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Northern Territory sets waste management agenda

Waste Recycling Industry Association Northern Territory (WRINT) recently submitted its waste management action plans to the Northern Territory (NT) Government. Its CEO, Rick Ralph, provides Waste Management Review with a preview.

In July 2015, the Northern Territory EPA published the Waste Management Strategy for the Northern Territory 2015-2022, detailing the key aspects for understanding and improving waste management and recycling performance throughout the NT.

The waste management and recycling sector contributes directly to the
 NT’s economy and society through employment, investment and supporting the efficient use of waste materials and resources. Value is created as recyclable and recoverable materials move from generation, collection and processing into end markets.

WRINT has prepared its significant industry plans to try to lead the strategic discussion if the industry’s reform agenda is to be realised. They set a detailed roadmap to what can be achieved by building a resilient, robust waste management and secondary resource industry. They work in unison and merge with current legislation and, if embraced by Government and with all stakeholders working together, every one of these is achievable.

WRINT’s plans aim to:

  • Recover waste produced by significant generators across all sectors;
  • Make the best use of waste materials through the adoption of ‘secondary-resource’ thinking;
  • Mitigate the risks of environmental pollution and harm to human health; and
  • Move waste treatment and management opportunities up the waste hierarchy.

For its part, the broader waste management sector is asked to meet four commitments:

  • To provide integrated, safe, efficient and dependable services to the community
  • To extract value from waste streams where economically practical and viable
  • To enter into partnerships with waste producers and other
service providers, including social enterprises, to improve resource recovery and overall NT-integrated waste management systems
  • To assist government policy designers and regulators to oversee delivery of this initiative.

Complementing existing regulations and strategy

WRINT’s plans support and interlink with the NT EPA waste strategy and the Draft NT Balanced Environment Strategy, published for comment in February 2016.

The latter states that the NT Government is “committed to working with industry to improve environmental management
practices, including the enforcement of regulation regarding the correct disposal of waste and hazardous material. The establishment of recycling centres and places to treat solid waste and waste water are generally market-driven economic decisions, however, the Government is keen to investigate opportunities for treating our waste as a resource”.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014 projections for the NT forecast the population to grow from 235,000 
in 2012 to just over 285,000 by 2025.

However, it still has the lowest population density within Australia at only 0.2 people per square kilometre. Three quarters of its population resides in its five regional centres, which also serve as vital supply and service bases for many smaller, remote communities, all separated by huge distances.

Our industry commonly hears that the cost of waste management is too expensive and the distances too great
to make resource recovery viable.
However, this is in comparison to what?

At a time when the main objectives are the protection of human health and the environment coupled with resource security and maximising resource efficiency, the true cost of waste management and the recovery of secondary materials must be properly costed and transparent.

This is in conflict with current culture in the NT, where it is acceptable to operate open pit and unlined, non- engineered landfills. Arguments for improving resource recovery must be balanced with a mature conversation about genuine, systemic change for enhanced recycling services and the real system boundaries of what is and is not acceptable for waste disposal and recycling opportunities.

Full costing required

We need a frank, open discussion with the community, led by our elected representatives, that commits the sector’s public operations to fully costing all their current and future liabilities that are associated with operating these multiple waste disposal sites including non- engineered landfill operations.

The NT needs the necessary policy platform and regulatory strategy
to ensure greater transparency and demonstration of the real costs of operating and providing this essential service to all communities and businesses.

Only through genuine understanding of the present and future costs of the system can the conversation about sustainable waste management and opportunities for moving ‘waste’ materials up the hierarchy, from disposal to resource recovery, be properly realised.

The linear model for consumption assumes that the ‘waste sector’ will ultimately pick up the responsibility (paid, of course) for dealing with and the treatment of the waste at end of life.

WRINT advocates the principles that promote a circular materials economy, in particular the use of recovered resources in primary manufacturing processes, so that providing affordable recycling becomes the goal of manufacturers, importers and the waste processor/recycler.

We believe that the NT, due to its remoteness and sparse population, should be moving to conserve and secure all material flows. Companies would be operating in a sustainable manner, keeping valuable materials circulating in the economy, stimulating jobs and sustained, increased business opportunities, including social enterprise, and creating enduring investments.

Local remanufacturing of secondary resources into products that can be used in the larger communities should be a principle driver for forcing a cultural shift in attitudes. To that end, waste policy must be shifted from the responsibility of the regulator into a business and industry portfolio that focuses on economic growth.

The industry’s requirements for growth

The published Waste Management Strategy for the Northern Territory 2015–2022 sets out precise State Government department actions that aim to improve waste management practices focused on operational intent, but these are not actions that deliver strategic intent and change.

Shifting responsibility and ownership of waste policy in the NT from 
a regulatory model to a business, industry or infrastructure portfolio
of Government means its broader economic imperatives of economic growth are directly aligned with international standards and stronger industry governance can be realised.

WRINT’s Plans provide the NT Government and all stakeholders with a clear overview of our industry’s requirements for growth. They outline the minimum objectives sought by industry over the next 5 to 10 years, but represent the minimum industry positions based on the current regulatory drivers and limitations. They are achievable only if reform of the sector’s legislative framework is done in parallel.

If implemented, these plans underpin the desired vision, key principles and objectives the NT Government aspires to achieve in driving economic growth and protecting the environment. The waste management industry is central to that development.

It is through this industry leadership and by us partnering with Government and all our stakeholders that the Northern Territory will improve its waste management and recycling performance.

The WRINT Waste Management Action Plans, and membership information, are available on the association’s website – www.wrint.com.au.

The Waste Management Strategy for the Northern Territory 2015-2022 is available to download from the Advice, Policies and Publications section of NT EPA website.