Waste management in Australia needs careful attention

11 September, 2006

Waste management needs to be refocused if it is to achieve the best outcomes for the community, according to a draft inquiry report released by the Productivity Commission.

The draft report - Waste Management - responds to a request from the Australian Government to identify policies to address market failures associated with the generation and disposal of non hazardous wastes.

"Waste policy should be guided by a rigorous analysis of costs, benefits and risks in order to secure the best returns for the community," said Presiding Commissioner Philip Weickhardt.

"Australian Governments have shown that they are committed to recycling, and minimising waste disposal to land fill. Recycling can be good up to a point. But there are diminishing returns from recycling and there will be costs to the community where it is pushed too far - recycling itself consumes resources."

That waste disposal can cause pollution is not disputed. But the Commission notes that the extent of this pollution has sometimes been exaggerated. By appropriate management it can be reduced to very low levels. The Commission argues that the best way of addressing potential pollution problems is through appropriate regulation, not landfill levies.

Regulations applying to modern landfills were found to be generally effective, but should only cover issues directly relevant to waste disposal, such as escape of polluted water from the landfill and general amenity impacts. Emissions of greenhouse gasses are better addressed through a broad national response, not through piecemeal measures such as the regulation of landfills.

The Commission has also questioned whether local governments in large urban centres are best placed to manage domestic waste collection and disposal. Scale and planning issues are increasingly suggesting that a regional approach is needed.

The Commission has released its draft report to encourage further discussion and input before it completes its final report in October 2006.