A new waste strategy proposed by the Queensland Government is one of many shifts in infrastructure needed in the race to secure a sustainable future for the state. The renewed Queensland waste strategy has been announced as a response to the state’s rising waste levels – a problem that is increasing at a higher rate than regional population growth. The timing couldn’t be more crucial for the state government to propose the reform, which specifies that a shift in consumption, waste generation and disposal patterns is needed to avert significant and ongoing expense to the state economy.
South-East Queensland faces the challenge of regulating depleted landfill sites and ensuring recyclable resources are isolated for treatment and reuse.
Toby Hutcheon, executive director of Queensland Conservation, said Queensland was a wasteful society that needed to work towards sustainability.
“Queensland is at a waste management and resource recovery crossroads. We are the second-highest generators of waste in Australia yet the recycling rate is one of the lowest with 71 per cent of recyclables entering landfill sites,” Mr Hutcheon said.
Queensland’s waste generation has increased by 40 per cent in the past decade despite the population increasing by only 10 per cent.
The introduction of an industry waste levy of $35 per tonne from July 1, 2011 is intended to put pressure on commercial businesses to change their disposable behaviour and implement resource recovery strategies.
Waste Management Association of Australia board member Peter Wadewitz believes the levy will hinder business operations but will not fundamentally change behaviour.
“Some businesses will accept the levies as an expense they are willing to pay because they have no desire or incentive to reduce their waste outcomes. There is a need for an incentive to recycle rather than a price to pay for convenience,” he said.
As the only mainland state yet to enforce a waste levy, Queensland has been an attractive and cheap destination for interstate companies to dump their waste.
The waste management plan also aims to strengthen litter laws.
The annual National Litter Index results for this year has revealed that more litter can be found in this state than anywhere else on the mainland, with many of these loose litter items being potential recycling targets such as paper and plastic bottles.
South-East Queensland is fast becoming one of the most heavily populated urban centres in Australia, and indeed the world.
Urban sprawl has connected Brisbane with its two coastal satellites as more people migrate to the area, famously known for its culture, temperature and excellent beaches.
University of Queensland academic and former chief executive of The Brisbane Institute, Professor Peter Spearritt coined the term “the 200km city” in an article he wrote entitled The 200km City: Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.
“As 30 per cent of the population can’t drive, because they are under 17 and don’t have a licence, adults who don’t drive, and older people, a car-based 200km linear city is a disaster waiting to happen.”
The Brisbane Institute found that only 17.4 per cent of South-East Queensland was green space, including National Parks and conservation areas, whereas in Sydney this number was 42.9 per cent.
In his article Prof Spearritt highlighted that an increasingly decentralised southern corner of the state was creating a reliance on car travel, which would have significant impacts on cleanliness and traffic congestion in the city.
“While 9 per cent of all trips in Brisbane are by public transport, fewer than 2 per cent are by public transport on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.”
Prof Spearritt blames undue dependence on coal-fired electricity, exacerbated by the spread of air conditioning units, and the redundant desalination plant at Tugun which he believes should be abandoned.
Policy-makers in state and local constituencies will have to tread carefully in the coming years, and urban sprawl will no doubt be on the agenda during the next state election.
Prof Spearritt said the concept of the 200km city was already a reality, with large commuter suburbs already in place.
“The State Government created a statutory regional plan for South East Queensland in 2005 with an ‘urban footprint’ in an attempt to direct, if not curb, urban sprawl”.
With so many stakeholders involved, reaching a timely and effective solution could be harder and more costly than expected.
Congestion in Brisbane is set to get worse according to a recent study. A study titled State of Australian Cites, was conducted by the Government’s Major Cities Unit, and the statistics are startling with the Government acknowledging immediate action must be taken.
With over three-quarters of Australia’s population living in the major cities, it is no surprise that congestion has become an issue over the years. However, it is only when the figures are examined can it be seen how damaging this is becoming for the nation.
The Government report stated: “The cost of congestion for the Australian capitals was approximately $9.4 billion for 2005 … this is projected to rise to $20.4 billion by 2020.”
These figures are creating fear amongst the Government and public alike, as it becomes clear this will mean a large effect on the economy, as productivity is expected to decline as congestion slows down the freight task.
The effects of this congestion are not just set to affect the country financially, but the environment as well. Seventy-five per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be coming from the cities, with transport emissions being one of the largest sources.
In a speech by Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, the issue was addressed. He stated the need to change, saying “relieve urban congestion and we improve our quality of life”.
However, it is not just the environment that is being destroyed by the high levels of congestion, but also those living in the areas. The report explained that, “respiratory conditions and exposure to urban air pollution [are] now accounting for 2.3 per cent of all deaths.”
Mr Albanese acknowledged in his speech that the aim to reduce congestion was a long-term goal.
“The cities of tomorrow will need to confront our energy-intensive lifestyles, our water consumption, the growth in motor vehicle dependency, in congestion and transport emissions,” he said.
To try and reduce both congestion and pollution, many groups are continuing to advocate alternative travel options including walking and public transport, and many are looking to city councils to make changes.
Brisbane City Council has been working to increase the use of public transport with the introduction of the CityGlider linking to the CityCycle bike hire scheme which opened on October 1.
Eventually, CityCyle plans to have 2,000 bikes and 150 Stations throughout the Brisbane region that both visitors and residents are able to hire.
At the launch earlier this month, Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said, “Today is a great step forward to a cleaner, greener, healthier and less congested Brisbane”.
He continued by saying, “Its all part of my commitment to deliver $100 million in new bikeway infrastructure over four years and part of the plan to move Brisbane forward and reduce congestion.”
Not only this, but by 2012 two more CityCat ferry terminals, situated in Teneriffe and Hamilton, will be in operation, in the hope to further reduce congestion.
The Queensland Government has outlined plans to secure large tracts of land in South-East Queensland for conservation purposes in an effort to promote a greener region.
The South-East Queensland Natural Resource Management Plan 2009-2031 was established to try and identify key growth areas and to manage and limit urban sprawl.
University of Queensland academic and former chief executive of The Brisbane Institute, Professor Peter Spearritt admits that the concept of a 200km city stretching from Tweed to the Sunshine Coast is already a reality.
One of the initiatives of the NRM Plan is to buy more land to be used and rehabilitated for conservation.
According to a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure and Planning, the amount of green space available for the community will be increased through rehabilitation, revegetation and plans to open up new areas for recreation.
“The South-East Queensland Regional Plan has defined the urban footprint to contain the spread of urban development and protects eighty-five per cent of the region from development”.
The Brisbane Institute found that Brisbane’s green space was significantly less than that of Sydney, with 17.4 per cent of the region green compared with 42.9 per cent further south.
Urbanisation and an over-reliance on car travel in SEQ had produced a sprawl as more and more people choose to live in the Sunshine State.
The State Government has been working with councils to try to promote the use of public transport with more services for the growing population at a cost of $134bn as outlined in the South-East Queensland Infrastructure Program and Plan (SEQIPP).
From ideas raised at the Queensland Growth Management Summit, the government has focused on 22 key issues, and supporting 25 further actions to manage growth over the next 18 months.
Story: Gemma Smith, Alex Sturgess and Sophie Jensen