Implementing Recycling Solutions

A waste landfill

How to provide a responsible and efficient recycling service (that doesn’t cause you angst!)

I was recently at a friend’s BBQ when I was asked about recycling.  Many were concerned, even angry, expressing that the government was not doing enough about recycling.  There were comments and questions like “Councils should do more to stop landfilling”; “why can’t we recycle plastic?”; “surely we can recycle more” and “there needs to be a change in mindset!”

When I suggested that individuals may actually have to pay more in their rates for rubbish charges, the response was very different. Another friend of said that it was great news that a waste levy was being introduced. However, her enthusiasm rapidly evaporated when I said to her that the skip bin she uses for her house renovation would dramatically increase in cost from March.

It seems that people are keen for a change, as long as it doesn’t involve paying more! If you think this is an over-reaction, I suggest that you ask some of the staff at Woolworths and Coles after the 15 cents per plastic bag charge was introduced.

The waste industry needs to be clear in their messaging and implement efficient programs to ensure that recycling is undertaken in a way that provides environmental benefits while showing evidence of value for money.

However, for local governments and private operators, implementing recycling solutions to reduce landfill isn’t always simple. While there are many companies pedalling systems to reducing waste to landfill, how they integrate into existing operations and contracts is another matter entirely.

For instance, I have been advised of an operation that can heat putrescible waste that reduces 80% of what is landfilled.  The product seems very cost effective with a low initial capital outlay.  There are several add-ons that are not noted in the brochures.  These include:

  • How the waste is removed from the waste collection vehicle into the machine. Obviously, a hard stand area would need to be constructed and a front-end loader would need to be used daily;
  • Other annual operating costs (especially staff) as well as maintenance;
  • The cost of landfilling the residual by-product

All of these additions alter the financial assessment of the project.

However, the biggest concern I have is that for such an operation/infrastructure to be employed there must be a contract variation with the existing landfill management provider.  Councils cannot demand an existing contracted landfill manager (service provider) to employ new technology, change staff levels or implement other controls without expecting a hefty contract variation. This contract variation may result in an increased cost to ratepayers

Management Approach To Ensure Cost-Effectiveness

However, with a thoughtful management approach, both increased recycling and compliance whilst ensuring a business approach (cost-effectiveness) can occur.

  • Firstly, the waste solution must be proven elsewhere. I often joke that every Council wants to be innovative, but no-one wants to be first! This is particularly relevant for infrastructure.  I find that it is always worthwhile to do some research and speak to other project managers about how they implemented a solution on their site. A few simple phone calls and a short site visit is it all takes to find out what works and what doesn’t, and this valuable information has paid dividends for several of my clients.
  • Secondly, getting the contract documentation and understanding the implications is critical. Most collection contracts are seven-plus years in duration and most site management contracts are five years plus.  Thus, integrating any new system or infrastructure into existing arrangements is needed to avoid an adversarial approach in the day to day management of any site plus any obscene legal fees in contract variations.
  • Thirdly, undertaking an accurate assessment of the full cost pricing is paramount. While financial outcomes do not always outmaneuver environmental outcomes, it is far easier to “sell” an environmental cause if a rigorous commercial assessment has been undertaken. It should be noted that the commercial assessment needs to include both the capital expense and operating costs. This includes what a provider will charge and internal Council staff time (and supporting infrastructure).  Some recent clients of mine have undertaken this process with very positive implementation results.  It means that generally, there are no cost surprises further down the line.
  • Finally marketing and communication really need to be undertaken carefully. I am sure most readers will agree that you can never do too much in this area. Expectations in recycling are very high, so communicating the cost-effective achievements to residents as well as elected representatives is important to ensure the ongoing success of any program.

Finding and then securing sources of funding can be a difficult task.  It is worth noting that whilst Stream One of the Queensland Government Resource Recovery Industry Development Program is now closed, Stream Two is still open. This may provide an opportunity for your business or Council. Having said that there are several other funding options available that are not waste related that can be a source of funds.

We are currently managing several projects that involve reviewing operations to include more recycling that encompasses cost savings.  We may be able to provide you with some acquired knowledge.

Keiran Travers is a Director of Harbak and UTL Utilities.  Both companies are providing waste management advice in relation to the Queensland market. UTL Utilities provides infrastructure strategy, procurement, economic modelling and business operational advices in the fields of waste management primarily for the local government sector. Contact Keiran at