Lessons from a waste warrior

The Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA) executive director, Tony Khoury tells Inside Waste what bought him into the WARR industry and what keeps him here.

What was your first role involving waste and resource recovery?

In the mid-1960s loading rubbish into the back of my older brother’s ute, after which he drove us to the Auburn tip. This long-closed landfill is now the site of the Japanese Gardens (and as was the common practice in those days, we drove around unrestrained in the back of the ute).

Also, throughout the 1960s, in our Lidcombe backyard, my Dad had one of the many thermal waste reduction plants (an old 44-gallon drum, that we would throw rubbish in and set on fire almost weekly).

My first paid job in the waste management industry was in 1991 with Pacific Waste Management, where the state manager David Moffett taught me about the importance of productivity. Lesson number one was a lecture on not driving past one tip to get to another. Later on in the week, I decided to apply my new found productivity learnings to the concept of ‘double-shifting the trucks’.I then had to survive a near death interrogation from an irate operations manager.

 What’s the favourite part of your role at WCRA?

  • I enjoy the scope in my role at WCRA that allows me the opportunity of working through issues to solve problems with a member or a group of members
  • I also have a lot of variety in my role, but the opportunity of delivering training to the workers is often very rewarding

How has WCRA changed since you initially became involved?

  • In 2003 a significant percentage of my time at WCRA was spent on industrial relations issues. That problem was solved by the modern award and employment relations reforms that were passed in 2010.
  • In 2008, then NSW Premier Morris Iemma increased the waste levy of $40 by $10 per tonne pa plus CPI. The current waste levy is now $146 per tonne, an increase of 365 per cent over 14 years. Today much of my time is spent on waste management and EPA issues.

Describe some of the achievements that you are most proud?

  • I take a lot of satisfaction from the wonderful support that I receive from our WCRA members, sponsors and the executive. This has allowed us to build the membership and our relevance. The fact that we own our own premises makes it much easier to hold meetings and conduct training sessions.
  • The negotiations that resulted in one national modern award (the Waste Management Award 2020). This award covers employment obligations for the employers and the workers in our industry. At the time we encountered fierce attacks from both Victoria and Queensland.
  • The Australian Standard for mobile garbage bins, where I chaired the development of the standard in the mid-2000’s. It is now well accepted across the country that we use yellow lids for co-mingled recycling, red lids for general waste and green lids for green waste.
  • I also take a lot of pride from my negotiations with Sydney Water that occurred around seven years ago, when WCRA argued long and hard and achieved a back-dated CPI increase for all grease trap waste processing. At the time, this resulted in over $1.2 million in refunds to waste processing facilities.
  • In the early 1990s as the general manager of Clinical Waste Australia (now Cleanaway Daniels), I was involved in overseeing the upgrade of the incinerator with the installation of an air quality control and scrubbing system. Without this upgrade, the facility would have been shut down by the NSW EPA. To this day, the incinerator remains operational and the only clinical waste incineration facility in NSW.

My strangest moment at WCRA

  • Around the 2007-2008 years Transpacific Industries (TPI) which owned Cleanaway prior to 2008 was acquiring a lot of waste business operations across the country. At the time, I was approached by one of TPI’s senior executives for a copy of WCRA’s membership list. When I refused, he indicated that TPI would just have to buy the Association. On contacting our president at the time Jim Perry for advice, he told me “to show him the door” (or words to that effect).


More WARR leaders question NSW budget

Last week WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan rebuked the State Government for failing to address key industry issues. Now the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has labelled the NSW State Budget as ‘short sighted’, with the real economic potential of the waste and resource recovery industry being bypassed for a reliance on landfill levies.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said NSW may claim to be open for business but not when it comes to the economic potential of material and energy recovery from waste.

“The NSW Budget forward estimates show that for 2023-24 there’s an estimated $832 million in revenue being generated from landfill levies, a more than 10% increase on the $751 million projected in the 2020-21 budget. However, only $96 million has been allocated in 2020-21 or less than 13% of the levy collected to help local councils manage waste through the Waste Less, Recycle More program.

“This reliance on landfill levies and delay in finalising the 20-year waste strategy shows the NSW Government’s mind is not open to the economic potential that transitioning to a circular economy will deliver.

“There is nothing here that encourages industry to invest in new material and energy recovery facilities to divert recyclable and residual wastes from landfill that would substantially grow the State’s GDP, create more employment opportunities and greenhouse gas savings,” Read said.

Major opportunity for NSW

She added that according to NSW Circular, over the next 20 years waste generation in NSW is projected to grow from its current 21 million tonnes to over 31 million tonnes.

“The circular economy is a major commercial opportunity for NSW.  Modelling by the Centre for International Economics has estimated that even a 5 per cent improvement in resource recovery would add $1 billion to Australia’s GDP and $644 million to NSW’s GDP.

“There are three times as many jobs in recycling as there are in landfill, and if the NSW Government is focused on economic recovery post COVID it is obvious that growing the material and energy recovery industry will boost the economy as well as create jobs.”

Read said the budget also outlined an extension of the Waste Less Recycle More program which has not shifted recycling rates since 2016.

“This program has been extended for 2021-22, however it is clear that it has not achieved what it set out to do and that needs to be addressed.”

“Landfill space is running out in NSW and the writing is on the wall. The NSW Government would be best placed to urgently refocus its waste management strategy by putting in place the economic and policy frameworks that fast track the growth of the material and energy recovery sector as NSW transitions to a circular economy,”  Read said.

It was disappointing to see the recent NSW 2020 budget announcement. It is obvious to all across the waste management sector that NSW continues to be heavily reliant on waste levy revenue with $750 million projected to be collected in the year to June 2021. And in the year to June 2024 waste levy collections have been projected by Treasury to be $832 million. It is very easy to conclude that NSW is addicted to the revenue from the waste levy.

Anticipating 2021

Meanwhile, Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW executive director Tony Khoury told Inside Waste that The Minister for the Environment Matt Kean has often stated that his vision for NSW is to have a sustainable, reliable and affordable waste and recycling sector.

“In the view of WCRA, that will require the NSW Government to commit to re-investing a much greater percentage of waste levy funds to assist industry and local government. But as we don’t yet have a 20-year waste strategy, let’s all look forward to 2021 and next years’ NSW State Budget when it is our hope that funding will be made available for what we hope will be a well-thought out, suitably funded waste strategy that will make waste and recycling across NSW sustainable, reliable and affordable,” he said.

Inside Waste is waiting for a response from the Minister’s office.