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Managing waste: there's no such thing as away

Managing waste should be a major concern for all of us - I decided to find out more about how it's done here in Bundaberg. If you don't live in this region, why not do some research and find out waste management differs in your area?

Bundaberg is exceedingly lucky to have James Stanfield. He is the Bundaberg city council waste management officer, and he is passionate and downright cheerful about managing the mind-boggling volume of stuff we reject from our households every day without a second thought. Stanfield may be the single most environmentally responsible person in our region!

Yesterday Dean and I toured the Bundaberg Waste Management and Recycling Facility on University Drive near the airport and talked to James Stanfield for about three hours.

Watch a video interview with James Stanfield on household recycling on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2
(This will also become a "how to recycle" article for the guide.)

Listen to the audio from the interview. (mp3, 19 min, 9MB)

Check out the photo tour (I can only imagine how Edward Burtynsky must feel, photographing the world's Manufactured Landscapes.)

Stanfield and his team currently manage rubbish and recycling from about 90,000 homes (not to mention business, construction and industrial waste) in Bundaberg, Burnett and Kolan Shires - this will increase when the shire amalgamations are complete. Disabled people and work for the dole participants hand sort our waste to the best of their ability to ensure that only actual rubbish is buried at the new landfill. We produce a prodigious amount of waste, however, and that $4 fee to take stuff to the facility only stretches so far. As such, each of us must do whatever we can to manage our own waste, before James Stanfield and his team even see it:

  1. Think of packaging before you buy something is key. Buy in bulk, buy compostable packaging - and just plain old buy less.

  2. After you've used something, think long and hard about whether there's any possible way to reuse the packaging before you toss it or recycle it. Stanfield made a great point: "we need to get away from using the word waste. It's actually surplus resources."
  3. If you do get rid of it, clean it (rinse with dirty wash water when you've finished doing the dishes). If it's recyclable, don't put it in the rubbish and vice versa.
  4. Sort it before you take it to the facility. If you're leaving it kerbside, don't bag your recyclables, leave them loose in the bin.
  5. Think of the many individuals that will have to deal with your waste- treat them kindly.

Our rubbish is buried in the earth, left for future generations. The landfill at University Drive is nearly full, and the new facility 20km outside of Bundaberg on the Isis Highway is expected to last 30-35 years - which isn't very long in the greater scheme of things, particularly with a growing population.

Recycling is very energy intensive. Australia has no recycling facility for plastic so all recyclable plastics are sent to China. We're happy to use the stuff, but we don't want to deal with it here when we're done - we pollute China instead, with it's looser environmental restrictions.

Remember that there's no such thing as "away" when we throw something away - every place is someone's backyard.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It's not just a catchphrase!

View photos of Bundaberg's waste management facility.

Editorial Notes: Andi Hazelwood of Post Carbon Institute has been covering local sustainability with more presentations at SustainaBundy Media. A good model for other citizen journalists. -BA

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