mike-pic

The state of the waste data

Governments are working with waste management data that is up to five years old. Mike Ritchie, Director of MRA Consulting Group, explains why an update is necessary.

The Australian State of the Environment (SoE) 2016 Overview was tabled in Parliament on 7 March 2017, providing a five-year comparison with the 2011 SoE. The 2016 SoE concluded that:

“Despite an overall increase in waste generation, Australia’s total disposal tonnage decreased from about 21.5 megatonnes to about 19.5 megatonnes (about 9.5 per cent) between 2006/07 and 2010/11. During this period, the resource recovery rate in Australia increased from 51 to 60 per cent.

The quantity of material recycled increased significantly from 21.4 to 27.3 megatonnes per year, or by about 27 per cent.”

This is a good outcome. In the space of four years, tonnes of waste recycled have leapt up. All of which means that, in the face of increasing waste generation, the total tonnes of waste to landfill have dropped.

What is disconcerting, however, is the data used. The SoE 2016 is drawing its waste conclusions from data that is now more than six years old from the National Waste Report 2013, which despite its name, is built on data from 2010/11.

Now six years is a long time in this world. Six years ago, Julia Gillard was our Prime Minister, Fukushima melted down, Steve Jobs died and Kate married William. It’s a lifetime ago.

In this age of Big Data, we should be able to expect a State and National Waste Account within six months of the end of each financial year.

We should have the systems in place to enable almost real-time monitoring of just what is happening, letting our policy makers, generators, collectors and processes all respond to real feedback. To improve as they see the system at work.

We should also push benchmarking hard, especially for local government. NSW does it well. It reports on waste data for each council, extensively analysing each. Councils know who  the leaders are and who to talk to for tips. This should be standard across the board. Let peer pressure drive improvements.

It’s time Australia got serious on its waste accounts. It’s simply not good enough to release a State of the Environment Report 2016 that is relying upon data that is ancient history.

The good news is that this can be fixed. MRA offers to do a simple data consolidation for all states and Commonwealth governments. If governments commit to supplying high level data within six months of the end of year reporting period, MRA will establish and host this national database for free.

To read more, see page 39 of Issue 12.