Protecting our infrastructure

How can waste management sites protect themselves from urban encroachment? Waste Management Review speaks to SUEZ, Alex Fraser and Sustainability Victoria about the issue.

Statutory authority Sustainability Victoria is aware of the challenges of site encroachment and has responded to the issue in its latest policy document.

When it updated its Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan (SWRRIP) in 2018, it did so to reflect the seven regional implementation plans, policy settings and latest data and information.

The 2015 SWRRIP was characterised by bringing the state’s waste management and resource recovery facilities together in a network of hubs and spokes, with hubs defined as a facility or group of facilities managing waste and spokes as the sequence of activities moving materials from generators to and from hubs.

Notably, when looking at the barriers of developing hubs in the 2018 update, it states that one of the barriers to creating a viable and sustainable waste and resource recovery industry is residential encroachment. The document states that co-location, appropriate land use and zoning and industry operator networks will help realise the opportunities to facilitate economies of scale.

Of course, this has to be balanced out against community protections. One of its goals in 2018 is to ensure correct land use planning mechanisms are in place around hubs, including buffers to protect the surrounding environment. It notes that planning scheme overlay provisions can be used to protect waste and resource recovery facilities from “encroachment by sensitive uses”.

The plan also acknowledges that organic reprocessing facilities have been relocated out of the metro area due to the pressure from residential encroachment or incompatible uses within buffer trends. This has contributed to a trend towards bulk haul consolidation centres to reduce transportation costs. At the same time, there are hubs under increasing threat of encroachment, including the Brooklyn, Ravenhall, Ordish Road and Cooper Street precincts.

The plan states in a case study of Ravenhall that planning needs to preserve adequate buffer distances and incompatible land uses are not established in proximity to hubs and activities on site. Ravenhall, which is located in the City of Melton, has had the third-fastest growth in Victoria, growing by five per cent from 2008 to 2017 to reach 148,896 residents.

With such prodigious growth, Waste Management Review asks the question: how can sites protect themselves from urbanisation? To discover the true nature of the issue, we spoke to SUEZ, one of Australia’s largest waste management companies, C&D recycler Alex Fraser and statutory authority Sustainability Victoria, which works with the regulators on the ground.

SUEZ

Emmanuel Vivant, SUEZ Australia & New Zealand Executive Director – Development, Performance and Innovation, says land use planning at the moment does not incorporate adequate buffers for emerging suburbs.

“We’ve seen countless examples of residential encroachment on waste management facilities in Australia. It’s clear that there needs to be a more strategic approach to planning and protecting essential waste management infrastructure throughout the operational lifetime of facilities,” Emmanuel says.

He says it’s positive to see state and territory governments invest in clear needs assessment of waste infrastructure through statewide infrastructure plans, which have been released in Victoria and, most recently, South Australia. NSW also began the process with its Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy 2017-21, but has only so far released a draft for consultation, with the final document expected in early 2018.

Emmanuel says it’s clear that these plans need to be supported with action plans to aid investment, as the support for waste management varies considerably across each jurisdiction.

“What drives investment is a stable regulatory and planning environment, committed waste supply and downstream customer and market demand. Government have a role to play in all of these areas.”

Emmanuel Vivant

He says that SUEZ supports Victoria and South Australia’s recent statewide infrastructure plans, although these plans need to be aided by the right regulatory settings. Emmanuel says for example, a waste to energy facility requires long-term contracts and economies of scale to achieve the necessary waste volumes, but this requires a shift from existing procurement practices to realise the stated ambitions.

“There are also synergies that could be achieved through co-location of compatible activities and industries. SUEZ’s approach for resource recovery parks often co-locate various waste management infrastructure in the same area,” Emmanuel says.

Emmanuel says SUEZ is also exploring various partnerships with industry to develop compatible infrastructure. He says these sites should be valued by state and local government as key assets.

“We are working on various opportunities, especially in the emerging waste to energy space to deliver energy to industry. We believe these initiatives should be supported by government,” he says.

He adds that waste infrastructure must be part of state government strategic planning and reviewed as cities grow.

“The sector is well placed to identify and secure appropriate sites, but this ultimately should be with good strategic planning that meets the needs of a community and supports facilities for their entire operational lifetime,” Emmanuel says.

ALEX FRASER

Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Managing Director, notes that it is almost impossible to find suitable sites that are large enough to achieve economies of scale and close enough to where waste is generated. He says inconsistency of planning decisions is a big issue.

“It’s taken years for Alex Fraser to build a network of recycling sites of suitable scale, in locations serviced by major roads, that are close enough to raw and finished product markets.

“In 2016, one of our sites was affected by a rezoning that has the potential to shut down one million tonnes per year of recycling capacity,” Peter says.

“The unfortunate reality is that a lot of effort from hard-working people across government departments, and a suite of very good specifications, plans and policies that would support better outcomes are completely undermined by some planning decisions.”

“Government needs to act fast if it wants to preserve a million tonnes a year of recycling capacity.”

Peter Murphy

Ultimately, Peter says what’s needed is a clear, consistent and long-term approach to planning that supports the objectives of other important government policies. He says that resource recovery facilities should meet high operating standards and have good access to infrastructure such as roads and water supply.

Peter says the solution is first preserving access to existing, well-located facilities, quarries and landfills.

“More investment is necessary and will happen, but we must first preserve, and do as much as we can, with existing well-run facilities,” he says.

When asked if more zoned land needed to be made available, Peter says it may help, but suitable land is difficult to find.

“Relocating facilities is a complex exercise. Simply rezoning new land does not alleviate the problems caused when zonings on ideal existing sites are changed,” he says.

He says Alex Fraser’s environmental controls are very good and its sites are located well away from residential development corridors.

“Our experience has definitely been that a well-run facility is supported by its neighbours.

“We’ve got more work to do in educating the broader community about the real value of resource recovery and the reuse of quality recycled products in building their cities,” Peter says.

He says Alex Fraser provided detailed input to the SWRRIP and was pleased to see that some of it was taken on board.

SUSTAINABILITY VICTORIA

Stan Krpan, Sustainability Victoria (SV) Chief Executive Officer, says the SWRRIP recognises that some networks are robust, while others require complex planning.

“What we know from investors is that they are looking for certainty on land use planning. The SWRRIP is now a reference document in the state planning policy framework,” he says.

“I am confident that both developers and the waste and recycling operators share a desire for certainty. The SWRRIP and associated planning references aim to provide this. We are working with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to ensure there are the right instruments in place to strike a balance between their respective interests.”

Stan says SV has been active with the EPA, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group, the Victorian planning authority and its department around better land use planning that takes into account the importance of these assets.

The entrance to Alex Fraser’s Clarinda Site is lined with native foliage.

“We know we have more to do on buffer protection, but we are working very closely with the industry and local government about what the nature of those buffers needs to be and what planning instruments would support those buffers,” he says.

In Victoria and much like other states such as Queensland, the Minister for Planning has the power to ‘call in’ a planning application from local council, where the minister considers that the determination may have a substantial effect on planning objectives or the proceeding raises a major policy issue. The policy has been used on waste sites before, though it is rare.

In the SWRRIP 2018, on its strategic direction page, a sidebar asks: what will be different? The answer is a “consistent statewide process” to assess the need for, and scheduling of landfill airspace. This includes mechanisms to preserve against encroachment, resulting in amenity impacts on the surrounding communities. It further states that suitable sites and buffers will be progressively protected through local planning schemes or other land use planning tools. Planning will also ensure “unsuitable land uses” are not established with or near waste and resource recovery facilities.

Stan notes the issue is not just about buffers and planning overlays, but also a social licence to operate, pointing to SV’s research with CSIRO on building community trust in the sector called Engaging communities on waste. “As an industry and as government, we can do more on educating the community on the importance of these assets and what happens with them,” Stan says.

In its waste and resource recovery infrastructure planning framework, the SWRRIP has a goal to raise the standard of waste and resource recovery facilities by improving their performance. Stan says it’s no surprise there has been a history of communities becoming aggrieved by certain waste operators, business and infrastructure, which is why SV took its learnings from the mining sector in building its research with CSIRO.

In part two of this two-part series, Waste Management review explores the impact on waste management developments in Queensland.

This article was published in the July issue of Waste Management Review