With the tap of funding support from the NSW Environment Protection Agency now turned off, the need for Nambucca, Bellingen and Coffs City Councils to find a solution to their red bin waste problem is becoming urgent.
The issue arose back in October 2018 when the EPA called a halt to the application of Mixed Waste Organic Outputs (MWOO) to agricultural land due to risks associated with chemical and physical contaminants.
MWOO is the end product of red bin waste, our household rubbish, that was being processed and sold for agricultural use at the Biomass plant in Coffs Harbour for years ... with the incentives and support of previous State Governments.
The sudden shift saw the waste from the three shires being trucked, at great expense, to landfill, in Tamworth ... an un-affordable, and undesirable, state of affairs.
Nambucca Valley Council's general manager, Michael Coulter, said Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) and Biomass have been footing the transport bill since February but that arrangement was due to end this month, July.
"We sent a joint letter with Bellingen Shire Council to Coffs asking about ongoing arrangements but nothing has been decided as yet," Mr Coulter said.
"Nambucca has however received expressions of interest from both councils about the possible use our landfill ... I understand there have also been some discussions with the Clarence Valley Council."
He said the Nambucca Shire's landfill had about six years remaining in its current cell (at the current level of use) and council was awaiting EPA approval to open the next cell.
"We have also been talking to Forests NSW about the possible purchase of 20 hectares of forest adjacent to the site."
But he warned it was not easy for a small council like Nambucca to operate a regional landfill.
"There are lots of issues and expenses ... we'd have to spend millions to get it up and running and the liabilities and responsibilities that come with that continue into perpetuity - we would have to have solid arrangements with the other councils."
An EPA spokesperson said a $24 million transition package was announced in March offering a range of funding support options to local councils and industry operators to manage their organic waste more sustainably.
"This includes grants of up to $1.3 million for impacted councils to switch from mixed kerbside waste collections to separated Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) services and grants of up $1 million for Alternative Waste Treatment (AWT) operators (such as Biomass) for facility infrastructure upgrades," the spokesperson said.
Mr Coulter said the grant was targeted at organics education to get things out of the red bin and into the green bin.
"Every bit we can get out reduces the costs associated with processing it. At best we would get $180,000 ... but that won't fix the land fill issue or the cost of transport.
"The problem with landfill was already here on the Coffs Coast ... now it is acute."
Bellingen Shire Council's general manager, Liz Jeremy, said a range of options, "as sustainable as possible", had to be explored to find a solution.
"Land fill is the last resort ... but we have to be pragmatic," Mrs Jeremy said.
"I think there is work to be done to get organics out of the red bin - incentives, such as providing compost bins, could help. We have a project with the JO to have a look at that."
Councils were asked to do this - compensation is needed.Bellingen Council's General Manager Liz Jeremy
She said she was horrified by the current situation.
"This is pulling apart 20 years of investment; the NSW Government offered councils incentives to make these commercial arrangements and Treasury underwrote it.
"Councils were asked to do this - compensation is needed."
The EPA confirmed that a temporary waste levy* exemption for limited amounts of MWOO produced by AWT operators had been in place since November 2018.
*The waste levy is a 'contribution' licensed waste facilities pay to the NSW Government for each tonne of waste received. In regional areas it is currently $84.10 per tonne ($146 in metropolitan areas).