Talking Rubbish

Councils will be familiar with the Waste Levy, introduced from 1 July 2019, and the annual payment the State Government is making to reduce the costs to Councils.  However, the full cost implications of the Waste Levy to local governments are not yet clear.  This blog explains some of them.

Who, what, when, where, why?

The Waste Levy was introduced following amendments to the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 and covers 39 of Queensland’s 77 local government areas.

The Waste Levy requires landfill operators including Councils to pay the Waste Levy to the State. The amount of the levy will generally be $75 per tonne of waste but varies depending on the circumstances.

A key reason for the Waste Levy, as well as ensuring there is no cross-border dumping by dodgy interstate operators seeking to avoid their own state’s waste levy, is to encourage waste producers to consider more innovative ways of dealing with waste other than sending it to landfill.

The annual payment

Under the Waste Levy regime, Councils are given an annual payment which must be used to mitigate any direct impacts of the waste levy on households for kerbside collection. 

The annual payment is the waste levy payable for municipal solid waste generated in Council’s local government area, plus 5%. 

The term “municipal solid waste” is given a detailed definition in the Waste Reduction and Recycling Regulation 2011, and generally includes household waste collected from domestic premises.

Councils are also required to inform ratepayers of the annual payment in rates notices, and have an obligation not to distribute misinformation about an annual payment (for example, information that is false or misleading about the impact of the Waste Levy on Council, the purpose of the annual payment, or the amount of the annual payment). 

However, Councils can include any material they like in their rates notices about the Waste Levy, provided it is not misinformation and provided it includes the information the Act requires it to include.

Hidden costs?

Even with the annual payment, it is difficult to believe that the annual payment will reduce Council’s costs associated with the Waste Levy fully. 

The problem is that the full scale of costs cannot be identified until some time has passed.  Realistically, recovery of actual costs incurred can only happen in 2020-21 at the earliest.

Some of the costs that Councils expect to incur because of the imposition of the Waste Levy include:

  • costs to improve landfill facilities, so that the technology is consistent with the Act and its requirements;
  • costs for Council to dispose of its own waste to landfill. The definition of “municipal solid waste” includes waste generated from street sweeping, public rubbish bins and maintaining public spaces, so these types of waste are covered by the annual payment.  However, waste associated with capital works and other projects are not.

Where to from here?

The State Government has come under some criticism for not committing to spending the cost of the Waste Levy on waste mitigation projects and strategies, even though the Explanatory Notes to the Bill said that the Waste Levy will “provide a source of funding for programs to assist local government, business and industry”. 

Instead, most of the money generated from the Waste Levy is paid into consolidated revenue.

While it remains to be seen whether the State will commit more firmly to use the Waste Levy to support waste producers such as local governments in enhancing their environmentally efficient waste management strategies, the overall cost to Councils cannot yet be fully understood.

For more information on the Waste Levy, or the law around waste in Queensland, please contact our Local Government Team.

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