Other councils will soon follow Ipswich in scrapping their waste recycling programs as service costs skyrocket, the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) says.
Ipswich City Council yesterday said China’s import ban on recycling and the rising level of contaminated or non-recyclable rubbish in yellow bins meant it had become too costly for the city to recycle, so from now everything placed in yellow bins would go straight to landfill.
Brisbane, Logan and Gold Coast councils have so far ruled out following suit.
But LGAQ chief executive Greg Hallam said Ipswich had set a precedent other local governments would consider seriously.
“We believe it’ll be the first of many in Queensland and indeed across Australia,” he said.
“Since China has closed its doors to our waste, the effective cost increases to councils are 400 and 500 per cent – it’s just not feasible that councils can sustain those losses.
“It’s unfortunate and we would prefer it to be otherwise, but without any sort of subsidy for our recyclable materials, councils just can’t make the maths add up,” he said.
In a statement, Ipswich City Council said recycling contractors notified the council the current rate paid to them would soar by $2 million a year if recycling was to continue, which could potentially lead to a rate rise of up to 2 per cent.
Mr Hallam said it was a cost ratepayers were unlikely to accept.
“I think our understanding and long-term polling of these issues says that’s not the case,” he said.
Ipswich move ‘a frightening development’
Brisbane-based sustainability expert John Moynihan from Ecolateral said Ipswich Council’s decision was a backward step and set a dangerous benchmark.
“The majority of the Western world now recycles and recycles quite effectively – industries are built up around the recycled material that’s been supplied via household recycling, so it’s quite a frightening development,” he said.
“There will be a domino effect council to council – before you know it, everybody will abandon it because it’ll be a case of, ‘Well if it’s good enough for them, we can save some revenue, so it’s good enough for us’.”
Ipswich Mayor Andrew Antoniolli said the city was the latest to be affected by the nationwide issue but that eventually all councils would be impacted by the viability of recycling household waste.
“I think [Australia is] going to be grappling with waste, particularly recyclable waste, for some time,” Mr Antoniolli said.
“It’s not just for Ipswich, it will be this whole nation will be affected by it, so we do need to come up with other options to handle our waste.
“That may even be looking at waste to energy as an option.”
On January 1, China stopped accepting 24 categories of solid waste, disrupting the export of more than 600,000 tonnes of material out of Australia each year.
Mr Moynihan said the younger generation was highly educated about recycling and the council’s decision sent a mixed signal to them.
“We’re now talking about getting rid of plastic bags, I mean what’s the message? You can’t have a plastic bag in the supermarket, but you can dump everything that’s in the plastic bag into the ground — it’s nonsensical.”
Where other city councils currently stand
Sunshine Coast Mayor and president of the LGAQ Mark Jamieson had a different take on the situation to the LGAQ’s chief executive.
Mr Jamieson said it was inaccurate to assume what happened in Ipswich would definitely occur elsewhere in the state.
He said he had been assured by the local contractor on the Sunshine Coast that all recyclables continued to be converted for reuse.
“In terms of the Sunshine Coast we remain very comfortable with the contract agreement we have in place,” Mr Jamieson said.
“People of the Sunshine Coast would not tolerate their waste being put into landfill – that would be absolutely in opposition to everything we believe in.”
Rockhampton’s Airport, Water and Waste Committee chairman Neil Fisher said he always thought metropolitan councils would be first to succumb to rising cost pressures.
But Mr Fisher said did not believe there was an immediate threat to recycling in central Queensland.
“We’re probably lucky in a number of ways — we still have contracts and we’re fortunate that those contracts are with Australian companies and not reliant on the Chinese at this stage,” Mr Fisher said.
But we’ve got to be prepared. As a lot of people are sort of saying, there is a storm coming and you’d better be prepared.”
Mackay Regional Council chief executive Craig Doyle said the council was collecting and processing its kerbside recyclables as per normal.
Mr Doyle said the council’s recycling contractor was managing the material it was receiving and was looking at using other markets for the impacted materials of paper and plastics.
“The China ban is causing volatility and council will continue to work with its contractor to monitor the situation carefully,” he said.
Toowoomba Regional Council said it was shameful that Australia sends its recycled waste overseas.
Councillor Nancy Sommerfield said she was shocked by Ipswich Council’s decision, but said things needed to change.
“Why shouldn’t we be looking after our own waste?” Ms Sommerfield said.
“Why are we sending our waste, our recycling overseas to be recycled, why aren’t we developing our own industries here in Australia?”
“We used to have a recycling industry and it wasn’t until China stepped into the market that those industries faded away – and we need now to step back up to the plate and develop our own industries.”
Mr Sommerfield said she would like to see Toowoomba set up its own recycling processing facility, but that would require state and federal government funding.
The Whitsunday and Isaac Councils have also been contacted for comment.