Timely waste data key to meeting targets: MRA Consulting

waste data

MRA Consulting Group Managing Director Mike Ritchie explains why timely waste data is key to meeting national targets. 

The National Waste Action Plan was agreed to by all levels of government in 2019. It has three critical targets (among others) to be achieved by 2030:

  • 80 per cent average resource recovery of all waste streams.
  • 50 per cent reduction in organics to landfill.
  • 10 per cent reduction in per capita waste generation.
waste data
National Waste Trend in waste growth (blue line), recycling (yellow) and landfilling (red). Image: MRA Consulting Group

The graph above shows the national trend in waste growth (blue line), recycling (yellow) and landfilling (red). It also shows where we need to be in 2030 if we are to achieve the targets.

Right now, in 2024, we are about 11 metric tonne (MT) short of where we need to be to achieve the 80 per cent resource recovery target. Thankfully, we have until 2030 to get our act together.

Considering population growth and rising per capita consumption (and assuming we don’t have a massive recession in the meantime), it is likely that our economy will be generating about 70 MT of waste in 2030. 

An 80 per cent resource recovery rate is about 57 MT in 2030. That means we need to increase recycling from the 11MT gap now, to about 17MT by the time we get to 2030. In only six years.

I have written elsewhere that achieving those goals is impossible without significant policy changes by governments at both the state and federal levels. Here, I want to focus on a related issue.

We are in 2024 but the aforementioned graph uses 2021 data. That is the most up to date data published by the states and Federal Government in the National Waste Action Plan Annual Updates. This is not an exception. In any given year, the data is generally two to three years old and out of date.

So, the question I want to pose to environment ministers (state and federal) is: “What is the relevant data set to assess whether we achieve the targets in 2030?”

What do I mean by that?

Let’s imagine we wind the clock forward to February 2030 and we are trying to decide if we have hit the targets or whether new interventions are required. But in 2030 we would be looking at 2027 or 2028 data. Do we conclude that 2028 data is good enough? Probably not.

waste data
Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting Group Managing Director. Image: MRA Consulting Group

Governments will inevitably say “Oh but we have done all this reform in 2028, 2029 and that is not reflected in the data. Let’s wait until we get the actual 2030 data.”

So, we will probably wait until 2032 or 2033 to look backwards to 2030 to see if we achieved the targets. That looks like a free pass on accountability to me.

The answer of course is to cut the lag between actual and the reporting date.

The waste/recycling sector is valued at about $30 billion a year and employs at least 70,000 people directly and many more indirectly.

How do we develop proper policy, make billion-dollar investments, and employ people, without good data? We don’t.

Having poor and old data is good news for consultants but terrible for industry and investors.  We need to fix it. It needs to be brought as close to real time as possible. 

I accept that there are data quality checks that need to be done and individual facility data needs to be aggregated (and anonymised to protect commercially sensitive information). But three years is far too long. That is why I have used the term “timely” rather than “real time”.

One of the biggest problems with the data is that some states still use voluntary surveys to assess tonnages. Others are using volume to weight conversion factors. Many smaller facilities are not required to report at all.

The production of the National Waste data report is dependent on, and held up by, the slowest state. That is ridiculous.

In my view we need to move to automated and mandatory tonnage reporting by all waste/recycling facilities above a certain threshold size (say above 1000t/yr throughput). 

That means installing weighbridges on all eligible facilities. That is very do-able (and a useful spend of the $1.4 billion in landfill levies paid to government each year). We should ensure that data is aggregated by the states, reviewed and supplied to the Federal Government within say six months of the end of the reporting period. It would fix the problem. 

For more information, contact info@mraconsulting.com.au 

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