Recovering and Reprocessing Resources from Waste

Tabled: 6 June 2019

3 Understanding Victoria's waste data

Government's planning and policy decisions need to be informed by reliable waste data.

While waste data collection is a shared responsibility among SV, EPA, councils and WRRGs, SV is responsible for the statewide oversight, coordination and reporting of waste data. SV provides two performance reports relating to waste—VLGAWSR and the Victorian Recycling Industry Annual Report (VRIAR).

These reports use data collected mainly through voluntary surveys of councils and reprocessing facility operators. SV also uses EPA's landfill levy data—collected through mandatory landfill levy returns—and the Australian Bureau of Statistics' population and export data.

Timely and standardised data collection processes as well as effective data verification processes will help ensure the completeness and accuracy of collected and reported waste data information.

3.1 Conclusion

SV-reported Victorian waste data is incomplete, unreliable and, in some instances, clearly inaccurate—particularly the recycled portion of Victorian households' recyclables.

SV provides limited guidance to ensure consistent and standardised data collection processes and is unable to effectively validate waste information it receives from councils and recovery facility operators.

Data quality issues limit the government's ability to comprehend the nature and magnitude of the state's waste, understand what becomes of collected recyclables, and identify emerging risks. These data quality issues impact the government's ability to make well informed investment and planning decisions or develop policy settings to address current and future risks and needs.

3.2 Inaccurate reporting—recycling

SV's reporting on recycled waste materials is inaccurate and suggests outcomes that are better than what the underlying data indicates.

For example, the 2016–17 VLGAWSR initially published by SV in September 2018 stated that 94 per cent of collected recyclables 'were recycled'. The 2013–14 and 2015–16, VLGAWSRs said that respectively 94 and 95 per cent of collected recyclables were 'actually recycled'.

These percentages suggest that nearly all recyclables collected from Victorian households were recycled as intended. This is not the case.

The word 'recycled' as used in SV's reports does not refer to its plain English meaning of conversion to a reusable item or used again. Neither is it consistent with:

  • AS/NZS 3831:1998 definition of recycled material as 'material recovered and manufactured into products'
  • National Waste Report definition of recycling as 'activities in which solid wastes are collected, sorted, processed (including through composting), and converted into raw materials to be used in the production of new products'.

Instead of saying, '94 per cent of collected recyclables were recycled', SV acknowledged during the audit that what it should report is that '94 per cent of collected recyclables were sent for recycling', which conveys a very different meaning to government and the public.

SV advised us that following this audit finding, it has now corrected the online version of the 2016–17 VLGAWSR report by removing the reference to recycling 94 per cent of collected recyclables. SV should similarly correct previous versions of the VLGAWSRs.

3.3 Data quality issues

Victorian waste data, as reported in the VLGAWSR and the VRIAR, is incomplete and unreliable. Current state waste data excludes information about the movement of recovered or illegally dumped recyclables and waste materials, the nature and extent of stockpiles across the state, and the level of market demand for Victorian recyclables.

Recovery rate is the proportion of recovered resources to total waste generated.

This means, among other things, that government has limited understanding of:

  • the type and amount of recovered resources that are in fact recycled
  • whether the unchanged state recovery rate of 67 per cent from 2012–13 to 2016–17 is accurate and whether it is due to improved resource recovery or other reasons such as unaccounted waste stockpiling or illegal dumping.

The Taskforce—established to identify and address waste stockpiles across the state—has also questioned the accuracy of Victorian waste exports data as reported in SV's VRIAR reports. The Taskforce believes waste exports data has been significantly underestimated. Figure 3A shows VAGO's assessment of the relative quality of Victorian waste data.

Figure 3A
Quality of Victorian waste data

Waste information

MSW

C&I waste

C&D waste

Landfilled

4

4

4

Segregated for recycling

3

2

2

Recycled

1(a)(b)

1

1

Received from interstate, exported(b), stockpiled, illegally dumped

1

1

1

(a) SV VLGAWSR states that nearly all recyclables collected from council kerbsides are recycled.
(b) Publicly reported.
Note: Legend:

Assessment

Description

5 = STRONG

Complete, reliable, verified data. Measures actual data. If not actual data, i.e. based on survey, respondents use a standardised method to collect and report data. Publicly reported.

4 = GOOD

Based on mandatory returns collected by EPA. Actual data collected quarterly but is incomplete. Data is not collected for landfilled waste that is exempt from levy. Moreover, collected data on hazardous waste is not publicly reported. Does not distinguish between C&I and C&D waste—estimated using a 60:40 split.

3 = SOMEWHAT GOOD

Based on voluntary survey. High response rate, usually 100 per cent. Strength of response depends on councils' varied processes to determine relevant data. Data collected annually. SV has very limited ability to confirm accuracy of data provided.

2 = NOT GOOD

Based on voluntary survey of waste recovery and reprocessing facilities. Response rate fluctuates—usually lower than 90 per cent. Data collected annually. Incomplete. Responses do not provide answers to many survey questions. SV has very limited ability to verify data provided.

1 = THERE IS SOME DATA

SV collects nil to little data. Not publicly reported. Based on voluntary surveys. Sighted raw data shows least responses for these categories. SV has no ability to verify provided data. Not publicly reported (except export waste data).

Source: VAGO.

Incomplete data

EPA collects actual landfill levy data from licensed landfills and some waste information from other licensed facilities. SV obtains waste data through annual voluntary surveys. From time to time, SV also commissions industry research on particular waste streams.

Waste sent to landfill

EPA's landfill data obtained from mandatory landfill levy returns is the only actual or primary waste data that is collected and aggregated at statewide level.

However, SV's reporting of Victoria's waste data is incomplete because it does not cover all waste sent to landfill such as:

  • prescribed industrial waste (collected by EPA but not included in SV reporting)
  • waste material that is exempt from the payment of the levy, such as waste from a natural disaster and those cleaned up in emergency events such as bushfire or flood (data not collected by EPA)
  • waste sent to landfills that are not subject to the levy under section 50S of the Act:
    • 'any privately owned landfill that only receives wastes that consist of substances that were owned by the owner of the landfill before they became wastes' (data not collected by EPA)
    • 'any landfill that only receives the municipal wastes of an area with a population of less than 5 000 people and that is owned by a municipal council' (data not collected by EPA).
Other waste categories (not including landfilled waste)

There is currently no government requirement to track or monitor the flow of materials segregated for recycling after these are sent to recovery or reprocessing facilities.

SV collects these datasets through voluntary surveys of councils and waste reprocessing operators. The respondents' willingness to respond and their ability to provide accurate data on the extent of their waste activities affect the completeness and reliability of responses collected.

The response rate for councils is high with all 79 councils responding to the 2015–16 and 2016–17 surveys. The survey participation rate is lower for waste recovery and reprocessing operators at approximately 85 per cent for the 2015–16 and 2016–17 surveys. The resource recovery operator responsible for collecting half of Victorian households' kerbside recyclables was not a respondent to the 2014–15, 2015–16 and 2016–17 VRIAR surveys of waste operators. Waste recovery and reprocessing operators do not provide answers to all questions, particularly those referring to tonnage of resources recycled, stockpiled, received from interstate, and landfilled.

Data collection methods not standardised

Councils have varied methods of collecting waste data requested in SV surveys. While some councils use weighbridge measurements or data received from contractors through their finance systems, SV documentation and our stakeholder consultation indicate that some councils use less-accurate truck counts or 'eye-balling' (visual) estimates to answer the survey questions.

Although SV provides guidance to councils and waste operators on how to respond to its annual waste surveys, SV currently does not guide councils to standardise and improve the quality and consistency of their waste data collection.

In 2012, the then Association of Victorian Regional Waste Management Groups developed the Data and Reporting Guideline for Waste Management Facilities (the Guideline) to standardise waste data collection. However, SV documentation reveals that it needs to revise the Guideline as it is not consistent with the latest National Waste Guidelines.

SV documentation also reveals that waste portfolio agencies consider standardised waste data collection as a key issue for the sector, and the Guideline, when it is revised, as a solution to data collection inconsistencies. The Waste Data Working Group, which SV chairs, has identified the revision of the Guidelines as a priority action. Notwithstanding, SV is yet to action it.

Unless councils and waste operators adhere to a standardised method to collect waste data, there will be limited assurance that the data they provide to SV fairly and consistently represents their waste information.

Additionally, as kerbside recyclables are collected and transported as commingled waste materials—plastics, glass, paper and steel—councils do not have specific weight tonnages for each material. Councils rely on estimates provided by their contracted waste operator for this information. SV advised that councils and WRRGs should consider requiring waste operators to provide specific waste data information, including on the final destination of segregated recyclables, as part of recycling contracts.

Waste recovery operators are also unable to provide specific weight tonnages for the various sources of recovered resources—MSW, C&I and C&D waste. This means that SV estimates waste tonnage from the three sources rather than report actual figures.

Limited data quality assurance processes

SV has a limited ability to verify the responses it receives from the voluntary surveys.

While SV tries to validate the waste data it receives from respondents, its process to do this focuses on identifying significant changes in data from year to year. It does not request raw data or check respondents' data collection processes or controls.

3.4 Addressing data quality issues

SV has been aware of data quality issues for at least 15 years, particularly regarding the reliability and completeness of MSW waste data. TZW, the Victorian Government's 2004 waste strategy document, tasked SV to improve the quality of waste data collection, management and reporting.

In response, SV has developed the Waste Data Governance Framework and established a waste data portal for sharing waste information across relevant agencies. However, while SV has enabled the sharing of waste data and improved its collaboration with responsible agencies and councils, it has made little progress to address identified data quality issues. SV advised that a lack of regulatory measures means it cannot resolve identified data quality issues. If this is the case, then SV should advise government of the necessary regulatory changes to enable this resolution.

Waste needs and gap analysis

In 2014, SV commissioned a waste data needs and gap analysis, with the intent that this would identify options for a data governance framework.

The 2014 report on this analysis highlighted 20 key recommendations for SV and, where appropriate, in collaboration with EPA and the seven WRRGs, to:

  • design, develop and implement a data warehouse for waste datasets
  • review the Guideline and, if appropriate, roll it out to all waste facilities across the state
  • undertake additional primary data collection to suitably disaggregate information on particular material streams
  • build more detailed industry profiles of waste generation, recycling and disposal across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria
  • design and implement processes for enhanced data analysis of existing and new datasets.

Waste Data Governance Framework

In 2015, SV developed the Waste Data Governance Framework to support the effective management of waste data.

SV, DELWP, EPA and the regional WRRGs, including MWRRG, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2016 to implement the Waste Data Governance Framework. The MoU and the Waste Data Governance Framework state that SV is the central coordinator of the Framework and its implementation. SV chairs the Waste Data Working Group, which includes representatives from DELWP, EPA and WRRGs.

The Waste Data Governance Framework acknowledges that the waste sector lacks a consistent, clear and robust system to effectively manage waste and resource recovery data. It provided for a three-year implementation plan to:

  • develop and implement standards and guidelines to allow the collection of consistent and accurate datasets
  • share collected waste data in a timely manner across relevant government agencies
  • identify roles and responsibilities across relevant agencies, including identifying data owners who will be accountable for ensuring that waste datasets meet relevant quality measures.

While work on the second and third tasks was completed in 2017, SV is yet to action the development of standards to allow for the consistent and accurate collection of waste data. SV advised that it continues to work on this.

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