Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Waste Technology and Innovation Study

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Barriers to Innovation

By far the most obvious market barrier to innovation in waste management is the low cost of landfilling in some states and territories. In areas where landfilling costs are high (such as Sydney), it is noticeable that more AWT facilities are operational and in the planning stages than in locations where landfilling costs are low (such as Brisbane). Overall it is clear that there are no one-size-fits all solutions for increasing the use of technology and level of innovation in waste management in Australia.

There seem to be four main non-market barriers to the uptake of innovation and new waste processing technologies; the requirement for more co-operation between councils, a distrust of new and unproven technologies, a fear of incineration and reservations about making a long term committment to inappropriate or outdated technology. Generally, local government is responsible for waste management, and as a result, the task of implementing new waste technologies has fallen to this sector, whose staff often have limited commercial and technological expertise. Many of the councils themselves are struggling financially and considerable amounts of money are involved in establishing and operating AWT facilities.

In addition, the amount of waste required to make each facility financially viable means that groups of smaller councils potentially need to enter into joint contracts with service providers. This is a major undertaking, as all partner councils need to be satisfied that their interests, as well as the overall interests of the collective councils are being met. A joint waste processing contract was achieved with the MACROC Councils in Sydney, and with the Coffs Coast Councils in northern NSW, but the Hunter Waste project did not proceed partly because of difficulties in resolving issues between the various councils involved. Because of some technical and commercial issues with existing plants in Australia, there is also a degree of distrust of some new technologies. In addition there is often a reluctance among councils to commit to a long term contract when they think that the technology may become outdated before the contract period ends.

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