Some Australian councils have made, or are planning to make, long-term contracts with no-competition conditions under which they commit to paying minimum amounts for providing minimum amounts of garbage to high tech private contractors.

Imagine that.  Contracting away your obligation to reduce waste, to cut climate pollution, and to agree to keep up your current level of waste to support someone else’s business.

To answer the questions, “Why?” and ‘What’s wrong with that?’ will you walk with me a bit while I talk about garbage, trucks and hot air?

Don’t leave.  (If you do, can I come, too?)

This is all about you.  A contract is coming to you and your local council.

Penrith Council in NSW has already signed a 14 year garbage contract.  Sydney Council’s 2030 Vision anticipates such contracts.

The “why” of this trend to long term garbage outsourcing starts with the fast-rising costs of garbage; garbage disposal costs are up over 14 per cent since last year in WA, over 10 per cent for the last five years in many Sydney councils (from $98 a tonne in 2004 to $125 in 2008, council reports show.)

As Australia runs out of cheap holes to tip its garbage into, as red tape screws down the amount of climate pollution that garbage tips may spew into Earth’s atmosphere, and as collection and transport costs mount Councils all over are scrambling for solutions.

There’s a contractual feeding frenzy because the sums of money involved are huge.

The High Tech Boy-Have-We-Got-a-Solution-For-You Corporations have teamed up with the Your Money is Mine Corporations.  They have encircled the policy-becalmed, income-guaranteed carcasses of Australia’s Councils (called “Sitting Ducks” by the corporations and recently staffed by good ole boyz and pratts fleeing the unfolding truths of other carcasses such as the likes of Lehman Brothers et al).

(Burr wonders if the same councils suffering indigestible losses from investing in the junk US mortgage rackets are now lining up to sign these contracts?)

Their story goes like this:

“Give us your waste and we’ll solve all your problems for you”, the Corporation Boyz say.

“Because we’re so high tech, and so sustainable, you’ll have to agree to pay us a lot of money for a long time to help us pay for our Gee Whiz Blather to Compost Machine”.

“It provides its own energy by burning the dirty garbage methane to run The Machine.  Oh, and we’ll sell our compost back to you at a price just below the price of a barrel of oil”. Of course your Greenie loves this bit, it’s so alternative.

And what about the “What’s wrong with that?” part of this game?

Ahh, still here, are you. Cool. Cause the next bit is interesting, whereas that stuff above is just the same ole same ole greed dressed up in high tech tosh.

The problems with existing and high tech garbage collection compared to local reuse systems are that:

  • Existing and new high tech systems prevent a major part of the food miles being taken out of our food. The typical council and private garbage truck travels over 100 kilometres each time they pick up our garbage and each puts over 15 tonnes of pollution into the air a year.
  • As the diagram shows, when we compost the food waste where we live we also take out the 47 per cent of our garbage which is food and cut all the air pollution from food waste
  • Local composting prevents the methane and carbon dioxide pollution of garbage systems
  • Local composting does not use transport and processing
  • By growing soil from composting we change urban deserts and heat islands into cooler, productive places.

There’s some beaut, surprising research about how our cities cause climate change. Read it here because you won’t read it in Councils’ “sustainable visions’, pollution graphs or in their reports on garbage contracts.

In one interesting experiment, carbon pollution monitoring towers were put into two Melbourne suburbs, Surrey Hills and Preston, to measure the emissions every hour, every day, summer to winter.

The researchers wanted to measure the impact of urban design and land use on the amount of carbon pollution from cities. (1) The results show:

  • Surrey Hills had a lower housing density than Preston’s –  1113 dwellings per hectare compared with 1248 dwellings  in Preston
  • Surrey Hills had about 6 per cent more forest cover
  • But Surrey Hills had higher traffic levels in peak hours
  • For most of each day the carbon pollution from Surrey Hills was less than the higher-density Preston;
  • But morning rush hour car pollution brought Surrey Hills’ pollution above Preston’s
  • Then, as photosynthesis kicked in with the passing day, the larger volume of vegetation in Surry Hills brought its pollution down below Preston’s
  • Preston’s peak carbon pollution was in the middle of the night

What’s this got to do with garbage?

Australia has big cities.  They run up huge food miles (including garbage miles).  To stop them polluting we need to use them differently, and to stop driving garbage trucks around them.

Let’s compare Melbourne’s pollution with Mexico City, a place where the sun is often blacked out by pollution:

  • Preston puts up 85 tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution each year from every one of its hectares;
  • Applying Preston’s pollution rate to all of Melbourne’s 215,000 ha produces the stunning result that that city puts up about the same amount of carbon pollution as Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, Earth’s largest, puts up in six years
  • Melbourne city (population 4 million) pollutes Earth’s atmosphere with the same amount of carbon pollution as Mexico City (population 9 million)
  • Mexico pollutes an average 128 tonnes of carbon a hectare but is denser.  (2)

So Melbourne pollutes as much as Mexico City. Imagine that.

And our cities will stay polluting because the High Tech Boyz’ contracts will lock us into a highly polluting waste transport system for decades.

But garbage trucks do damage that goes far beyond their pollution.

They stop us making soil from food waste with which to change urban deserts to productive landscapes.

But their worst impact, weirdly, is that they are the tail that wags the urban planning dog.

Big garbage trucks are harder to turn than the Queen Mary.

Any project with a road design to make the car a guest on the road has been undone because the council has insisted the roads and intersection be wide enough for a garbage truck to turn when travelling at 25 km an hour.

Folks who’ve asked councils to approve more sustainable road design know that the key argument councils use to stop roads being made narrower, or safer for kids, or slower, is the garbage truck.  When it’s said the council’s garbage trucks won’t be used, as the project will have no garbage for them, or when a developer offers to buy them smaller trucks, the council officers start to froth at the mouth.

Ola. There goes the neighbourhood.

And there’s smoke and mirrors behind the “alternative” energy spin of the high tech Boyz.

Red tape says that, because their plants make energy from the garbage’s methane, they may create “alternative” energy which in turn allows them to create “carbon credits”.

Carbon credits are a tradeable form of money which the Boyz sell to polluters such as oil companies to help them to “offset” their carbon footprint.

Yes, that’s the same oil which powers the garbage trucks that take the rubbish to the plants and which showed up in the pollution measuring towers at Preston and Surrey Hills.

Phew, thank goodness it’s being “offset” and isn’t really there.

Burr wonders if the Boyz have joined Cheat Neutral, the website which allows folks to offset their cheating by funding someone else to be faithful and not cheat.

“Cheat Neutral neutralises the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience”:  (“so far, cheatneutral has offset 65,768 cheats and has 9002 faithful people ready to neutralise your misdemeanours”).

Cutting pollution from our cities is only achievable when we grow food where we live and work. To grow food we need to grow local soils by local composting. Local composting does not need trucks. With those soils we can grow city forests, city food, and cool down our cities. The more we do this the less garbage, the fewer garbage trucks and the more enjoyable our quieter, friendlier, productive streets will be – they will be our enjoyed, public rooms.

But only if we’re not locked out of them by long term council contracts.

(1) Characteristics influencing the variability of urban CO2 fluxes in Melbourne, Australia
Andrew M. Coutts_, Jason Beringer, Nigel J. Tapper
(2) Welcome to the urban revolution; how cities are changing the world, by JEB BRUGMANN UQP / 2009

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy.

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