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February 26, 2010

The Independent Weekly

Fighting over scraps

Everyone uses the humble rubbish bin. It’s the staple of modern society, the device that allows us to keep abreast of a consumerist culture without drowning in a sea of surplus packaging and waste. But few contemplate what happens past collection day.

South Australians regurgitate 1.3 million tonnes of waste per year, which equates to 1.2 tonnes for every person. That’s rather a lot.

So how are we going to do our bit to reduce this? Environment Minister Jay Weatherill proclaims South Australians “are among the best recyclers in our nation. In 2007-08 South Australians recycled 2.61 million tonnes of waste – this was up 7.3 per cent from 2.43 million tonnes in 2006-07.” Weatherill cites the container deposit scheme as “having had an enormous impact on litter and waste”.

But Greens Leader Mark Parnell believes there is still room for improvement: “While we are doing better than most places - partly because of the historical legacy of the Container Deposit Legislation Scheme - far too much is still being sent to landfill.”

Parnell also believes that electronic waste is “a major growing problem – while there are moves to restrict dumping of TVs and monitors etc in landfill, every year more and more e-waste is created. We need to urgently place a responsibility on producers to take back their products.”

Independent Legislative Councillor David Winderlich concurs: “Obsolescent electronic appliances – anything with a battery or an electric cord – represent a looming mass of refuse challenging government and industry. The cadmium from discarded mobile phones alone is both toxic to our water tables and recoverable for new phones.”

Weatherill claims that this situation will be effectively contained when the “national industry-run collection scheme (for e-waste) starts by the end of next year”.

Yet according to Shadow Environment Minister Michelle Lensink, “there is no incentive or reward apart from not having to pay dumping fees for people in businesses or industries who are clean operators or in a manner which does not create excess waste. There are also no incentives provided by Government for those who seek to divert material out of landfill.”

One of the more radical ideas that has been cast about over the years is the implementation of a ‘user pays’ waste system.

While the logistics are complicated, the premise is simple; the more waste an individual creates, the more they pay for waste collection. The Greens would support such a system “as long as that system includes cost penalties and incentives for producers to encourage them to design products in a way that increase re-use and recycling”.

Lensink is a little more vague, but promises that “a Redmond Liberal government will comprehensively review dumping fees and licensing. It would also continue to monitor and enforce licensing conditions for all waste depots with the objective of achieving best practice in operations and devise innovative approaches and establish partnerships with community organisations and businesses to deal with difficult waste streams.”

The Greens, though, have what they believe is the best answer. “The greatest focus must be on financial incentives that avoid waste being created in the first place,” is Mr Parnell’s final solution.


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