Environmental Science
articles by Will Kemp

Regional approaches to waste management

As outlined in the previous post, Wagait Shire is very small and has an extremely limited budget for waste disposal solutions. The council is effectively incapable of dealing with the community’s waste in an environmentally friendly manner.

The nearby Indigenous community of Belyuen (about 10km away) is a separate shire, with its own council and its own landfill site. Belyuen Shire’s population is even smaller than Wagait Shire’s, at around 250.

The city of Darwin, which is approximately 130km away from these two communities by road, has a population of roughly 78,000 (CoD, 2011). The City of Darwin council operates its own modern waste management facility, which includes a recycle shop, a landfill facility with gas capture system, and a renewable energy facility which generates electricity from the captured landfill gas – the first such facility in the Australian tropics (CoD, n.d.).

It would seem that a sensible solution to Wagait Shire’s environmentally unfriendly landfill problem would be for Wagait council to develop an agreement with Darwin council for them to take Wagait Shire’s waste. There are, of course, problems with this – not least that it would require capital to construct a transfer station and there would be ongoing costs of shipping waste to Darwin. Currently the only costs associated with waste management are digging a new trench every five years or so, and progressively capping the current cell.

At the moment, the landfill site is on Crown land and costs the council nothing in terms of real estate. However, most of the northern part of the Cox Peninsula is subject to a long running land claim, which could be finalized in the near future. Once the land claim is granted, Wagait Shire council will have to pay rent to the traditional owners and the economics of the situation will change – possibly making a regional solution more attractive (Crawshaw, I., Wagait Shire councillor, 2012, pers. comm.)

In this situation, such a regional approach to waste management would benefit the environment in many different ways, while probably reducing the cost of managing waste in the long term. Wagait Shire may not be typical in Australia, but there are certain to be many small communities which could benefit from the economies of scale introduced by a regional approach to waste management.

The South East Regional Organisation of Councils, in the south east of New South Wales, is a group of local authorities which are working towards implementing a regional waste management strategy. Recycling is among the issues identified in their discussion paper on the subject. Currently, recyclable materials are transported out of the region for processing, but a regional approach could make local processing viable – providing much needed jobs (SEROC, 2012).

The Southern Region Waste Resource Authority (SRWRA) is an organisation jointly owned by the cities of Onkaparinga, Marion, and Holdfast Bay, in South Australia. It provides waste management services for those cities – primarily by operating a landfill site. This site is one of the largest in South Australia and receives about 160,000 tonnes of waste a year. It incorporates a gas extraction facility which uses the gas to generate electricity – enough to power about 3500 homes and businesses. SRWRA operates at a profit, some of which is paid as a dividend to the constituent councils.

In the last year, SRWRA has paid $250,000 to the councils which own it, as well as investing nearly $2 million in capital expenditure. (SRWRA, 2012) Running an operation like this would most likely be out of reach of any of the individual councils if they had to operate it on their own, and there would be less benefit to those communities if it was operated by a private business.

In New South Wales, over 95 rural and regional councils work together in eight groups to improve their waste management and resource recovery operations. These regional groups are part of an umbrella body, called Renew NSW, which “works proactively to find solutions to rural regional waste issues; to improve resource recovery, and initiate best practice waste management in rural and regional New South Wales” (Renew NSW, n.d.).

There are many benefits to regional cooperation in waste management and small councils like Wagait and Belyuen shires would be well advised to investigate the possibilities for improving sustainability and reducing the environmental impacts of their waste management operations by working with other councils nearby.


City of Darwin (no date) Shoal Bay Waste Management Facility. City of Darwin web site. URL: http://www.darwin.nt.gov.au/live/your-home/recycling-and-waste-management/shoal-bay-waste-disposal-site (retrieved on 22/11/12).

City of Darwin (2011) Climate change action plan 2011-2020. City of Darwin, Darwin, NT. Retrieved from http://www.darwin.nt.gov.au/sites/default/files/images/DCC_ClimateChangeActionPlan_web.pdf on 22/11/12.

Renew NSW (no date) About Renew NSW. Renew NSW, (no address), web site. URL: http://www.renewnsw.com.au/about.htm (retrieved on 28/11/12).

South East Regional Organisation of Councils (2012) Discussion Paper Towards Developing a Regional Waste Management Strategy for NSW South East Region. SEROC, Moruya, NSW. Retrieved from http://www.serrroc.nsw.gov.au/InTuneFiles/resources_reports/files/15_Discussion%20Paper%20SEROC%20Region%20waste%20strategy.pdf on 18/11/12.

Southern Region Waste Resource Authority (2012) Annual report. SRWRA, Morphett Vale, SA. Retrieved from http://www.srwra.com.au/files/documents/Internal%20Documents/Annual%20Reports/2012%20Annual%20Report%20-%20Final.pdf on 18/11/12.