There were some great ideas bouncing around at the sustainability discussion event, Banksia Ignite, attended by The Fifth Estate on Tuesday at the MCA in Sydney.

Examples of green cities are great, but let’s make them the norm

Jonathan Cartledge, interim chief executive officer of the Green Building Council of Australia spoke about cities as vehicles through which we can deal with the Sustainability Development Goals.

He pressed the idea that we must plan for the future, and plan cleverly, considering infrastructure and buildings that can deal with increasingly common issues such as heat stress.

He used Aura in Queensland as an example, where forward planning has employed more bike lanes than Copenhagen and where no one is ever more than 200 metres from green space.

Mr Cartledge recognised there was “an increasing realisation from industry and government that [working] collaboratively delivers better results for communities and tax payers, and gets more votes.”

He added that while this is a great trend, it’s smaller businesses – “the little family trusts” – that are being left behind.

From burning rubbish to booming tourism

Terry Wilson, the former World Heritage manager on Lord Howe Island, discussed the importance of data collection to make cases for environmental support, and the need for funding and programs to run over decades, rather than months.

Mr Wilson described Lord Howe Island as it once was, with people burning rubbish on the foreshores, toxic plumes rising overhead and weeds strangling native wildlife.

He said it required vision to fix the entire ecosystem, treating the project on a large scale rather than isolating issues and rushing solutions.

“To restore any ecosystem, it’s not a one or two year issue,” Mr Wilson said, “in our case we’re looking at a 30 year replant, and we’ve had to try and bring those funding agencies with us across into that mental timeframe.”

Randwick City Council’s packed sustainability agenda

Peter Maganov, sustainability manager for Randwick City Council, has had a lot on his plate, including implementing an EV charging station, some of the first waste and recycling drop off points in the state and “declaring a climate emergency ahead of Canberra”.

Mr Maganov said this came down to the support of the community, saying that the council was “fortunate” to have the backing of residents.

Randwick City Council has had an environmental levy in place for the past 15 years, and has just renewed it for another five.

“It was controversial every time,” Mr Maganov said, “but we are fortunate that the community wants those things on the ground.”

Among the initiatives supported by the levy is a storm water treatment system that captures “200 Olympic sized swimming pools of water each year” and allows the council to “keep playing fields open where other fields had to close”.

They have also found success in bundling rebates for environmental appliances. They have a display home set up to tangibly showcase the possibilities to residents.

Collaboration is not a waste, and policy needs to reflect that

Justin Frank, director of marketing, communications and key accounts at Suez, spoke on the importance of dismantling the unsustainable “take, make and dispose” linear waste model.

“Waste to energy is certainly an area we are exploring significantly in Australia,” Mr Frank suggested.

“But really we want to move further forward like our European counterparts to have more circular outcomes where you take, make, reuse, repair, and if you can’t do that, dismantle, harvest, reform, and where you can’t put it back into the manufacturing process, recover the calorific values.”

Mr Frank described stable policy, forward planning and strong education as key. He expressed the need for a “coordinated, national, above the line marketing campaign to make sure that residents put the right things in the bin”.

As it stands, education is lacking, with residents consistently failing to put the right things in the right bins. For example, Mr Frank said flairs, gas canisters and a hand grenade had turned up in their recycling streams.

With the landfill Suez runs in the Eastern corridor closing in 2024, Mr Frank suggested it was more important than ever to get these processes right, lest our “recycling crisis” continue, leading to congestion and clogging in neighbouring landfills among other threats.

He called the issue back to supply chains, saying the change would require a conversation to happen between all levels: from package makers to councils and communities, right to the recyclers and beyond.

For the circular economy to work, partnerships are vital.

Mr Frank expressed concerns that the conversations were not happening between the right players in the market, and that this had led to recent policy changes that, “overnight, with the strike of a pen” have prohibited initiatives such as Suez’s Mixed Waste Organic Output Challenge from diverting waste from landfill. This particular initiative was spread over two facilities and involved “hundreds of millions of dollars of investment”.

“Because of, we think, pretty flawed scientific research,” Mr Frank said, “that undermines foreign investment in circular outcomes.”

In order to rectify these challenges, Mr Frank said Australia needs to invest money upfront to get that source separation right and “make it economically viable for the processing plants to be here so that Australia can deal with its own shit, for want of a better phrase”.

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