Environmental Science
articles by Will Kemp

Waste services in a small community

Wagait Shire council doesn’t provide a waste collection service – residents must take their own waste to the local dump (see earlier post). There are separate areas at the dump for different types of waste: a trench for putrescible and other general household waste, an area for green waste, some bins for recyclables, and an area for large, non-putrescible items like cars, furniture, building materials, etc.

The council has had bins for glass, plastic, and aluminium drink cans for about a year, because local residents wanted to be able to recycle. However, they have had no success in finding a way to dispose of the collected recyclables. Wagait Shire is 130km from Darwin and Darwin’s a very long way from anywhere where recyclable materials are processed, which means recycling is not really economically viable.

At the beginning of 2012, the Northern Territory government introduced container deposit legislation (CDL). Although there is nowhere locally to return containers for refund of the deposit, CDL resolved some of Wagait Shire’s waste problem – and all the refundable containers disappeared from the recycling bins. Before CDL, a lot of containers – alcohol containers in particular – were still dumped in the landfill, presumably because people were too lazy to sort them and put them in the recycling bins. That seems to have stopped now. Glass containers that aren’t refundable under CDL are just stockpiled and the council has no idea what their ultimate fate will be. (Crawshaw, I., Wagait Shire Councillor, 2012, pers. comm.)

Green waste can be dumped on a separate area of the dump site. However, that only serves to keep it out of the landfill, as it is burnt once it has dried out. There is no scheme in place for turning the green waste into mulch or doing anything useful with it.

Few of the waste management requirements in the NT apply to communities with less than 1000 people (LGANT, 2009) and the Wagait Shire dump fails to comply with most of the recommendations outlined in “Waste Management Guidelines for Small Communities in the Northern Territory”, published by the Local Government Association of the NT (LGANT, 2009).

The lack of garbage collections in Wagait Shire could be seen as a good thing, as having to dispose of their own rubbish is likely to make people more aware of the amount of waste they produce. However, the Wagait Shire dump is a hazardous place that really requires some improvements for basic health and safety. Firstly, there is no bunding around the landfill trench, which means people or cars could fall in. Secondly, smoke from burning rubbish could have severely detrimental health effects on people dumping there.

The first problem should be easy to address, by simply building bunds around the pit. The issue of smoke inhalation is more complicated. There is no fencing around the dump site and people can take their rubbish there any time of the day or night, which means there is no good time for burning. Whether burning should take place at all is a matter that ought to be considered seriously by the council. It seems possible that a waste management regime could be developed that requires either less burning or none, without much additional cost to the council. But the council doesn’t have the resources to cap the landfill daily or to compact the waste, and the LGANT guidelines recognise that burning may be necessary in small communities (LGANT, 2009). However, addressing the issue of smoke inhalation should be a very high priority for the council – before someone becomes seriously ill from it.

The issue of green waste seems like something that could possibly be addressed in a more productive and environmentally friendly way. Turning it into mulch, for use by the community, would be a big improvement on simply burning it. Unfortunately, though, nobody in the community owns an industrial sized chipper so burning it seems to be the only economically viable option. However, with some community involvement, this may be something that could be overcome.

Overall, Wagait Shire council would do well to try and involve the community in waste management to a much greater extent than they are now. Community based waste management has proved to be successful in other parts of the world (UNESCO, 2010; Muller, et al., 2002).


Local Government Association NT (2009) Waste Management Guidelines for Small Communities in the Northern Territory. LGANT, Darwin, NT. Retrieved from http://www.nretas.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/14029/waste_management_small_communities.pdf on 29/11/12.

Muller, M.S., Iyer, A., Keita, M., Sacko, B., Traore, D. (2002) Differing interpretations of community participation in waste management in Bamako and Bangalore: some methodological considerations. Environment & Urbanization, Vol 14, No 2, October 2002. Retrieved from http://www.bvsde.paho.org/bvsacd/cd26/enurb/v14n2/241.pdf on 29/11/12.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2010) Community Based Waste Management – The Green Experience of Banjarsari. UNESCO Jakarta web site. URL: http://portal.unesco.org/geography/en/ev.php-URL_ID=9436&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html (retrieved on 29/11/12).