‘Pro-business’ council puts small recycler out of business
Business hanging by a thread.
A Sunshine Coast business operator claims that is the cost of a council decision to monopolise business recycling services.
John, who did not want his real name printed for fear of losing what little business he had left, moved to the Sunshine Coast from interstate five years ago.
He bought a recycling collection business wanting to start a new life.
About six months in, he started losing customers.
Retirement homes and RSLs in Caloundra and Noosa-Tewantin all cancelled their business.
"I thought it was weird. I wasn't doing anything wrong, I serviced the customers well," he said.
"Then I lost even more customers. So I looked into it and I found that council, in their wisdom, was offering free commercial recycling.
"I lost a glut of customers. I had just purchased a house, knowing that if anyone came into the market I could meet their price and still survive, but I couldn't compete against council doing it for nothing.
"I thought the council would look after small business doing some good for the environment as they're always promoting they are the council that cares for small business.
"But as soon as my customers saw they could get something for nothing - they jumped."
Should the council have created a monopoly in recycling?
This poll ended on 23 February 2015.
Yes, it's the best value for money for ratepayers
Yes, business obviously wasn't up to scratch
No, not when local businesses are affected
No, council should stay out of business entirely
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
In 2012, the Queensland Competition Authority found existence of a competitive advantage and advised council to remove it.
Council, acting on legal advice, rejected the recommendation and nothing changed.
So businesses pay a waste levy that includes the collection of both general and recycling waste removal.
If a business doesn't want any recycling bins, it still pays the same amount as a business using them. There is no opt-out clause.
The Waste Recycling Industry Association has taken up the fight and is lobbying State Government on the issue, as well as visiting the Sunshine Coast to speak with businesses.
CEO Rick Ralph is flabbergasted at the situation, and questions why an authority like the QCA - which has the power to set electricity prices - has no ability to force council to end the monopoly.
With his business going bust before his eyes, John had to leave his home and move in with his parents.
The 45-year-old has had a few customers stay with him, but the work has fallen to barely one day a week.
"I couldn't pay for my house, I had a lot of sleepless nights, it wrecked my relationship," he said.
"I had to go to a doctor and go on medication.
"It was a very rough time for me.
"There's no benefit to anyone but the council, and it's ruining lives."
RESPONSE FROM A COUNCIL SPOKESMAN:
OUR sympathies go out to this business owner who is experiencing personal issues.
While council cannot take responsibility for an individual's business or personal decisions, council's responsibilities do lie in providing value-for-money for all ratepayers.
That is why a lengthy tendering and evaluation process for the collection and sorting of recyclable waste has been undertaken. Contractors collect this waste and all businesses had an opportunity to tender for that contract. There is nothing stopping a small business approaching the successful contractors to provide their services.
Council has not imposed any restrictions on glass and cardboard collectors. They have the right to approach the commercial operators and offer their services. Many successful small waste cartage contractors work within the region, as attested to by the number of visits to council's disposal facilities.
However, as permitted under the Local Government Act 2009, council levies waste charges, including recyclable collection, on all properties. The levy covers costs associated with operating, maintaining and managing waste disposal across the region and is payable regardless of whether a business owner chooses to use a contractor other than council's. Businesses were reminded of this in January.
Cardboard has a high commercial return and is therefore attractive to the collection agencies. Income council generates from this commodity helps subsidise some of council's other expensive waste activities including chemical waste disposal and waste transfer facilities for outlying communities to meet our obligations, particularly environmental requirements. This is also prudent financial management.
This issue is also about reducing general waste and increasing recycling. Two years ago, council initiated a program that offered commercial operators one recyclable bin for every general waste bin. If the number of general waste bins reduces, so too does a commercial operator's waste charge. This benefits the business owner, the community and the environment.
With regard to Sunshine Coast being the only council in Australia taking these actions, each council needs to determine its own path and this council is focussed on our vision - "To be Australia's most sustainable region - vibrant, green, diverse".
Hence our strategy to provide the most financially prudent and environmentally responsible waste collection service possible, for the benefit of all ratepayers and residents now and into the future. This council aims to be an innovator, not an imitator.
The Queensland Competition Authority 2012 recommendation regarding council's recyclable waste process was rejected after a series of legal findings supported this council's approach.
Council is committed to creating an environment which encourages establishment of small and large businesses. Council recognises the regional economic and lifestyle benefits a diverse and successful business sector brings.