Creating the right environment: WRIWA

The Western Australian Government is reviewing its Waste Strategy. Waste Management Review looks at the changes required to create a level playing field for the sector.

Reviewing a waste strategy requires collaboration at both ends of the spectrum, as the waste industry, local government and the like can have their differing interpretations on what strategies or policies are best for industry growth and environmental outcomes.

In Western Australia, the government is reviewing its waste strategy through statutory authority – Waste Authority WA.

WA’s first strategy was published in 2012 after stakeholder consultation and approval. The need for a new strategy was reflected in 2014-15 data, which shows Western Australians are generating more waste than those in other states and territories, dispose of the second highest amount of waste to landfill and have the second lowest rate of resource recovery.

A waste levy, government programs, investment in infrastructure and increased community engagement ensures waste to landfill is on a downward trend and resource recovery heading upwards, but the government in its Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy Consultation paper acknowledges there’s room for improvement.

The paper shows there are opportunities to embrace the circular economy, engaging consumers, industry and government about product lifecycles, policies that foster competition and address market failure, removing barriers to waste reduction through improved procurement and standards and well sited landfills to complement resource recovery. Western Australia’s waste generation includes a majority construction and demolition (C waste with 2.9 million tonnes generated in 2014-15, followed by 1.4 million tonnes of organics, 0.8 million tonnes of metals, 0.6 million tonnes of waste paper and cardboard and 0.4 of plastic waste.

The WA Government has already moved on numerous reforms, including plans to introduce a container deposit scheme and a ban on lightweight single-use plastic bags.

But what else can be done? Reviewing waste classifications and definitions, an equitable waste levy, product specifications encouraging waste-derived materials, improving data quality and assessing landfill infrastructure are just a few measures the Waste Authority WA believes it can look at. If it is to reach its target of 75 per cent resource recovery of C&D by 2020, 65 per cent municipal solid waste recovered in Perth and 50 per cent in the major regional centres, there may be more work to be done. Broadly speaking, the Waste Authority has set a target of reducing its waste per capita to 10 per cent by 2025 (doubled by 2030) compared to 2014-15 levels, which would bring it in line with the national average.

Working with the Waste Authority WA is a newly-formed state advocacy organisation – the Waste and Recycling Industry Association of Western Australia (WRIWA). Formed in April of this year, WRIWA represents private sector organisations in the state across waste, recycling and composting. It estimates that its members collect, process, recycle and dispose of around two-thirds of the total waste produced in WA. Its objectives are to ensure a level playing field for waste markets and achieve best practice outcomes for collection, processing, recycling and waste disposal.

Michael Harper, WRIWA Chairman, says WRIWA has been pleased with the responses of the new Minister for the Environment, the Waste Authority and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation to its concerns. He says a waste strategy can and should be a significant driver of good outcomes in the private sector. In submitting its agenda to the Waste Authority, WRIWA is most concerned about the issue of landfill levy avoidance in regional areas, calling for a strict policy which ensures a levy drives investment in recycling technology and implementation. This is because the waste levy, which was introduced in 1998, only applies to landfill sites in metropolitan Perth.

Michael says that avoidance is damaging honest operators who are complying with the regulations. The current level of avoidance is well known within the waste sector, he says, and there is an increasing awareness within the non-governmental organisation environmental sector and the general community. Michael says a failure to bring it to an end risks undermining public confidence in the state’s waste avoidance and resource recovery strategies.

The waste and recycling snapshot: WA 2015-16 indicates 58 per cent of C&D materials were recovered. Michael says a shadow of doubt remains over the figures, as non-metropolitan landfills are not measured.

As president of the Demolition Industry Association, Michael is well versed on the subject and keeps his ear to the ground about the level of industry compliance.

“The 2014-15 estimation from Department of Water and Environmental Regulation was 42 per cent diversion of C&D materials from landfill. The following year the figure rose to nearly 60 per cent. A rise of almost 20 per cent in one year seems very questionable. There is considerable evidence that C&D recycling has not improved and that the figures are distorted by illegal dumping for the purpose of avoiding the levy outside the metropolitan area,” he says.

To solve this problem, WRIWA proposes consistent landfill levies across the largest jurisdiction possible, while also extending the landfill levy by a radius of 500 kilometres from the Perth Central Business District (CBD).

“Clear definitions to eliminate potential misrepresentation of key terms such as ‘waste’, ‘waste origin’ and ‘waste source’ is required as part of eliminating levy avoidance,” Michael says.

WRIWA supports the current rollout of landfill levies of $70 a tonne for putrescible and inert waste to apply in 2019, while not supporting any increase due to its impact on competitiveness and possible illegal dumping.

“Levies and their governing regulations should be put in place for at least five years, and if the regulations are to change, industry should be given a minimum of 12 months’ notice.”

Part of the issue in accurately measuring waste management stems from self-reporting, which is organised via voluntary industry surveys.

He says this calls into question the accuracy of the data, as it cannot be assumed that businesses are voluntarily providing accurate figures, particularly in the current levy climate. Making data gathering compulsory and then extending the landfill levy would provide resources for state agencies to police illegal activity.

Cr Lynne Craigie, President of the peak industry body the WA Local Government Association (WALGA), says WALGA also considers that there are issues with the reporting of waste management data.

“In WA, there are two main sources of data on waste management: the Local Government Census and the Recycling Activity Report. WALGA recently wrote to the environment minister and chair of the Waste Authority identifying that the data for local government recovery rates in the two reports did not align,” she says.

“As has been identified by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, while nearly all of local governments are reporting through the census, there are significant industry players who are not reporting through the Recycling Activity Report process.”

In terms of compliance, Michael says improved certification/receipting procedures and reporting are also required at each point in the supply chain to improve WA’s understanding of recycling and diversion rates and correct application of landfill levies.

He says that C&D waste transporters should be required under the regulations to identify at the point of disposal where the waste has originated. The identity, registration number and licence of the truck and driver should be recorded and the driver should certify the information as true. Breaches should be rigorously prosecuted, he says, adding that Global Positioning System tracking should be in place to monitor this.

In addition, WRIWA is also focusing on working to increase the uptake of recycled materials in government procurement – which it says is currently minimal or non-existent in WA. Michael points to a Municipal Waste Advisory Council survey of Western Australian Local Governments in 2013, which found the uptake of recycled materials was less than half of the 41 local governments which participated in the survey.

“There is a substantial difference in attitude and outcomes between Victoria and Western Australia with respect to the use of recycled building materials. Victoria has a simple specification for incorporation of recycled materials in products such as road base,” Michael explains.

“Victorian government agencies enthusiastically promote the use of recycled building materials which has created confidence and demand for the use of these materials.

“In some cases, Victorian processing and recycling operators now pay collectors of C&D waste for some materials.”

In response to questions as to whether WALGA supports the increased uptake of recycled materials in local government contracts, Lynne says that it is essential that the material collected has a viable market.

“WALGA has actively encouraged local governments to use recycled materials, for example construction and demolition (C&D) materials in civil works,” she says.

Lynne says WALGA has facilitated local government use of these products by establishing preferred supplier arrangements for recycled C&D material to ensure this comes from trusted suppliers. WALGA has also worked with the Institute of Public Works Engineers to establish a specification for using C&D material in local government roads, which addresses technical considerations about how to use the product.

Michael says WRIWA fully supports the view expressed in the foreword to the Waste Authority’s 2016 Position Statement that “the use of recycled products for road base in WA should be an entirely unremarkable activity and the norm rather than the exception”. For this reason, it calls for 100 per cent of local governments to use recycled C&D materials in place of virgin materials by 2020.

It wants the Waste Authority to convene a working party with Main Roads WA, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and industry to review by December 2018 the current obstacles to the use of C&D aggregates in road construction and increasing the use in WA of C&D aggregates.

Lynne says that in reviewing the implementation of the previous state waste strategy, one of the key flaws was that it wasn’t implemented. She says a whole-of-government commitment to the new strategy’s implementation is vital. In its submission on the consultation paper on the strategy, WALGA has called for state government to take a leadership role in its implementation.

She says some of the issues that WALGA identified in the submission as key priorities include: amending the Environment Protection Act to ensure the chief executive officer can refuse a license application if a proposed facility will undermine waste strategy outcomes and targets, that targets for recovery are included, with the state government setting specific recycling, composting and diversion targets for its own operations and the role of waste to energy as part of the strategy.

“For the strategy to be achieved, it is also essential that adequate support and incentives to assist with the achievement of targets is provided through the waste levy,” Lynne says.

In the context of National Sword, which has seen China tighten its acceptable contamination levels from five per cent to 0.5 per cent, WRIWA is calling for grants for upgrades to recycling facilities, ensuring government procurement policies prioritise the use of recycled materials and incentivise home grown manufactured post-consumer products. Michael says an industry package similar to the Victorian Government’s could be a good place to start, as the cost of recyclables is estimated to rise to up to $100 per tonne.

Lynne says WALGA has engaged with the Environment Minister on this issue and suggested the establishment of a state, local government and industry task force to ensure there are viable markets for recyclables collected in WA.

“When this task force is hopefully established, one of its first roles is to identify a package of measures to address the WA specific market development needs,” she says.

Marcus Geisler, Waste Authority WA Chairman, told Waste Management Review that once finalised, the new strategy will set the direction for waste and recycling in the state, and will include mechanisms to drive outcomes and help industry (including local governments and the private sector) to meet targets.

Given that non-metropolitan waste is not covered by the landfill levy, when asked how we can have a true understanding of how much waste is going to landfill, Marcus said:

“The Waste Authority conducts an annual review of all waste and recycling activity in Western Australia via its Recycling Activity in Western Australia report. As part of that review, a survey of major non-metropolitan landfills is undertaken to estimate the total amount of waste sent to landfill in non-metropolitan areas.”

As the Waste Authority was currently reviewing submissions at the time of writing, Marcus was unable to provide information on specific contributions in regards to questions of alleged landfill levy avoidance and WRIWA’s proposal to extend landfill levies by a radius of 500 kilometres from the Perth CBD.

“The government is committed to ensuring the waste levy is applied consistently and fairly to provide a level playing field for the sector,” he said.

Turning to self-reporting and questions of whether mandatory self-reporting could be a better indicator, Marcus said that following Waste Authority advice, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is progressing amendments to the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Regulations 2008 (WARR) to make the reporting of waste data mandatory. These amendments are expected to improve the state’s waste data.

“The Waste Authority is also developing a Waste Data Strategy and promotes measuring tonnes versus volumetric calculations,” Marcus said.

In terms of paying greater focus to the uptake of recycled contracts, Marcus said the Waste Strategy Review consultation paper identifies procurement, including by government, as an important tool for supporting the use of recycled products.

“The 2017–18 business plan includes a project to identify opportunities for state government agencies to implement procurement policies that support the objectives of the strategy.”

Marcus said the waste levy is the main economic lever to reduce waste generation and increase recycling. He said the need for targeted incentives will be evaluated during the waste strategy review.

Marcus noted the Minister for Environment is aware of the potential impacts of the Chinese Government’s import restrictions on recyclable waste.

“In January this year, the Minister wrote to the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy in support of a coordinated national effort to manage these impacts and take advantage of emerging opportunities. Environment ministers will be exploring options at a Meeting of Environment Ministers in April.

“In addition to pursuing national solutions, the Minister for Environment is establishing a Waste Taskforce with members from Western Australia’s waste and recycling industry, state government agencies, local government and community.

“The taskforce will assist in providing the Minister with advice on how to support and develop a sustainable and productive recycling sector in Western Australia.”