THE HERALD'S OPINION: Newcastle council to build new green waste plant at Summerhill

NEWCASTLE City Council has certainly been making hay while the sun shines recently, having announced a range of initiatives including a planned move to new premises in Newcastle West.

Newcastle City Council chief executive Jeremy Bath (left), Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, and Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clasuen, at the announcement of a council plan to build a green waste recycling plant at Summerhill. Picture: Marina Neil

Newcastle City Council chief executive Jeremy Bath (left), Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, and Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clasuen, at the announcement of a council plan to build a green waste recycling plant at Summerhill. Picture: Marina Neil

Continuing with its can-do philosophy, the council on Thursday announced its intention to build a $12.8-million organic waste recycling plant to be built at its Summerhill waste management facility.

Most of the money will be provided by the council, but the state government has pledged $1.5 million, allowing the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, to pose for the cameras, shovel in hand, alongside Newcastle’s Deputy Lord Mayor, Declan Clausen, and the council’s chief executive Jeremy Bath, for the ritual announcement photo opportunity.

The trio were all smiles at the launch but as any Hunter household will attest, waste is a serious matter. Somehow, a generation or two ago, the average home got by on a single garbage bin a week. Not today.

In Newcastle, we have a 140-litre wheelie bin – about twice the size of the old galvanised garbage bin – emptied weekly, along with 240-litre recycling and green waste bins, emptied fortnightly.

As worthwhile as recycling can undoubtedly be, environmental activists – and the ABC’s War on Waste campaign – have unveiled a number of shortcomings in the recycling industry.

Material the public believed was destined for a new life is all too often stockpiled in warehouses as operators wait for the market to improve.

This should not be the case, however, with the organic mulch that Newcastle council intends to make initially from green garden waste, with kitchen scraps to be added three or four years after the prospective opening date of 2019 or 2020.

Mr Bath is adamant that the financial case for the recycling plant will add up, with the mulch-maker theoretically paying for itself in less than six years.

This makes the proposal sound like a very profitable business, especially as the council expects that diverting food scraps from landfill will save it up to $800,000 a year in state waste levies.

On the other hand, with Lake Macquarie City Council’s waste contractor, Remondis, building its own green waste facility, maybe the two councils have missed a golden opportunity to capitalise on the “shared services” they promise so often to explore.

One big plant might have been a better bet than two smaller ones.

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