Managing Aspirations and Expectations in a Pessimistic Reality

This article discusses if Queensland’s regulatory framework and weakened policy agenda can manage the current commercial reality of recycling, whilst still maintaining the political aspirations offered-up by the impending local government elections and increasing community expectations?

We all know that commodity prices, including those for our recyclables, are under pressure and will continue to be under pressure into the foreseeable future. The focus on collecting and processing ever greater volumes of recyclables will not be sufficient to create additional added value.

This situation, is causing major problems for many recycling enterprises, with some having already having to shut down processing capacity, lay off workforces and rethink future business plans to respond to the falling commodity prices and rising operational costs.

Increasingly, the strategies to manage the current commercial conditions are nothing more than store-it, hide-it and/ or dispose of it until market values are restored. Whilst we are not, for a moment, proposing that we should not be creating opportunities for the reuse and recycling of materials or avoidance from (landfill) disposal, we need to re-design, implement and support innovative approaches that can both create value and protect the supply chain by ensuring reclaimable commodities can be returned to the manufacturing stream – working our way to a circular economy approach.

PULL QUOTE “We need to design and introduce appropriate measures to correct regulatory distortions and incentives to reflect in the prices the huge benefits recycling brings to the environment and society in terms of CO2, energy and natural resource savings.”

This will need a complete rethink and re-communication of everything we currently know and accept. We need to design and introduce appropriate measures to correct regulatory distortions (just look to our current licencing framework and the issues caused by arbitrary thresholds) and incentives to reflect in the prices the huge benefits recycling brings to the environment and society in terms of CO2, energy and natural resource savings.

This may include a carbon metric for waste (rather than weight-based recycling targets) that identifies and prioritises materials with the highest environmental benefit for recycling, leading to better environmental outcomes and a more efficient economy. Evidence exists that some Local Governments in Queensland are now prepared to bury recyclables or maintain massive stockpiles of product in the hope that either commodity prices increase or the fact no-one really cares, rather than accept a diminished return for the effort.

Not only is this a reckless attitude it is infact a very short sighted decision by some public officials as to its disregard of what those decisions mean to their community both in terms of the risks (landfill fires, health and environmental) not to mention consideration of their future landfill capacity, as precious void space is misused for simple cost / expense budget benefits.

Commencing with the re-education of the community led by our elected members, so that recycling is not seen as ‘free of charge‘; and that the collection of recycling from households is simply a logistics exercise which does not actually constitute ‘recycling‘ until the collected materials are reprocessed – more often than not, often overseas and many months later.

Only by implementing a culture to pricing waste management assets adopting a full financial model that accounts for all current and long term financial externalities of operating and owning these public assets can a conversation then be held as to identifying the true benefits and real returns that recycling of materials and a circular economy model delivers.

Reprocessing markets are, of course, continually developing with new technologies which will recover materials in a useable form. It is recognised that this will impact on the lifecycle of the material and hence the environmental impact will change. However, this is a role for designers and manufacturers in the first instance; and for recycling companies to provide valuable services within the overall supply chain, including quality materials for remanufacture and as a substitute for virgin resources.

Rewarding businesses that are managing their waste properly, whilst businesses that break the rules or fail to make any attempt to recycle their waste should be penalised. This should include a ‘duty of care‘ arrangement, so that waste generators strive for best practice and are more accountable for the management or their waste, to ensure that they only provide their waste to appropriately licenced companies.

The Queensland’s Government, Advance Queensland initiative now provides the framework for all stakeholders in the recycling and secondary resources industry to access and leverage these government incentives as more than ever ‘innovation‘ will be the central theme for how we use these valuable wastes as the readjustment to market norms slowly takes place.

This is not business as usual. And it is highly likely with increasing price volatility across all commodity markets, that the ‘recycling business‘ will never be the same again. The question for us is, how we can find new opportunity and prosper?

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Musculoskeletal Injuries

Did you know that musculoskeletal injuries are the cause of over half of all workers’ compensation claims received each year in Queensland?

In the waste recycling industry, musculoskeletal injuries (for example muscle sprains/strains and back injuries) make up almost 48%* of all injuries, with 245 new claims lodged in the 2015-16 financial year.

The cost of these claims during that period was over $3.0 million at an average of $9,608 per claim.

WorkCover Queensland Customer Service Manager Ben Wyeth said 31% of musculoskeletal injuries were back-related, while shoulder/upper arm (18%) and knee/upper leg (14%) were the next most common injuries.

“The 40-50 year old age group was most affected by musculoskeletal claims (29%), while those in the 50-60 year age bracket contributed over 23% of claims,” Ben added.

“On average, workers have 45 days off work to recover from this type of injury.

“While it is not surprising that musculoskeletal injuries make up the majority of claims due to the manual handling nature of many occupations, there are steps that employers and workers can take to prevent these injuries.”

Top three causes and prevention

“The top three most common causes of musculoskeletal injuries are lifting, carrying or putting down objects, falls and repetitive movement or strain,” Ben said.

“One way an employer can minimise and eliminate these injuries is to develop and implement an effective risk assessment approach.”

One of the most commonly asked questions by employers is ‘what is the safe way to lift a heavy object?’

Research evidence suggests that there is no safe way to lift. The focus should instead be on risk management. When considering a task that involves lifting, employers should ask:

  • Why do the workers have to lift?
  • Can that part of the job be eliminated?
  • Can the task be done another way?

For example, if a worker is required to lift a heavy box and this part of the job can’t be eliminated, consider if the task can be done another way.

It is important for employers to protect their workers from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), also known as sprain and strain injuries that result from lifting or other hazardous manual tasks.

Ben says fall injuries in the workplace are easily preventable if employers and workers work together on four simple steps – identify hazards, assess their risk, x the problem and monitor performance.

“There is no excuse for complacency from employers and workers when it comes to eliminating workplace hazards which can cause people to slip, trip and fall and suffer potentially life-threatening injuries,” he said.

When it comes to repetitive movement and strain, talking to workers about the problems they notice in the tasks they’re performing is a great way to identify where improvements can be made and what solutions will deliver the best outcomes.

Some employers in the waste recycling industry have introduced a few initiatives that have had a positive in uence on the physical health of their workers. These include:

  • Healthy worker initiatives to encourage improved tness and health and wellbeing
  • Stretching and exercise before and after each shift
  • Manual Handling videos demonstrating with industry speci c equipment, correct ways to lift and undertake various daily tasks associated with waste industry speci c roles.

There are plenty of easy to use tools and resources from trusted global injury prevention authorities, including Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, available for employers and workers to prevent lifting or fall injuries.

Getting better at work

While workers’ compensation claims have been falling, WorkCover data shows only 52.7% of those who sustain a musculoskeletal injury stay at work while they’re recovering from their injury, which may mean it has been a challenge to nd meaningful suitable duties.

Dr Graeme Edwards, Senior Consultant Physician in Occupational and Environmental Medicine – Work & Health Risk Management, says it is important to remember that the availability of suitable duties critically depends on the employer, not the doctor.

“With a physical injury, suitable duties requires consideration of the injured worker’s physical abilities matched to the physicality of task requirements and the workplace environment,” he said.

“A ‘return to work contingency plan’ addresses not only the physical task requirements, but also the perceptions of both the individual and their immediate supervisor. This establishes an agreed action plan to be followed in various circumstances.”

Dr Edwards said the plan is designed to enhance or improve the worker’s con dence, resilience and capacity, while at the same time, reducing the risk of relapse.

Additionally, the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ position statement, ‘Realising the health bene ts of work’, indicates work plays an important role in any rehabilitation process because ‘doing’ promotes recovery.

If a person is off work for:

  • 20 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 70 per cent
  • 45 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 50 per cent
  • 70 days, the chance of ever getting back to work is 35 per cent.

“By understanding the role of the doctor and the employer, together we can make a difference,” Dr Edwards said.

“Because for a signi cant proportion of these people, they still have some capacity to work and may even be better off at work.”

*All data is from WorkCover Queensland 2015-16 financial year claim figures.

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Extended Council and Joint Collection Contract Terms Fail Public Benefits Test

Extended Council and Joint Collection Contract Terms Fail Public Benefits Test

I have long advocated and remain absolutely of the view that the greatest threat to our industry’s operating norms and of the principles to having fair and open competition is Government itself. Whether it is Local, State or Federal the threat is the same.

It comes directly from ill-conceived policy decisions by the very community representatives that we elect as stewards of our democracy, and those that spin the expressions: ‘public’s best interest’, ‘best for ratepayers’ or ‘best for community’.

No better demonstration of the reality of this risk is the continuously increasing number of applications now being made to the ACCC by Local Governments across Australia, seeking approval for joint tendering and extended contract terms for waste, recycling and other sector operations.

In June 2015, an application made by Redland’s City Council on behalf of the Council and Brisbane City Council (applicants) sought approval to conduct a joint tender process for waste, recycling and green waste collection services. The application sought permission for Brisbane City Council to negotiate the contractual framework on behalf of the Applicants to make a ‘joint decision regarding the ongoing management of the contract for the waste and recycling collection services’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Redland’s who made the application have left the larger of the two Council’s to do all the work. The devil, however, is always in the detail. The application sought approval for authorisation for a period of 19 years, comprising a three- year tender period and contract term of up to 16 years.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) for Waste and Resource Recovery Services by Brisbane was issued on July 4 2016 to industry, closing on 21 December 2016. The sceptic in me notes this RFP occurred merely 48 hours after the close of local election booths for the 2016 Federal Government election.

Similarly, in November 2015, South Australian Council Solutions (CS) made application on behalf of ve Councils in Adelaide for a similar application for joint tender and contract arrangements for a term of 17 years.

In demographic terms, the Brisbane / Redlands application for a preferred two eight-year terms for waste, recycling and green waste services, effectively represents services to more than 50% of the total Queensland population. In Adelaide, Council Solutions (CS) ve Councils represent around 34% of all Adelaide services. With other existing Adelaide Council arrangements effectively already ‘locked away’, if the CS bid is approved, effectively 86% of the Adelaide market will be controlled by just three groupings/ contracts.

Implications for the industry in Australia are profound, if this ‘bigger is better’ contract mantra continues. The only independent umpire to challenge this bureaucratic nonsense is the ACCC. Despite repeated evidence provided by industry who have the core knowledge to articulate and present sound arguments against such applications being approved, the ACCC fails to see and acknowledge these risks, both in community and industry terms.

Starting at the bidding process, the costs of putting together a tender response to the scale of these bids is significant to ensure that the bid is properly made and project risk and time frame is well measured. Coupled with the scale of what is being offered by Councils and their risk adverse capability to share any of the forward contract risks, this model has substantive commercial implications to any bidder, as a direct result of both the tenure of term, as well as the nature and quantum of the capital costs required to fill the contract terms. Such scale capability also directly limits the numbers of real competitors capable of actually bidding for these Council offerings.

Not to mention, locking not only waste collection methods and valuable resource streams away for such lengthy terms signicantly reduces all incentives for any industry long-term technical development. As an example, in the Brisbane / Redlands situation, if more than 50% of Queensland’s populations waste and recyclables are contracted to a single company (or a single collection or treatment method) and ‘locked away’ for such lengthy periods, there is a real risk for failure that any real innovation will occur. Innovation in this industry is reliant on access to materials and supply. Shut that down and we restrict those creative engineering solutions that the sector has long led.

In terms of equipment, providers and general suppliers to the industry for compactors, GPS systems, lifters lights, truck bodies (the list is endless), their future is also challenged as any unsuccessful bidder, or party to an unsuccessful bid, will be locked out of that opportunity for potentially up to 16 years. Such businesses will need to look to future opportunities outside South East Queensland and, in fact, even out of the state altogether.


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