Future directions in environmental management and sustainability

An interview with Reinier Laan, Environment Officer at Alice Springs Town Council, NT

Q. What opportunities can be embraced by Local Governments in the environmental field?

The Alice Springs Town Council has invested in cutting edge design in the development of the Alice Springs Civic Centre. It has incorporated an eco friendly airconditioning system that is running previously unused underground water to cool down the air temperature in the summer, while warming the air in the winter. The water is used in the airconditioning process and then returned back to aquifer, without any loss of water.

Alice Springs being in the middle of Australia has geographical challenges in reaching the metropolitan recycling markets. Therefore when Council looks at implementing new systems, it is imperative we evaluate them based on their viability and what efficiencies they can provide on a local scale.

One of our latest projects has been the development of a glass crushing facility at the landfill. We understand this may be one of the few glass crushers facility owned and operated by Local Government in Australia. The glass crusher facility recycles glass drinking containers and the end crushed product is reused as sand supplement in our pathways through the town.

Another recent achievement and cutting edge project that Council has driven is the new Alice Springs Aquatic and Leisure Centre. This $19 million state of the art facility uses the latest solar technology to heat the indoor pools. This project was part of the Alice Solar Cities project. Alice Springs is one of just seven cities around Australia to be selected to participate in the Australian Government's Solar Cities program.

Q. What threats face Local Government and how can councils deal with these?

Often Alice Springs can be found to have a shortage of technical skills, therefore to implement cutting edge work is limited by the availability of skilled people. Council policy is to support local business.

Projects are evaluated based on skills available in the region. Where possible Council's approach is first to run pilot projects to determine whether the program is viable. Our geographical distance also impacts on a ecological and economic level, which filters through to the project.

The above mentioned glass recycling facility in Alice Springs plays a important role in Council adapting to any fluctuations in commodity price and distance from the market.

Alice Springs Town Council is also part of the Cities for Climate Change project, where councils set their own voluntary greenhouse gas emission targets. Landfills, mostly a Local Government responsibility, are believed to create three per cent of the Australia total carbon emission. Trading schemes could create new opportunities in regards the reduction of waste going to landfills. In this regard, Local Government need to work smarter to reduce waste. Possibilities exists to turn waste in energy and even to rework old landfill.

Q. Where do you see Local Government management going in the next 20 years?

Local Governments are the closest link to the people and residents will require more services from their councils in the future. In the next 20 years integrated management of our water, energy and waste resources will play a key role and solutions should incorporate these areas to create sustainable solutions at the local level. Local Government may need to consider expanding its core services to incorporate more in this area. Alice Springs Town Council manages local issues through the Environment Advisory Committee, which covers a cross section of environmental and waste issues in Alice Springs. Council has informed discussions with different key stakeholders who are experts in the community, business and government agencies.

Q. What do you see as the next big thing?

Local Governments need to be more strategic in the delivery of waste management solutions embracing Alternative Waste Technology (AWT) and recycling opportunities that will lead to a significant reduction of waste material buried in landfill. The Alice Springs Town Council desire for a 50 per cent waste reduction at the landfill will challenge future management directions.