Mattress shredding, recycling, and restoring household items have all been part of the war on waste after the Townsville flood clean-up.
Piles of damaged goods, including furniture, electric appliances, carpet, and toys lined the streets and filled makeshift waste dumps.
The Townsville City Council said, since the floods, it had collected 60,000 tonnes of waste, which is about 20,000 tonnes more than it took during the same period in previous years.
Around 30,000 tonnes was identified as flood-affected waste.
Cyclone Debbie helps the process
Hank Verwoerdt, manager of a mulching company contracted with the council, said the company had shredded up to 10,000 mattresses in Townsville since the floods.
He said that was about one-fifth of the number of mattresses the business had shredded across regional Queensland over the past couple of years.
“It’s one of the first steps in reducing the size of waste that goes into landfill,” Mr Verwoerdt said.
Mr Verwoerdt said the machine decreased the volume of a mattress by up to 85 per cent, and spat out steel to recycle it.
He said helping with the clean-up after Cyclone Debbie inspired the company to offer the mattress service.
“A lot of the green waste that was coming in was highly contaminated with steel and whatever else and couldn’t be put through a green waste mulching machine,” Mr Verwoerdt said.
“So we looked into ways we could process that … we ended up finding a slow-speed shredder and the rest is history.”
Turning trash into treasure
Townsville residents have also been on treasure hunts for reusable flood-affected waste.
Deinnon Horn said he had “a river running” through his Railway Estate house.
Mr Horn said he had used or fixed dozens of items that were headed for landfill by doorknocking residents with piles on the kerbside, and collecting goods from the council’s temporary waste sites.
Items included three lounges, a swag, a tool box, a bike, a fish tank, a skateboard, spray paint and rope, as well as a chainsaw, an angle grinder, a jig saw and a circular saw to renovate his house.
“The first thing we needed was a washing machine because we had that much muddy, mouldy clothing around,” Mr Horn said.
“I ended up bringing one home on my skateboard … I dried out a few things that were pretty wet, checked all the filters and the lines and got it all up and running.”
He said he also now owns a border collie named Hale after its owner planned to euthanase it because accommodation was becoming scarce, and he could not find a place that would accept pets.
“It’s pretty disheartening when you’re driving around the streets and seeing everyone pretty much empty their houses out onto their front yards,” Mr Horn said.
“We live in this throwaway society … everything is made to be replaced these days.”
There have also been a range of campaigns where pre-loved items that were not damaged were collected and donated to flood victims.
Townsville resident Sandra Hubert has inadvertently prevented or prolonged the disposal of used clothing by accepting donations and delivering them.
“I’ve helped 87 families — more than 232 people,” Ms Hubert said.
“A lot of [the donors] wanted to help people but not give the clothes to the second hand store where people have to buy them.”
Need for disaster waste education
Despite the efforts, there have been suggestions that more could be done in Australia to educate people about waste reduction after a natural disaster.
Yetta Gurtner from James Cook University’s Centre for Disaster Studies has been researching how Townsville prepared for and responded to the floods.
Dr Gurtner said many items that were thrown away probably could have been salvaged.
“I do think a lot of people probably went a little bit too far,” she said.
“Most people just didn’t think about recycling … they wanted to get rid of goods that were damaged and some of them had sewage [contamination].
“There’s a lack of understanding about what should be disposed of and what can actually be recycled [from a disaster].”
Dr Gurtner said it would be helpful to have a fact sheet or guide for locals that explained ways to separate waste, and determine what items were safe and practical to reuse.
“One that says things like, ‘If you have a bicycle, all you need to do is wash it down and regrease it’,” Dr Gurtner said.
“I think now, after this event, it should certainly be on the radar and we can be much more proactive.”
Council focused on ‘recovery and recycling’
Townsville City Council waste technical officer Andrew McDougall accepted there was more council could do in the space, but said it could be unsafe to keep items contaminated by flood water.
For example, thousands of toys were dumped because of health concerns.
“In terms of reusing items or making them available for other uses, it becomes very difficult,” Mr McDougall said.
“[Instead of] asking residents to sort through their waste, we would prefer to do that for them so that they can get back into their houses quicker,” Mr McDougall said.
“It also allows us to achieve scales of economies when processing recycling waste and it also removes traffic off the streets.”
Mr McDougall said the council reviewed its disaster management plans each year to better prepare for the next natural disaster.
He said the plans estimated how much waste a natural disaster could generate and identified local waste machinery that may be available.
Topics: environment, recycling-and-waste-management, disasters-and-accidents, floods, townsville-4810
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