Changes to the site auditor scheme in NSW

The NSW EPA introduced new guidelines for site auditors. Environmental lawyer Gavin Shapiro spoke with Waste Management Review about how they will affect the waste industry.

Sydney is in the middle of a construction boom with hundreds of cranes dotting the skyline.

More than 45 per cent of all the cranes in Australia are in Sydney working on residential construction sites, according to the 2017 Rider Levett Bucknall Crane Index.

In response to this building blitz, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) introduced new guidelines titled Contaminated Land Management, Guidelines for the NSW Site Auditors Scheme (3rd edition), EPA 2017 (‘the Guidelines’) in late 2017. This updated document contains important information for the waste industry and site auditors.

Gavin Shapiro, Partner at Hones Lawyers, says in NSW, by statute under the Contaminated Land Management Act, a special category of consultants called site auditors exist for contaminated sites.

“If EPA NSW orders a management order requiring a site to be remediated, they will usually require a site audit statement to verify that it has properly been remediated. Site auditors are independent experts with additional qualifications compared to a normal contaminated land consultant,” Gavin explains.

“Because they have a lot more independence and have additional obligations, they act as an independent umpire regarding contamination. Because a site auditor needs to carry out their review with rigorous guidelines, they can be seen as the gold standard for verification in regard to contaminated sites.”

Gavin says that previous guidelines mentioned waste management but did not go into significant detail.

“The previous obligations were fairly light when it comes to waste management and the new guidelines have really extensive detail requirements for site auditors.”

He estimates that there will be a much greater interaction between waste issues such as certification and compliance and waste sites.

Gavin says the changes will mean more rigour will be applied alongside documentation with contaminated sites.

“Sites which previously accepted material under a resource recovery order may now be more hesitant. It also means that the EPA NSW’s waste branch will have potentially more involvement with contaminated sites and taking action, including investigating where material has been sent from.

“There’s also more potential for EPA NSW enforcement and compliance against waste transporters,” Gavin says.

REDEVELOPMENT WASTE

Gavin says one of the most common examples of a contaminated site is among Sydney’s booming metropolitan redevelopments.

“There are a lot of areas in Sydney, like Waterloo for example, which were former industrial areas that have been redeveloped for apartment blocks and residential areas. Given the former industrial uses of the areas, they may have a long history of contamination, often in the form of metal contamination but could also include other chemicals or PFAS,” Gavin explains.

“Any sort of chemical or material in the ground or ground water after decades of industrial use can cause headaches for developers. When redeveloping, developers may have to remediate the site, meaning material may need to be excavated and sent offsite.”

Gavin says a lot of the changes that have been implemented will affect the construction and demolition waste stream, as earthworks and demolition companies will be transporting that waste to licensed sites, including landfills.

In NSW, it is an offence to transport waste to a site that cannot lawfully receive it or to use a site that cannot be used as a waste facility. Waste generators must ensure their waste is classified in accordance with the Waste Classification Guidelines which outlines six steps for the classification of waste.

Site auditors are required to assess the waste and provide an adequate justification for why it was classified as such and ensure the waste generated from the audit site has been taken to the correct facility.

The six steps for identification of waste are:

Is it classified as a special waste (such as asbestos or waste tyres)?

Is it considered a liquid waste?

Has the waste been pre-classified by EPA NSW (This include hazardous wastes, building and demolition waste, general solid waste and virgin excavated natural material [VENM])?

Does the waste have any hazardous characteristics (such as explosives, toxic substances or corrosive substances)?

Determine a waste’s classification using chemical assessment, and

Is the waste putrescible or non-putrescible?

Site auditors are also obligated to notify EPA NSW in writing if the auditor is not satisfied with the classification of the waste or if it had been taken to a facility that can lawfully receive it. The site auditor also needs to notify EPA NSW if waste received on a site does not meet the definition of VENM.

Gavin says EPA NSW is looking to stop material leaving contaminated redevelopment sites and being passed off as potentially clean fill.

“The changes ensure the waste is properly disposed of and can be traced using a document trail to verify it, providing more accountability,” he says.

“If material comes onto a site classified as clean fill under a resource recovery order and exemption and the auditor considers the order has not been properly complied with, they will be obligated to notify the EPA.”

Gavin says there’s a lot of dangers and pitfalls for the actual site owner or developer, but it means there is an independent party to verify the waste has been managed properly and it has been delivered to the proper location.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR WASTE

The new changes should add another level of rigour and certainty and be a positive change overall, Gavin explains.

“I have worked on numerous contaminated sites in the past where a site auditor may not have been as aware as they should have been of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act and the differences between the technical requirements under the contaminated land regime as against the substantially different waste regime,” he says.

“This has led to serious issues in terms of how material has been reused and where it has gone, and has caused compliance issues and increased costs. These guidelines should reduce instances of these incidents.”

Gavin says with increased verification and documentation will mean there is less likelihood of something going wrong further along the process.

He adds that the changes will most likely mean far greater costs to developers and lead to longer remediation timeframes for contaminated sites.

“The updates will lead to the fly by night construction and demolition waste operators not being able to pass off material any more. This ensures that contaminated material is going where it needs to be and tackles the issue of supposedly clean soil ending up on development sites across the state with uncertain origins,” Gavin says.

“Transporters are going to be hit the hardest by these changes, for moving material to and from sites. There’s going to much greater certification requirements with EPA NSW being notified when these standards aren’t satisfied.”

Gavin says this will lead to significant changes with potential for suppliers of VENM subject to greater documentation that could lead to obstacles when supplying those products.

An EPA NSW spokesperson said the guidelines provide greater clarity regarding the requirements for waste classification, disposal, recycling, and reuse of waste from audited sites in NSW, as well as the resource recovery order and resource recovery exemption framework.

“The guidelines are now explicit about waste issues that site auditors must check during a site audit and also require auditors to notify the EPA where waste has not been disposed of or reused lawfully in NSW,” they said.

The spokesperson that added these changes should encourage lawful practices and will see that the EPA will be informed when there is potential for unlawful waste practices at audited sites.