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Waste to Energy – Willful Denial

Tenterfield and Moree Plains Shire Councils, the NSW Country Mayors Association, and Regional Development Australia – Northern Inland, have been actively seeking to address the worsening recycling problem.

This Australia–wide issue is growing by the day as plastics and other recyclables are stockpiled, sent to landfill, or exported overseas to developing countries with inadequate environmental controls.  A recent 60 Minutes television program drew attention to this growing problem.

Our economic power alone is not enough in the short-term to influence the world economy and the over–use of materials that cause the problem. It is sincerely hoped that circular economies will grow and flourish removing the need altogether but this will take years if not decades. In the interim we can do better in terms of dealing with the growing mountain of recyclables that has no effective market in Australia.

Low–grade plastics, cardboard and paper in particular, represent environmental and economic opportunities. Used in modern ‘waste to energy’ facilities, this feedstock can support new and efficient plants whilst reducing pollution. Not only would the ever increasing amount of material buried in landfills be substantially reduced, low carbon energy can be produced and used locally or fed into the grid.

Some people would ask why the hold up, as waste to energy plants are used all over the world already? Regional NSW has less scale and population density than most city areas where waste to energy plants are already proven solutions. We need to determine what the smallest scale solution would be that still proved to be economically and environmentally sound regionally. 

Tenterfield and Moree Plains Councils together with support from another eight councils who have committed funding are kicking off a major research study to answer the ‘scale’ question and many others. With $160,000 out of $540,000 committed to the study so far, there is still a distance to go with the funding although more councils are coming on board as the project begins to gain momentum.  The project will ensure a fully independent, scientific and rigorous study is undertaken.

Tenterfield Shire Council Chief Executive, Mr Terry Dodds said “the time to hide our waste problem in ever increasing landfill sites is drawing to a close.  Local Government needs to seize the lead on addressing these issues given the failures at a state and federal level”.   Although a new federal policy is in preparation, drafts seen by Local Government suggest it will do little to address the real, long-term problems.  The failures at the NSW State level are also well-known, with the waste levy on municipal waste contributing to general revenue rather than being spent on solving the problems.

Angus Witherby, Director of Planning and Community Development at Moree Plains Shire placed the problem in perspective.  “To finish off a single cell at our waste management facility will cost the residents and ratepayers of this Shire some $3 million to $4 million,” he said.  “We have many better things to do with that money in terms of supporting the development of our community".

Tenterfield Shire Council Mayor, Peter Petty added, “as the market for recyclables remains diminished and existing land fill sites reach capacity, a waste to energy facility could address the growing waste problem for many regional councils. This could include Tenterfield, as we will need to spend in the order of $4 million in two years’ time on a new waste cell.”

The NSW Country Mayors Association has invited all councils in NSW to contribute to the study.  "We are looking at contributions of $15,000 per council which, compared to the costs of dealing with waste, it’s chicken-feed,” said Katrina Humphries, Chair of the NSW Country Mayors Association.

Tenterfield Shire Council have met with the NSW Office of Regional Development to seek financial and general project assistance and will be discussing the project further with them in late May.