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Cost and legal warnings over city council zero waste move

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Adelaide City Council will investigate setting up its own rubbish collection service in a bid to become Australia’s first zero-waste city, prompting warnings that it could cost ratepayers millions and may place the council at legal risk from private garbage contractors.

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The council at 1am yesterday morning voted to endorse the commitment, which aims to divert at least 90 per cent of the city’s solid waste from landfill by 2030.

To achieve the ambition, council staff will investigate providing large red bin collection for small businesses in the city that currently use third party contractors.

Staff will also consider providing green and food waste bin options for all businesses in the city, alongside waste collection for apartment blocks that are currently not serviced by the council.

Deputy Lord Mayor Alexander Hyde, who proposed the initiative, said the council would aim to reach the goal “not through any punitive or authoritarian means”, but by “working and supporting ratepayers and visitors to divert waste from landfill”.

He called on council staff to provide free sustainability advice to businesses and to introduce an education program about waste management.

“It’s time for us to pick up the slack with regards to what our core business is and seek to provide extra services to all of our ratepayers,” he told the chamber.

“Roads, rates and rubbish – that’s our core business – and there’s a huge amount of ratepayers in the city whose bins we do not collect.

“Most of them are businesses and they pay three to four times the amount of rates that residents pay.

“It’s an obscene situation.”

According to a council waste audit published in November, about 73 per cent of material found in city business waste bins comprised organics, glass bottles, cardboard and hard plastics that should have been diverted from landfill.

We are being asked to sign a blank cheque for what could be millions of dollars

Over 75 per cent of the material found in apartment block red bins should have been placed in either yellow or green bins, while 61 per cent of the material in red kerbside residential bins should have been diverted from landfill.

Area councillor Robert Simms described the 2030 target as a “sensible thing for us to aspire to achieve” that would make Adelaide the first in the country to produce zero waste amid competition with Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, which have already implemented their own waste reduction targets.

“Adelaide is a city of firsts – we have led the way when it comes to environmental leadership and in particular on waste management… (including) our world-leading container deposits scheme, which is one of the first in the world and has been emulated by other states,” he said.

“It’s not a green-left thing, it’s very much a mainstream idea and most members of the Australian community, whatever their politics, recognise the need for us to take action to reduce waste.”

But north ward councillor Phil Martin said boosting waste collection services to city businesses could cost “ten to hundreds of millions of dollars each year”.

He said the proposed initiatives did not include providing businesses with yellow recycling bins, meaning “we’ll actually end up increasing landfill because we’re not offering a recycling service”.

“We are being asked to sign a blank cheque for what could be millions of dollars to a council that already has an operating deficit this year approaching $20 million,” he said.

“On top of that, we don’t have any information about whether what the Deputy Lord Mayor is asking us to do will unleash an anti-competition process from the relevant authorities or indeed legal action from existing providers.

“Essentially the council is intervening in the market place – offering a service to businesses, which are contracting third parties to provide a service at no charge whereas third party operators are making a charge and a profit.”

The council’s sustainability associate director Michelle English said it would be a “challenge” to ensure the council’s service would not compromise private waste collection operators.

“It is always possible if you put up a proposal that does have anti-competition considerations that there could be (legal action) – not to say that there would – we don’t yet know what the service is.”

English said the cost of boosting waste services would depend on the bin size and collection frequency.

“We can’t provide any estimates,” she said.

All councillors voted in support of Hyde’s motion – except Martin and central ward councillor Jessy Khera, who described it as a “weird sort of religious zeal” from the “green left”.

The State Government plans on introducing legislation in the coming weeks to ban single-use plastics across South Australia.

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