How to solve Australia's waste crisis

We – each one of us – can solve Australia’s waste crisis.

Here’s how.

There are three solutions. Any of us, living anywhere can apply them each day.

First, the easy first half of the problem -  food.

Food

About 47% of Australia’s waste into council garbage trucks is food. Food waste stares us in the face each week as we cook or eat out. We put it in our bins or the cafes do where we eat.

Food waste is not ‘waste’.  It’s soil-becomes-food-in-the-making.  It’s also soil fertilizer, better than any we may buy.

Food waste is the only way we can secure our food supplies because it creates soil which makes our food.  Burning food waste to make energy is therefor an environmental crime, an existential disaster.

This is how I solve food waste at my place and when I eat out, and anyone can.  The solution is a mix of: chooks, eggs they make, compost, and take away café food waste. (No, the chooks aren’t essential but do add entertainment and healthy food.)

I give all household and café food waste to my three chooks, Feisty, Nellie and Blanche d’Alpuget, or I compost it.

  L to R: small container used to obtain cafe scraps; scraps on ground; Feisty, Blanche d'Alpuget, Nellie, all in the chook run outside the kitchen

L to R: small container used to obtain cafe scraps; scraps on ground; Feisty, Blanche d'Alpuget, Nellie, all in the chook run outside the kitchen

In return they give me fab eggs, a rich, healthy yellow.  As I cook I hoik food prep out the window to them in their chook run beside the house.  The girls remind my of my tasks, my reason for being, from dawn  - ‘cluck’ – to dusk – ‘cluck’.  So long since I bought some I have no idea what the price of eggs is.

  • My chook eggs

• My chook eggs

No food waste has left my three to four person household since 1978, some 40 years ago. 

For my eating out waste I take tightly sealed small buckets to my favourite local cafes, leave them there then pick them up filled with food waste when I have my next coffee.  I can’t do this with other cafes where I eat but I’m describing what to me is a simple life of turning food waste into something that sustains me inside, is renewing, not a problem or distasteful – is that weird?  Something anyone can do?

Café’s with customers like this can also improve their profits by cutting their waste bill. 

The biggest blocker stopping café waste being valued isn’t cafes but local councils.

Below I explore the reasons, motivations for the national financial and environmental tragedy that’s inflicted on Australia every day by councils and, in turn, on cafes and restaurants, and Australia’s soil health.

  • A Chippendale road garden under construction with a mix of compost and imported soil

• A Chippendale road garden under construction with a mix of compost and imported soil

The compost goes into my garden and where gardeners choose also into the edible road gardens in our Chippendale streets.  Compost can grow community, too.

Second, there’s the other 53% of waste, or ‘stuff’.

Stuff

Buying stuff – each of can buy food and many other stuffs without wrapping, containers.

I buy food that isn’t wrapped -  nuts, seeds, fruit and veggies. 

My yoghurt and some other foods comes in containers which can be recycled.

Beyond food the containers and wrapping we bring home comes from other things we buy - clothes, goods, utensils, tools, and other things.

As for clothes, some of the most elegant, well-dressed and stylish friends I have buy their clothes second hand.  So much clothing is being recycled now that it’s easy to buy clothes that have not been worn, or just a little, for almost for nothing.  This week I bought brand new swimmers for $5 at a specialist recycling shop in Bondi, NSW, when they typically sell for around $40.

Third – this is the vital solution I can’t do alone – not paying for waste services I don’t use.  For this, we all need our local councils to act.

Financial incentives

Now, I’m talking financial incentives or rewards for not creating waste when it need not be created.

I believe that, based on some 40 years of experience, only by providing financial rewards for not creating waste will most of us stop causing waste.

To get financial rewards for not creating waste all of we Australians and our households are waiting on councils to stop charging us garbage rates when we don’t put out garbage.

I assert that the key to solving the waste ‘crisis’ is to reward us for not creating it; any of us, I think would reduce waste if the less garbage we put out the lower our garbage bills are.

It’s our task to persuade each of our local councils to stop charging us for waste services if we don’t use them.

After all, if we don’t put waste out why should we pay for a service we no longer use?  If I don’t use water, sewage, phone, banking, internet or other services then typically, with some exceptions, I don’t pay for them. Local government pricing of services and the design of those services have not changed since the beginning of time. 

Councils, locked in the past, dinosaurs of the present and future, are truly a blot on the landscape of our wallets, streets and the city and countryside where garbage abounds in so many forms, in drains, gutters, landfill, bins out front, the roaring of the brutal garbage trucks, the debris on streets, the burden on small businesses, the . . .

As I don’t use them I haven’t paid ‘fixed’ charges for water or sewer or electricity services for years.

A wide range of financial incentives and rate rebates have been applied or operate now at local, state and federal levels and some are listed here.

Sydney City Council is my local council and is a complete failure when it comes to recycling because it:

·       holds itself out as being a leader in sustainability but has not changed its waste practices for decades – even after the waste crisis began last year

·       financially penalises rate payers who use smaller garbage & recycling bins: 50 & 70 litre bins charged same price as 80 litre bins ($281);

·       even after the waste crisis hit last year it has not:

o   promoted its smaller bins (80 l down to 50 litre) and lower prices

o   simplified or speeded up its process for moving to smaller bins

o   increased its charges for large bins (240 litre - $863 or 16 a week).

o   provided career advancing incentives and promotions and pay rises for the garbage and rates folk to talk to each other to speed up, to simplify or increase the use by rate payers of smaller to no bins

o   changed its rates notices or communications to promote smaller bins and lower costs

But Sydney City Council is no different from almost all other Australian local councils in its self-deception.

Australian councils are asleep at the polluting wheels of their garbage trucks, deeply uninterested in simple, cost-effective changes which would stop the rivers of garbage, the plumes of air pollution. 

Despite almost weekly public assertions about how ‘sustainable’ they are, in practice they don’t care about reducing waste, just about picking it up and taking it away.

Look at this table of costs and bin sizes for Sydney City Council:

$                      Size                 $ Weekly price

863      =          240      =          16

428      =          120      =          8

281      =          80        =          5

281      =          70        =          5

281      =          50        =          5

[nil       =          -                       Not offered]

  • Small, 50 Litre bins on a Chippendale street

• Small, 50 Litre bins on a Chippendale street

On 12 November 2017, tired of paying council for a waste bin I rarely put out or only half-full, and using a council form, I asked the council to reduce the bin size from 120 litres to 80 litres, reducing my annual waste price from $428 to $281, or from $8 a week to $5 a week.  I would have asked for the smallest bin, a 50 litre bin but the price for it is the same as for the 80 litre bin so I didn’t.

An automatic response said a reply would come in 10 days.

About two months later, on 6 January 2018 I emailed again, forwarding the first email and asking for a reply and the smaller bins next week.  I also called and spoke to a person in the garbage section seeking a response.  Two smaller bins were supplied a couple of weeks later, but nothing was done to reduce my rates. 

  • Larger, 120 litre bins and, in the distance, an over-flowing bin in Chippendale street

• Larger, 120 litre bins and, in the distance, an over-flowing bin in Chippendale street

By that time some 8 weeks, or 8 garbage truck visits, had passed by.

When I again contacted the waste section they let me know on 13 March that nothing had changed in the council’s rates data records. On 14 March I received an email saying the rates had been reduced and apportioned with a back dating in the reduced charge to the date of my first email.

So, a total of about 16 weeks to get the smaller bins and rate adjustment or some 16 trips by the garbage truck plus my time and persistence.

And this is how a ‘sustainable’ council behaves in a ‘crisis’?

There’s no automatic reduction in rates for getting the smaller bill, one has to spur the garbage folk to talk to the rates folk using phone calls and emails.

So much for a council doing something about the garbage crisis.

The truth

The biggest opponents of reducing waste are the folk running Council garbage services, the waste directors, the unions whose members drive the trucks and run the waste landfills, and, perversely, the council financial officers. 

These folk are also the folk creating the enormous pollution related to garbage.

After all the air pollution from the United States, which wins first prize, then China, which is second, the third single greatest air polluter is decaying food in both poor and rich countries. The typical Australian garbage truck roars along for an average of 100 k on each run.

If there’s less garbage there’s less work for the people who live off the garbage game as we know it.

(There’s stiff competition all about us, tho’ for the prize of biggest polluters.  While writing this in a few cafes and my place over a couple of days I was kept company by a variety of folks in glossy four wheel drives who would park nearby, leave the car’s aircon running and either sleep for an hour or so, talk for 20 or so minutes on the mobile, or stare at the café while their partner – typically a female while the driver was male - collected take away coffee and food, all the while the car exhaust pumping invisible pollution into the air which I, their friend, my fellow diners, passers-by were breathing; if it was coloured black they’d be yelled at and shamed.)

Financial officers are the chief opponents of reducing rates because of two disincentives to do so: a lack of experience with them and a fear of losing revenue.  The fear and lack of experience feed off each other.

Others who have tried to change councils have found that councils are as they say, “killing Australia”.

Let’s each of us cut our food waste, do what we can to avoid ‘stuff’, and, I suggest, most important of all, ask your local council for a smaller bin and a reduced garbage fee for it, even if it’s not offered.

And, most importantly, copy in each of your local councillors.

You never know . . .