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QLD provides the roadmap for Organics

Resource recovery in Queensland has lagged other States for a long time because they have had no landfill levy and that has stifled investment.

By: Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting Group

food wood coffee dinner
Photo by Gareth Willey on Pexels.com

Recovery rates in QLD are only 45% compared to the national average at 60%. Household recovery rates are just 32% against a 2030 target of 70%.

But the QLD Organics Strategy 2022-2032 sets out ambitious Targets for Organics recovery that may significantly improve their score card.

Meaghan Scanlon, the Minister for Environment and the Barrier Reef and the Waste Stakeholder Advisory Group, have released a template for reform.

The Strategy starts as many do, by setting out some “Where are we now” facts:

  1. Recycling organics (and diverting it from landfill) in QLD already saves about 0.5MT of CO2-e greenhouse gas emissions or equivalent to planting almost 1 million trees per year.
  2. In QLD 1.8MT of food waste is generated per year with 600kt coming from households.
  3. Food and Garden Organics (FOGO) is 50% of the contents of a red bin.
  4. The current resource recovery rates are pretty paltry as discussed above.

So far so good. The new Goals in the Strategy are where it starts to get real. 

By 2030:

  1. Halve the amount of food waste generated (that is a VERY big ask).
  2. Divert 80% of organic material from landfill (that is an even bigger ask).
  3. Achieve a 70% organics recycling rate (only possible once it has been diverted and is in a clean stream).

QLD like all other Governments has signed up to the National Waste Action Plan 2019 which sets an 80% diversion from landfill target by 2030 and a 50% reduction in organics to landfill by the same year.

The National Waste Action Plan is light on actions. It, like all good strategies, is full of Goals and Values statements but is very light on price signals, market drivers, regulations, infrastructure funding, procurement rules EPR etc. These are the things that move the dial.

So I was keen to see how far the QLD Organics Strategy would go. Are governments getting braver with all the discussion about Circular Economy, Zero Net Emissions by 2050, the National Waste Action Plan? Are they prepared to do what is necessary? 

And to their credit the QLD Organics Strategy goes OK. The key actions include:

  1. A $2.1B 10 year Recycling and Jobs Fund. At $210m per year, it is more than even the NSW government has contributed (about $110m/yr for 8 years) from the waste levy. The proof will be in the State Budget and expenditures. But it is a very good start. 
    (While the Strategy chose not to dwell on it, the landfill levy is also rising by $10/year for the next few years sending a clear price signal to Organic Waste generators that landfilling will be an increasingly expensive option).
  2. Local Governments must conduct a Business Case to identify a fit-for-purpose solution for household organic waste to be incorporated into Regional Waste Plans by 2023.
  3. A new Bin Options Assessment Tool for Local Government will be developed by Government (similar to the MRA Options Model for those who have used it) with 75% of Councils in the levy area having completed business cases by June 2023.
  4. New Organics management services in place in SEQ and major regional areas, by 2026. The target is that 80% of households use these new services within 3 years of commencement.
  5. Local governments to review planning instruments to ensure they support an increase in organic waste processing infrastructure. This to include appropriate land use/zoning.
  6. A Government Procurement review by December 2024 to improve organics recovery.
  7. New educational programs for households and businesses on both avoidance and recovery including a state-wide schools education program.
  8. Programs for avoidance of food waste through the Fight Food Waste CRC.
  9. Grants for Food Rescue.
  10. Better standards for “non-perfect”(my term) fruit and veg (such as bent bananas and the like).
  11. Use of Ecobiz to provide advice to small to medium businesses on organics recovery (a bit like BinTrim in NSW) with 10% at least taking up organics recovery.
  12. Product specifications and certification (e.g for compost) (MRA has recently developed just such a new compost standard to strengthen AS4454).
  13. State Government events to separate food.

These actions are worthy and necessary, particularly because QLD is coming from behind. The Government has set the direction and pathway.

If I were to be picky, the things missing from the Strategy are:

  1. An infrastructure gap analysis.
  2. Specific funding details for infrastructure.
  3. A Planning Instrument to fast-track approvals.
  4. A ‘Stick’ (a mechanism to drive industry, generators, Councils etc to achieve the Targets).

In regard to the “Stick”, the government openly contemplates a ban on organics to landfill. This is a very effective mechanism. Much of Europe has had such a ban for 20 years. No other Australian State has yet adopted a ban. It drives organics from landfill under all circumstances. 

The Government has been very careful in its wording: the QLD Government, to implement a staged landfill disposal ban on organic waste streams, subject to an options analysis and feasibility study.” Prior to a ban, the government will be looking to “Identify incentivisation options”.

So the pathway is clear. The Government has given us a lot of softer voluntary actions and funding, to get going, but if that doesn’t work they have had the courage to foreshadow a ban on organics to landfill. 

As an advocate for sustainable economic development it is pleasing to finally see Governments taking up the challenge. Getting organics out of landfill is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to achieve a more circular economy, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to grow “green collar” jobs. A win, win, win.

Meghan Scanlon and the QLD government are to be congratulated (and nudged to drive it hard).


Mike Ritchie, is the Managing Director at MRA Consulting Group.


This article has been published by the following media outlets:

Waste Management Review, 30 March 2022


 

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