A Load of Rubbish - Waste Management in Sutherland Shire
By Pauline Curby
As increasing numbers of local residents shun plastic bags and turn to bright green shopping bags, it is an opportune time to consider the history of waste disposal in Sutherland Shire. This is a murky story - as it was all over Sydney . In the past we have not always been so conscious of reducing waste as we are now and only a few thoughtful observers were mindful of the fate of the garbage we often so carelessly disposed of.
Considering Sutherland Shire hosts Australia 's largest landfill tip (or waste disposal centre as these are now called), it is surprising that waste management is not a more important local issue than it is at present. In the past tipping in Woolooware Bay and in the Menai/Lucas Heights area has caused pollution, but this has often been overshadowed by the potential environmental threat of the HIFAR reactor. While the disposal of nuclear waste, is indeed a grave potential problem, so too is the disposal of the more mundane waste generated by every day living.
A 1948 survey found that a weekly garbage collection service was provided to most parts of Sutherland Shire and that an estimated 135 tons of garbage per week was buried on 'low-lying land' at the former Dolans Road sanitary depot in Woolooware, even though this had been condemned by the Department of Health in 1925.
By the mid-1950s there were two major local tips: one for 'hard rubbish' - mainly building and excavation waste - on Captain Cook Drive, Woolooware and another for general waste, also on Woolooware Bay, at Taren Point. While both type of tips caused pollution the one at Taren Point was potentially more harmful. When food and green waste ('putrescible' waste) break down, methane gas is produced and toxic 'leachate' is generated. What was known as 'controlled tipping' was theoretically operating in Sydney at this time. Waste was supposed to be covered daily, but in reality was often simply dumped and left to its own devices, allowing pollution to go - in this case - into Woolooware Bay .
At this time when most of Sydney 's waste went to landfill, low-lying areas were considered ideal for tipping. Land reclamation projects were in vogue as playing fields could be created on infilled areas. Sutherland Shire was considered fortunate because of the extensive 'foreshore flats' near the Taren Point tip. Soon extensive areas of mangroves disappeared as tips proliferated. Although valuable for detoxifying urban run-off, mangroves have been shown little respect in the Sydney basin, and from the first days of white settlement were regarded as harmful. One of Arthur Phillip's reasons for not choosing Botany Bay as a place for settlement was because of the 'probability of the swamps rendering the most eligible situation unhealthy'.
The 'extensive foreshore flats' around Woolooware Bay were infilled by the mid-1960s and so the Council looked away from coastal areas for its next tipping area. A sanitary depot had been located at Menai since 1939 and in the interim two areas had been filled. Now this general area would be used again when the Council gained a licence in 1965 for the disposal of nightsoil, garbage and trade waste at Little Forest in nearby Holsworthy Military Area. In mid-1965 it was announced that the tip would be moved from Shell Point on Woolooware Bay to Menai. Soon two tips were operating: on Old Illawarra and New Illawarra Roads.
Sutherland Shire's waste disposal was an environmental disaster, as was the case throughout much of Sydney at this time. By 1970, according to a waste expert's report, 'liquid of an offensive nature' was flowing into a tributary of Mill Creek from the old tipping area at Menai. In addition 'very offensive' fat and grease trap waste was deposited there. Tips also operated in Liverpool Street , Bundeena in the mid-1970s and from 1968 to 1973 north of Wanda Beach. Known as the Wanda Beach hard fill tip, this filled in areas where sand mining had occurred and in 1969 was in trouble with the Department of Public Health for not abiding by tipping regulations.
It was unsatisfactory arrangements such as these that led to a liquid waste crisis in Sydney in December 1969. As a result the NSW government established the Metropolitan Waste Disposal Authority (MWDA) - now Waste Service NSW. Sydney 's third world standard waste disposal was gradually taken out of local government control.
There were still problems. Although treatment ponds were installed at the Menai tips, the water quality of Mill Creek was, according to the State Pollution Control Commission, still 'significantly degraded'. Pollution leached into it and into the Georges River . Nearby Barden Creek was also polluted in the mid-1970s.
Later the tip on Old Illawarra Road closed, and use of the former sanitary depot for waste disposal was authorised. In 1976 the Lucas Heights tip on New Illawarra Road became a regional depot and its upgrading began, including the construction of leachate ponds to prevent further pollution. Leichhardt Council had used these tips since the 1960s, and now waste from a number of local government areas was deposited there. Not surprisingly it did not take long to fill this and so another major new landfill - Lucas Heights II - was opened in March 1987. This, and a small transfer station, covered 175 hectares, making it the largest in Australia . By mid-1993 as leachate treatment finally became effective water quality in Mill Creek improved.
As Sydney was fast running out of landfill space it was proposed in the early 1990s that the Lucas Heigh04.02.08osal needs of the metropolitan area could be met for years to come. There was a hostile reaction in Sutherland Shire, and opposition, led by Shire president Ian Swords, to this 'megatip' was effective. Although the plan was abandoned in 1992, no alternative solution to Sydney 's waste crisis has yet been devised.
Meanwhile as negotiations were in train to establish a recreational area at the filled Lucas Heights I tip, the Gandangara Local Land Council made a native title claim on the area. After mediation and the establishment of a Community Monitoring Committee, most issues were finally resolved. As a result Sutherland Shire Council obtained at no cost increased recycling facilities, the preservation of a shale forest and an additional recreational area. At present golf, soccer and netball are played on this former tip site at facilities that are dwarfed by the magnitude of the surrounding vast, grassed but treeless landscape.
This type of development on a former tip site conforms to international best practice. However, building is not considered suitable for such sites and residential developments are considered especially unsafe. Sutherland Shire Council needs to take this into account when considering current plans for residential development adjoining the Sharks Rugby League Club. This is a former tip site, as any old timer can tell you, and it should never be built on.
Above: A recent aerial photograph of Lucas Heights II. Sutherland Shire hosts this tip, the largest in Australia , but does not control its operation. Despite hopes that it would close by 2000, it still operates and accepts waste from a number of local government areas. A prediction that this tip may continue to operate until 2025 has been greeted with sustained hostility. (Photograph courtesy of Waste Service NSW)
1. NSW PP LC, Report from the Select Committee on the Local Government (Areas) Bill together with the Proceedings of the Committee and Minutes of Evidence , NSW Government Printer, Sydney, 1948. p. 104.
2. Metwaste News, No 14, December 1987.
3. R. D. L. Fraser, Chief County Planner's Report P97 in Refuse Disposal in the County of Cumberland , Cumberland County Council, Sydney, 1959, held in ML, p. 4; Appendix 2 & Addenda to Report.
4. G. R. Tipping (ed.) The Official Account through Governor Phillip's Letters to Lord Sydney, 1988, p. 42.
5. In 1954 a large area at Lucas Heights had been selected for a new depot site. This had to be abandoned when the area was chosen as the site for the reactor and so a site further west was chosen in 1955 instead. Sails to Atoms , Sutherland Shire Council, 1970, pp. 146-7.
6. SSC, Fin. Com Min No 271 3/5/65; Leader 16 June 1965, p. 22.
7. NSW PP, A. E. Barton, Report by A. E. Barton, Esq., F. Inst. P. C. upon investigations into the Problem of Waste Disposal in the metropolitan area of Sydney, May 1970 , NSW Government Printer, 1970, p. 16.
8. Intercont Development Corporation Pty. Ltd, The First National Survey of Community Solid Waste Practices Australia, 1972-1973, ACI Technical Centre Pty. Ltd. July 1973, Fig. M 6; MWDA, annual report 1975, appendix.
9. SPCC, annual reports, 1975, p. 122 & 1976, p. 127, held at EPA Library, Goulburn Street, Sydney; SSC, B, H & San Com Min NO 284 21/4/75.
10. Leader , 30 April 1969, p. 33 & 30 June 1976, p. 10; SSC, Fin Com Min No 163, 7/3/66; MWDA, annual report 1977, p. 13.
11. MWDA, annual report 1986-87, p. 4.
12. Waste Service NSW, annual report 1993, p. 22.
13. SMH , 11 March 1992, p. 5 & 25 September, 1992, p. 4. See also campaign literature opposing the megatip held in LSC.
Plastic Bags: A Global Crisis & The Oyster Bay Ban
A Senior Geography Project
by Elliott Child & Sebastian Froude, Year 11, Caringbah High School
The aim of the project was to identify and investigate the adverse effects of the broad scale use of plastic bags as a critical environmental issue.. Elliott & Sebastian looked at the possible alternatives to plastic bags, bio-degradable bags, cloth bags, baskets, cardboard boxes, re-usable airtight containers. They examined the plastic bag levy, which has been introduced in other countries; and they also evaluated the effectiveness of the ban on plastic bags around the world and in Australia - and in particular the ban in Oyster Bay.
Their sources of information came from Sutherland Shire Council, Sutherland Shire Environment Centre, Alexandra & Caroline Hills (the driving forces behind the Oyster Bay initiative), Planet Ark, the people of Oyster Bay and the shop-owners of Oyster Bay.
"Imagine a world, or at least Australia, without plastic bags. It could be the future."
The report examines the issues surrounding this and the environmental impacts that are associated with it in a local, regional and global context. Elliott and Sebastian examined and judged the effectiveness of the various strategies employed in Australia and around the world to help solve the issue at stake.
Some of the statistics which Elliott & Sebastian raise are:
in Australia we use 6.9 billion plastic bags each year; 80 million of these bags become part of the litter stream each year. 4000 plastic bags are thrown away every minute; 230,000 are entered into landfill every hour.
The United States uses approximately 84 billion bags annually.
China uses 730 billion bags annually or 2 billion every day
Hong Kong uses 10 billion bags annually
The report also examines the critical problem for the marine environment from the use of plastic bags - not only the visual pollution (in South Africa they have been christened the 'national flower' because of the huge number of them floating around the landscape), but the devastation caused to birds, whales, seals and turtles every year.
Investigating the Oyster Bay Plastic Bag Ban
Elliott & Sebastian decided early on that the most valuable information and a large portion of the fieldwork requirements would be gained through interviews and a conference with Alex and Caroline Hills and the staff at SSEC, and using the library of resources at SSEC. They also conducted a survey of the Oyster Bay shopkeepers and door-knocked 41 Oyster Bay residents. These results were collated and evaluated.
Their major conclusions were that people will accommodate the ban into their lives. The adoption of the campaign by business with unified and enthusiastic; it was easy to introduce and in some instances even saved money. They believe the plastic bag ban in Oyster Bay has achieved its aims and has proven an important step in achieving greater environmental soundness in the local area.