Community & Business

23 August, 2022

Big change planned for Tablelands waste

A NEW era in waste management for Tablelands Regional Council is starting to emerge, with an investigation underway to sideline the organisation’s ageing fleet of kerbside rubbish trucks in favour of an external contractor, and a new deal to send all recycling to Cairns.

By Robyn Holmes

Big change planned for Tablelands waste - feature photo

Council endorsed a new waste strategy last year but will not make the document public due to the confidential nature of some of the actions contained within it. 

Stage 1 of the strategy seeks to investigate ways to achieve more cost efficiency, which is playing out in the new deal with Cairns Regional Council to take the council’s recyclables, and plans to go to tender to test the market for an external contractor to pick up the kerbside waste. 

The direction was set by council in September last year when it gave the green light to management to start investigating the benefits of using an external contractor.

The motion also directed the decommissioning of council’s materials recycling facility (MRF) and to transport all recyclables to Cairns for processing, and for community consultation to be conducted on the possible closure of some waste transfer stations or changes in operating hours. 

That direction was cemented at June’s meeting, with councillors approving the go ahead for council to develop the tender documents to find a suitable external contractor to pick up kerbside waste. 

The move will mean council will have to manage how it deals with truck drivers employed to pick up waste.

“We’ve been consulting with the staff and unions since last year (in accordance with our Certified Agreement 2018–22 and section 198 of the Industrial Relations Act 2016),” chief executive officer Gary Rinehart said.

“Until we have received and accepted tenders for the kerbside collection contract, we really don’t know what the actual impacts on staff will be.

“Regardless, they will be managed in accordance with our Certified Agreement.”

Asked how much money it may save council to outsource the kerbside collection, Mr Rinehart said that figure was yet to be calculated.

“The purpose of our waste strategy is about improving service and efficiency, however we won’t know the actual benefits and viability until we understand the contract conditions and pricing offered through the tender process,” he said. 

Sending the recyclables collected from Atherton’s yellow bins to Cairns for processing will save the council $350,000 a year, according to Mr Rinehart. 

Around 80-100 tonnes of kerbside recycling is transported to Cairns every month and has been for the past 15 months after the closure of the MRF in April 2020 due to high contamination rates. 

The arrangement had been a temporary one until council endorsed the long-term contract with Cairns at June’s meeting.

“We send three loads a week to Cairns. Successful recycling relies on economy of scale so the larger the facility, the more efficient the process is,” Mr Rinehart said. 

“North Queensland councils have to work together to make recycling sustainable, especially with the tyranny of distance.”

The cost to the council to use Cairns’s recycling facility is $240,000 a year, with loading and transport costs of about $80,000 a year, and a gate fee of around $160,000 a year. 

Still, Mr Rinehart said when employee costs were added, the major capital investment required at the Atherton MRF was taken into account, and an anticipated decrease in transport costs because of a long-term contract, then the estimated cost saving to the council was $350,000. 

Kerbside recycling of paper, plastics, aluminium and glass is processed at the Cairns MRF, while steel, ferrous and non-ferrous items that are brought by the community to council’s transfer stations are stockpiled and sold to a metals recycling company through a contract with Far North Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils.


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