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3 August 2010

Inside Waste Weekly

NT UPDATE: The final frontier in waste

Most people think of the Northern Territory as the final frontier. This may be true in some regards – Darwin is a tropical cosmopolitan city closer to Indonesia than any other Australian capital. Being so far from the anywhere else in the country, it is no surprise we Territorians do things a little differently to break through the final frontier in waste management. By Shenagh Gamble.

Young, multicultural and with an average age of 32 in a population of around 125,000, the Darwin regional area is home to more than half the people living in the Territory. Townships outside of Darwin are small - there are around 55 communities ranging in size between 200 and 2,000 people, with just a handful larger than that. The various levels of government are the major employers in the Territory; according to a recent story in the Territory daily, the NT News, one in every three people is in some way reliant on the public purse.

Indigenous Australians make up around 30% of the Territory’s population in stark contrast to the remainder of the country, which comes in at around 2%. Roughly half of the Territory is aboriginal freehold land; the other half is ‘cattle country’ managed under pastoral lease. There is very little freehold land.

Although 95% of the Territory is now incorporated under local government, service delivery is centred on the small communities dotted across the landscape. Local government always has a crucial role in waste management, even more so in the public sector dominated Territory.

Competition driven by private investment in waste management infrastructure and technology is practically non-existent. There is little incentive to invest in adequate recycling infrastructure because there is a perception that the quantities of recoverable materials do not exist, but then again it is difficult to get the quantities without the appropriate infrastructure.

The success of waste management services in small and remote communities varies. The old faithful ‘3 Rs’ of waste management (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) fade to black in favour of the ‘3 Bs’ of Burn, Bash and Bury. This approach would horrify most in mainstream waste world, but it is not so different to standard waste management practice in the rest of the country from a couple of decades ago. I grew up in suburban Sydney and still remember every quarter acre block holder in the suburb cranking up the backyard incinerator on a Sunday.

There are plenty of horror stories around waste in the Territory, but there are also plenty of success stories. Returning to our tropical capital, the Darwin City Council captures methane from its Shoal Bay landfill facility to power a number of households in the municipality, providing the only Greenpower available in the Territory.

In the remote community of Lajamanu, a highly successful container deposit trial demonstrated how effectively container waste can be managed if the appropriate system is in place.

From the city to the remote communities, the Northern Territory is unique and unusual, with a lot of people working hard to conquer this final frontier in waste management.

Shenagh Gamble is Sustainability Programs Coordinator at the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT). This is part of a regular series of updates designed to ensure we cover key developments in all jurisdictions. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of LGANT.


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