It's business as usual for kerbside recycling in Shepparton — for now.
But who knows what lies ahead, as a ban imposed by China on imports of some recycled material ripples through Victorian communities.
As he rolled his yellow-lidded recycling bin to the kerb earlier this week, ratepayer and retired local businessman Clyde Young was anticipating that he would soon be paying more.
"It comes right back to that doesn't it? The local councils get their money from us so that's probably what's going to happen I'd say," he said.
Since late last week, the State Government has been in talks with waste collection companies and recycling processors to find a solution after China imposed a ban on imports of low-grade and contaminated waste on January 1.
Collection firm Wheelie Waste has a long-term contract with the Greater Shepparton City Council to pick up householder waste and recycling from homes.
It has been transferring recycling materials to processing centres in Melbourne operated by packaging and recycling giant Visy.
But as of Friday, Visy will stop accepting recycling waste from Wheelie Waste.
Mr Young knew Visy founder Richard Pratt.
"Dick Pratt would turn over in his grave I think… and he wouldn't have done that I'm certain," he said.
Shepparton is one of at least 10 councils serviced by Wheelie Waste which could be affected by the decision.
"The international market is tightening, costs are increasing and they're [China] requiring less contamination and that's leading to greater costs," Greater Shepparton City Council CEO Peter Harriott said.
"So there's pressure on the industry already."
Mr Harriott is assuring locals that nothing has changed, yet.
"Kerbside [collection] will continue and it is an issue of trying to find appropriate markets and companies that are willing to take the product." he said.
Costs likely to rise
At Macedon Ranges Shire Council, where the community prides itself on having a climate change plan and a focus on sustainability, locals are being urged to reuse and reduce waste as much as possible.
"To really think very carefully anytime you are purchasing a product, 'Do I really need it, has it got excess packaging, is there a different way I can purchase these things?'," Mayor Jennifer Anderson said.
Now that China is no longer paying for low-end recycling waste, processors like Visy have lost a crucial market.
It seems likely that the money councils have been paid for their recycling waste in recent years — or the discounts offered to collect the waste — will dry up.
So it seems inevitable that costs will rise.
"That will be something we will be discussing with our ratepayers — the various options, the costs, the impact on the planet," Cr Anderson said.
Wheelie Waste has refused to comment on the matter while talks are underway with the State Government and other parties.
The ABC understands Visy is continuing to honour the contracts it has directly with councils.
The company has been contacted for comment but has yet to respond.
Where to from here?
Victorian Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said the current situation had come about through market failure.
"As a matter of urgency we are working with industry, local councils and other governments to find the best way to manage our recyclable materials in the short-term, while other longer-term solutions are identified," she said.
Councils that could be affected:
- Ararat Rural City Council
- Colac Otway Shire
- Corangamite Shire
- Greater Shepparton City Council
- Hepburn Shire Council
- Horsham Rural City Council
- Macedon Ranges Shire Council
- Mount Alexander Shire Council
- Northern Grampians Shire Council
- Southern Grampians Shire Council
- Warrnambool City Council
There are several other players in the market — Polytrade and SKM, which also accept household recycling.
Those companies have yet to indicate to the councils they serve what might lie ahead.
"We need to understand China and realise that they can act rapidly and make decisions on the spot and this will make it difficult sometimes for the who have contractual arrangements in place, longer-term arrangements that they thought were steady," Mr Harriott said.
There are other markets in Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia.
"It's just a commodity that can be processed and sold," Mr Harriott said.
But in the Macedon Ranges they're taking the opportunity to take a look at the bigger picture.
"Even if China did continue to take waste, we do need to look at what's going on in our back yard," Cr Anderson said.