Cairns Regional Council: a new focus

Graham O’Byrne, General Manager Water and Waste, discusses how Cairns Regional Council achieved resource recovery figures well above those set by the Queensland Government.

Q. What are some of the challenges for Cairns surrounding collection and recycling and how is council tackling those challenges?

A. Cairns Regional Council signed a new nine-year service contract with J.J. Richards & Sons in 2017 to cater to the municipality’s 112,000 domestic waste and recycling bins across 71,000 properties in the Cairns region.

A change in service contractor presents challenges in the transition phase, including new routes and collection times, driver familiarity of the region and dealing with the inevitable customer service issues. To assist with the anticipated difficulties, an awareness campaign was delivered to ensure the community could help reduce missed collection by putting their bins out at the required time.

Q. What do you look for in a successful tender and how do you go about it? 

A. Value for money, both to council and the community, is always a priority across its waste business in all its services, including kerbside collection, resource recovery, recycling, re-use and landfill. All contracts follow a rigorous process to maintain fairness and transparency in the tendering process. Of critical importance is the appropriate due diligence to ensure that the tenderer is able to deliver on the promised service.

Q. Which bin system do you use and why?

A. Our kerbside waste and recycling comprises weekly 240-litre mobile garbage bin general waste collection and fortnightly 240-litre mobile garbage bin commingled recycling collection. This service level will be reviewed during the existing collection contract where alternatives such as a food and organics collection service will be considered. We are also transitioning to red lids for general waste to be consistent with national standards with all new or damaged bins receiving replacement red lids.

Q. What has been working particularly well over recent years for the council in terms of waste management/recycling services?

A. Over 2016/2017, the recovery rate for domestic waste sat at 59 per cent. This figure is higher than the Queensland Government target recovery rate of 45 per cent by 2024.

Our recovery rate can largely be attributed to general waste being processed at the Cairns Advanced Resource Recovery Facility. The recovery rate through our four transfer stations is 72 per cent, with around 40 per cent of this being green waste.

Council operates a buy-back shop where re-usable items sourced from transfer stations are sold to the general public. The buy-back shop is proving successful, providing a valuable community service, with customer numbers and sales increasing weekly.

The contamination rate in kerbside collected recycling bins is relatively low at nine per cent. Council has successfully engaged in comprehensive education and awareness campaigns and community engagement targeting recycling and contamination. In consecutive waste characterisation audits over the last five years, the data have shown that the community’s understanding of waste and recycling continues to improve.

Q. How do you ensure what is recyclable is clear to residents?

A. Council’s message regarding recycling is clear through its marketing and communication campaigns connected with our overall waste strategy. The implementation of our campaigns encompass multiple touch points to capture all aspects of the community and includes social, digital, print, radio and TV advertising.

This is supported by education through school and community engagement, underpinning the message that everyone has a role to play in improving recycling in our region.

  

Q. Is there any modern technology the council is using and/or would like to use that would make collection more efficient?

A. As part of council’s new waste and recycling collection contract, the strong Volvo fleet has been fitted with state-of-the-art j-Track and Black Moth technology, designed to monitor and optimise vehicle performance and record factual information regarding each daily collection run. The meaningful data collected has already led to considerable process improvements.

Q. Can you explain some of the waste management roles that exist at the council and how they work with each other? 

A. Due to the changing landscape within the industry, all components of the business are needed to contribute to the success of the whole. Waste management roles that exist within Cairns Regional Council include a contracts manager, operations and resource recovery coordinator and strategy and business development.  The strategy aspect of our business overlaps into contracts, operations and business. We have progressed from a focus on the most cost-effective method for disposal to reducing, re-using, recovering and recycling.

Q. What are the main opportunities for Cairns Regional Council for increasing diversion of materials from landfill and increased resource recovery?   

A. We are achieving high levels of recovery based on current operations and infrastructure. How we design, manage and operate our waste management infrastructure is important to maximising efficiencies and minimising costs.

We are continuing to review our operations and infrastructure to achieve even greater resource recovery and effiencies.

The rationalisation of key infrastructure into resource recovery hubs provides easy access to markets. In our attempt to move toward a circular economy, the role of our waste management team is to collect, treat and return secondary resources and recovered energy back into the cycle of production and consumption.

Q. How does the council manage to keep costs down while meeting waste management targets?

A. Council is continuously reviewing the way we conduct business and what the market and industry can provide. Some recent efficiency gains have been obtained with less compaction in the recycled bins since our new collection contract has been in place, resulting in better sorting and recovery of recyclables.

Q. How has the role of local government as a waste manager changed over time and where do you see this role heading in the future?

A. While council is happy to lead the waste management discussion, for waste to be a success, there needs to be a significant component of investment from the community. We believe the future of waste management should rely heavily on education and developing a customer-focused culture. By building on the foundation of previous strategies and taking it to the next level, we will have a stronger focus on waste reduction and resource recovery. We also believe that council’s ongoing involvement with the private sector in developing value add opportunities for recycling and re-use is a key element to improving diversion from landfill rates.