Councils and landfill tips

THE relationship between local government and waste disposal is a peculiar one.

On one hand, councils seem perpetually anxious about their dumps filling up too quickly and worried about their prospects of gaining approval for new ones.

On the other hand, they make money by charging tipping fees, and they factor a certain level of dump income into their annual budgets.

Both sides of this seemingly conflicted equation have been on show in recent times in the Hunter.

Last week this newspaper reported that some Hunter councils were facing the expiry of their landfill licences within the next five years. Some have very limited prospects for replacement sites and will have to devise new ways of dealing with their waste.

But this week Newcastle City Council is reportedly considering cutting or waiving dumping fees to entice developers back to the city’s landfill tip. Many have apparently been taking their rubbish to a cheaper disposal site at Port Stephens, costing Newcastle an estimated $1.37million from its budget.

At first blush the idea of letting developers dump for free seems economically irrational, but the council is proposing the discount for large-scale dumpers – essentially offering an incentive to retain the business of high-volume customers.

This makes sense when the council’s long-term business plan for its Summer Hill tip is considered. Since the dump has an expected life of two or three decades, the council can afford to offer incentives to maintain its budgeted income.

Other councils, whose dumps are close to full, need to worry more about minimising landfill and deferring the headache of replacement for as long as possible.

Newcastle City Council has often expressed its wish to turn Summer Hill into a true regional waste facility, charging other local government areas to dispose of their rubbish.

The business case for this course of action is sound, but the council needs to stay on top of developments in recycling.

There is money in waste disposal, but as populations grow and resources become more scarce, as many opportunities will lie in the field of creative re-use as in mere landfill.

Jobs worth saving

MUCH as the federal government insists that its carbon tax isn’t to blame for troubles in the Australian aluminium industry, it must surely fear that many voters won’t agree. That, presumably, must be why the government is reportedly considering giving Alcoa tens of millions of dollars to save 600 smelter jobs at Geelong, in Victoria.

Such subsidies are a two-edged sword, however. If the government saves the Geelong jobs, smelter workers at Kurri Kurri, in the Hunter, will naturally wonder why they can’t be rescued too.

Presumably the government would argue that the Hunter smelter is older and less efficient than the Geelong plant, but that excuse won’t be easy to sell to the Kurri Kurri workers who already feel let down by both major parties in NSW.

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