What A Waste

I think for most people in attendance, Tuesday’s forum on the future for waste in the Metro southwest raised more questions than it answered. The proponents for incineration promoted their industry as the answer to avoiding using landfill, but a contingent of Kwinana residents made their fears about the health and amenity aspects of incineration very well known, taking the gloss of the presentations.

The State Government is a fan of incineration and has organised visits to incinerators in Japan for potential users, including Fremantle’s Mayor Brad Pettit. The sale of incinerators has all but dried up in USA, Europe and Japan so proponents are seeking new pastures and see Australia as a new market. And of all the states and territories WA seems the most politically supportive, with the EPA offering limited scrutiny compared to other states, particularly NSW which sets the highest bar in Australia.

Currently the councils of Melville, Cockburn, East Fremantle and Fremantle are partners in, and process their waste through the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council (SMRC). Kwinana is not a member, but processes their waste through the SMRC for a fee. Canning was a founding member but chose to buy itself out a couple of years ago and resort to using 100% landfill. The SMRC is not cheap, but it is very effective in diverting waste from landfill and could be much better with the introduction of a 3-bin system. The cost is of concern, because it is tempting for suburban councils such as Melville and Cockburn to go for the cheaper option and undermine the feasibility of SMRC. In that case Fremantle would have little or no option but to follow their lead

waste_hierarchy

So it is very timely for a debate across the community on how we generate and deal with waste. The waste hierarchy is an internationally recognised best practice way of dealing with waste. As you can see the large section at the top is prevention, this is the key to ethically reducing our waste footprint, but how do we prevent waste in the first place? Start by watching the Story of Stuff on the web. Another way is to put the responsibility back onto producers to stop excessive packaging, and to ensure what packaging they do use is recyclable. Products themselves need to be easy to recycle at the end of their life. This is called Extended Product Responsibility (EPR). For example a computer manufacturer will carefully choose reusable components if they are obliged to take the computer back at the end of its life, whereas they will choose the cheapest components if they know it is going to landfill. Australia is very wasteful with foodstuff, which not only creates a huge waste problem; it is also unethical when so many people are starving in the world. Buy less food and save money as well.

I believe the community debate should be rigorous and consider waste in the broader context of our carbon footprint, our energy footprint and our consumer footprint. We can and must reduce what goes into our bins and we need a whole of community, government and industry effort to achieve this. Support Fremantle’s ban on plastic bags, let shops know you do not want excessive packaging and reject additional packaging and buy only what you need, you can always get more later if necessary. What you put in the bin is wasting limited global resources and wasting you money, think about it and become involved in the debate!

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