Regional innovation: Cessnock City Council

Michael Alexander, Environment and Waste Manager at Cessnock City Council, discusses its new transfer station, collections contracts and the challenges of operating in a regional centre. 

Q. We understand Cessnock City Council has recently opened a new waste transfer station. Tell us more about this?

A. We have had the proposal in the pipeline for a while now as the first step was to secure the purchase of the site from crown land and deal with the native title and land claim matters. This then allowed the preparation of the environmental impact statement and the development application.

Q. What are some of the innovations surrounding the new facility? 

A. We don’t claim to be the inventors of all things, but we did take the time to learn from the experiences of others. We had a dedicated and focused project control group established early in the project, we scheduled regular meetings to gauge progress and complete tasks and kept minutes of each meeting as a record.

We also took time to look at the operations and learnings from others and blend them into what our needs were and what the community expected.

The innovations we introduced to the project are based around following the contours of the site to secure level areas for unloading.

We provide the opportunity for maximum resource recovery through designated drop off areas, as the customer first enters the transfer station. We also introduced a community recycling centre for the household problem wastes all before the waste disposal push pit area.

To complement this strategy, we introduced a third internal weighbridge within the transfer station that is connected to the existing dual weighbridge system, recording gross and tare weights. The internal weighbridge interacts with the original transaction via a number plate record (recorded at the transaction commencement) and radio frequency identification tag issued on entry. The system is designed to accurately account for the resource recovery drop off and reward this behaviour with significant price reduction. The remaining load destined for landfill is accounted at the completion of the transaction and attracts full price.

We were also conscious that we wanted the facility’s development to look appealing, adding some character based to the “management” theme. We opted for colourbond metal finishes, the use of rock gabion features, turfed areas, recycled glass in a feature wall, solar panels and roof water capture into rainwater tanks. We understand that if a facility looks the part, then more people are likely to appreciate and follow site management requirements.

To achieve maximum life in heavy vehicle traffic areas and turning areas, we upgraded the pavement from a flexible pavement with two-coat seal to concrete pavement, which will significantly increase pavement life and reduce on-going maintenance and cost.

Q. Cessnock City Council runs a number of sustainability programs, from food waste to living with less chemicals. How has council’s sustainability programs helped create a cleaner and greener municipality? 

A. Sustainability management is a dynamic concept and should be, so that we seek to accept and find solutions for the next challenge. We started our journey with the land component, then prepared our waste management strategy, recognising the challenges and gaps that made a significant sustainability contribution and were high on the community’s agenda.

Part of that journey recognised the contribution organics made to the waste stream and the production of greenhouse gas, as we tackled that challenge with our neighbouring councils (Maitland and Singleton) to achieve economies of scale. Looking back, we set ourselves quite a challenge to construct a significant waste transfer station and introduce a third bin collection system simultaneously.

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

A. The challenge in regional areas is meeting the economies of scale and organising logistics. Our first approach is usually based around determining the critical service numbers and are our neighbours in the same spot or have a program we might look to join? I also look for contractor experience and their resources.

Q. How is council tracking in its target of 70 per cent diversion of landfill by 2022 and what are some of the challenges in meeting this?

A. Our weighbridge records provide up-to-date data on this each day, allowing us to determine what impact the kerbside program has achieved and the diversion achieved through outgoing material.

Before the facility and the organics service we were sitting at around 33 per cent diversion during the 2016/17 financial year at the waste management centre. We are confident of increasing this when the waste management centre is in full operation. Our kerbside collection diversion rate was 23 per cent 12 months ago (before the garden organics service was introduced) and has now increased to 48 per cent.

Q. What are some of the more pressing issues in relation to waste management in the Hunter region and how is the City of Cessnock tackling these?

A. I find waste is continuously challenging, I think its continual cost impact is one of the significant challenges for all of us, including getting the community to understand and accept that waste management is a big business reliant upon many externalities and regulation.

These regulatory challenges include: managing and explaining the waste levy, the heavy reliance upon logistics and the cost of transitioning waste management from the hole in the ground “dump mentality” to one of the most significant cost centres in most councils’ annual operating budgets. To achieve this, I believe community engagement is vital. Nobody likes a fee or charge but if we understand why and can see some tangible evidence of what’s being done, I think there is some degree of acceptance.

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

A. At our council, we deliver day labour waste collection and operate our own landfill. We have a rather small team of three in the strategy and program development area, and 17 in the delivery area. These include one coordinator, two supervisory roles (collection and landfill), four collection truck drivers operating Monday–Friday, and 10 others that fill a seven-day roster operating one compactor, one loader, one weighbridge, two waste transfer stations and tip face management.

We will review these resources when we have sound data from the operation of the transfer station, looking at gaps, achievements and opportunities.

Q. How does council work with other local municipalities to reduce overall waste in the region?

A. The Hunter area is somewhat unique, with many examples of working with others to achieve the desired outcome. Cessnock is in a partnership arrangement for the delivery of kerbside recyclables collection service with Lake Macquarie, Maitland and Singleton – a service of approximately 130,000.

We also have a partnership with Maitland and Singleton for the organics collection service, comprising approximately 60,000 services. There are also some regional contracts through Hunter councils for metals recycling that support council.

Q. Does council incorporate or have plans to incorporate digital technologies such as real-time data monitoring and telematics?

A. We have had Global Positioning Systems (GPS) systems in our collection vehicles now for many years and about three years ago, we upgraded the system to one that records both the GPS coordinates of each vehicle, can show where they are at any particular time, what services have been delivered and touch screen tabs for non-presentation (including photo), over full and damaged bins. We are working with the provider to develop a system that can pass the information to a support vehicle showing bins that require replacement or repair.