As we rapidly spiral towards the 2013 state budget, the Tasmanian government has a golden opportunity to commence reform of Tasmania’s waste management landscape, while concurrently boosting much needed revenue with the introduction of a Waste to landfill Levy. Tasmania’s poor waste management record and over reliance on landfill is in no small part due to the absence of this critical government led reform.

It remains an anachronism that Tasmania is currently without a Waste to Landfill Levy. All other state jurisdictions have one, with the recent exception of Queensland, who under the Newman government have scrapped that state’s levy on waste to landfill. It should be of no surprise then, that Tasmania has the worst diversion from landfill rates in the nation other than the Northern Territory. On the most recent figures available, Tasmania diverts just 16% of all its waste from landfill. NSW and Victoria achieve close to 60%, South Australia and the ACT over 70%. The national average is around 55%, a figure that would actually be higher if it wasn’t for the parlous performance of Tasmania and the NT. It seems just as in education and health outcomes, Tasmania should consider the NT its sister state when it comes to waste management outcomes. Arguably, however, the NT has a more cogent reason for dragging the chain in these areas due to its small population (half of Tasmania), tyranny of distance and remote communities. Tasmania has no such excuse.

Both Victoria and South Australia stand out as case studies in waste management reform, from which Tasmania could learn much.Both states have a Waste to Landfill Levy. In the case of Victoria, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) at a residential level is levied at $30/tonne in metropolitan areas and $15/tonne in regional areas. Moreover, hazardous waste is levied on a scale of $70 - $250/tonne. This is a critical price signal that such waste is to be minimised or dealt with in ways other than disposal to landfill. At the very least should come with a considerable cost impost. In both states the significant revenues raised from their levies go in part to funding an overarching Waste Management authority which actively seeks to implement reform which diverts waste from landfill. Zero Waste South Australia has been particularly effective in this regard. They operate with a significant ‘waste to resource fund’ derived from the levy and enshrined in the Zero Waste South Australia Act 2004.Unfortunately, the SA government has recently announced plans to abolish Zero Waste SA and redirect the funds raised by the levy back into consolidated revenue. The levy raises over $30 million annually in SA and it is not unreasonable to expect that a similar regime of levies in Tasmania would raise an expected $10 million annually or $100 million over 10 years. Revenues not to be sneezed at!

In relation to the proposed Copping Hazardous Waste Landfill this is particularly pertinent. The most perverse aspect of this proposal is that bulk hazardous waste from commercial enterprise and industry is being invited to be dumped at Copping at minimal cost and in the absence of a levy to then become the ongoing liability of the local residents and the Sorrel Municipality more generally.
Recently, the Victorian government has created a new category of waste to be levied known as Prescribed Industrial Waste (PIW) in recognition of the moral imperative of charging corporate enterprise utilising municipal landfills that ultimately become the liability of the surrounding communities.

This perversity extends to the courting of international Antarctic waste. Currently, the Australian contribution of Hazardous Antarctic waste constitutes 10 000 tonnes of primarily fuel contaminated soils, which can be remediated insitu. The ‘C’ cell at Copping is designed for 300 000 tonnes. So any argument that the Copping Landfill is required for Australia’s Antarctic needs are a diversion from the real game, which is the courting of international Antarctic treaty members waste, especially China’s. Southern Waste Solutions (SWS) along with the Tasmanian Polar Network seeks to use waste disposal as a hook to China in luring them into utilising Hobart as its Antarctic gateway. China is proceeding with the construction of a large Antarctic base which will significantly increase their geo-political influence in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica itself. In a resource constrained world this should be seen with a degree of caution as no nation has a greater potential demand on those resources than China. However, those ‘big picture’ considerations aside, the residents of Sorrel municipality should certainly not be taking this waste liability under current Antarctic conventions. It should return to the country of origin, and Tasmania should not be accepting this waste. The final insult in this scenario is that Southern Waste Solutions is seeking to dilute quarantine standards that have previously been applied to Antarctic waste by AQIS, thereby jeopardising Tasmania’s biosecurity.

In what amounts to an almost humorous double standard, SWS has constantly tried to run a moral argument that Tasmania should deal with its own hazardous waste by placing it in their proposed landfill. Apparently this moral obligation does not extend to Antarctic treaty member countries that SWS think should also dump their waste in the Copping landfill. Nor, would it seem, does it extend to our recycled waste, the vast bulk of which is happily shipped to SE Asia for reprocessing, when it’s not being dumped in landfill.

Whilst much of the nation surges ahead with genuinestructural reform in waste management, Tasmania languishes on the trash heap of a landfill future. The recent passage of legislation banning ‘light weight’ non-biodegradable plastic bags was commendable, though it hardly constitutes structural reform of waste management. Like brown coal in the energy/greenhouse gas debate, landfill is yesteryears solution to waste, condemning materials to disposal which should be seen as a resource. And like carbon intensive energy, there should be a price on waste to landfill that acts as a market signal to innovate and seek alternatives, i.e. a Waste to Landfill Levy. The real moral obligation here is that if Tasmania wishes to be authentic in its clean, green and clever image then it would seek alternatives to landfill for its waste, in so doing actually creating far greater investment and economic activity via these waste management technologies than landfill can ever provide.

Members within the parliament have in recent months muted the introduction of a $10 across the board waste levy. While this might be a start and a fair impost on residential and municipal waste a far greater levy should be placed on commercial, industrial, construction, demolition, international, quarantine and hazardous waste. With government revenues languishing a levy on landfill seems like a ‘no brainer’ yet considerable inertia within government still exists on the issue. Much opposition has flowed from local government, who are concerned at the administrative and cost burdens placed on them, while undoubtedly bulk industrial contributors to waste would lobby against it as might landfill operators who wish to secure as much volume as possible.

As far back as 2006, the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) in conjunction with a landfill operator (likely to have been SWS) in response to a 2005 discussion paper on a waste levy issued by government stated the following; ‘The introduction of a waste management disposal levy is an unacceptable impost on Councils and communities that is strongly opposed by Local Government.’ In 2001 the Southern Waste Strategy Authority (SWSA) not to be confused with SWS was formed to represent the 12 local governments of southern Tasmania. In 2011 the LGAT apparently dropped its opposition to a landfill levy.  In a recent correspondence from David Sales, CEO of the SWSA, the chief executive lamented the lack of progress on a waste levy, stating the following; ‘SWSA is quite frustrated by the apparent lack of desire of the State Government to progress this matter bearing in mind the many years it has taken to reach this point’ and later in the same correspondence, ‘It would seem there is every likelihood, should the levy not eventuate, that SWSA would in fact be wound up.’ This is a clear message from a peak body on waste management to government to act, but are they listening?

Similarly, in 2008, Sustainable Infrastructure Australia reported to government on Hazardous waste in the state. The report had 13 key recommendations, not one of which mentioned a landfill let alone a ‘C’ Cell at Copping (despite SWS CEO, Ms Bell’s public assertions to the contrary) and not one of the recommendations has been acted upon by government.

In short, the government needs to both reform waste management in Tasmania and raise additional revenue. A Waste to Landfill Levy allows for both in part and should not be delayed beyond the 2013 budget. While a levy alone will not fully reform the waste management practices of Tasmania, it is a start that sends the right message by placing an additional cost on the wasteful practice of waste to landfill. The experience from our mainland cousins is that such a levy helps drive reform in waste management and helps divert vast quantities of resource out of landfill and back into the resource cycle while concurrently generating revenue. However, like any significant reform, be it a price on carbon or a NDIS, it takes government to get off its backside and drive it.