Bundaberg Regional Council’s experience shows how smaller councils can run efficient, sustainable waste management businesses, whatever is thrown at them.
In an era where most councils contract out many if not all of their waste management operations, Bundaberg Regional Council (BRC) treads the road-less-travelled of running its own operations, albeit with a little help from its friends.
BRC’s Waste and Recycling Services runs its own day labour collection service for waste and recycling in the region, led by Co-ordinator Waste and Recycling Operations, Gary Dolan.
It has a fleet of 15 collection vehicles and operates 12 waste management facilities, which incorporate seven landfills, six transfer stations and a materials recovery facility.
Kerry Dalton has been its Waste and Recycling Coordinator for the last eight years. She is responsible for managing the landfills, including daily operations, compliance aspects, licensing and associated projects, such as phytocapping and gas extraction, as well as supervising the operations employees.
Supported by what she describes as “an amazing team of people, all dedicated and enthusiastic”, Kerry’s passion for what BRC has achieved over the years in recycling and waste management is contagious.
During her time with BRC, Kerry and her team have been involved with an amalgamation with three other councils, industry-leading projects and dealing with the aftermath of one of Queensland’s most destructive cyclones. Yet she maintains that BRC isn’t that different to other councils when it comes to the challenges it faces.
“For most councils based in regional Queensland, the issue is the tyranny of distance. We’re in a better position than some smaller councils though, as attracting consultants and contractors requires the job to be a certain size to be viable at a decent price,” says Kerry.
Despite facing such difficulties, BRC prides itself on its low-waste ethics. Kerry says for her and the waste services team this means always seeking opportunities to recycle or divert materials from landfill.
“We don’t always look for the cheapest way out when considering options available to us,” she says. “The benefits of this are many and varied.”
Cedars Road Landfill
BRC owns and manages seven landfills, headed by the flagship regional landfill at Cedars Road. It has been placed second twice (2009 and 2013) in WMAA’s National Landfill Excellence Awards – a rarity for a council-operated landfill to gain such recognition in a category normally dominated by privately-owned waste operators.
The facility is testament to BRC’s forward thinking for waste management services for its residents. The planning application for it was originally submitted in March 2001, but following initial refusal, an appeal, and eventual construction, it was August 2007 when the first load of rubbish was tipped.
Cedars Road is the only fully-lined landfilled in the region. Its future-fit construction features a full composite lining system designed for the anticipated volume of waste in its lifecycle up to 2051, including a geofabric layer, 900ml clay and HDPE, and leachate drainage pipe. This supports BRC’s target of zero liquid discharge from the site.
Its innovative features include a fauna-protected leachate pond, bitumen-sealed road, and use of a lid, a Litter D’Fence and Litter Critter. The site is managed to limit entry to approved vehicles only, with no public access.
Cedars Road also boasts gas collection and flaring technology, provided by contractor Landfill Gas Industries. Gas pipelines are laid within the waste mass and connected to a flaring system, from which gas is extracted and flared. Leachate is also reinjected into the waste mass to accelerate the rate of decomposition thereby increasing gas production.
“The project has been registered under the Carbon Farming Initiative (now the Emissions Reduction Fund) and we claim carbon credits for methane gas extracted and combusted to create less harmful CO2,” says Kerry.
The site’s weighbridge was installed at construction as part of the development approval, as strict licensing requirements dictate tonnages into the facility.
Cedars Road – ongoing work
Kerry and her team’s work is ongoing to further strengthen Cedars Road’s capabilities. They have a solid working relationship with Mandalay, using its weighbridge software for all data tracking and reporting.
“We have been working closely with Mandalay to improve our data capture at all sites, so that we can more accurately track and report on waste and recycling tonnages,” says Kerry.
Work is underway to install a tag reader system at Cedars Road. All registered vehicles will be issued with a Dallas tag, which will be scanned upon entry to the site.
Cedars Road was built and is operated with longevity in mind. BRC is developing its business strategy to ensure that all putrescible waste is buried at this landfill, while its others are maintained as inert sites.
As BRC operates its own bin collections vehicles, it has ultimate control over where municipal solid waste is delivered. Recent licensing changes for Cedars Road meant it could change its collections runs to have certain loads from vehicles delivered straight to the site, diverting trucks from depositing at the unlined landfills.
BRC also has recently introduced a differential pricing structure to encourage customers to deliver specific waste types to particular facilities.
“Diverting waste from landfill saves airspace, which is extremely valuable, particularly when you consider all the associated costs of developing a new landfill or cell,” says Kerry. She emphasises a raft of benefits, such as reduced operational costs, decreasing cover requirements (soil), as well as demonstrable environmental benefits associated with recycling.
“Then there is public perception, of course. It’s always a good news story when we can highlight some of the positive work we are doing in relation to recycling and waste management in general,” she adds.
When it comes to planning a landfill, Kerry says councils need to start the process early.
“Leave at least seven years before the landfill will be needed, as it could take that long to get it through the court,” she says. To this end, she recommends early community consultation and involvement to smooth the approvals process. And with seven landfills under her supervision, Kerry’s advice for operating a landfill is to “run it like it’s in your own backyard”.
Kerry and her team are rightly proud of Cedars Road. With its ongoing development work and management of its cells, she hopes that it could be third time lucky for the site at the next Landfill Excellence Awards.
‘It’s a facility that was constructed to the highest standard and is run accordingly,” states Kerry. “It gives us regional waste management options well into the future with minimal environmental impact.”
Qunaba Waste Facility
The Qunaba facility is a particular point of pride for Kerry and her team.
A former Burnett Shire site, BRC took it over in 2008. Kerry says that at the time it was run by contractors and was not meeting state licence requirements. When the contract expired, Kerry and her team started a project to bring it up to standard.
“When we took over this facility at amalgamation it wasn’t in the best state,” says Kerry. “We have made significant improvements to it. At our last inspection we were fully compliant with licensing requirements.”
BRC undertook most of the improvement works, but engaged local contractors to carry out earthworks under its supervision. Landfill Technical Officer Wayne Hobden looks after day-to-day operations at all BRC’s landfills and has been responsible for ensuring that Qunaba meets its licence requirements.
The challenge with Qunaba is that it is near environmentally-sensitive areas.
“We want to balance protecting the local environment with keeping the facility well into the future, as the area is growing,” explains Kerry.
Kerry’s aspiration is to develop it into an environmentally sensitive and sustainable facility.
Qunaba master plan
BRC, therefore, had a master plan developed for Qunaba, split into several stages to complete over the next 20 years. As well as plans to divert all putrescible waste from the landfill at the site, it will eventually incorporate a transfer station, recyclables drop-off area, tip shop and educational hub.
The site will be solar-powered and have water tanks to collect rainwater.
The wetlands will be developed to clean sediment run-off from site and help with drainage. The full landfill cells will be phytopcapped – topped with a vegetated soil covers – and the site will be replanted using species native to the area. Kerry hopes to engage with local groups and BRC’s Natural Resources Management section to undertake the garden and planting works on site.
“Eventually I would like the place to look a bit like a botanical gardens and, ultimately, when we do close the landfill it will become bushland walking tracks with a viewing platform from the top of the landfill to the ocean,” says Kerry.
They have started the journey, although Kerry says some elements are still in the design phase. She praises Wayne’s and BRC’s Major Project Team’s work for overseeing stage one of the plan, with the weighbridge and ancillary roads already completed.
BRC has completed the risk assessment for the phytocapping and is about to undertake the feasibility study.
“We will start planting along the fence line to build up an aesthetic barrier and improve the visual aspect from the main road,” says Kerry. “We also hope to start preliminary work on our phytocapping project with some plant propagation.”
An unprecedented event
When Tropical Cyclone Oswald hit the Bundaberg region over Australia Day Weekend 2013, this tested BRC’s low- waste principles to the hilt.
The Burnett River burst it banks and flooded large parts of the City of Bundaberg. The flood was the worst recorded in the city’s history, impacting more than 4,500 homes and premises and affecting 10 per cent of the population.
BRC needed to respond to the significant flood event, deluged with more than three times as much waste than normal.
Fortunately, BRC had solid disaster plans, effective waste management services and good industry partnerships to help them with this mammoth task.
“Following the 2011 flood, we had some disaster arrangements in place, but 2013 was much bigger than anything we had ever dealt with,” explains Kerry.
While none of its facilities flooded, many were cut off due to flood waters. One of the two bridges connecting the city’s north side – where most of the devastation occurred – to the south failed, but its three biggest landfills were on the southern and eastern side. BRC’s two landfills on the north side were not big enough to cope with the incoming volumes of waste.
So it established three temporary waste stockpile stations, where teams sorted the immense amount of disaster waste, enabling this be recovered and recycled. Located as close as possible to the affected areas, trucks could make quick short trips to and from the clean-up areas.
“This gave us an area where we could sort and separate the waste before it was moved to landfill or away for recycling. It also gave us time,” says Kerry.
All the detritus, which was cleared by contractors and council, was sent to the transfer stations first. Residents could use any of our existing facilities if they were carrying out their own clean-up.
BRC had limited access to plant and machinery locally, as it had either been flooded or was being used in the clean- up process. SITA brought in excavators and loaders, two 83m3 side tippers and a hook lift with three 60m3 bins to help manage, sort and move the waste.
“SITA was instrumental in helping us set up the temporary transfer stations,” says Kerry. “They brought in staff, plant and machinery, and experience to run these facilities while we ran our existing landfills and transfer stations.”
With the help of external suppliers, BRC extracted mattresses, metals, white goods, tyres, green waste, animal carcasses and meat products, gas bottles and hazardous wastes.
Reflecting on the situation, Kerry says BRC could not have managed without outside help. She credits WRIQ’s Rick Ralph as instrumental in opening the door to contacts and establishing relationships with them. She also praises Peter Hudson, Gavin Tunstall, John Cooms, Graeme Atkins, and their colleagues at SITA, now Suez, for their proactive and professional assistance.
Looking back, she says she was particularly proud of how the entire Waste Recycling Services team got “stuck in” to manage the situation.
“We were working really long hours, making many decisions on the fly. We had ever been through anything like that before and some of our staff had been personally affected,” says Kerry.
She says it would have been easy “to take the easy way out and just put it all in a big hole”. However, BRC’s conscious decision to operate as if it were business as usual meant following its policy of recycling and recovering as much as possible.
From the 122,000 tonnes of additional waste generated from the Bundaberg Australia Day Disasters, BRC has so far managed to divert around 45 per cent from landfill, and figures continue to come in.
For its efforts during the floods, BRC won the Minister’s Award for Leadership in Sustainability at the 2013 Premier’s Sustainability Awards – fitting recognition for all that the team achieved.