Lane Cove Council’s Messy Recycling Problems

You are often told that local councils are all about the three R’s – Roads, Rates and Rubbish.  There is a new R that’s becoming more and more important – recycling.  Local Councils are at the forefront of waste and recycling management.

Landfill Diversion Rates

According to the Local Government NSW, councils in NSW manage an estimated 3.5 million tonnes of waste generated by residents each year.  Local councils work hard to reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfill.  In fact some councils are achieving up to 77% diversion of waste from landfill.

Each month in the Lane Cove Council Snapshot, the council publishes landfill diversion rates:


Save Our Recycling

In the lead up to the 2019 NSW Election, Local Government NSW launched a Save Our Recycling Campaign.  They called upon the State Government to reinvest the $720 million collected as part of the NSW Waste Levy.  The NSW Waste Levy is collected from licensed waste facilities.  For example Lane Cove’s waste collector URM must pay a contribution for each tonne of waste received at their facilities. According to the NSW EPA site this “waste levy” aims to reduce the amount of waste being landfilled and promote recycling and resource recovery.  The waste levy contribution is factored into the waste and recycling management contract between URM and the Lane Cove Council.  In addition to rates, all lane cove council ratepayers pay a domestic waste management charge for Council to provide garbage and recycling services.  So ratepayers pay the waste levy.

In 2016/2017, the NSW Government collected $726 million from local government, community, businesses and industry from the waste levy. Yet only 10 per cent – or $72 million – was spent on waste minimisation and recycling in 2017/2018.

In March this year, ITC attended a Save Our Recycling Campaign meeting organised by Local Government NSW.  The then Minister for Local Government, Gabrielle Upton, emphatically stated that the waste levy goes into Consolidated Revenue for use on all government projects.  She spent most of her allotted time NSW councils that they had failed to get behind the Container Deposit Scheme rather than addressing how local government and state government can work together on recycling issues.

Why is Lane Cove’s Landfill Diversion Rates Declining?

Lane Cove’s declining landfill diversion rates can be attributed to two main factors:

  • China’s National Sword Policy; and
  • NSW EPA banning the use of compost from mixed sources

National Sword Policy

The Recycling landscape has changed.  It changed dramatically when China implemented the National Sword Policy. This policy means China will no longer accept recyclable material contaminated with non-recyclable material.   The decision reflects China’s desire to recycle more of its domestic waste.

Many people saw the Sword Policy coming.  In 2013 China announced Operation Green Fence, a crackdown on poorly sorted shipments of used paper and plastic that arrived from America contaminated with trash.

In 2016 Wang Jiuliang released the thought-provoking documentary Plastic China.  This documentary focused on the appalling working conditions of Chinese families who sort recycled waste.  Plastic China’s main character Yi-Jie is an unschooled 11-year-old girl whose family works and lives in a typical plastic waste household-recycling workshop.  This film premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.  A few months after its premiere, China addressed the World Trade Organisation and advised them that for public health reasons action would be taken to reduce the amount of recycled waste being exported to China.

If China will not take the waste, action has to be implemented in Australia to work out solutions by every level of government in Australia (i.e. local/state/national).

Lane Cove Organic Waste Being Diverted to Landfill

In the 2018 War on Waste  series they featured the Penrith City Council and the steps they have taken to reduce landfill and recycle organic matter.  Penrith City Council offers a dedicated organics bin.  After the episode aired, In the Cove was flooded with people asking why Lane Cove Council did not offer the same system.

Lane Cove Council told ITC that they will NOT be offering a dedicated organic matter bin. This was because the Lane Cove Council, along with four other councils in the Northern Sydney Region, send the content of red–lidded waste bins to a purpose-built Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility at Woodlawn, south of Sydney.

The facility is managed by Veolia who are responsible for transforming the waste from red-lidded bins in Lane Cove into useful compost for environmental rehabilitation. Based on waste audit data, it is expected that approximately 50-60% of the waste received will be diverted from landfill. After the organic material is recovered and converted into compost, remaining waste is delivered to a bioreactor for further energy recovery.

This waste processing technology requires a certain percentage of waste in the red bin to be organic to assist with the composting that is processed. In October 2018 The EPA changed the regulations relating to mixed waste organic material. These amendments could result in the short-term diversion of general household (red-lid bin) waste to landfill and when organic waste sits in a landfill, it decomposes, emitting methane, which is bad for the climate.

The decision by the EPA to stop further use of the mixed waste organic material was made after a comprehensive, independent research program concluded that there are limited agricultural or soil benefits from applying mixed waste organic material at the current regulated rates.  The report concluded there are physical contaminants and potential environmental risks. In particular, deterioration of soil health, chemical and physical contaminants such as small pieces of plastic and glass, were of concern.

This means that the organic matter in red lidded bins will now go towards landfill and will not be reused in the agricultural and mining sector.  Your bins will still be collected. However,  the Lane Cove Council may now have to consider the introduction of organic waste matter bins.

What Steps Could Lane Cove Council Take to Tackle Recycling Issues?

Container Deposit Scheme (Return and Earn)

There is currently no return and earn options in Lane Cove council area.  Lane Cove Council has looked for a suitable place to install a reverse vending machine, however the site needs to be situated away from residential areas (the machines are noisy) and in an area where the trucks can manoeuvre to empty the machines (which rules out underground car parks).  Representatives of the Lane Cove Sustainability Action Group spoke, at the February 2019 Lane Cove Council meeting, and asked council to investigate drop off areas – like a large cage which can then be emptied and taken directly to a container deposit recycling centre.


Local Councils need to place more emphasis on educating residents to decrease contamination levels. The emphasis should be on educating local residents to stop throwing away items absentmindedly, and start disposing of them in a more informed, deliberate way.

Plastic bags in the yellow recycling bins (bottles and containers) are still a problem.  Plastic bags clog up the recycling machines.  Narrabri Shire Council and their contractors Cleanaway have a programme of education on their Facebook page.  ITC would prefer URM to put some money in education rather than giving away PLASTIC garbage bins and caps at Lane Cove Council events – you have to walk the walk and talk the talk.




Even though we recycle more now than ever, we’re not always sure what Lane Cove’s local recycling program accepts.  This happens all over the world. David Biderman, the executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), said “Many Americans are either aspirational recyclers or they’re confused recyclers. Just because it’s made of plastic doesn’t mean it can be recycled.”

In the ITC household we regularly fight about recycling the pizza box.  What are the rules?  This is such a vexing question, it prompted Stanford University to put the following on their website.

Q: Why can’t pizza boxes be recycled?

A: Pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard; however the cardboard becomes soiled with grease, cheese, and other foods once the pizza has been placed in the box. Once soiled, the paper cannot be recycled because the paper fibers will not be able to be separated from the oils during the pulping process. Food is a major source of contamination in paper recycling.

It all gets back to education and information.

Soft Plastics

Lane Cove Council could investigate the use of soft plastics and partner with resource and recycling companies.  In the Sutherland Shire, they partnerd with Close the LoopRED Group and Plastic Police to set this new benchmark in sustainability.

Along with soft plastics and glass, toner from approximately 4,000 used printer cartridges and more than 60 tonnes of recycled asphalt were also repurposed to create 220 tonnes of asphalt used to construct the road along Old Princes Highway between Cooper Street and Engadine Road in Sutherland Shire.

You can recycle your soft plastics at both Woolworths and Coles Lane Cove.

ITC’s home recycling area (soft plastics in bag)

Community Recycling Centre

Lane Cove has embraced the Community Recycling Centre The Community Recycling Centre located at 8 Waltham Street in Artarmon and it is a one-stop shop for safely disposing of problem household wastes such as paint, gas bottles, e-waste or motor oil and more.  In other words, problem wastes that can’t be collected via council kerbside waste or recycling collection services all year round.

It is a free service and the Community Recycling Centre is conveniently located at 8 Waltham Street Artarmon.  More people need to know about this great facility.


Lane Cove Council should be promoting organisations that promote reusing items such as the Repair Café. It is open on the first two Sundays of each month and will fix for free items that you might otherwise throw out.  Further details here. The Repair Cafe does use a Lane Cove Facility for free.

Willoughby City Council promoted the Repair Cafe’s work on their Facebook Page.

They could promote organisations like The Generous and the Grateful. The Generous and the Grateful collects white good donations from kind-hearted Australians and gives to those who really need a boost to get back in control of their lives (for example refugees or domestic violence victims).  The good news is that as they are located in Ryde, they will pick up items from Lane Cove homes.  More details here.

These are just a few ideas.  The new recycling bins in the Lane Cove Plaza are attractive (for bins).  However it’s not a good look when the URM driver tells you that he has been instructed to put the contents of the recycled bin and the general waste bin in the same truck.  See ITC’s video below.

Do you have a local issue you would like help with? ITC is here to help just email us at [email protected]

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