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Sydney facing looming waste crisis

Sydney has three options to avoid a looming waste crisis – boost recycling by increasing the waste levy to $200, build new landfills, or allow more energy recovery projects, says Mike Ritchie of MRA Consulting Group.

Mike Ritchie interview, Footprint News

Mike Ritchie

Ritchie, who is founder and managing director of the sustainability consultancy, told Footprint there is widespread concern that Sydney will run out of landfill space for inert waste by 2028, and by 2036 for putrescible waste.

Nor is there any sign that the NSW Government is seriously grappling with the issue, he said, noting that landfills currently servicing Sydney are accepting about four million tonnes of inert waste and two million tonnes of putrescible waste each year.

Recent interruptions to the provision of landfilling services at both the Woodlawn and Lucas Heights landfills due to extreme rainfall is just a taste of what is to come as the climate continues to change, he added.

To fix these problems there are only three options, he said: “New landfills, energy from waste, and better recycling”.

Levy increase needed

Greater levels of recycling “is of course, the preferred option”, he said.

However, current strategies won’t come close to diverting the combined six million tonnes of inert and putrescible waste that is currently landfilled, he warned.

A proposed mandatory “food and garden organics” regime will divert about one million tonnes, and a commercial food collection mandate might deliver up to another 300,000 tonnes.

“In my view, to drive deeper recycling rates, the levy should go up to about $200 per tonne,” he said, marking a significant rise on the current rate of $147.10.

“Only a high landfill levy will shift the dial on recycling rates and reduce demand on landfill,” he said.

In addition, all the extra revenue should be directed towards establishing additional waste processing systems and infrastructure, he said.

This would significantly boost the amount of organic waste diverted from landfill, which would help reduce methane emissions at a time when the public has just made it very clear at the federal election that it wants strong action on climate change, Ritchie added.

Planning should start now

Ritchie noted that if the State Government does want either energy from waste (EfW) facilities or landfills to also play a part in averting the looming crisis, it needs to start planning now.

While it has been supportive of a potential energy from waste facility in the Parkes region capable of handling up to 400,000 tonnes of Sydney’s waste, that is only “a drop in the bucket”, he said.

“The government effectively banned another five proposals for the Sydney basin via its new planning policy for energy from waste,” he noted.

Potential energy from waste projects in other parts of regional NSW have encountered local opposition or are too far from Sydney to meet its needs, Ritchie said.

“So it is unlikely that energy from waste will do much in the short- to medium-term to solve our dilemma.”

New landfills take a long time to plan and usually encounter strong community opposition, he said.

The State Government says that to service Sydney it needs a new inert landfill with a capacity of three million tonnes a year, and another putrescible landfill capable of handling half a million tonnes a year by 2030, he noted.

But Ritchie said private proponents are unlikely to put such projects forward without firm backing from the State Government.

“The risk of failure is too high,” he said.

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

This article has been published by the following media outlets:

Footprint News, 30 May 2022


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