Collective approach to waste management delivers results in remote NT

The Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT) has partnered with the Northern Territory Department of Health and regional councils in a concerted effort to improve public health and living conditions in remote communities.

The initiative’s primary focus has been to deal with issues of waste management and hygiene within the Northern Territory’s three largest regional councils – Central Desert, Barkly and MacDonnell, which between them make up more than half the Territory’s land mass. Some of Central Australia’s biggest communities are in the area, including Yuendumu, Ali Curung and Pupunya.

Funded by Government and administered by LGANT, the program began in 2012 with $131,744 seed funding to establish the Central Australian Waste Management Working Group pilot project, which included appointment of a Central Australian Waste Management Coordinator to oversee operations.

Issues of waste disposal in remote communities can be complex. For instance, culturally sensitive waste – which results from sorry business after the death of a community member – is often outside recognised landfill sites and can present issues with appropriate disposal to designated council officers.

The Working Group devised co-ordinated strategies in conjunction with councils, including introducing waste management action plans within individual communities, the adoption of measures such as bin placement in litter hotspots around schools, housing, stores and public facilities and implementing education campaigns around littering.

It also undertook projects such as cleaning up landfill sites, installing public drop off and recycling areas and developing formal training for Indigenous work crews in covering and compacting rubbish and the importance of occupational health and safety.

The Community Litter Action Plan 2015–20 provides a context to issues of waste management in remote communities, stating:
“(Before European settlement) the remains of meals like bones and shells were left behind in piles, or middens.

“This is the first type of rubbish dump. Families would move on from the camp and by the time they returned, the rubbish was made clean and safe by the weather. In essence, Indigenous people have been managing waste long before modern landfill techniques.

“In community today, families still move on, but many stay for long periods of time in the same place and rubbish needs to be looked after to keep country clean.”

Key benefits outlined in the action plan include reduced costs to communities of reducing litter, improved health outcomes and increased liveability.

A waste management operational manual was also developed and formal training was provided for Aboriginal work crews in asbestos removal, waste management procedures and landfill operations.

Results have been impressive. Titjikala, in the Simpson Desert, was the Northern Territory’s Tidy Town winner in consecutive years from 2013. Mt Liebig, a community of around 200 people at the western end of the MacDonnell Ranges, won in 2015. Yuendumu was the Territory’s Tip Top Tip in 2014 and Lajamanu the following year. The three communities took out the ‘Boosting Productivity through Infrastructure’ category at the 2015 National Awards for Local Government awards.

The success in Central Australia has led to the establishment under the same framework of the Big Rivers Regional Waste Management Working Group, made up of Roper Gulf, Victoria Daly and West Daly regional councils and Katherine Town Council.