A video of Sydney South West City Council workers mixing recycling and general rubbish in the same garbage truck has sparked outrage among residents.
But the waste industry says there’s a simple reason why it’s happening, with a simple solution – and residents are partly to blame.
“The problem has been caused by local governments imposing unsafe working hours,” Tony Khoury, executive director of the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW, told news.com.au.
“And the reason they impose unsafe working hours is because they get insignificant noise complaints from residents who don’t want collections to take place at the safest time – which is 2 a.m. morning, 3 am, 4 am are the safest times to collect trash and recycle from these streets.
He said in many places “they don’t allow us to start until 7 am”.
“It’s just ridiculous,” he said. “Children go to school, people go to meetings. This becomes a real safety issue for the driver, the rider behind the truck, members of the public.
Earlwood’s mother, Pia Coyle, spotted the Canterbury-Bankstown Council garbage collectors emptying the contents of yellow and red street bins into the same lorry and filmed a video, which was posted by The Sydney Morning Herald Thursday.
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Ms Coyle told the newspaper that the council should have informed residents if it could not empty the red and yellow bins separately – and that most people would have been willing to walk their bins a short distance to the main road, if they could be picked up by a bigger truck.
“Recycling is very important to me and I want my kids to learn the right thing to do,” she said.
Other residents also described witnessing the same thing.
“Why do I separate my recycling from my general waste when [the collectors] come mix it all up again? a resident wrote on social media along with a photo of the same truck, the newspaper reported.
Another added that it had “been happening for ages”.
Mr Khoury told news.com.au the problem was that many areas of the city center with narrow lanes and roads could only be accessed with a rear forklift, which only collects one type of waste, as opposed to a side loader.
“Rather than sending out two trucks and doubling the risk to the safety of workers and members of the public, the work is being done by one truck,” he said.
“It’s not new, it’s ongoing [in some councils].”
Mr Khoury, whose members own 95 per cent of the equipment used in NSW’s waste industry, said if the councils ‘allowed the safest weather possible, consideration could be given to using a lorry for waste and one for recycling”.
“But then the council has to deal with noise complaints,” he said.
“I’m a bit above that – our industry doesn’t create garbage. We’re here to collect and transport them, but we have to do it in the safest way possible. You have been asked to do a job, but a hand is tied behind your back.
Ideally, he said, all litter and recycling collection “should be allowed at the safest time possible” determined by a risk assessment, not the council setting arbitrary hours based on noise complaints.
He noted that in 2018 a grandmother died after being hit by a garbage truck on Sydney’s northern beaches.
“We are talking about serious real-life fatal implications if we get it wrong,” he said.
There are around 18,000 full-time, part-time and casual workers in the NSW waste industry.
Canterbury-Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour said in a statement to news.com.au that he shared some residents’ frustrations and had called for a comprehensive review of the council’s waste management operations.
“Absolutely, this is an issue that I take very seriously,” he said.
“That’s why I’ve asked council staff to undertake a comprehensive review of our waste management operations. But I want to point out that this does not happen all over the city, but in a handful of hard-to-reach streets. It’s about public safety and our biggest trucks accessing narrow streets with cars parked on either side.
Mayor Asfour added that when council was made aware of the issues, staff worked with the community to resolve them.
“In some cases residents have asked council to put up no parking signs so lorries can have proper access and in other cases residents have carried wheelie bins to the end of their street “, did he declare.
“Obviously there are still some problem areas and if the review means changes need to be made, I will leave no stone unturned to fix that.”
However, other councils which deal with narrow streets, including Inner West Council and Waverley Council, said The Sydney Morning Herald they didn’t have the same problem with the size of the trucks and didn’t mix waste with recycling.
Suzanne Toumbourou, chief executive of the Australian Council of Recycling, said she would describe the video as ‘aberrant behaviour’ and that ‘I imagine, knowing the councils I engage with, they would be appalled at this approach “.
“They would also likely be horrified at what it might mean in terms of the confidence with which households engage in their recycling systems,” she said.
“I certainly hope this doesn’t shed light on the expectations of the community. From a recycling perspective, this is the last thing the industry wants to see. »
In 2017, a major ban by China on importing waste from other countries – allegedly for “recycling” – plunged local industry into crisis, as almost half of the metal, plastic, paper and Australian cardboard had been shipped there.
Ms Toumbourou said Australian recycling technology had “come a long way, especially in recent years – we have become strong recyclers”.
“We need to support community confidence in the results of recycling,” she said.