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Where to from here?

Dick Gross, City of Port Phillip Mayor, explains the mechanisms required to help local governments overcome kerbside recycling market failures.

As a self-confessed local government tragic, Dick Gross has been involved in various council roles for more than 20 years.

From president of the Municipal Association of Victoria to now the Port Phillip Mayor, Dick has become a well-known voice in the waste industry.

Additionally, Dick is a writer and tutor in climate change at the University of Melbourne and a former lawyer.

His passion for supporting the growth of the industry has seen him speak out publicly on issues such as the recent temporary shut-down of Melbourne materials recover facilities and the implications of China’s National Sword.

Continuing on this leadership, Dick will be a speaker at this year’s Waste Strategy Summit, highlighting the challenges and opportunities for waste prevention, recycling, resource recovery and disposal.

“I’m passionate about mistakes and in my talk I discuss a lot about mistakes and how do we judge ourselves, are we too hard on mistakes? And I think we are,” Dick tells Waste Management Review.

Dick says his presentation will explore from a local government perspective why Victoria is lagging behind other states in legislating developing technologies such as in-vessel composting.

“Part of the problem in Victoria when I started in local government two decades is I was told that 700 years of landfill were left in Melbourne because we had big holes everywhere to support mining or extractive resources,” Dick explains.

“But now people are living next to those holes so planning issues are more fraught and I think that is less so in NSW.”

According to the 2015-16 Victorian Local Government Annual Waste Services Report 2015-16, garden organics makes up 18 per cent of kerbside diversion – a key contributor to emissions when buried in landfill.

Dick says the best way forward to reduce emissions is to follow Europe’s lead with a carbon pricing mechanism. He says that while methane from waste is significant albeit not the greatest contributor, it is part of the broader landscape of carbon innovation for cities. As there is an increasing need to divert materials from landfill, the policy response must provide incentives.

“Europe prices carbon and the idea is that there is an externality associated with many transactions, i.e is there a positive or negative associated with it?”

“A carbon pricing scheme looks at the externality of our human activity as it’s unfair not to take these externalities into account.”

Dick points out that during the period of Gillard’s carbon tax, landfill operators were significant price payers, despite not being by any stretch the biggest contributor to emissions. For any future scheme, Dick believes the best model would be for smaller councils to be means tested and given government support.

“Local governments have rate capping and it’s unfair to expect a rate capped council to deal with additional costs so my view is that councils should pay and receive partial compensation from other tiers,” he says.

After a major recycling company in Melbourne was issued a notice from the EPA requiring it to stop accepting recyclable waste materials, issues surfaced again on the lack of end markets for recyclables. Many councils, including Port Phillip Council, were locked out of their materials recover facilities.

Port Phillip Council was locked out for more than two weeks and forced to send 658 tonnes of recyclables to landfill, costing it $79,000. This was subsequently reimbursed as part of its contract for unexpected expenses. Port Phillip Council called on the Victorian Government to urgently hold a roundtable with the Municipal Association of Victoria and councils to develop an action plan to future proof the recycling sector.

One of the key issues Dick points out is that there is clearly insufficient competition in the market and more operators need to open up in the MRF space.

He says that China has propelled MRFs to look at upgrading their materials to a cleaner product. Dick believes that there are wider reasons for China’s ban than just cleaning up its own environment, but rather linked to escalating trade tensions between China and the US.

“America has a huge recycling sector employing more than 100,000 people so when China turned the tap off it wasn’t great for them. Because of World Trade Organization rules, they couldn’t easily be seen to just ban America’s material for an environmental reason because its flow is exactly the same as Australia’s contaminated.”

Dick says that there is no doubt that there is a real issue with the value of commodity prices, but this is by no means a crisis.

“My view is that we need product stewardship at a national level and we need to do things to add value to commodity prices, including mandating a set amount of recyclables in glass and containers, but particularly glass,” he says.

Dick adds that mandating in local governments the use of crushed glass instead of sand as roadbase and mandating recycled plastics as road surface would also lift commodity prices up. Landfill levies should also be raised, he says, including in states such as Victoria.

Dick says that events such as the Waste Strategy Summit offer an opportunity for knowledge-based industries to share ideas.

“My wife works in innovation and she argues that part of the growth of innovation is the swapping of knowledge not only formally through presentations, but also informally through networking and the serendipity of casual conversation so that’s why these events are absolutely important,” he says.

Waste Strategy Summit 2019 is designed for executives working within waste management, recycling, resource recovery and environmental sustainability departments across all sectors looking to improve their operations. The event includes a diverse array of speakers, including Big W’s Anthony Castaldi, the City of Sydney’s Gemma Dawson, ANZ’s Jeff Elliot, Plastic Forest’s David Hodge and NSW EPA’s Justin Koek and more.

The key themes of this year’s event include Australian waste management from a regulatory eye, understanding the important of implementing realistic strategies in everyday practices, the importance of collaboration and outside the box recycling and resource recovery strategies.

Last year’s event saw more than 110 people from the public and private sectors gather to discuss strategic planning and innovation.

Waste Strategy Summit will take place from 25-27 June at the Aerial UTS Function Centre in Sydney. For more information click here.

WMR readers receive 10% off the registration fee, quote VIP code ‘WMR10’ at registration.

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