The sustainable management of waste is an important issue for the community. There are many examples across the world of the dire consequences to human health and the environment when waste is poorly managed. Community expectation regarding waste management is high and there is a strong desire to understand how State and local government (LG) entities manage waste, what goes in each of our household bins and where our recyclable materials will end up.
This audit assessed whether LG entities plan and deliver effective waste services to their communities. We also assessed whether the State Government provided adequate support to LG entities for local waste planning and service delivery. We last audited the State Government’s role in waste management in 2016 in our report, Western Australian Waste Strategy: Rethinking Waste.
The State Government’s Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 clearly outlines the actions the government, industry and the community need to take to meet community expectation. The strategy set ambitious targets, including recovering 65% of municipal solid waste from households in the Perth and Peel regions and 50% in major regional centres, by 2020. LG entities collect and process this waste stream, often with the support of the private operators they contract.
While the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) and the Waste Authority have substantially improved their support to LG entities in the last 5 years, the proportion of waste that is recycled in Western Australia has not changed, and the State’s performance sits below the national average. High rates of contamination in recycling bins, inconsistent and irregular waste education, limited local recycling infrastructure and markets for recycled commodities, are issues that prevent wider adoption of better practice waste management techniques. As a result, few LG entities are on track to meet the 2020 targets.
It is pleasing to see the many examples of better practice waste management from LG entities, but only a handful were consistently using them. For example, organic material typically accounts for half of household waste, and is therefore our single biggest opportunity to recycle. Using green waste collected from households to produce mulch for community parks and gardens, or composting food and garden organics to develop fertilisers, can significantly increase waste recovery. In addition, separating and recycling bulk rubbish is another simple way for LG entities to recover more waste and contribute to meeting the State’s waste targets.
The audit found that local, regional and statewide waste planning is inadequate. Few LG entities had waste plans but DWER has been working closely with entities to help them develop individual plans. The Waste Authority flagged State infrastructure planning as essential back in 2012, but little progress has been made. It remains a key initiative that government, industry and the community need to progress to ensure waste truly becomes a valued resource. Given recent international export bans on recyclable materials, the planning and development of local recycling facilities within the state is becoming increasingly urgent to help provide certainty to stakeholders, create opportunities for local recycling industries, and protect our local environments and public health.
I encourage all LG entities to consider the findings in this report. Making a concerted effort to use available practices to avoid and recover more waste is the key to continuing to improve the State’s waste and recycling performance.