Domestic waste management in Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council

Overview

The Auditor-General for New South Wales, Margaret Crawford, today released a report on Domestic waste management in Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council.The report found that both Councils collect and transport domestic kerbside waste effectively and process it at a low cost. The Councils also effectively process waste placed in green-lid and yellow-lid bins, but neither Council has been able to enforce their contracts for processing red-lid bin waste. As a result, almost all such waste goes straight to landfill. 

Executive summary

Local councils provide waste management services to their residents. They collect domestic waste primarily through kerbside services, but also at council drop off facilities. Waste management is one of the major services local councils deliver. Each year, councils collectively manage an estimated 3.5 million tonnes of waste generated by New South Wales residents.

Waste disposed of in landfills attracts a NSW Government waste levy. Councils’ kerbside services help residents to separate recyclable and non recyclable waste. This reduces the cost of waste disposed to landfill. These services typically provide yellow-lid bins for dry recyclables, green-lid bins for garden organics and red-lid bins for residual waste. To increase the level of recycling, some councils deliver residual waste to alternative waste treatment facilities for processing. This can involve composting and the recovery of resources, including plastics and metals, which can be recycled.

The following shows that while garden organics and dry recyclables are recycled, all residual waste and contaminated recycled and organic waste goes straight to landfill for accessible version email communications@audit.nsw.gov.au
Exhibit 1: Managing domestic kerbside waste to maximise recycling
Source: Audit Office research, 2018.

The NSW Government’s target is to increase the municipal solid waste recycling rate to 70 per cent by 2021–22.

This audit assessed how effectively and economically Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council are managing domestic kerbside waste collection, transportation and processing. In making this assessment, the audit examined whether:

  • Councils’ activities lead to residents putting recyclable materials into correct recycling bins
  • Councils have effective and economical arrangements to collect, transport and process domestic kerbside waste to maximise recycling rates and minimise costs
  • Councils are increasing the domestic kerbside recycling rate and meeting their targets.
Conclusions

Campbelltown City Council

Campbelltown City Council undertakes activities recommended by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to encourage residents to put recyclable materials into correct recycling bins – such as requiring adequate waste facilities (e.g. bin storage and disposal chutes) in new multiple unit dwellings, providing bin collection systems (size, number and type of bins), providing financial incentives for residents to minimise waste, and educating residents on how to sort waste. However, the Council cannot demonstrate its education efforts are effective. It does not conduct waste audits or bin inspections to monitor residents’ waste sorting habits, so does not have adequate data to measure the impact of its activities or direct efforts where they are likely to have the most effect. The Council also only dedicates one officer to waste education – limiting coverage for the size of the Council area. The Council has not ensured all new multiple unit dwellings have sufficient and appropriate waste storage facilities, which hampers the use, amenity, movement and handling of waste.
The Council collects, transports and processes domestic kerbside waste at a low cost and with high community satisfaction. Recyclable material is effectively recovered from its green-lid and yellow-lid bins, but not from its red-lid bins. Almost all red-lid bin waste goes to landfill because, despite its efforts, the Council has not been able to enforce all aspects of its waste processing and disposal contract. According to EPA data, the red lid bin waste generated by the Sydney metropolitan area exceeds the capacity of the three red lid bin treatment plants that service it – limiting the Council’s ability to ensure its contractor recovers recyclables and organics otherwise destined for landfill.
The Council’s recycling and diversion from landfill rates are behind State targets principally because most of its red-lid bin waste is not processed. It is meeting the State target to reduce waste generated by residents.

Fairfield City Council

Fairfield City Council undertakes EPA recommended activities to encourage residents to put recyclable materials into correct recycling bins – such as requiring adequate waste facilities (e.g. bin storage and disposal chutes) in new multiple unit dwellings, providing bin collection systems (size, number and type of bins), providing financial incentives for residents to minimise waste, and educating residents on how to sort waste and dedicates three officers to waste education. The Council has not ensured all new multiple unit dwellings have sufficient and appropriate waste storage facilities, which hampers the use, amenity, movement and handling of waste.

The Council undertakes bin audits and inspections to monitor residents’ waste sorting habits and direct its efforts, but Council’s audit data shows residents’ waste sorting has deteriorated since 2015. The Council’s activities have therefore not proven to be effective, and it has not determined the reasons and what changes are needed. 

The Council processes domestic kerbside waste at a low cost. Community satisfaction with waste collection and transportation is high, but the Council has not tested the market to see if its in house service represents value for money. Recyclable material is effectively recovered from the Council’s yellow lid bins, but not from its red-lid bins. Its red-lid bin waste goes to landfill because, despite its efforts, it has not been able to enforce its contract. A reason is that, according to EPA data, the red-lid bin waste the Sydney metropolitan area generates exceeds the capacity of the three red lid bin treatment plants that service it.

The Council’s recycling and diversion rates from landfill are behind State targets principally because its red-lid bin waste is not processed. It is meeting the State target to reduce waste generated by residents.

Data shows processing capacity for Sydney’s red-lid bin waste is insufficient

Operator data shows that the alternative waste treatment facilities in Sydney (two plants) and Woodlawn (250km from the Sydney metropolitan area) have a combined capacity to process less than 500,000 tonnes of red-lid bin waste per year, compared to the 1.1 million tonnes households in the Sydney metropolitan area generated in 2014–15 (latest available EPA data). 

There is no strategy for ensuring Sydney has access to adequate waste infrastructure 

The EPA’s Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy 2017–21, Draft for consultation (2017) predicted 16 more waste treatment facilities, including three alternative waste treatment plants, were needed for the Sydney metropolitan area by 2021 to achieve the State’s recycling target. The draft strategy also recognised the push for narrower roads in new subdivisions may generate demand for smaller collection vehicles that need to be supported by nearby transfer stations.

The 2018 NSW Parliamentary inquiry into ‘Energy from waste’ technology also found a projected shortfall of waste processing services across the State and no plan to address this. The 2018 Senate Inquiry into the waste and recycling industry in Australia found governments had failed to make the policy decisions required to ensure adequate investment in recycling infrastructure.

The Department of Planning and Environment (DPE)advises it is working with the EPA on a:

  • 20 year waste strategy, including a plan for improving waste infrastructure
  • planning guideline for waste transfer stations and recycling facilities, intended to help streamline the approval and construction of those facilities.

1. Recommendations

Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council should:

  1. better measure, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of their activities in improving residents waste sorting habits, in order to make adjustments as needed 
     
  2. ensure all new buildings have adequate and appropriate waste storage facilities, to make it easy for residents to sort their waste properly
     
  3. obtain more information on the costs of other viable options for waste collection, transportation, processing and disposal, in order to determine if there is a need to change existing arrangements.

 


 1 This audit was conducted prior to the Administrative Arrangements Order 2019 announced on 2 April 2019. Effective from 1 July 2019, the responsibilities of the Department of Planning and Environment and the EPA will reside with the newly created Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

1. Introduction

1.1 What is domestic waste?

Waste is any discarded item, including those that have the capacity to be recycled, re used or recovered.

Municipal waste is waste from households and local government operations. This includes waste placed at the kerbside, street sweeping, council engineering works and public council bins. Domestic waste is all waste generated by households and comprises 95 per cent of all municipal solid waste.
 

1.2 Role of local councils in managing waste

The Essential Service Act 1988 No 41, requires councils to provide waste management services to their residents. Waste management is one of the major services provided by councils. In New South Wales councils manage over 3.5 million tonnes of waste generated by residents each year. Local councils collect domestic waste through kerbside services, kerbside bulk waste collection and at council drop off facilities. Of these, kerbside services collect the most domestic waste.

Exhibit 2 shows the role councils play in managing domestic kerbside waste services.

This diagram shows council minimise and sort waste by providing waste collection bins, educating residents, providing incentives and penalties and monitoring residents' behaviour, they manage the contracts for delivering in house services for collecting and transporting waste and manage contracts and in-house services for the processing and disposal of waste. For accessible version email communications@audit.nsw.gov.au
Exhibit 2: Role of local councils in managing domestic kerbside waste
Source: Audit Office research.

1.3 Role of the NSW Government

The NSW Government regulates the transportation, collection, treatment, storage and disposal of waste. It is responsible for the state wide policies and programs designed to reduce waste, increase recycling and improve community waste disposal behaviours. The two key State government agencies involved are the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Department of Planning and Environment (DPE). The EPA is primarily responsible for waste regulation and the DPE is responsible for land use planning in New South Wales and is a consent authority for major waste infrastructure such as processing facilities and landfills for New South Wales.

1.4 NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy

The NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014–21 is a framework for waste management. It includes six key results areas for targeted actions:

  • avoid and reduce the generation of waste
  • increase recycling
  • divert waste from landfill
  • manage problem waste better
  • reduce litter
  • reduce illegal dumping.

The Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy is guided by a waste hierarchy which underpins the objectives of the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001. The hierarchy helps focus attention and effort on activities that achieve the greatest efficiencies in cost, time and resources. Exhibit 3 shows the order of preferred approaches to achieve efficient resource use.

This hierarchy shows that the most preferable is to avoid and reduce waste, then reuse waste, then recycle waste, recover energy, treat waste and least preferable is to dispose of waste. For accessible version email communications@audit.nsw.gov.au
Exhibit 3: Waste hierarchy
Source: The Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014–21.

The strategy has six long term targets. Three targets are relevant to kerbside waste collection. The targets are not mandatory for individual councils, but by 2021–22, councils that adopt the targets expect to:

  • avoid and reduce the amount of waste generation per person
  • increase municipal solid waste recycling rates to 70 per cent
  • increase waste diverted from landfill to 75 per cent.

The first target aims to improve the efficient use of materials across the community and avoid generating unnecessary waste. The second target aims to increase the amount of recycled material that is put back into the productive economy. The third target refers to the alternative pathways for materials entering the system that avoid disposal to landfill, such as recycling and energy recovery.

1.5 Waste levy

The NSW Government uses several methods to encourage stakeholders to divert waste from landfill, the key driver being a levy that applies to all waste disposed of in landfills within the leviable area. The levy increases each year to provide a financial incentive that makes alternatives, including recovery and recycling programs, more attractive than disposing of waste into landfill.

In 2018–19, the waste levy in the Sydney metropolitan area was the highest in Australia. Over the past ten years, the levy has increased by 140 per cent, from $58.80 per tonne in 2009–10 to $141.20 per tonne in 2018–19. Exhibit 4 shows the increase in the Sydney metropolitan waste levy over the last ten years.

The waste levy has been increasing each year. In 2009-10 the waste levy was just under $60 million/tonne, by 2013-14 the levy was over $100 million and in 2018-19 the levy was at $140 million. For accessible version email communications@audit.nsw.gov.au
Exhibit 4: Waste levy in the Sydney metropolitan area between 2009–10 and 2018–19
Source: The NSW Environment Protection Authority, 2018.

1.6 Waste Less, Recycle More funding initiative

The Waste Less, Recycle More initiative supports the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy. The initiative aims to provide $802 million over the period 2013–21 from waste levy revenue to grants and programs that support investment in recycling infrastructure, encourage innovation, improve recycling behaviour, develop new markets for recycled materials and tackle littering and illegal dumping.

EPA data indicates that councils received $112 million of the $292 million spent through the initiative up to July 2016.

1.7 Waste management facilities

Waste management facilities generally comprise transfer stations, resource recovery facilities and landfills.

Transfer stations are used for collecting and transferring waste materials or resources. They receive, sort, compact, temporarily store and distribute waste, and load and unload waste to and from road or rail transport.

Resource recovery facilities are designed to sort and process discarded materials using various mechanical, biological and thermal technologies. They include:

  • alternative waste treatment facilities
  • garden organics processing facilities
  • material recovery facilities.

Landfills are sites that bury waste. Regulated landfills that accept household waste must be designed to prevent pollution of surrounding groundwater. They must be located a safe distance from residential and commercial areas to minimise the effects of noise and odour.

1.8 About the audit

This audit assessed how effectively and economically Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council are managing domestic kerbside waste collection, transportation and processing. In making this assessment, the audit examined whether:

  • Councils’ activities lead to residents putting recyclable materials into correct recycling bins
  • Councils have effective and economical arrangements to collect, transport and process domestic kerbside waste to maximise recycling rates and minimise costs
  • Councils are increasing the domestic kerbside recycling rate and meeting their targets.

The audit focused on domestic kerbside services.

The responses of the Councils to the audit report are at Appendix one. Further information on the audit scope and criteria is at Appendix two.

2. Progress against targets

2.1 Key findings

Both Councils have adopted the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy targets. 

In line with the State target, waste generated per person in both Councils was marginally lower in 2017–18 than in 2013–14. 

However, there is a large gap between their recycling rates and the target.

2.2 Waste generation per person

Waste generated per person within both Council areas is marginally lower than in 2013–14

The NSW Waste Reduction and Resource Recovery Strategy has a target to avoid and reduce the amount of waste generated per person by 2021–22.
Total waste generated per person is reducing at both Councils. 

Between 2013–14 and 2017–18, Campbelltown Council’s waste generation per person reduced by four per cent, from 8.1 to 7.7 kilograms per person per week. This includes waste collected through council clean ups. Over the same period, total kerbside bin collection reduced by 12 per cent, from 7.4 to 6.6 kilograms per person per week. Exhibit 5 shows domestic waste generated per person at Campbelltown Council.

The total domestic waste in kilograms per person per week has fluctuated around the 8 kilogram mark from 2013-14 to 2016-17 but has dropped in 2017-18 to around 7.8 kilograms. For accessible version, email communications@audit.nsw.gov.au
Exhibit 5: Total domestic waste generated per person at Campbelltown Council
Note: The data includes bin collection and kerbside clean ups.
Source: Weighbridge and population data provided by Campbelltown City Council, 2018. 

Between 2013–14 and 2017–18, Fairfield Council’s waste generation per person reduced by five per cent, from 8.3 to 7.9 kilograms per person per week. This includes waste collected through council clean ups. Over the same period, total kerbside bin collection reduced by six per cent, from 7.6 to 7.1 kilograms per person per week. Exhibit 6 shows domestic waste generation per person at Fairfield Council.

The total domestic waste in kilograms per person per week has fluctuated around the 8 kilogram mark from 2013-18. The exception was 2015-16 where it was closer to 9 kilograms. For accessible version, email communications@audit.nsw.gov.au
Exhibit 6: Total domestic waste generated per person at Fairfield Council
Note: The data includes bin collection and kerbside clean ups.
Source: Weighbridge and population data provided by Fairfield Council, 2018.

2.3 Recycling rates and diversions from landfill

There is a large gap between the Councils’ recycling rates and the State target

The NSW Waste Reduction and Resource Recovery Strategy has targets to increase municipal solid waste recycling rates to 70 per cent and waste diverted from landfill to 75 per cent by 2021–22.

The Strategy defines the recycling rate as the proportion of all materials recycled in a given year (measured in tonnes) compared with the sum of waste generated in the same year. Recycling excludes recovery of energy from waste processes.

Over the last five years, recycling rates at:

  • Campbelltown Council reduced by four per cent 
  • Fairfield Council increased by one per cent. 

In 2017–18, recycling rates in Campbelltown and Fairfield local government areas were 42 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

Recycling rate data used in this report was obtained from Council records of verified weighbridge data provided by operators and data provided by processing facilities. Data on recycling rates has limitations. While data on waste generated is specific and reliable, data on waste recycling is not specific and less reliable. Specific data on the amount of waste recycled is not collected. The closest proxy is the recovery rate. Processing facilities measure this rate and councils have no way of assuring it is accurate. This rate is for the whole facility. It is not specific to individual councils because facilities combine waste from several councils before processing it. 

Exhibit 7 shows recycling rates in Campbelltown and Fairfield Councils against the State target.

The following graph shows that recycling rates for Campbelltown City (around 40 to 45 per cent) and Fairfield City (around 10 to 15 per cent) are lower than the state target of 70 per cent. For accessible version email communications@audit.nsw.gov.au
Exhibit 7: Recycling rates in Campbelltown and Fairfield Councils
Source: Data from weigh bridges and processing facilities provided by Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council, 2018.

The introduction of the Container Deposit Scheme has made it harder for councils to meet their targets, as it provides an incentive for people to cash in their containers rather than putting them in the yellow-lid bin. Having said this, the material is still recycled albeit not counted towards council targets.

The drought has also made it harder to achieve recycling rates. Less growth leads to less garden organic waste, and therefore garden organic waste as a proportion of total waste has declined. The insufficient processing capacity of both alternative waste treatment and food and garden organic facilities has also made it harder for councils to meet the State recycling target.

The State waste diversion target refers to alternative pathways, such as recycling and energy recovery, that avoid waste disposal to landfill. New South Wales does not have a facility to process waste into energy, so the waste diversion target equates to a recycling rate target.

3. Minimising and sorting waste

3.1 Key findings

Both Councils undertake activities to encourage residents to minimise waste and put items in the correct bins. These activities are in line with EPA guidelines, and include requiring adequate waste facilities (e.g. bin storage and disposal chutes) in new multi unit dwellings, providing bin collection systems (size, number and type of bins), providing financial incentives for residents to minimise waste, and educating residents on how to sort waste. 

On average, residents in both Councils each generated slightly less waste in 2017–18 than in 2013–14. However, neither Council can show it is effectively ensuring residents put their waste into the correct bins. Fairfield Council’s waste audits show residents are not sorting their waste as well as they did in 2015. Campbelltown Council does not monitor residents' waste sorting habits.

In line with the EPA guidance, Fairfield Council conducts some targeted education for residents based on its waste audit and bin inspection results. This education could be more effective if the Council collected more detailed information. Campbelltown Council does not conduct targeted education or collect information on residents’ waste sorting habits. 

Neither Council evaluates the overall success of their initiatives to encourage residents to reduce and sort waste to determine what changes are needed to improve waste sorting by residents.

Neither Council’s Local Environmental Plan treats waste collection as an essential service. This inhibits their ability to ensure new developments include well designed waste storage facilities.

The 2018 Senate Inquiry into the waste and recycling industry in Australia commented that waste services are likely to be cheaper and more effective if waste is minimised in the first instance and residents put their waste into the correct bins. 

3.2 Monitoring residents' behaviour

Neither Council can show it is effective in ensuring residents put waste into the correct bins

Fairfield Council’s waste audits show residents are not sorting their waste as well as they did in 2015. The results of its last two waste audits show that between 2015 and 2017:

  • the weight of dry recyclables in red-lid bins fell by 57 per cent, from 5.0 to 2.1 kilograms
  • the contamination rate in yellow-lid bins increased three per cent, from 19 to 22 per cent
  • the proportion of dwellings that included material in plastic bags in yellow-lid bins increased by 65 per cent, from 13 to 78 per cent.

Campbelltown Council does not have current and comprehensive data on how effectively residents sort their waste, because it does not conduct waste audits. In 2018, the Council conducted a visual inspection of garden organics delivered to the processing facility. The Council advised that the collected information helped the Council to establish a baseline and identify areas that need targeted intervention to reduce the level of contamination for garden organics.

Neither Council can demonstrate the success of its efforts to improve residents’ waste sorting habits

Neither Council routinely evaluates efforts to change behaviour or sets measurable, outcome focused criteria to evaluate their overall performance. As a result, they do not know which initiatives work, which do not and why.  

Fairfield Council conducts waste audits, but Campbelltown does not

Over the last five years, Fairfield Council conducted three waste audits.

The EPA encourages all councils to perform waste audits as part of routine monitoring and evaluation of kerbside service. Exhibit 8 shows the EPA’s requirements for conducting waste audits.

Exhibit 8: EPA specific requirements for waste audits

The EPA guidelines for collecting household waste data and performing waste audits recommend:

  • a minimum sample size of 220 households for audits of combined domestic waste streams, residual waste and garden organics, and a minimum size of 260 households for dry recyclable audits
  • undertaking a waste audit over one to two weeks period
  • collecting, bagging, sorting and analysing the contents of each household’s individual bins
  • random sampling of streets and households.

Best practice is to perform waste audits annually.

Source: Guidelines for Conducting Household Kerbside Residual Waste, Recycling and Garden Organics Audits in NSW Local Government Areas 2008 – Addendum 2010, Environment, Climate Change and Water.

Domestic waste audits help councils to:

  • understand the communities' waste disposal habits
  • identify areas with excessive levels of contamination and the prevailing contaminants
  • develop strategies to increase and improve waste sorting
  • assess changes associated with the introduction of new programs and initiatives.

Fairfield Council’s waste audits provide information on waste composition by bin type, contamination levels, prevailing contaminates and areas with a high level of contamination in dry recyclables.

Campbelltown Council has not conducted regular waste audits in the last five years. The Council advised that it cannot justify the cost of the audits, because contamination levels have no bearing on the price they pay for processing.

Campbelltown Council has not done any bin inspections over the past five years, and Fairfield limits inspections to multi unit dwellings

Experts regard bin inspections and tagging programs that use a combination of information, incentives and enforcement to reduce contamination and increase resource recovery as good practice. Ideally, these activities should supplement information collected in waste audits. Exhibit 9 shows the bin inspection and tagging process.

Exhibit 9: Bin inspection and tagging process
Bin inspectors visually assess each bin’s contents at the kerbside before collection. They tag each bin with specific feedback on its contents and general guidance on what can and cannot be placed in the kerbside bin.
Source: Audit Office research, 2018.

Bin inspections enable councils to collect more information on residents’ behaviours across the broader local government area. Bin tagging provides direct feedback to households on the contents of their residual waste, dry recyclables and garden organics bins.

Fairfield Council does not have a comprehensive bin inspection program, but regularly inspects yellow-lid bins in multiple unit dwellings. Waste audits identified these had higher levels of contamination than single dwellings.

Campbelltown Council has not conducted bin inspections in the last five years. 

Exhibit 10 shows kerbside bin inspection and tagging at Fairfield Council.

picture of yellow recycle bins with tags on them lined up in front of a brown fence.
Exhibit 10: Bin inspection and tagging at Fairfield Council

Fairfield Council inspects and tags dry recyclable bins in multiple unit dwellings. The inspectors visually assess contamination levels and use a:

  • green tag - no or low contamination
  • yellow tag - medium contamination
  • red tag - high contamination.

Inspection results are recorded and monitored. Multiple unit dwellings that improve performance receive a certificate of appreciation to reinforce good behaviour. Council waste education officers visit and door knock multiple unit dwellings with repeated high contamination levels.

Source: Fairfield City Council, 2018.

Bin inspections and tagging can be enhanced by installing electronic tags on waste bins and cameras on the waste collection trucks to:

  • identify dwellings that persistently contaminate bins
  • identify lost bins
  • collect actual data on waste generation by bin type and by dwelling.

Both Councils have cameras on waste collection trucks to identify contaminated loads, but they do not use electronic tags.

3.3 Educating residents to minimise and sort waste properly

Both Councils use programs and media to educate residents on how to minimise and sort waste

According to the EPA, educating residents to place items in the correct bins helps maximise recycling and minimise contamination. Contamination can be due to residents not understanding what is and is not recyclable. 

Both Councils run education programs that include participating in community events, sponsoring community workshops and running school activities. They provide messages through a range of media, including their websites, Twitter, Instagram, printed materials and newspapers. Both provide information in multiple languages. Fairfield Council places a greater focus on community languages because over 21 per cent of its residents have low or no English literacy skills. 

Recently, Campbelltown Council introduced an interactive way to engage residents in minimising and sorting waste. See Exhibit 11: Campbelltown Council's waste education van.

Picture of the Campbelltown Council's waste education van at an education day in a local reserve. Outside of van is a pop up marquee with people sitting inside
Exhibit 11: Campbelltown Council's waste education van

Campbelltown City Council uses a mobile waste education van to engage and interact with the public at Council events and school visits.

The van project was funded by the EPA’s ‘Waste Less, Recycle More’ program.

Source: Campbelltown City Council, 2018.

Fairfield Council uses targeted interventions to address specific problems and issues

According to the EPA, targeted intervention programs are generally more effective in changing household behaviours than high level mass produced education materials.

Fairfield Council focuses its targeted interventions on:

  • sorting waste and reducing contamination levels in multiple unit dwelling yellow-lid bins
  • reducing items placed in plastic bags in dry recyclable bins.

Waste education in multi unit dwellings is challenging due to the frequency of rental turnover. This is exacerbated in areas with high numbers of migrants who are unfamiliar with local waste practices and may not have the necessary English skills to understand council guidance. In
2015–16 and 2016–17, Fairfield Council received EPA grants to target poor waste sorting and high contamination rates in multiple unit dwellings. The program included:

  • installing over 2,000 new yellow-lid bins in multiple unit dwellings across the local government area
  • bin inspections and tagging
  • waste audits
  • building relationships with strata managers
  • community education programs and targeted materials for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Fairfield Council has a dedicated education officer who works directly with multiple unit dwellings to decrease waste generated, increase sorted waste and reduce contamination in dry recyclables. 

Two years after the initiative began, the Council found that the recycling contamination in individual multiple unit dwellings has reduced between five and ten per cent across the local government area. The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils promotes this initiative as better practice. However, the EPA funding was for two years so the program has been scaled back.

Items placed in plastic bags are regarded as contaminants by most facilities because their automated dry recyclable sorting systems cannot process this waste. Fairfield Council’s current contractor accepts and processes items in plastic bags, but future contractors may not. Therefore, Fairfield Council has initiated a targeted program to reduce plastic bags being placed in yellow-lid bins. The program includes signage, flyers and bin tagging.

Campbelltown Council has also identified that multiple unit dwellings require targeted initiatives to reduce overall contamination levels. The Council advises that it has not yet developed targeted interventions due to its limited resources. 

Neither Council has formally assessed if they direct sufficient resources to waste education

The EPA’s ‘Best bin systems’ guide highlights the need for strong commitment and resourcing of community education to achieve a resource recovery rate of over 50 per cent.

Campbelltown Council has only one officer dedicated to waste education. This limits its waste education program’s effectiveness. It does not have current and comprehensive information on how residents sort waste. It has not developed a waste education strategy or plan to identify priorities for waste education, resourcing and implementation timeframes. Having said this, the Council secured an EPA grant in 2018 to develop such a strategy.

Fairfield Council has three officers dedicated to waste education. One position is funded through the NSW Government's Waste Less, Recycle More grants. Its Waste Management Strategy, which is based on data from waste audits and other sources, acknowledges the need for waste education to help residents minimise and sort waste. Its implementation plans detail priority actions, resource requirements and milestones.
 

3.4 Waste charges to encourage waste reduction

Councils charge residents a base rate to collect domestic waste and more for extra services

Councils set domestic waste charges. These are included in rates collected from property owners.

Both Councils base their standard domestic waste charge for each household on the average cost of these services across their local government area. In 2018–19, Campbelltown Council and Fairfield Council domestic waste charges were $394.55 and $494.57 respectively.

Since 2013–14, domestic waste charges in Campbelltown and Fairfield have increased by 35 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. Over the same period, the waste levy in the Sydney metropolitan area increased by 31 per cent.

Domestic waste charges in Fairfield City Council were higher than Campbelltown City Council and higher than the average around the Sydney Metropolitan area. Campbelltown City council rates were lower than the average.
Exhibit 12: Domestic waste charges in Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council
Note: At the time of the audit, data on domestic waste charges in the Sydney metropolitan area was not available beyond 2014–15.
Source: Campbelltown City Council and Fairfield City Council. 2018. The Environment Protection Authority Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery data report 2013–14 and 2014–15. 
 
The most recent available EPA data on average domestic waste charges in the Sydney metropolitan area is for 2014–15. In that year, standard domestic charges in the Campbelltown local government area were 23 per cent lower than the Sydney metropolitan average while charges in the Fairfield local government area were seven per cent higher. 
 
To some extent, waste charges can be used as a tool to encourage waste minimisation. However, the effect is limited for rented properties as the rates are paid by property owners, not tenants. To discourage residents from generating waste, both Councils charge residents for extra bins.
 
Exhibit 13: Campbelltown and Fairfield Councils charge residents for extra bins

Campbelltown Council charges residents for each extra bin. Red-lid bins are more expensive than green and yellow-lid bins. Annual charges for additional bins in 2018–19 are:

  • red-lid bin - $195.85
  • yellow-lid bin - $97.65
  • green-lid bin - $136.70.

In 2018–19, Fairfield Council charged residents an annual ‘service’ fee of $490 for extra red and yellow-lid bins. It does not provide green-lid bins.

Source: Audit Office research, 2018.

3.5 Bin systems and facilities to encourage waste reduction

Both Councils provide standardised bins and routine collection times

To help residents sort their waste, the EPA encourages councils to provide bins with coloured lids to signify the type of waste that should go in them. EPA guidance suggests that councils that use Australian Standards bin colours and regular collection times are likely to achieve improved waste sorting and lower levels of contamination. It also suggests that smaller bins for residual waste and reduced collection frequency encourages residents to produce less waste and better sort it.

Campbelltown Council provides a three bin collection system. This comprises a 140 litre red-lid bin for residual waste collected weekly, a 240 litre yellow-lid bin for dry recycling and a 240 litre green-lid bin for garden organics collected fortnightly. EPA guidelines suggest the three bin system represents good practice as it enables a higher waste diversion rate from landfill than a two bin system.

Fairfield Council provides a two bin system. This comprises a 240 litres red-lid bin for residual waste collected weekly and a 240 litre yellow-lid bin for dry recyclables collected fortnightly. It cannot readily move to a three bin system because this would break its current contract for processing and disposal of residual waste. Fairfield Council is one of only three councils in the Sydney metropolitan area that does not provide green bins for organic garden waste. 

According to the EPA, a best practice three bin system includes:

  • a food and garden organics (FOGO) bin collected weekly
  • a dry recyclables bin collected fortnightly
  • a residual waste bin collected fortnightly.

This system is recommended for councils with a high proportion of single dwellings, where:

  • residents are achieving high recovery rates and low contamination
  • there is no access to facilities that process red-lid bin waste
  • there is access to food and garden organic processing facilities and markets.

In the Sydney metropolitan area, only Penrith Council had this system at the time of this audit. The system may be worth considering by both Councils when they prepare their next waste processing contracts, partly because the EPA recently limited how organic material produced from red-lid bin waste can be used. This is discussed further in Section 5.4. 

Neither Council has ensured that all new multiple unit dwellings have sufficient and appropriate waste storage facilities

The design of waste storage areas affects the use, amenity, movement and handling of waste for the life of a property development.

Local councils are responsible for approving development applications for new dwellings. Both Campbelltown and Fairfield Councils provide guidance and place conditions on new developments. These encourage well designed storage areas that facilitate sorting and allow easy access to waste collection trucks.

Some new multiple unit dwellings do not have waste storage facilities that adequately support residents’ waste sorting because developers have not complied with development approval conditions. This has occurred because Campbelltown and Fairfield Councils have not included waste collection as an essential service in their Local Environmental Plans. Both Councils should address this urgently given their growing urban densification.

Problems include:

  • insufficient facilities for the volume of waste generated
  • storage facilities that are inconvenient for residents and garbage trucks to access
  • single waste chutes that do not support waste stream separation
  • difficulties moving bins between storage and collection points
  • residents having to resort to keeping bins permanently in the street.
The following shows that in this dwelling, there is no space to store garbage bins so they have been left in front of the fence facing the footpath. See caption below for more details.
Exhibit 14: Example of a multiple unit dwelling development that does not provide adequate waste storage
This townhouse complex has been built without a waste storage area. Waste bins are permanently left on the nature strip outside the property.
Source: The Audit Office, 2018.

4. Collecting and transporting waste

4.1 Key findings

Both Councils undertake waste collection and transportation to processing facilities effectively. Residents are satisfied with their waste pick up services. Waste is collected and transported to processing facilities with sufficient controls in place to maintain separate waste streams.

In 2013, Campbelltown Council market tested private sector providers and contracted out its waste collection and transportation services. It is managing this contract effectively. The contract has KPIs and cost schedules, and the Council meets the contractor regularly to resolve performance issues.

Fairfield Council manages its waste collection and transportation in house.

‘Economy’ is defined as minimising costs for a given level and quality of service. Both Councils use their own networks to obtain insights into similar costs incurred by other councils. However, neither Council formally benchmarks its costs.

Campbelltown Council has minimised its waste collection and transportation costs, and achieved an adequate level of service. 

Fairfield Council cannot demonstrate that its in house waste collection and transportation services are economical.

4.2 Effectiveness of collection and transportation

Waste is picked up from households to the satisfaction of residents

In both Councils:

  • resident surveys show high satisfaction with collection and transportation services
  • complaints are low.

Both Councils have controls to minimise contamination during collection and transportation

The four main factors that can increase contamination of recyclable waste during collection and transportation are:

  • loading the wrong bins for the type of recyclable materials
  • using the wrong type of waste collection truck
  • loading bins that contain contaminated waste
  • excessive compacting of dry recyclables.

Both Campbelltown and Fairfield Councils use colour coded bin lids. This significantly reduces the risk that the wrong bins will be loaded.

To prevent contamination of recyclable material, both Councils use dedicated collection trucks for each type of waste. The trucks have features that visually identify the type of waste they are designated to collect.

Campbelltown Council’s collection contract includes a requirement for trucks to be painted in such a way as to distinguish which type of waste they are to collect. The contract with the service provider includes penalties for using the wrong trucks. Fairfield Council’s trucks that collect dry recyclables are significantly larger than the trucks that collect residual waste.

Three waste collection trucks in a park at their unveiling. Each waste truck has the colour of the type of waste that goes in it as well as imagery of the items of waste you can dispose in it.
Exhibit 15: Waste collection trucks in Campbelltown local government area
Source: Campbelltown City Council, 2019.

Both Councils have controls to identify contaminated bins. Collection trucks are fitted with cameras to monitor the content of yellow-lid and green- lid bins. They are also fitted with scales. When a bin is found to be excessively contaminated due to its weight, it is left on the kerb for the resident who owns the bin to remove the contamination or cover the cost of disposal. However, if contamination is not detected before the bin is picked up, the driver cannot stop the waste tipping into the truck, even if the driver notices the waste is contaminated. 

Both Councils use data from weighbridges to monitor compaction rates compared to the maximum rates they have set.

Research commissioned by the South Australian Government found that in areas where a container deposit scheme operates, a compaction rate of 225 kilograms per cubic metre for dry recyclables can be used without compromising resource recovery efforts. Both Councils require trucks collecting dry recyclables to compact waste below this rate.

Campbelltown Council closely monitors its contractor’s operational performance

Campbelltown Council established KPIs for its contractor that address: 

  • bin repairs, replacement, emptying (missed service)
  • contamination
  • regulatory requirements
  • driver and vehicle presentation.

The contract allows the Council to obtain variations to services without the need for re-negotiation.

The Council has regular meetings with the contractor to discuss performance. The meetings focus on operational aspects of the service, compliance with regulations and problem properties. The Council also receives regular contractor reports on missed, damaged and stolen bins.

Fairfield Council monitors the effectiveness of its in house waste collection arrangements. Internal Service Level Agreements are in place and the Council monitors the number of missed bins, bin repairs and replacement, and complaints received. It also conducts monthly Workplace Health and Safety meetings with staff.

4.3 Economy of collection and transportation

Campbelltown Council has minimised its waste collection and transportation costs

In 2013, Campbelltown Council entered into a ten year contract with an outsourced provider to collect and transport its waste. The contractor was chosen through a competitive process. At inception, it required the contractor to purchase a new fleet of collection vehicles to deliver the services.

The Council’s arrangements reflect an increasing trend by Sydney councils to outsource collection and transportation services.

The Council advised it cannot formally benchmark its economy with other councils for commercial confidentiality reasons.

To mitigate the lack of formal benchmarking opportunities, the Council could engage an experienced consultant with current knowledge of the Sydney market to advise it on the economy of its waste collection and transportation services.

Fairfield Council cannot adequately demonstrate the economy of its arrangements

Fairfield Council uses in house labour to collect and transport kerbside residual waste and dry recyclables. It advises that this has always been the case for residual waste. The Council advised that using in house labour allows more flexible use of resources to meet changing service needs.

The Council has never formally benchmarked the cost of its in house waste collection and transportation services. It advised that it cannot formally benchmark the cost of its waste collection and transportation services with other councils for commercial confidentiality reasons. In 1989, despite having no data to show the economy of providing these services, the elected Council made a policy decision to use in house labour instead of an outsourced contractor. Subsequent elected Councils have not expressed an interest to market test these activities.

4.4 External factors impacting effectiveness and economy

Narrower roads may impact waste collection in the future

New land use plans in the Sydney metropolitan area include subdivisions with narrow roads that require small waste collection trucks. The EPA’s ‘Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy: Draft for consultation, 2017’ says:

In new subdivisions the push for narrower roads may also generate demand for smaller collection vehicles which will need to be supported by transfer stations in close proximity.

Currently, neither Council uses small waste collection trucks. 

Using small trucks is costlier because it requires additional trucks and waste collection runs. This additional cost can be mitigated by the establishment of transfer stations, but current state determined land use plans do not include them.

The DPE advised that it is working with the EPA on a planning guideline for waste transfer stations to help streamline the approval and construction of those facilities.

5. Processing and disposing of waste

5.1 Key findings

Campbelltown and Fairfield Councils effectively process waste placed in green-lid and yellow-lid bins. However, neither Council is processing red-lid bin waste effectively. Their contractor accepts the waste delivered to it, but does not process it to meet contractual obligations. Instead, almost all red-lid bin waste of both Councils is sent to landfill. Both Councils have tried to get the contractor to process this waste, but with little success, so their contracts are ineffective. 

The Councils have minimised processing and disposal costs. Both Councils have little financial incentive to abandon red-lid bin waste contracts as they are disposing of this waste at a low cost. Also, they have no certainty they would get better recovery rates under different contractual arrangements or with different contractors.

Existing alternative waste treatment facilities do not have the capacity to process Sydney’s residual waste. In 2017, the EPA forecast that 16 more processing facilities, including three alternative waste treatment facilities, are needed to meet the recycling target. If the State’s recycling and waste reduction targets are not met, more landfills may be needed. Currently, Sydney does not have a waste infrastructure strategy that identifies suitable land and reserves for future facilities.

The market for recyclable materials has also changed. The revenue that processors earn from selling recyclable materials has dropped substantially. This is mainly due to overseas importers no longer accepting much of the material they used to accept. 

5.2 Effectiveness of waste processing and disposal

Neither Council effectively processes red-lid bin waste

Both Councils have outsourced the processing and disposal of waste. Their contracts include minimum rates for recovery of recyclable material through processing, which if achieved would deliver the State recycling target. 

Recovery rates for yellow-lid and green-lid waste are close to or being met but those for red-lid bin waste are not.

Exhibit 16: Effectiveness of waste processing arrangements in 2017–18
  Campbelltown City Council Fairfield City Council
  Contracted rate (%) Actual rate (%) Contracted rate (%) Actual rate (%)
Dry recyclables
(red-lid bin waste)
95 87* 90 90*
Garden organics
(green-lid bin waste)
96 94* N/A N/A
Residual waste
(yellow-lid bin waste)
76 3** 80 --

*    The overall recovery rate achieved by the processing facilities, which included processing of waste from other sources/clients.
**    Recovery rate based on the proportion of the Council’s residual waste being processed and the overall facility recovery rate.
Source: Audit Office Research, 2018.

This assessment is based on the best data available. As discussed in Section 2.1, the data used are estimated recovery rates provided by the contractor and not verified by the Councils. 

Regardless of the level of processing, the contractors accept waste sent to them by the Councils and what is not recovered goes to landfill. 

Neither Council has effective contractual arrangements to manage red-lid bin waste processing 

Both Councils use the same contractor for processing residual waste. Both have tried to get their contractors to comply with contractual recovery rates, but without success.

Campbelltown Council has ongoing negotiations with its contractor. These have delivered marginal improvements. The Council took the contractor to court, which resulted in court ordered compensation. The contractor has indicated a willingness to improve further.

Fairfield Council advised it has been in dispute with its current contractor (and predecessor) since 2009.

The contractor had to decommission an alternative waste treatment facility due to odour affecting residential development. As discussed in the next section, there is a shortfall in processing and treatment facilities in the Sydney metropolitan area. 

The red-lid bin waste Sydney generates exceeds the capacity of its treatment plants

This inability of the Councils to get the contractor to meet its obligations for residual waste reflects the insufficient capacity of existing alternative waste treatment facilities to process residual waste generated in the Sydney metropolitan area. 

The alternative waste treatment facilities in Sydney and Woodlawn (250km from the Sydney metropolitan area) have a combined capacity to process less than 500,000 tonnes of waste per year. This, represents only 46 per cent of the residual waste generated by households in the Sydney metropolitan area in 2014–15.

The Councils advised that they cannot obtain better recovery rates under different contractual arrangements and at a reasonable price. 

5.3 Economy of processing and disposal

Both Councils are minimising waste processing and disposal costs

Both Councils have long‑term contracts with private operators for waste processing and disposal. Both Councils entered into contracts with the former WSN Environmental Solutions (WSN) in the early 2000s. At the time, WSN was a public‑sector monopoly. In 2011, WSN was privatised and the contracts were transferred to a private company.

Campbelltown Council has a single contract for dry recyclables, garden organics and residual waste. It runs until 2024. Campbelltown Council led the development of this first multi‑council waste processing and disposal contract in New South Wales. The contract:

  • leveraged greater bargaining power of four councils compared to a single council

  • offered the scale needed to drive construction of an additional alternative waste treatment facility.

Fairfield Council has a contract for processing and disposing of residual waste. The contract runs until 2025. Fairfield Council was the first council in New South Wales to process its residual waste through an alternative waste treatment facility.

In 2014, Fairfield Council entered into a new contract for processing dry recyclables. The Council selected a new contractor through a competitive process. Current arrangements for dry recyclables are more cost effective than the previous arrangements.

Both Councils have implemented controls to ensure they only pay for the treatment and disposal of their own waste. Both reconcile contractor charges with records of waste drop‑offs. Fairfield Council checks charges regularly, while Campbelltown Council only does this occasionally.

Both Councils use their networks to assess processing and disposal costs, but do not formally benchmark these costs.

The latest information on waste charges and services published by the Councils’ contractor indicates that both Councils obtain their residual waste disposal services at a low cost compared to its standard rates. The information also shows that the cost of dry recyclables and garden organic processing services they obtain is relatively low.

Neither Council is financially disadvantaged if the contractor does not process residual waste and meet recovery rates. The contractor absorbs the additional waste levy that results from failing to meet the contracted recovery targets.

5.4 Waste and resource recovery industry

Sydney does not have a strategy to meet its processing and disposal infrastructure needs

The EPA is working on a longer‑term waste strategy for New South Wales. The strategy is expected to set a 20‑year vision with an aim of reducing waste, encouraging sustainable recycling markets and identifying and improving the State waste infrastructure network.

The 2018 NSW Parliamentary inquiry into ‘Energy from waste’ technology commented that it ‘appears that successive NSW Governments have taken a backseat in waste infrastructure planning and delivery, which has led to a projected shortfall of services across the State’.

The EPA’s ‘Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy: Draft for consultation, 2017’ highlighted that ‘significant investment is needed to develop infrastructure that will process this forecast increase in waste volume’. The Draft Strategy predicted that, to meet the State’s targets for diverting waste from landfill, the Sydney metropolitan area will require the following new facilities by 2021:

  • 3 facilities for processing residual waste
  • 2 energy recovery facilities
  • 2 dry recyclable processing facilities
  • 5 garden organic processing facilities
  • 4 food and garden organic processing facilities.

The consultation draft also commented that some capacity for energy recovery may need to be developed and that ‘failure to meet the 2021 target (for diversion to landfill) could result in significant increased demand for landfill capacity and an accompanying decrease in demand for resource recovery facilities’.

The Greater Sydney Commission’s ‘Greater Sydney Region Plan, A Metropolis of Three Cities – connecting people’ also commented on waste management facility and landfill infrastructure shortfalls and the associated costs to the community. It also commented that ‘identifying suitable sites is challenging due to the potential impacts of odour, truck movements and noise’.

The projected shortfall needs to be considered in the context of the five to ten years it usually takes investors to obtain all the necessary approvals and to build the type of facilities the Sydney metropolitan area needs.

The EPA’s longer‑term strategy should seek to introduce more contestability in the market or, if this is not feasible, introduce methods to regulate natural monopolies or oligopolies. The EPA advised that it is working with NSW Treasury to improve the functioning of the market.

Parliamentary inquiries have commented on the changing recyclables market, policy gaps and infrastructure shortages

The 2018 NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into ‘Energy from waste’ technology commented on the ‘potential collapse of the State’s kerbside recycling system’ as a result of China’s decision to restrict waste imports. Before January 2018, much of Australia's recyclable waste was exported to China, but a more restrictive Chinese policy, called National Sword, means this is no longer likely to occur. The policy has impacted the global market and Australian prices for recyclable materials have fallen accordingly.

The 2018 Senate Inquiry into the ‘Waste and recycling industry in Australia’ commented that the ‘recycling industry is in crisis’ after ‘years of failure across all levels of government to make the policy decisions required to put the industry on a solid footing’. It also commented that there ‘has also been a failure to adequately invest in recycling infrastructure and technology, develop robust and sustainable domestic markets for recyclables or provide appropriate regulatory frameworks to ensure the future of recycling’.

The NSW Government has established an inter‑governmental taskforce to progress a strategic response to the slump in the recyclable materials market, which impacts local councils and the waste industry. The NSW Government also re‑purposed up to $47.0 million of the Waste Less, Recycle More initiative to support local government and industry respond to China’s policy.

Appendices

Appendix one - Responses from local councils

Appendix two - About the audit

Appendix three - Performance auditing

 

Parliamentary Reference: Report number #320 - released 5 June 2019