Newcastle City Council’s agile waste policies

Newcastle City Council Waste Management Manager, Darren North, is championing data management technologies, leading to greater accountability within its waste management section.

Darren North, Manager – Waste Management at Newcastle City Council, is poised to change the way the municipality’s residents think about waste.

“Newcastle City Council’s vision is to be one of the most agile technology-enabled local waste authorities in Australia. We will provide a superior economic, environmental and community service driven by smart data,” Darren says.

In his 25 years of working in the waste industry, Darren has worked on a range of major initiatives, from London’s first mechanical biological treatment (MBT) facility, to a first-of-its-kind plastics separation facility. His extensive experience, he says, has put him in good stead to handle the challenges of Australia’s waste industry, which is moving towards greater resource recovery and environmental sustainability. His impressive portfolio includes working for Veolia UK on the design, construction and operation of London’s first MBT worth more than £660 million (approximately $1.2 billion AUD) over a 25-year period.

Over time, the versatile infrastructure manager has learned that change in the industry is ever-present.

He says the political landscape within a council can change rapidly, including its priorities and public policy.

At the same time, technology and pricing is constantly on the move, and for these reasons Darren is working with software company Mandalay Technologies, a leading provider of waste management technology. Mandalay recently supplied the council with its weighbridge software, in its first step towards tracking waste through an overarching system.

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Darren North, Manager – Waste Management at Newcastle City Council.

To live up to its vision of becoming an agile waste authority, Newcastle City Council plans to invest in the latest in digital technologies, including smart dashboards and route optimisation software for refuse vehicles and landfill compaction equipment. This will allow it to service its community in the collection of kerbside waste and help manage its significant landfill facility.

“Technology gives you information, but it’s what you do with that data that makes it count. Smart dashboards will allow our operations staff to see a visual snapshot of how their section of the business is running overall,” he says.

“In the longer term we can start putting that information out to the community, which will show how waste travels in their neighbourhood.

“We will be able to understand our demographic, discovering which areas create the most waste and make that available to the public.”

One of the major challenges, he says, is negotiating a waste agenda to his colleagues in the face of a myriad of other priority issues, from managing roads to pavements, parks and gardens.

“Waste is a unique business, it’s very intrinsically linked to every aspect of itself as a sector. You change one aspect of it, such as collection day, and that affects the disposal.

“The issue is, as a council, how do you get that specialist data around waste and incorporate it with council’s core business?

“The challenge is making that data accessible, and smart dashboards are the beginning for us for that data capture process.”

The way he brings the message home to his colleagues, he explains, is through instilling an environmental agenda for social change.

“It comes back to that global approach to environmental issues and getting people to understand how unsustainable some practises can be. Once people see the end game for their actions it’s easier to convince them to change their ways.”

In 2014, Darren’s hard work resulted in him securing four grants totalling $6.7 million through the NSW Waste Less, Recycle More initiative. These included the installation of a new materials recovery facility, composting facility and the expansion of its public drop off transfer station.

In an organisation with constantly changing priorities and frequent technological and social change, Darren says the ability to track data will keep his portfolio accountable.

By being able to monitor council’s key performance indicators, the business case for implementing new waste management technologies is strengthened.

Darren says council budgets are reviewed usually two or three weeks after the end of the month. With a smart dashboard, the council will be able to identify how it’s tracking towards that budget in real-time.

“One of the issues we’re having is we lose sight of the value of waste. We’re working with Mandalay to be able to track waste so we know how many tonnes of it are on its way and from where.

“For example, when we move materials from stockpiles, we will be able to have a visual dashboard of its movement and remaining stock,” he says.

“One of the exciting long-term goals is to be able to share great information with our customers and residents. This will allow for developments such as knowing the stock of recycled aggregates on site before a driver leaves, or whether a garbage truck has been down a resident’s street yet.”

Simon Kalinowski, Mandalay Technologies Managing Director, says one of the challenges facing local authorities is how they adapt to increasing community expectations for data and transparency, all while making that transition internally.

“Darren’s team is investing early in the people development – to enhance the capability of the service to its community.

“It’s not just software, it’s a mindset shift in the people and the approach, and a discipline that needs to be adopted across the team. Councils need to be willing to invest in their people to expand their capability and achieve those outcomes,” Simon explains.

Read the full story on page 28 of Issue 14.