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When size matters: waste management in East Gippsland

One of East Gippsland Shire Council's waste innovations - an 8 cubic metre split waste and recycling trailer bin
Since adopting a new waste strategy in late 2014, East Gippsland Shire Council has ticked off many of its objectives and won awards along the way, with ‘doing more with less’ its mantra.

With a small population for such an extensive area, East Gippsland Shire Council faces issues with waste management common to many Australia regional and rural municipalities. Yet over the past two years, it has overcome many of these challenges by designing and following a forward-looking strategy.

The Waste Facilities and Disposal Strategy 2014 was adopted by the Council on 16 December that year. It was developed by Manager – Waste Kartik Venkatraman, and his colleagues in the Waste Team, Waste Management Coordinator Elizabeth Modrich and Waste Projects Supervisor Wayne Bath.

Part of the rationale for updating the strategy was the raft of challenges the Council was facing. It services a 21,000-square-kilometre region, the result of the amalgamation of five councils in 1994 that left it with a “hangover” of sites and services. It had inherited 44 known legacy landfills, 11 stand-alone transfer stations, 13 transfer trailers and more than 400 street litter and public place recycling bins.

Despite the large area, the mainly regional and rural population numbers under 44,000, with around only 20,000 ratepayers.

“Like every council, we were at a crossroads,” explains Kartik. “We had to embark on a journey and make a decision on which way we wanted to go.”

Its Waste Collection and Disposal Strategy 2010-2030 (WCDS) was completed by Meinhardt over 2009/10. The consulting firm reviewed the Council’s waste management facilities and services at that time to provide a plan for managing them for the next 20 years.

In 2012, the waste team revisited the WCDS assumptions and assessed the state of the existing facilities, compliance with EPA Victoria guidelines and occupational health and safety issues. They also examined potential environmental and financial risks to the Council and the community. The evaluation revealed some areas for improvement.

By 2014, the WCDS was becoming out of date, Kartik explains, and the dynamics of waste generation, state legislation and Council priorities had moved on.

The team took the WCDS and the review information as a platform for improving the level of service and standard of the Council’s waste operations and infrastructure.   

“That was going to be our way forward for improving our waste management practices, and then to bring in the waste action and education plans,” says Kartik.

The Waste Team addressed three significant matters in the 2014 Strategy: operational, economic and environmental.

Meeting stringent licence conditions and landfills guidelines required operational changes. For example, many sites had been unsupervised, which was not compliant with the changing Victorian Best Practice Environmental Management (BPEM) guidelines.

Among the environmental considerations was addressing the inequity in services across residents, as community awareness of the impact of waste increased.

“Of 42 towns across East Gippsland, not all of them had recycling,” Kartik adds. “We wanted to look at enhancing recycling and resource recovery more fully across the region.” The Council also looked to subsequently introduce a user pay system across the region.

As well as sustainability of service – in both meanings of the term – cost was a key factor.

The review identified that most sites were close to capacity and would close within six years. The Council would need to comply with guidance after closing landfills, as well as invest in alternative options and construct new cells at its Bairnsdale Regional Landfill.

“We needed a plan in place to upgrade the infrastructure to incorporate the growing population, as well as deal with what happened once the sites were closed,” says Kartik.

He says the Council was very aware that things needed to change in terms of waste management “to bring infrastructure and services up to par” and ensure BPEM compliance.

So when the Waste Team presented the 2014 Strategy to the Council, it contained 46 actions for the next five years at $20 million of expenditure, with the promise of the investment recouping costs.

“I think the Council was mentally prepared for that kind of challenge and budget,” says Kartik. “They were very supportive, being aware that making the investment now would save it money and any other repercussions in the future.”

The strategy also committed to achieve cost savings through innovative solutions and research new opportunities to boost recycling. The Waste Team wasted no time getting started.

To continue reading this article, see page 37 of Issue 9.

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