A decade of change: Albury City Council

NSW’s Albury City Council has transformed itself over 10 years, with its efforts supporting a plan to halve waste across six councils in Victoria and NSW.

It started with a simple message: halve waste.

What was once a council in 2008 with very little waste management planning and infrastructure, equipment and resources transformed itself into a local government with a food and garden organics (FOGO) collection service, waste to energy projects, mattress separation and significant landfill diversion – supported by a clear vision.

In 2010, NSW’s Albury City Council formed a consortium with Wodonga, Towong Shire, Greater Hume, Federation and Indigo Shire councils, with an objective to reduce the region’s waste to landfill in half by 2020. Despite the NSW-Victorian border parallels, Halve Waste was considered a regional goal as all council’s share Albury City Council’s Waste Management Centre as its main disposal facility.

Andrea Baldwin, Team Leader – Waste Management at Albury City Council, helped achieve significant outcomes to support the overall vision.

Andrea says the process of advancing Albury’s efforts began by commercialising council’s existing kerbside contract. She says planning began in 2009.

Albury City Council helped make its goal a reality by upgrading its transfer station – the Waste Management Centre. This acted as the main facility for the supporting councils. In order to upgrade the facility, Albury City Council needed to raise funds to support numerous upgrades, deciding to introduce a self-imposed $2 tipping fee, which went towards modernising its Waste Management Centre, including a new recycling centre, gatehouse system and road network. It also helped fund an extensive community education campaign.

Andrea says the alternative was to build a new landfill, stressing the urgency of the need to make the upgrades.

“The facility started to take on a culture change. Around 2009-10, we changed the gate fees and council enabled the facility to access some of that money to spend on infrastructure, after about a year of revenue raising,” she says.

Much of the process took place in 2010, she says, with Halve Waste rolling out a new education campaign. Supported by MRA Consulting and an education campaign, Halve Waste eventually led to a three-bin system with FOGO collection across four councils and tips for households, businesses and schools about how they could make a difference. Initiatives included home composting workshops, billboard advertising, TV, print, recycling video competitions and radio advertising.

She says the fee was used to fund education and was well accepted with no negativity arising from the charge.

“Every user of the Waste Management Centre was contributing to the education of our community,” Andrea says.

Andrea says the team needed a data system to understand what was being recycled and where.

“We had one single weighbridge so we knew what was coming in, but it just didn’t give accurate weights or data to enable us to make a change,” she says.

“We needed to look at a completely new gatehouse and dual weighbridge system, including a new software system and to collect data and start using that information to effect change.” She adds that this was supported by data systems by Mandalay Technologies.

She says a new FOGO contract was rolled out in 2015 with Cleanaway as the contractor.

A waste to energy partnership was also set up through a public-private partnership with LMS Energy, with a 1.1 megawatt gas generator on site. A solar farm at a former landfill space provides enough electricity into the grid to power 1500 homes. Andrea says future initiatives around energy are in the pipeline, with council looking at converting the site into a sustainability park.

Albury City Council also has plans to construct a dirty materials recovery facility in 2019/20, which will process construction and demolition (C&D) and commercial and industrial (C&I) waste.

It has been awarded NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) funding to assist with the construction. Part of the challenge in meeting the Halve Waste target in 2020 will be to have this set up in time, Andrea says.

She says because council has to manually sort the C&D and C&I, an engineered facility is required to ensure the target is met. Andrea adds that the manual labour at present is significant.

“We’ll have to wait until that’s built because there’s no other local or regional options at this stage,” she says.

The council also set up an extruder to process polystyrene and send it overseas as a direct product.

“We fill a 40-foot container and sell this. The money we make from that doesn’t cover labour for the extruder, but it’s a huge space saving in the landfill,” Andrea says.

In terms of plastics, manufacturers in Albury take the plastic film and hard plastics for processing. Local contractors manage glass recovery, using it as bedding sand for local projects.

Albury City Council has also been awarded with NSW EPA funding to establish pallet and mattress reprocessing on site.

These initiatives aim to enable job creation, save valuable landfill space and provide regional solutions for these waste products.

Andrea says that Halve Waste is on track to meet its targets by 2020 and is currently at 43 per cent.

She says Albury City Council plans to upgrade its Waterview Treatment Plant to include treatment of its biosolids, which will include another 9000 tonnes of processing capacity, and have a big impact on Albury City Council’s goal, allowing it to reach its target.

One of Andrea’s most proudest achievements has been to introduce a third weighbridge, which encourages recycling over landfill. She says recycling items are disposed of before the first weighbridge and landfilled waste at the second weighbridge incurs a gate free, with the majority of recyclables free.

As far as the future is concerned, Andrea is ambitious about setting new targets, while breathing a sigh of relief of relief at just how far Albury City Council has come.

“It’s been a massive nine years of infrastructure and culture change building and bringing the community along for the ride. All of those things are amazing and the community just love the facility, have been supportive and they take ownership that Halve Waste is their own.”