Forever seen as the “ugly sibling” in the fight for government attention, waste management – thanks to a Chinese import ban that sent the recycling industry into free fall – is now getting the attention it deserves, an industry expert believes.
Most of that attention has stemmed from increased costs, which ultimately hit the ratepayer in the pocket.
Analysis of waste charge increases across central Victorian councils most recent budgets reveal costs will rise by $42.3 on average in 2018-19.
Macedon Ranges shire is on the higher end at $49 dollars per property, while Mount Alexander’s average is $32.5, but their charges depend on the size of bin a resident has.
The City of Greater Bendigo has increased its waste management charge by $40, or 11 per cent, $25 dollars of which stems from higher recycling costs.
And while $42 may pale in comparison to quarterly electricity bills – which for some commercial operators in the region, have skyrocketed over the past 12 months – as the Victorian Waste Management Association’s executive officer explains, it’s potentially just the start.
** Central Victorian councils' waste charge increases 2018-19
“The problem is primarily coming around because individually we are producing more waste per capita but we can’t break it down per household at this stage so the charges are distributed and averaged out,” VWMA’s Mark Smith said.
“Waste has been so often the ugly sibling, we haven't looked at it like electricity and utilities.”
Extra costs were a “bitter pill to swallow” for some, Mr Smith said, adding that prices will continue to rise if long-term solutions aren’t considered.
Councils were wary of unfairly increasing waste charges given the recent revelations from an Ombudsman’s report into Wodonga City Council, which overcharged its residents $18 million over 10 years from its waste management levy, but then inappropriately allocated the surplus funds to other services.
Nearly a third of funds collected for waste management were spent on activities such as maintaining municipal gardens and parks, the report revealed in April.
Waste charges are set separately to the municipal rate cap – introduced by the state government in December 2015, which it said was in response to uncontrollable rate rises from local governments – meaning it is potentially subject to more severe fluctuations.
Bendigo for example increased municipal rates 2.25 per cent in its 2018-19 draft budget, while waste charges jumped 11 per cent.
And while the state government is considered the sole solution to the problem by some, Mr Smith argued private industry, local government, and perhaps most importantly, the public could play a part.
“Almost all of the infrastructure and logistics of waste movement is generally run by the private sector and they need to come to the table,” he said.
Read more:Where next for Bendigo’s waste
“What we've been really adamant about is that whatever happens in this space the community need to be brought along.”
Ballarat Council has pressed ahead with plans to develop a waste-to-energy processing facility, last week announcing it was “very close” to securing a private investor for the site at the Ballarat West Employment Zone (BWEZ) site.
The City of Greater Bendigo’s plan is less clear and, given the expected closure of the Eaglehawk Landfill by 2021-2022, is perhaps more of a concern.
The COGB is currently completing a waste review, the results of which were expected late last year, and once released the picture may become a little clearer.
A former Bendigo mayor recently criticised the council’s lack of foresight with recycling issues, arguing there had been no urgency to find a solution to the problem.
The COGB has always maintained the increased costs were not designed to make a profit off its ratepayers.
“This is a challenge all councils across Victoria are facing. The rises reflect the costs of providing the service; council does not make a profit from waste services,” mayor Margaret O’Rourke said recently.