A picture tells a thousand words. A clear depiction of the Copping Landfill’s proximity to the Carlton River. SWS consistently misleads Tasmanians through public assertions that the landfill is over 2 kms from the Carlton River. The picture, with its aftermath of blackened and burnt vegetation also reveals the potential for a wildfire catastrophe.

Recently, Tasmanian’s learned that the application to fund the ‘C’ cell landfill development at Copping , had passed the initial stage of the Regional Development Australia grants process.

This development pushed out such worthwhile projects as the Kangaroo Bay redevelopment and the Springs development on Mt Wellington.

However, what is most alarming to residents of the Sorell municipality is that Tasman council are listed as the proponent in relation to this grant, for a landfill in Sorell municipality. Southern Waste Solutions (SWS) , being a corporate arm of joint councils has exploited a loophole in the funding criteria to circumvent the fact that they would otherwise be ineligible to apply for such funding. And so SWS’s pitiful record of transparency, dodgy governance and community consultation continues.

Southern Waste Solutions (SWS) is nothing but a landfill business owned ultimately by unsuspecting ratepayers.

It does not collect waste from the front of your house or business, it simply offers cheap contracts to dispose of waste in their enormous landfill site adjacent to the Carlton River. Its disposal rates per tonne are widely regarded as below an acceptable market value charged by most landfill operators around the state in order to monopolise the waste management market. Furthermore, it operates its landfill in a market environment devoid of a meaningful waste levy (all other Australian jurisdictions have one). Such levies are designed to send a price signal to the market that underpins the Commonwealth’s National Waste Policy (More Resource, Less Waste), a policy which dictates that disposal to landfill is a last option after all other waste management options have been explored.

Indeed, the Tasmanian Resource & Waste Management Strategy mirrors the Commonwealth’s policy, yet our government simply pays it lip service and appears spineless in implementing it in any meaningful way. As a landfill business, SWS hopes to receive over 300 000 tonnes of waste to their landfill site annually for the next 100 - 200 years. The extension of their operation, with a proposed hazardous materials ‘C’ Cell, is simply a business opportunity to further monopolise the waste management market in Tasmania. This is clearly evidenced by SWS’s insistence that soil from the Macquarie Point redevelopment should be dug and transported to their site for disposal when all the evidence indicates that this site can be largely remediated insitu.

This evidence includes Pitt & Sherry’s original engineers report to Government in 2008, in lieu of the then proposed new Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH) at Macquarie Point, that compared insitu versus dig & dump remediation options. It concluded in its recommendations to Government that insitu remediation was not only entirely feasible but the cheapest option for the site. It is also further evidenced by the fact that SWS wants all nations’ waste from Antarctica if it can possibly secure it, including the soon to be burgeoning Chinese operations on that continent. This is despite the Madrid Protocols and Basel Conventions dictating that countries repatriate their own waste from Antarctica. Previously, SWS had tried to court Nystar into dumping their industrial waste at the landfill site, when reprocessing options in South Australia clearly represented a better waste management outcome.

Critically, in relation to Antarctic waste, SWS would like to have this waste transported through regional and rural Tasmania without it being treated as quarantine waste (which all international waste is). For this waste to be correctly treated under quarantine protocols, it would require a facility such as an industrial autoclave to be constructed at the port of Hobart, or any other receiving port. If this waste were to be transported and deposited in Rural Tasmania without appropriate quarantine measures it would jeopardise Tasmania’s agricultural sector and its competitive advantage in this sector that is built around its quarantine and biosecurity record. Even after appropriate treatment, the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service (AQIS) recommends against such waste being deposited in rural areas.

One of the most perverse aspects of SWS’s proposed ‘C’ Cell is highlighted by the courting of Nystar for its hazardous industrial waste. It shouldn’t be forgotten that SWS is a Joint Authority of four local councils in Southern Tasmania, effectively owned by ratepayers. Are ratepayers, especially those affected directly in Sorrel municipality, really comfortable with industry transferring its ongoing waste liability to local citizens at a cut price rate? Similarly, are those same ratepayers comfortable with taking waste generated from China’s, France’s and Russia’s Antarctic operations at a cut price rate and having that hazardous liability transferred to the local citizenry?

SWS (and their political supporters)state that Tasmanians are doing a great environmental service by accepting this waste, when really they are motivated by nothing other than the money that can be generated by operating a very large landfill. Again this is highlighted by a recent comments by Melbourne and Macquarie University researchers on the contaminated, now decommissioned, Australian Antarctic Base at Wilkes.  These researchers stated that it is likely this site can also be successfully remediated insitu and there is no need to return bulk contaminated waste to Australia. Interestingly, they state that whether this happens or not is simply a policy question and less a question of the technical capability to do so. SWS is actively spruiking the Tasmanian government and the Australian Antarctic Division to have this waste liability transferred to the residents of Sorell municipality for no other reason than the money that can be made from accepting international hazardous waste. This is despite the fact that an expert report to the Southern Waste Strategy Authority (SWSA, not to be confused with SWS) in 2011 recommended that council should not be in the market of capturing waste streams to landfill, as a landfill owner/operator as it undermines better waste management alternatives.

Moreover, if hazardous industrial and Antarctic waste were to be disposed of in Victoria at such a facility it would incur anywhere from a $70 -$250/tonne waste levy to government outside of any gate fee and disposal charge applied by the operator. Little wonder then that Victoria diverts approximately 60% of its waste away from landfill to better waste management streams. Meanwhile, Tasmania languishes behind the rest of the nation with just 16% of its waste recovered and diverted from landfill, based on recently published figures on behalf of the Commonwealth’s Environment Department. Conversely, heavily populated and industrialised nations such as Germany divert over 95% of their waste from landfill and have a legislated landfill ban.

The recent devastating bushfires that impacted directly on the Copping landfill site, putting local residents at additional risk of masses of toxic gases, should serve as a warning as to the inappropriateness of the location of this landfill. This is in addition to the fact that the site fails to meet the criteria of the 2004 Landfill Sustainability Guide in the first instance. During the height of the fires the site had to be evacuated and was left entirely undefended. The last significant bushfire to impact this area was back in 1988. This is a relatively recent repetition of a potentially catastrophic event, especially in the context that the area will be a repository of an enormous volume of waste, such as plastics and other toxic materials, for perpetuity. Yet in relation to this risk the EPA environmental assessment of the proposed ‘C’ cell at this site is silent on bushfire risk and appropriate management.

Many within the Sorell municipality remain unaware that the Copping landfill site is slated to become a monster landfill for the bulk of Tasmania’s waste over many decades to come with truck movements to the site set to increase by 30 -50 per day by the time McRobies gully and Glenorchy landfill closes within 10 years.

Landfill should be perceived as nothing more than an infected abscess created on the dermal layers of the biosphere. An abscess that ultimately leaks its chemical toxins into the local groundwater and water courses, and breathes significant carbon into the atmosphere. This ultimately leads to a more diffuse environmentalillness. Furthermore, landfill encourages cheap disposal of otherwise valuable resources which should be reused. While historically landfill has been the cheap and easy option for burying the exorbitant amount of waste that a modern western society generates, there exists no excuse to rely on it in our modern age as the principle waste management tool when multiple other strategies, articulated in government policy and strategy exist and where those strategies can already be demonstrated to exist in practice in nations such as Germany.

SWS wants to capture the state’s municipal and industrial waste to landfill for the next 200 years as a crass means of generating income, and in so doing, undermining all the structural changes required to reform and advance Tasmania’s waste management strategy. The state government should use the recent bushfire experience that put the Copping landfill at unacceptable risk as an opportunity to draw a line in the sand on the overreliance on landfill and encourage a new dawn in Tasmania’s waste management practices.

Shane Humpherys lives in the Southern Beaches area. After many years working in the healthcare sector, shane pursued post graduate studies in journalism, with a particular interest in documentary film making. Shane is currently working on a short film addressing marine debris issues, he works for Environment Tasmania, is a member of the Southern Beaches Conservation Society, is President of the tasmanian branch of the Surfrider Foundation and is clearly unimpressed with Tasmania’s over-reliance on landfill which is neither Clean, Green or Clever!