Don’t Waste Money by Wasting Data
By Mandalay Technologies
The Australian Council of Recycling (2018) recently reported that the Australian waste and resource recovery industry currently accounts for over $50 billion in the Australian economy per year. A portion of these costs are paid for by councils and governments, many of which are preventable. In fact, a total annual expenditure of $35.9 billion by local governments was recorded in 2016-2017 (Australian Local Government Association, 2020).
With levies being charged by the federal and state governments for landfill, there are tangible costs for councils associated with their waste management. Major influences on these preventable costs include wasted opportunities, ineffective strategies, and negative attitudes and behaviours towards waste management across the nation. Opportunities for councils to reduce their costs and increase their profits are commonly lost due to poor waste data management. Capturing and reporting on accurate data enables the effectiveness of local and national waste strategies to be measured, allowing councils and governments to adjust them where necessary. In addition, by being able to compare the data from each operation, best practice can be identified and shared to improve strategic and operational outcomes.
At present, there are several waste strategies in place throughout Australia and, as a result, many of the currently employed waste policies and regulations significantly differ from state to state. This inconsistency is partially responsible for a number of issues within the industry, including fraudulent activity conducted across state borders and council areas, which can considerably increase a council’s costs. In fact, it has been estimated that Australia loses many millions of dollars-worth in public resources per year through fraud (Australian Government, 2019). According to Mandalay’s Senior Waste Consultant, Lacey Webb, the percentage of current or recent fraud events within Australian waste management facilities is over 97%. Types of fraud in waste include theft, incorrect reporting, and ‘mates’ rates’, and, in many cases, these acts are the result of negative resident and community attitudes.
Resident behaviours influence council service costs, which, when too high, can encourage fraudulent behaviour within facilities. Councils are also in the difficult position where residents are both their customer and source of the issue, and few councillors are willing to risk upsetting their constituents. Even with increased awareness of pollution, poor waste practices, and the return of recycling waste to Australia, Australians’ attitudes and behaviours towards waste have not changed significantly. Whilst some of these attitudes are the consequence of personal opinions, many reflect the level of complexity and lack of community education and care around the process of managing waste effectively. Despite the distribution and accessibility of some information around policies, regulations and processes within the industry, there is still some confusion amongst residents. Changing resident attitudes and behaviours has the potential to significantly reduce council costs. This involves implementing effective nation-wide strategies that focus on educating residents on correct recycling and disposal methods, and the enforcement of accountability when policies and regulations aren’t followed. Australia has had significant success in changing attitudes in smoking, drink driving, and sun safety but the investment must be made over a longer period of time.
Before these strategies are developed, it’s important for councils to have a detailed understanding of the total waste behaviour of residents within their community. For councils to obtain this understanding, they need to be collecting, analysing, and reporting on accurate waste data. Not only will they be forming a better understanding of their residents’ behaviours, but they will be improving their ability to take advantage of opportunities and minimise associated costs. By targeting specific areas or regions with marketing, they can significantly change behaviours, but only if the data is available, to know where to target.
Data management is becoming increasingly important on a global scale, especially within the waste industry. Australia’s plan to achieve better waste management starts with our councils, and our councils’ ability to reduce costs and increase profits starts with better waste management. By effectively managing their data, councils will be able to implement effective waste strategies, change their residents’ attitudes and behaviours, and take advantage of future opportunities. Don’t waste money by wasting data.