Up Front

Looking at a kerbside glass bin

As Victoria’s Warrnambool City Council explores the viability of a fourth kerbside bin for glass waste, Director of Infrastructure Scott Cavanagh calls on state governments to do the same. 

Traditional kerbside recycling processes house glass, plastic and paper in the same bin – creating an environment where contamination is bound to occur. 

According to the Department of Environment and Energy’s 2018 National Waste Report, stockpiling is a significant concern for the waste industry. The report largely attributes this to contamination from glass breakdown and a subsequent inability to process recyclables.  

Modelling by the Centre for International Economics 2017 suggests a recycling rate increase of five per cent could add $1 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product. In contrast, the National Waste Report shows only 57 per cent the glass waste generated in 2016-17 was recycled. Looking at both figures simultaneously highlights the potential economic benefit of kerbside collection reform.  

With its suite of waste contracts set to expire Warrnambool, a city on the south-west coast of Victoria, has been forced to reassess its waste strategy. 

Scott Cavanagh, Director of Infrastructure, says the city has started looking into the possibility of a separate kerbside recycling bin for glass. He adds that sustainable recycling processes are central to the city’s development plan. 

During tender evaluations, he spoke to a number of kerbside collection contractors and recycle processors who highlighted glass as a real problem for the commingled recycling stream. 

“We were given significant price variations between recycled product that contained glass and that which didn’t. 

“Everything we were hearing from the industry was telling us glass was the problem. We then started thinking about how we could address it and what the solutions might be.” 

According to Scott, there is a range of solutions, including centralised collection points, a crate system and separate kerbside glass bins. Scott says that while the council is open to all possibilities, a separate glass bin seems the most viable. 

Matt Genever, Director of Resource Recovery at Sustainability Victoria, says the statutory authority has been working with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to undertake detailed research on a range of new potential collection approaches for kerbside recycling and this may include a separate glass bin or similar. 

“There are a number of local governments conducting trials on different methods and Sustainability Victoria has funded the City of Yarra to start trialling separate glass collection. More on the trial here.

“But that work is still very much in the early stages and we need to ensure that any approach to collections offers the best outcomes and the best value for the community and local governments,” Matt says. 

Ipswich Council in Queensland is currently running a trial as part of its Recycle 4 campaign to collect glass in a separate recycling container.

When Ipswich announced the Recycle 4 campaign last year, residents were asked to stop putting glass in yellow top bins. The campaign arose after the council announced its plan to remove glass from the general stream in an attempt to reduce its recycling contamination rate from 52 per cent to 15 per cent. 

An Ipswich council spokesperson said that since launching Recycle 4, the city has opened four glass collection points and has seen a 50 per cent reduction of glass in yellow top bins. 

“We are emptying 60-litre bins from the collections points at least three times a week and are doing cost analysis to evaluate the viability of establishing more collection points,” the spokesperson said.

“We have done three recycling audits of yellow top bins and have gotten overall contamination rates down from 52 per cent to 22 per cent.” 

The spokesperson said the council’s glass recycler is very happy with the quality of glass. 

The Glass Working Group report also shows that several councils in New Zealand are collecting glass separately including Timaru District Council, Ashburton District and Dunedin City.

Scott says Warrnambool has made contact with various government agencies regarding the possibility of a fourth bin. 

He adds that while initial feedback has been positive, there is little in the way of actual movement by governments. 

“There is little leadership coming from state government. It is clear that glass contamination is an issue. It has been for two years in a row.”

Scott says that, by and large, local governments are doing a good job collecting material and sending it for aggregation, but they can’t solve the issue on their own. 

“What Australia really needs is coordination at the state level. 

“We need state governments to say this is the next practice we will start looking at.” 

According to Scott, development for separate glass bins programs could be funded by waste levy revenue.

He highlights Warrnambool’s regional context as particularly relevant to the issue, saying the fact the city has to transport material considerable distances adds additional weight to the business case. 

“For us it’s about managing glass so it doesn’t contaminate other products and reduce value. 

“Industry is yelling out for change and we need government to be proactive and embrace what the industry is saying.”

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