Commentary on Victoria’s 30-Year Waste Plan

Andrew Tytherleigh
The Victorian Waste Management Association’s Executive Officer, Andrew Tytherleigh, puts the provisions of the Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan in context for those working in the industry.

The SWRRIP is a positive move to provide a well-planned system to cater for Victoria’s anticipated future waste requirements.

Its goals continue to shift the direction of waste towards diversion and re-use, while simultaneously protecting communities and the environment from the effects of past decisions.

They point to greater state government intervention in the market to address some key barriers to improved recovery of materials. These include relatively cheap landfill space, planning issues associated with their location, and lack of investment from local government due to supply issues and lack of knowledge on which to base decisions.

Industry generally supports any increased opportunities to identify new business, but is aware that the strategy is going to need strong and continued support from government to achieve long-term success.

What the goals do not reflect is a commitment to develop demand for recycled materials. Supply-side issues are pretty well understood. While getting the infrastructure and planning issues right is important, developing demand for recovered materials – especially those materials whose reuse capabilities are limited – is going to be the biggest challenge. This points to a strong need for research and development, as well as educating communities about recycling and reuse.

Resource Recovery Markets

It is interesting to look at the second goal, and how the SWRRIP might stimulate markets for recovered resources. This could be enabled through research and development, demonstration projects and industry grant programs to trial new methods and processes.
Markets for materials recovered from waste streams are currently generally confined to those products that are easily transformed. For example, paper and cardboard needs only to be collected and baled up, and plastics crushed and/or shredded and then reheated.

Materials like tyres need to be broken down into component parts, such as the steel, fabric and rubber. The energy taken to deconstruct tyres is often greater than the calorific value of the material. Similarly, e-waste needs lots of energy and processes to recover the original metals.

Therefore, we can expect industry to invest in research and development where the risks appear manageable and the potential upside is better than their return on investment.

Looking at the “consolidation and aggregation of materials” aspect of this goal, in practice this would mean collecting lots of smaller amounts – for example from all the towns within a region – and transporting them to the regional hub. This suggests that adjoining shires might offer a joint contract to collect materials across their combined region.

Communities would not notice a difference at the collection level, as the service would continue to involve trucks emptying their bins.

Aggregration of the material at a centralised location might mean a bigger processing centre (to achieve economies of scale), which might impact the local community. Unfortunately, this could impact the success of the third goal.

Management and Commitment

The “environmental justice” goal may be more problematic, as it is a relatively new concept.

It will be interesting to see how the competing demands between siting a smaller number of larger landfills or transfer stations and concentrating their impact can be reconciled.

On the downside, environmental justice has the potential to slow any waste infrastructure development if the process is not appropriately managed and resourced. It is time and labour intensive, and opens the process to NIMBYism (not in my backyard). Nobody wants a landfill anywhere near their home.

For the plan to realise its full potential, it will need strong commitment, including appropriate funding from both state and local governments. Environmental regulation comes at a significant cost and the community has to understand and support this direction.

As a cultural concept, waste is like water and will always find the lowest level. The potential for evading costs associated with a clean environment and safeguarding the public health of communities is always present. Therefore, compliance and enforcement are also important aspects of the strategy going forward.

The plan will need to recognise the realities of recycling materials that currently do not have strong profitable markets in Australia, such as tyres, timber and electronic waste, unless waste to energy becomes a viable option. As much of this material is now exported in a semi-processed state, the strength of the Australian dollar, overseas demand and regulatory environment are all factors that will affect the viability of the recycling market.


The SWIRRP is an exciting, visionary and ambitious plan. The Andrews government is to be commended for continuing the work commenced under the previous government and bringing it to its public release.

Nevertheless, the plan’s success will come down to:
  • adequate resourcing of the government bodies charged with its implementation (Sustainability Victoria and the waste management groups);
  • the commitment of local government and industry to invest and plan;
  • the acceptance of communities to balance their expectations;
  • the success of market development strategies to increase demand for materials; and
  • a commitment from government to spend the landfill levy for the purposes it was originally designed for.
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