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CDU researchers tackle remote waste

CDU researchers tackle remote waste management in remote communities.
​CDU researchers Dr Deepika Mathur (right) and Ellie Norris have identified a range of options to help very remote communities more effectively tackle waste management.

In faraway outback towns across the Northern Territory, the tyranny of distance resulting in high transport costs means goods arrive, but sometimes never leave.

Piles of legacy waste containing scrap metal, car bodies, white goods, construction waste, tyres, car batteries and waste oils have remained at some sites for 100 years.

But a solution may be on the way.

A Charles Darwin University (CDU) study – the first of its kind – has explored integrated waste management options in very remote areas of the Northern Territory.

The study examined landfill sites for five communities in the West Arnhem Region: Jabiru, Gunbalanya, Maningrida, Minjilang (Croker Island) and Warruwi (South Goulburn Island).

Leading the research Dr Deepika Mathur, Senior Research Fellow at the CDU Northern Institute in Alice Springs, said the study findings provide a roadmap to help NT regional councils and communities navigate best practice waste management.

“It provides an evidence base that can be shared with other regional councils when planning their waste management strategies,” Dr Mathur said.

The research commissioned by the West Arnhem Regional Council (WARC) explored the opportunities and challenges of waste management against the backdrop of the current policy environment and practices in Australia and countries around the world.

It showed a national movement in many countries towards the principles of a circular economy, being a production and consumption model that aims to minimise waste by sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling materials and products.

“The landfill sites examined as part of the study were well maintained with neatly sorted stockpiles, but regional councils generally have no rate-paying base to fund further waste management.

“This means remote communities find it particularly difficult to participate in the circular economy, mainly due to the high cost of transporting waste," Dr Mathur said. 

Removal of multiple waste streams that require different waste packaging and types of transport, as well as different destinations for processing and recycling is a major challenge for regional councils, Dr Mathur said.

Helping to overcome these challenges the study by Dr Mathur and co-researcher Ellie Norris, who is a PhD student at CDU in Alice Springs, has identified a range of possible solutions and developed frameworks for estimating waste removal costs.  

Ms Norris said the frameworks for estimating costs can help WARC and other regional councils gauge the affordability of different approaches and help them budget for and prioritise the removal of waste streams from very remote communities.

“Removal costs were calculated based on data showing how much legacy waste was in each community, and estimates of how much waste is created weekly, monthly and annually.

“We then worked with logistics companies (barge and road haulage) and waste processing companies (hazardous waste and metal recycling) to calculate the costs of removing priority waste streams from each community,” Ms Norris said.

The study showed regional councils, such as WARC, can implement supply chains for removing priority wastes, such as cardboard, container deposit scheme (CDS) and construction waste, and remove listed waste and scrap metal on a regular basis. 

Partnering with logistics companies to capitalise on back-loading opportunities can also help reduce the high cost of transporting waste.

“But these measures require effort along the whole supply chain,” Dr Mathur said.

“Community organisations, government departments, product stewardship administrators, recyclers and logistics companies, for instance, need to be on board and committed to finding long-term solutions for diverting waste from remote landfill sites.”

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