Take a bow Bellingen Shire residents – together with your neighbours in Nambucca and Coffs Harbour, you are consistently among the Top 10 councils statewide when it comes to diverting waste from landfill. And you manage it at a rate of about 75 to 80 per cent. On top of that, your contamination levels are around five per cent, which is a fantastic effort.
Coffs Council’s Director Sustainable Infrastructure, Mick Raby, calls it ‘gold medal recycling’ and is extremely proud of the record.
“From the yellow bin, we are able to recycle about 95 per cent of contents, which is fantastic – one of the best in Australia,” Mr Raby said.
He puts the success down to the Coffs Coast Waste Services’s education program, which has been running ever since the three bin system was rolled out across the three shires in 2005.
“We spend a reasonable amount of time in the schools because if you get the message to the kids, they take it home to their families.”
He said the main contaminants in the yellow and green bins were plastic bags.
“All plastic bags and soft plastics must go in the red bin – including those bags marked ‘biodegradable’ or compostable’ or stamped with the recycle symbol. All plastics are classified as contamination.”
And in case you have ever paused wondering where to put that used pizza box – it goes in the green bin, along with used tissues, paper towels and newspapers, as they are all compostable.
Disposable coffee cups? Red bin them – they are lined with plastic and cannot be recycled or composted.
In short, Mr Raby estimates about 50 per cent of what is in our red bins should be in those yellow or green bins.
“We can still recover those things from the red bins but it is more costly.”
There is no doubt the key to our success is the Alternative Waste Treatment Plant at Englands Rd, Coffs Harbour and the two state-of-the-art facilities that sort and process our waste – Biomass and the Material Recovery Facility (MRF).
Biomass ‘cooks’ waste from our red bins, enabling us to recover many recyclables and any organic component of the waste. It also processes garden and food waste from our green bins into high quality compost which is then sold to local residents and landscapers.
The MRF uses a mix of mechanical and hand sorting to place different materials from our yellow bins into bales which are sold to manufacturers.
Unlike many other shires, the shock waves felt at the beginning of January when China banned foreign waste imports were not felt here.
“Actually China’s move is exactly the push Australia’s recycling industry needed – we have lagged behind in developing our own high level recycling industry,” Mr Raby said.
“In this new environment Australian industries will develop their own capabilities. It will be hard for some councils but we have had our system in place for 10 years now and we produce well collected, uncontaminated waste. Our contractor, Handybin, does not rely on China.