It’s night and I’ve got garbage on my mind

By Shane Scanlan

Until you move to the CBD, you don’t really think much about garbage.

It becomes a major issue, however, on your first night of sleeplessness, so the City of Melbourne’s current review of its integrated waste strategy is a locally compelling subject.

Residents looking for a policy shift away from the nightly carte blanche procession of myriad contractors bustling their monster trucks through streets and lanes designed for a gentler era will be disappointed.

The council has no appetite to monopolise collections. But it has at least piloted a collaborative exercise in Sniders Lane and continues to add a small number of compactors and conduct other aggregation and waste reduction experiments.

Environment chair, Cr Arron Wood, is responsible to the community for this issue.

Being a business-focused pragmatist as well as a greenie, Cr Wood understands the macro-economics of the issue and points to waste reduction as our greatest hope.

For example, he says half of the city’s rubbish bins are full of organic waste.  So, he says, if you can divert the waste stream, you immediately halve the nightly disturbance, halve emissions, halve the costs and double the life of the remaining landfill sites.

“What city and state governments have to do is work out where we are going to find end markets for these (recovered) products,” he said. “The two key things are to find an end-use and also to aggregate the raw product so there’s enough of it to make it work.”

“I think we’re hitting this critical juncture where the next integrated waste management plan is going to go a lot further than previous incarnations,” he said.

Cr Wood points to the Degraves St central collection exercise as an example of what could, over time, be rolled out on a precinct-by-precinct basis throughout the CBD.  Degraves St has a compactor as well as a composter.

“When we looked at Degraves St we found that 90 per cent of all waste could be diverted from landfill altogether,” he said.

“We are currently treating 700kg of food waste a day.  So this didn’t need to go into the bins in the first place.”

“Since the project began, 100 tonnes of food waste has been processed, 132 tonnes of co-mingled waste and 141 tonnes of cardboard has been diverted.

It’s become an entire waste solution for that precinct.”

“And another good thing is that we turn the compost into soil conditioner and we use that on our parks and gardens.”

But, while the council can point to its Degraves St example as well as three compactors elsewhere in the CBD, they are demonstration projects only.

The major amenity policy issue of allowing dozens (Cr Wood thinks it could be 50) different waste collection companies to ply their trade through CBD streets each night is not even on the agenda.

The council believes it would be prevented by anti-competitive regulations from taking on these companies.  But it has never tested the theory.

“That idea of it being anti-competitive has been floated,” Cr Wood said.  “But I think there’s a heck of a lot more we can do reduce the amount of waste in the first place.”

In Sniders Lane, the number of bins for collection has been reduced from 40 to 19.

Cr Wood said a waste audit there revealed that most bins were being collected either by a single contractor or the council, and admits it was “low hanging fruit”.

“As well as the win on amenity, we’ve also now got a communal system for co-mingled recycling,” he said.

“Sniders Lane is a good way of tackling an issue that is going to give multiple benefits.”

“That being said, there will be no single solution in the new integrated waste management plan.  We won’t be able to do Sninders Lane in every single patch of the city.”

“The reason there are so many pick-ups is that we haven’t done as much as we could on getting our businesses to actually separate their waste and (we are) often sending stuff off to landfill that doesn’t need to be there.”

Cr Wood expects to get support later this year to trial two different types of organic waste collection in two apartment towers.

“If you can get whole-of-building solutions, that would be a good outcome,” he said.  “We’ll trial some different approaches and some difference technologies.”

“If you take all the moisture out of it by putting it through a composter, you are looking at a reduction the volume by about 70 to 90 per cent.”

In the meantime, our increasing population means ever more nightly truck movements.

“The other side of it is more sophisticated trucks,” Cr Wood said.  “I mean some of these trucks are pretty old.  There are other ways – such as much smaller trucks, trucks with noise dampeners or electric trucks – so at least you remove the engine noise.”

Cr Wood encourages readers to make a submission when the integrated waste management strategy goes to the Future Melbourne Committee in May.

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