The Victorian Auditor-General has weighed in on the debate about the future of waste and recycling management in Victoria.
On 6 June 2019, the Auditor-General tabled his report on a performance audit into ‘Recovering and Reprocessing Resources from Waste’. The Report firmly concludes that the Victorian Government agencies responsible for managing the waste and recycling sector are not responding appropriately to the issues affecting the industry. In particular, the Report is highly critical of the absence of any State-wide waste policy since at least 2014, which has left regulators, industry and local government unclear about the long-term strategic direction for managing and improving waste and recyclable processing. The Report has also identified significant gaps in the regulatory framework for the waste and recycling industry and, in particular, the reactive approach taken towards regulating hazardous waste stockpiling. Finally, there was considerable attention given to the untouched $511 million in the Sustainability Fund, which is required by legislation to be used for the purpose of best practices in waste management.
While only two councils were included in the audit, the Cities of Monash and Banyule, the Auditor-General was generally complimentary of the way those councils have managed the challenges presented by the Chinese government’s decision to substantially limit its importation of recyclables. In particular, both councils were praised for developing, and committing to, waste plans that include clear targets, action plans and performance indicators to help achieve cost efficiencies across their waste management services.
The Report did, however, identify a number of specific issues for councils to address. These included:
- the need for councils to take stronger action to ensure new and existing Multi-Unit Developments offer adequate kerbside waste and recyclables collection services, which in many areas are not available and must be undertaken by private operators;
- concerns about councils’ readiness for the ban on eWaste, which takes effect from 1 July 2019, noting that the State Government’s delay in finalising its eWaste Policy has left many councils with little time to prepare;
- ensuring that councils set clear performance measures and reporting requirements in contractual arrangements with waste contractors to demonstrate that recyclables are actually being recycled;
- purchasing more products made from locally recycled resources;
- the need for a greater focus on reducing and avoiding waste in the community, rather than just managing waste already in the system.
So, while much of the Auditor-General’s heat was directed towards State Government agencies, councils should not miss the opportunity to refine their waste management strategies. This is particularly so given that the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management is due to report in mid-August 2019, which will no doubt turn the spotlight onto government and industry practices once again. For those councils looking to stay ahead of the heat, the key messages are:
- to the extent possible, be fully aware of all current and upcoming legislation, State policies and regulatory responses, and update your policies accordingly;
- review your waste services contracts to ensure that contractors are delivering on their KPIs, and that your council’s broader procurement and town planning strategies align with its waste-reduction objectives;
- actively educate and engage with the community to reduce waste and recyclables – the Auditor-General’s Report makes clear that there is much to be done to improve waste avoidance practices, and that this will have a significant impact on the problem at hand.
A copy of the Auditor-General’s Report is available here.
|Thomas Saunders | Senior Associate
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