The current crisis in the state's recycling sector is deeply concerning for council and residents - especially those of us who are concerned about the environment and diligent about separating recyclables from other waste. I'd like to reassure residents that your recyclables are not going to landfill, as is happening in at least a dozen other municipalities around the state.
Instead, our recyclables - about 200 tonnes per week - are being collected as normal and put in storage for the short term until the ongoing viability of SKM - council's recycling contractor - is determined.
We are talking to SKM every day in an attempt to resolve this issue positively.
In the event that SKM does not reopen, we have contingency plans in place to process recycling locally.
This is clearly not a long-term solution. However, sending recyclables to landfill is completely contrary to council's commitment to a circular economy which focuses on recycling and reusing, and energy recovery through waste to energy.
Our approach is to treat waste as an asset with potential value, rather than a liability.
Regrettably, the current problems in the recycling sector seem to have caught the state government somewhat by surprise.
Many councils are now scrambling to deal with a problem not of their making and are forced to send thousands of tonnes of recyclable paper, plastic and glass to landfill each day.
The City of Ballarat is actively looking to partner with the state government.
We are working on a short term contingency plan that will deliver a recycling solution for the Central Highlands region.
As part of that solution, in the longer term, we are committed to developing a materials recovery facility in Ballarat that will service a broader region.
The longer term solution for Ballarat is the development of a suite of three projects, anchored by an all waste interchange which will be used to sort all waste streams including recyclables, green and other waste. Related facilities include a materials recovery facility and waste to energy facility.
Council has planned for these projects over a number of years and has made numerous approaches for support, including visits to Spring Street and to Canberra, to persuade governments at federal and state level of the wisdom of supporting our approach.
We look forward to again having an opportunity to pursue these matters with the premier, particularly given the recycling environment has changed so dramatically in recent months.
The government's sustainability fund, which is funded by councils through the landfill levy, was established to encourage the diversion of waste from landfill.
Release of money from this fund is now a matter of urgency and is clearly the key to delivery of these projects for Ballarat - and may help us avoid the potentially disastrous outcome of tonnes of recyclables being dumped.
It's a frustrating and heartbreaking scenario for all local governments.
Ballarat is not prepared to give up on the commitment to recycling and sustainability we have had as our guiding light in this space for over a decade.
Our residents have embraced the approach and have spent years recycling.
Fortunately, City of Ballarat is better positioned than many other municipalities. Several years ago, anticipating that recycling and waste management would become a major issue for local governments, council began to work on a strategic approach to waste which has a strong emphasis on a circular economy and harnessing new energy through energy recovery.
I have met with, and written to local members of parliament, and have sought an urgent meeting with the premier to discuss how the government can support our alternative approach. We have worked consistently and strategically in an effort to avoid exactly this situation.
We will continue to work to find a viable alternative for our recycling and other waste and hope that the premier will help us find a sustainable and long-term way forward.
Cr Samantha McIntosh is mayor of Ballarat