket, but you can dump everything that’s in the plastic bag into the ground — it’s nonsensical.”
Where other city councils currently stand
Sunshine Coast Mayor and president of the LGAQ Mark Jamieson had a different take on the situation to the LGAQ’s chief executive.
Cr Jamieson said it was inaccurate to assume what happened in Ipswich would definitely occur elsewhere in the state.
He said he had been assured by the local contractor on the Sunshine Coast that all recyclables continued to be converted for reuse.
“In terms of the Sunshine Coast we remain very comfortable with the contract agreement we have in place,” Cr Jamieson said.
Rockhampton’s Airport, Water and Waste Committee chairman Neil Fisher said he did not believe there was an immediate threat to recycling in central Queensland.
“We’re probably lucky in a number of ways; we still have contracts and we’re fortunate that those contracts are with Australian companies and not reliant on the Chinese at this stage,” Mr Fisher said.
Mackay Regional Council chief executive Craig Doyle said the council was collecting and processing its kerbside recyclables as per normal.
Toowoomba Regional Council said it was shocked by Ipswich Council’s decision, and things needed to change.
Councillor Nancy Sommerfield said Australia should develop its own industries.
Cr Sommerfield said she would like to see Toowoomba set up its own recycling processing facility, but that would require state and federal government funding.
Cairns Regional Council said it had no intention of following Ipswich’s lead in sending its recycling to landfill.
Mayor Bob Manning said the council had stockpiled about 100 tonnes of lightweight plastic since January after China stopped receiving foreign waste.
He said the council could continue doing so for the foreseeable future.
By Rebecca Hyam and Isobel Roe. Source: ABC News