A tense stand-off over rubbish and recycling collection north-west of Melbourne has ended, but the resolution may end up hitting ratepayers’ hip pockets.
Waste collector Wheelie Waste stopped picking up residential binsfrom 17 towns across Macedon Ranges Shire Council and Mount Alexander Shire Council on Wednesday morning.
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The councils take in towns including Kyneton, Lancefield, Gisborne, Castlemaine and Maldon.
Wheelie Waste has demanded the councils pay about $110 per tonne of garbage for it to keep collecting rubbish and recycling, to cover its rising costs amid the global recycling crisis.
The councils refused to pay and on Wednesday evening issued an ultimatum ordering the contractor back to work.
On Thursday morning Wheelie Waste resumed services, but the arrangement reached between the company and the councils remains unclear.
The Age initially understood that the councils agreed to fork out extra money to keep bin collections running.
But Macedon council insisted the contractor backed down and went back to work, with no extra funds changing hands.
Wheelie Waste did not return calls on Thursday night.
Australia’s recycling market has collapsed since China moved in January to ban imports of contaminated material
This has resulted in surging costs for Australian waste collectors. Previously, they would earn about $50 a tonne from selling plastic, paper and glass to recycling companies such as Visy, who would onsell it to China.
But now that China has closed its doors, Visy is charging collectors about $60 a tonne to accept that waste.
It means companies such as Wheelie Waste are $110 out of pocket per tonne of rubbish – a cost they are now passing on to councils.
Eventually, ratepayers may bear the brunt of those additional fees, with rates expected to increase by up to 4.5 per cent this year on the back of the crisis.
Macedon council’s director of assets and operations, Dale Thornton, said residents’ bins would be picked up in the next week.
The state government stepped in with a $13 million rescue package in February to ensure recycling bins would be collected in the coming months.
But Coalition environment spokesman Nick Wakeling said the government had failed to head off the crisis, despite being warned last year.
“It’s not as though this came as a bolt from the blue. The government has known about this issue for months. They closed their eyes and hoped the whole thing would go away,” he said.
“Residents are going to have bins overflowing in their own homes. They are going to have to put rubbish on their property, or dump it illegally.”
Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said the opposition was “completely irrelevant to resolving this issue”.
“Work is well under way to help industry and local government address these challenges and ensure those impacted get access to our $13 million assistance package as soon as possible.”