Councils have difficulties finding long term solutions to deal with ever increasing amounts of waste. Landfills everywhere are heading for maximum capacity levels, because China and Indonesia have put a stop to the dumping of our waste onto their shores.
The challenge for governments at all levels, is how to avoid the need for disposal and processing of all the so-called “residual waste” in a safe and non-polluting manner.
In 2016 the state government set up the “NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy.” This strategy provided funding for councils to implement a plan aimed at slowing the rate of landfill and mostly involved improving the process of sorting and separating waste for recycling and/or re-use. Also included in the strategy was a schedule for phasing out the problematic single use plastics. Since then there has not been any renewal of funding nor a plan to upgrade and expand recycling facilities.
In its place are proposals to build large waste to energy facilities which include incinerators. Community campaigns in Western Sydney and Matraville appeared to have been successful when in September the government announced that such facilities should not go ahead in the Sydney Basin.
However, the status of the proposals are very unclear with the Western Sydney developers looking for ways to change their plans so their facilities fit revised government guidelines. Meanwhile Matraville will continue through the planning process as state significant infrastructure, and the regional areas of Goulburn, Lithgow, Parkes and the Richmond Valley have been identified as sites for new waste-to-energy infrastructure.
Councils had used small incinerators since the 1950’s, however the current proposals are for huge industrial incinerators capable of reducing large amounts of waste materials to ash. Details are not at hand but the waste to energy model of incineration, is similar to that of a coal fired power station. Heat from burning the waste (or coal) is used to power steam turbines that create electricity.
Understandably, residents are uniformly resistant to the proposal. The incinerators, regardless of design, pose the same pollution problems as all fossil fuel power generators. Plastics are in effect a fossil fuel. Plastic is made by ’cracking’ crude oil and natural gas then adding other chemicals and colours. The steam by product releases CO2, carbon monoxide, methane, dioxins and other toxic gases into the atmosphere. The dioxins for instance, carry nano particles, that if inhaled can get into the bloodstream, where they remain forever. If the Suez Incinerator is built in Matraville it will burn 65,000 tonnes of waste per year. If its toxic plume travels 10km, for instance, then the health of 580,000 people will be directly affected. If it travels further then the whole city could be affected. And what will they do with the resulting toxic ash?
Large incinerators are used in Europe and in some parts of the USA but are losing their popularity due to known illnesses in surrounding populations. In August 2018, ABC reporter Craig Reucassel visited Sweden to investigate their waste to energy (WtE) incinerators. He found that surprisingly, people seem to feel positive about their heavy reliance on WtE Incinerators. Despite official government policy specifying that up to 47% of Sweden’s plastic waste should be recycled, 86% is allowed to be burnt. Thirty-four WtE plants are being used to heat water to provide electricity required for central heating in the long winters. Reucassel consequently concluded that incinerators may be cost effective for Sweden, but not in places like Australia. WtE plants are expensive to run and require enormous amounts of garbage if they are to provide reliable power. WtE plants are hugely expensive to build and run, and require enormous amounts of garbage if they are to provide reliable power. In Sweden where waste laws are leading successfully to waste reduction they must import waste from other countries to keep feeding the ‘hungry beast’.
Other problems with large scale incinerators have emerged.
- Provide an easy stop gap solution when local recycling facilities cannot keep up with the quantities of generated waste and/or where there is a lack of community/council education or concern.
- An over reliance on incineration can occur, causing an increase rather than a decrease in the manufacture of products designed for disposal.
- Historically, as is the pattern with other fossil fuel industries, the regulation and monitoring of incinerators has been poor or absent.
Consequently, communities might be sceptical of the reassurances given by NSW politicians that the operation of incinerators would be in line with the “strictest emission standards in the World”.
To solve the consumer waste and plastics problem with minimum greenhouse emissions, environmental degradation and harm to health, councils need to
- Transition from a linear economy to a circular economy of waste. This can only be achieved by avoiding the amount of waste, and closing the loop by the processes of repurposing and recycling and avoiding the use of single use plastics and other toxic materials.
- Educate residents, using paid and volunteer teachers, by providing brochures, newsletters and low cost or free courses at neighbourhood centres or libraries to show how to
– avoid producing waste
– purchase products with less plastic or no packaging
– avoid products that are made of non-recyclable materials
– repurpose materials that we already have
– repair rather than replace things
– cook without waste
– grow vegetables and create home gardens using compost and/or worm farms
- Provide residents with ways to separate waste so it can easily be diverted to appropriate recycling facilities
– A coloured bin system for organic, garden, glass bottles, cans, recyclable plastics, paper and cardboard, and non-recyclable garbage, excluding e-waste, metal and batteries.
– Make sure the latter bin is the smallest or being picked up once a fortnight.
– Provide battery and e-waste collection or dropping off facilities. Let residents know where tyres, large and small batteries can be recycled.
– Twice a year provide for residents to dispose of unwanted furniture, beds, fridges etc.
– Provide repeated reminders to residents about how to sort their waste appropriately. It is difficult to manage mixed waste. Wollondilly council found that 30% of general garbage bins were comprised of food waste.
- Facilitate or provide facilities (council owned or not) where waste can be diverted from landfill and used instead to make compost, soils, mulch, fertilisers etc.
- Provide cash earning facilities where bottles and cans can be deposited for recycling.
- Provide drinking water fountains with taps for refilling water bottles.
- Encourage/incentivise shops and supermarkets to stop providing shoppers with plastic bags and use paper and/or cardboard bags.
- Encourage/incentivise shops and supermarkets to sell products which have alternative recyclable packaging.
- Regulate building/house construction and outfitting to avoid the use of non-recyclable reusable materials.
- Use reusable or recyclable cups, utensils, straws, pens etc in council and government buildings.
- Regulate use of recycled materials in road surfaces and outdoor spaces/courtyards and paths e.g. cement made with crushed glass, tar with recycled rubber from tyres etc.
- Use waste collection companies willing to minimise landfill and further separate and distribute waste to genuine recycling and re-use facilities.
- Rule out sending waste to incinerators outside the LGA.
- Oppose incinerators proposed in the LGA
- Encourage local manufacturing to use and produce recycled materials and products wherever possible and encourage them to separate and recycle waste.
- Lobby together with other councils for the NSW and federal governments to
– Introduce zero waste legislation which requires industry to ’take back’ and pay for their waste
– Add a tracked meaningful deposit/refund system for the products hardest to recycle. This will incentivise industry to design zero waste, long life, repairable, closed loop recycling, upcycling, refilling etc into their manufacturing processes, resulting in better quality products and additional jobs.
– Increase the container deposit scheme from 10c to 20c
1. Landfills emit about 20% of the world’s man made methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 70 to 80 times more polluting than CO2. Waste to energy generators are being used on some landfills. The methane is collected to provide gas for electricity or fuel. However these plants are small scale and only capture a small amount of methane. They can be dangerous, complicated and expensive to run. It is difficult to retro fit methane capturing technology on already operating landfills.
2. Other forms of WtE technology are being trialled e.g Biomass Incineration.
3. Plastics take up to 400 years to break down regardless of how they are disposed of. Some plastics continuously leach toxic chemicals known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (ECD), which are responsible for many cancers, and can cause diabetes and neurological disorders.
Australia produces at least 3 million tonnes of plastic every year. 95% is discarded after a single use and less than 12% is recycled. Most discarded plastic goes to landfill, is incinerated or ends up in the ocean. Worldwide, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans each year. This is likely to double by 2030.
National Toxics Network https://ntn.org.au/plastics-pose-a-threat-to-human-health/
See video: Please Don’t Build Incinerators Where I Live https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uI1Nl7v5jE
Rubbish to Energy as Sweden Wages War on Waste with Incinerators https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-14/how-would-burning-rubbish-like-sweden-work-in-australia/10115694
NSW Waste and Materials Strategy at https://www.dpie.nsw.gov.au/our-work/environment-energy-and-science/waste-and-sustainable-materials-strategy
Waste Less Recycle More https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/~/media/EPA/Corporate%20Site/resources/waste/waste-less-recycle more-2017-21-brochure-160538.ashx
Waste Management & Resource Recovery Strategy and Action Plan 2020 – 2025
Greens warn incineration will overtake recycling by 2020 https://resource.co/article/greens-warn-incineration-will-overtake-recycling-2020-12751
Plastic Waste and Climate Change – What’s the Connection? https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/plastic-waste-and-climate-change-whats-the-connection
Regional NSW treated like ‘pack of peasants’ in state’s waste incineration plan https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-10/regions-to-fight-nsw-waste-incineration-plan/100525358
Communities Against Tarago
Other articles compiled by the Sydney Knitting Nannas are on how our councils can reduce emissions, get off gas and improve the liveability of our local government areas