OK I know its Easter and you want something relaxing and chocolate-y to read but please bear with me, because this month I talk dirty. One of the essential services local government provides is rubbish collection, and hopefully this happens without a second thought as long as someone in the house remembers to put the bins out! In Fremantle all that is about to change, the SMRC was put on notice last week to stop processing rubbish after 14 April. This means member councils, will have nowhere to take your rubbish when they’ve collected it, imagine that.
Given a recent focus group revealed most in Fremantle don’t know what happens to rubbish once it is taken away by the garbage trucks I’ll do a brief overview; a rubbish 101. Two decades ago Fremantle joined neighbouring councils in developing a regional council with the single aim, of doing rubbish better, and not sending it to landfill. The Southern Metropolitan Regional Council (SMRC) was born and economies of scale allowed the SMRC to build the Regional Resource Recovery Centre (RRRC) a state-of-the-art processing facility in Canning Vale costing many millions of dollars. The RRRC is divided into three sections; the recycling section, which receives the contents of your yellow-topped bin; the digester section, which receives materials from your green-topped big; and a green-waste section where garden waste and pruning’s are mulched.
Onto rubbish 102. As you can imagine, rubbish can get pretty smelly at times, so to combat that the trucks with green-topped bin waste do not dump in the open, delivering their load into a very large negative pressure shed so the smell does not escape. Negative pressure is generated by big fans venting through air scrubbers and bio-filters, to remove most of the smell and what’s left is a sort of earthy/woody smell. Problems with the bio-filters a few years ago meant that odour was not as adequately controlled as it should be and some residents in Leeming having cause for complaint established an action group. It’s pretty clear their goals have now moved from odour control to shutting down the RRRC completely and have lobbied state politicians very effectively.
So let’s cut to the chase, is there a smell, if so how bad is it? Under certain atmospheric conditions, especially on warm nights when there is an inversion, that earthy/woody smell can occur in residential areas, but nothing like the intensity of smell where I live in South Fremantle when a sheep ship is in port and a northerly breeze is blowing, and certainly nothing like the impacts whole suburbs suffer from Cockburn Cement’s plant in Munster. This is an issue of degrees.
Given the nature of their operation the RRRC requires a licence from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) to operate, these typically include condition. Advice from DEC leading up to issuing a replacement license (in April) was the requirement for an engineered solution to get any odours higher into the atmosphere. SMRC engaged engineers to assess how these should be constructed for the best results. When the new licence was delivered to SMRC on 1 April it was initially considered an April-fool’s joke, unfortunately the full ramifications rapidly sunk in, this was no joke but a crisis of great magnitude. The license basically gives them two weeks notice to stop receiving waste and another month to shut down the operation completely. This change of heart from DEC came after Liberal MLA’s Joe Francis and Mike Nahan met with the Premiere and Minister for Environment last Thursday demanding closure. We need to be clear that this is a political decision rather than a technical one. Does Wednesday’s announcement by the Environment Minister that Government is investigating waste incineration for use in WA have any bearing on this decision?
So what are the implications for us here in Fremantle? First and foremost we must urgently find another organisation to take our 7,500 tonnes per annum of green-top rubbish, and options are limited, so it will probably go to landfill, something Fremantle has not done for many a year, ironically we then must pay the State landfill levy that goes to government, supposedly to assist councils to divert rubbish away from landfill. Industry bodies have estimated that last year only $11m out of $50m from the state government’s landfill levy ended up being utilised for waste reduction. Secondly, Fremantle must work with other member councils to ensure our high value investment in the RRRC is not totally trashed. And thirdly this has the potential to impact Fremantle’s proud carbon neutral status.
Have a good Easter break and use your yellow-topped bin for everything that is not organic, because now, more than ever, we need to recycle everything we can to reduce the waste now destined for landfill.
Published in Fremantle Herald 6-4-12