Northern Grampians welcomes state government financial aid for waste collection amid China export recycling crisis

COLLECTION: A Wheelie Waste contractor empties a 120-litre garbage bin in Stawell in 2014. Picture: KERRI KINGSTON
COLLECTION: A Wheelie Waste contractor empties a 120-litre garbage bin in Stawell in 2014. Picture: KERRI KINGSTON

Northern Grampians Shire has welcomed an offer of financial help from the state government as councils across Victoria struggle with a recycling crisis.

The state government has offered a $13 million package for councils and industry to support the ongoing kerbside collection of household recyclable waste.

The assistance was designed to give councils and their contractors time to develop longer-term solutions, including renegotiating contracts.

Northern Grampians mayor Tony Driscoll said the announcement was a positive development in the ongoing discussions around the future of Victoria’s recycling industry.

“We welcome the Victorian Government’s announcement and look forward to working alongside State Government and other affected councils in order to flesh out the details of this plan,” he said.

“Obviously Council’s primary concern is to continue to deliver uninterrupted kerbside recycling services to our residents, and we aim to continue to do that as per usual for the foreseeable future.”

Ararat Rural City mayor Glenda McLean told councillors on Tuesday that Grampians municipalities had expressed deep concern about the potential cast impacts. 

The Municipal Association of Victoria had warned that municipalities would have to raise rates and charges to cover increased recycling costs.

Cr McLean said she attended an MAV meeting on Ballan about recycling disposal and councils had been working out how to "survive the next 12 months" 

"As one of the councillors wisely said, this is a crisis that had to happen. We knew in June that China would not accept recycling," Cr McLean said.

To assist the recycling industry reset in the medium to long-term, the government will also establish a recycling industry taskforce to develop a strategic plan for industry transition.

Council assistance will be provided until 30 June 2018.Councils will be required to meet any increase in recycling costs from 1 July 2018 onwards.

MAV chief executive Rob Spence welcomed the assistance but said many council still faced a rate rise in after the package ended.

“However beyond 30 June, affected councils will need to pass on the new costs imposed by the recycling industry to residents through the waste management charge that appears on rates notices or through the rate for those councils without a waste charge,” he said.

“The recycling crisis will equate to a rate rise of between 1.1 and 2.5 per cent for ratepayers. This will be on top of any annual rate rise, which cannot exceed the State’s rate cap.

“For councils that do not have a waste management charge, we are hopeful the Essential Services Commission will grant them an exemption to increase their rates to cover the new recycling fees.

Visy and its contractor Wheelie Waste told councils across Victoria this month that they will stop accepting recycling folling more stringent import rules in the Chinese market.

The councils, including Greater Shepparton, Macedon Ranges, Horsham and Ararat, were left scrambling to find somewhere to dump their recycling.

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government would work with councils and the recycling industry to help find a solution.

“While recycling is ultimately a matter for local councils, we’re stepping in to help councils and industry affected by China’s new import rules.”

“This is about protecting jobs and ensuring Victorians have confidence to continue recycling.”

Australia’s recycling industry, including Visy, relies on China as a major market for recycled paper and plastics, taking in about 30 per cent of our recycling.

Almost 24 per cent of collected waste in Ararat Rural City and more than 31 per cent in Northern Grampians is diverted from landfills through recycling.

Northern Grampians Shire mayor Tony Driscoll has previously said residents could be reassured that kerbside waste and recycling collection will continue as per normal.

Ararat Rural City deputy mayor Gwenda Allgood has also said kerbside collections will continue, with the council saying it would be “business as usual”.

Opposition environment spokesman Nick Wakeling said the government’s response would only delay an increase in costs for residents.

“It’s taken the Andrews Labor Government eight long months to come up with a ‘taskforce’ to address a looming crisis it has known about since July 2017,” he said.

“Daniel Andrews’ and his environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio’s half-hearted approach to fixing the crisis in recyclable waste collection in Victoria will now cost Victorian ratepayers extra.

“From 1 July 2018, Victorian ratepayers will be slugged with higher costs to have their recycling wheelie bins collected.

“Victorians are already hurting with 12 new taxes under Daniel Andrews, on top of having the highest unemployment rate and the highest electricity costs in Australia.”