Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting

Work to be done

Mike Ritchie from Sydney-based consulting firm MRA reflects on the importance of solid groundwork in the political realm to facilitate real change in waste management. 

Our waste problems are urgent. Waste is pouring out of the economy at a compound average growth rate of 6.3 per cent, and waste volumes double every 12 years. To tackle the issue, most Australian States and Territories have set ambitious recycling targets for 2020/21.

For Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), the diversion target is generally 65 to 70 per cent, except in the ACT where it’s 85 per cent. For commercial & industrial (C&I) waste, the target is higher still – typically ranging from 70 to 80 per cent. Except, again, for the ACT, where it’s 85 per cent. The highest targets, meanwhile,
are reserved for construction and demolition (C&D) waste, with most state targets ranging from 75 to 85 per cent.

These are big numbers, and it’s still a long way to go until we reach them – particularly for MSW, where new data shows that diversion rates need to increase by about 50 per cent to stay on track. But there is no alternative: The work we need to do is important and structural, even though it can be unexciting. It’s work that is unlikely to capture the public’s imagination in the same way as single use battery, coffee cups, CDs or light bulbs might be able to.

 Some say that the scheme’s that get people’s attention, that win environment awards, are worth every cent because they attract media attention and money, as well as political capital. They connect people to waste problems.
But the problem is that money and political capital are not unlimited. Connecting people to waste problems is fine, but it doesn’t build infrastructure or set realistic market prices. What you spend on one project is not available to another. So, can we really afford ‘puff projects’?