City of Sydney’s waste strategy

The City of Sydney’s waste strategy has led to it achieving an impressive diversion rate of 69 per cent. Waste Management Review Speaks to Chris Derksema, Director of Sustainability.

What are some of the challenges surrounding collection and recycling, particularly with Sydney’s growing population?

The City of Sydney is in the midst of a population boom like we’ve never seen before. More than three quarters of our residents are living in apartments and that proportion will continue to rise. The challenge is to educate new residents on the range of city services available to them and how they can help us sustainably manage waste.

Another major challenge we face is the fact that our population is so transient compared to more suburban areas of Sydney. Approximately 50 per cent of our population changes every four years. While our more established residents are enthusiastic recyclers, a large proportion of our residents are students or travellers, who may not be so well versed in our recycling guidelines.

We need to continuously educate our residents, including those who don’t speak english, if we are to reach the ambitious, yet achievable, targets of our waste strategy.

Our draft strategy and action plan – Leave Nothing to Waste – sets actions to tackle some of our biggest problem waste streams. Textiles and clothing account for six per cent of the average red general waste bin, while food waste accounts for a third. If the strategy is adopted, we’ll be introducing separate waste collections for food waste and textiles over the coming years.

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

The city has stringent and specific tender guidelines, but when it comes to waste, we’re looking for organisations that share our values and commitment to zero waste. The spotlight has been shone on the waste industry with the recent Four Corners investigation and you can be certain that councils across the country will be asking a lot more questions of waste contractors when tender time comes around again.

3. Which bin system do you use and why?  

The majority of households in our area have a red general waste bin and a yellow recycling bin due to the fact that three quarters of our residents live in apartments. Green garden waste bins are available on request.

The city also has an annual chemical cleanout, quarterly e-waste collection days and free weekly bulky waste collection by appointment.

We’re looking to greatly expand our collection services if our waste strategy is adopted over the coming year. For example, e-waste, food organics and textiles would be collected separately from the home.

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

We have reached an impressive diversion from landfill rate of 69 per cent. This comes amid challenges we face with our transient population and the fact that most of our residents only have two bins.

Our new waste strategy aims to lift our diversion from landfill figure to 90 per cent by 2030.

The city also has a range of programs to support innovative new waste measures, such as environmental grants and knowledge exchange partnerships. Two recent grants focused on keeping waste out of landfill include investigating ways to recycle coffee cups, and research into transforming office furniture into new wood-plastic composites.

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

We’re always looking at new education programs and campaigns to help make recycling more understandable to our residents and businesses. Residents can download the Garbage Guru app which tells them how they can recycle or dispose of everyday items. We label our garbage bins and also provide signage to apartment buildings. We also conduct various marketing and media campaigns.

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

The city is presently looking at the introduction of further technology enhancements to assist with collection. Bin tracking, weighing, video records, live on-line management systems and automated logging of services are all being considered. Many of these initiatives may not suit every council and the benefits of these technologies need to be carefully evaluated. We can be certain that technology will transform the way we deal with waste.

7. Can you explain some of the waste management roles that exist at the council and how they work with one another?  

The city has a waste strategy manager who is responsible for setting our targets, actions and working with all stakeholders to ensure it is achieved. We also have a cleaning and waste manager, responsible for the 24-7 operational teams that work around the clock to ensure Sydney is clean. We have a zero-waste coordinator who is accountable for waste policy and the implementation of waste education programs. There are also key operational roles for waste collection and contract management of waste-related contracts. The city waste collection services are provided by both city staff and commercial contractors.

8.  How effective has the move been by the City of Sydney to provide a single bin for all rubbish and recycling, sorted through alternative waste treatment?

The city continues to have source separation of putrescible waste and recycling for residential properties. Waste service charges are low when compared to other Sydney metro councils.

Council had previously had source separated waste bins in the public domain, but found that the levels of contamination were so high that it meant little opportunity for achieving a recycling outcome. Council has set new targets for public domain waste (parks waste, public litter, illegally dumped waste, street sweepings, stormwater pit material) of 50 per cent by 2021. We advocated for the NSW Government to introduce a container deposit scheme and look forward to its implementation.

Read the full story on page 25 of Issue 14.