Coast’s $20 million waste system sits idle, waiting for someone to turn it on

A Queensland council which poured more than $20 million into a futuristic waste system is now watching it gather dust as the experts needed to turn it on remain unable to enter Australia.

Feb 01, 2021, updated Feb 01, 2021
The high-tech system will collect rubbish from across the city centre through a network of vacuum-powered pipes. Photo: ABC

The high-tech system will collect rubbish from across the city centre through a network of vacuum-powered pipes. Photo: ABC

Sunshine Coast Council has spent more than $20 million on a futuristic waste system for its new city centre but has been forced to put the project on hold because no-one in Australia is allowed to turn it on.

The Sunshine Coast Council announced it would build the Automatic Waste Collection System using technology from South Korean firm Envac in mid-2016.

At the time, Mayor Mark Jamieson said people living and visiting the new Maroochydore CBD “will never have to walk past rows of wheelie bins or be woken early by noisy garbage trucks”.

Installation of the pipes began a year later, and construction finished last year.

How it works

The system uses a 6.5km network of underground vacuum pipes connecting every new building as they emerge on the 53-hectare site.

Waste from each site will be sucked to a central dump point at speeds of up to 70 kph.

Envac has projects using similar technology in Stockholm, Beijing, Norway, Hong Kong and London.

But the deal struck by the council with Envac means the company’s technicians are the only ones able to commission the system.

The South Korean staff remain unable to activate the system as the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect international travel.

Councillor Joe Natoli, whose division covers Maroochydore, said a solution must be found.

“We have a piece of infrastructure that costs tens of millions of dollars that’s finished and sitting there idle,” he said.

“We need the South Koreans to be able to come over here to commission it — the company indicated it could not be commissioned unless they’re here.”

Natoli said waiting until the pandemic settles was not the only option.

“It may not be in our interest to keep waiting until commercial flights are available,” he said “We may have to bite the bullet and find a way of getting them here, other than commercial flights.”

A spokeswoman said the view was not shared by the council, which described the cost of private flights as “exorbitant and these costs should not be borne by our ratepayers”.

She said the council expected the system would be commissioned “within the next few months”.

Until its advanced waste system can be switched on, the council says it has a back-up plan.

“Conventional waste collection services will continue to be provided,” the spokeswoman said.

That may mean temporarily relying on wheelie bins, complete with the sound of noisy garbage trucks.

– ABC / Owen Jacques

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