Preparing for the Queensland waste levy

Mandalay Technologies’ Lacey Webb explains five key factors local government and private sector operators should account for when getting themselves ‘levy ready’ in Queensland.

It’s now clear that a landfill levy is on its way in Queensland.

Set to commence in the first quarter of 2019, the levy will begin at a price of $70 a tonne on general waste to landfill and increase by $5 each year for the first four years.

But what is somewhat murky to some industry stalwarts are the risks and concerns stakeholders should be worried about in managing their data requirements. Likewise, the question to then ask is: how can these challenges be alleviated before the levy goes live in the first quarter of 2019?

Previously, the levy zone comprised 34 local government areas. Public and private sector landfills within this levy zone had to report on the waste received for disposal and remit payments to the department.

One of the key changes this time round is that the waste disposal levy will apply to all general waste streams, notably municipal solid waste, while affecting 38 local government areas out of 77 – more than 90 per cent of the state’s population. Operators will be required to similarly submit data to the Department of Environment and Science on the waste received at the site for disposal, as well as that which was received and segregated for recovery.

Lacey Webb, Senior Consultant at waste data consultancy firm Mandalay Technologies, says that the wide scope of the levy means it’s important that every stakeholder is “levy ready” when it kicks in next year.

She says that similar to the last time the levy was introduced in Queensland, there will likely be last minute changes and questions that can’t be answered once the levy has gone live.

“This makes it imperative that facilities focus on a broad range of preparation areas now,” Lacey explains.

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It’s why waste data consultants Mandalay Technologies are hosting a series of industry webinars to dissect the key operational priorities for local government and private sector operators to become levy ready. The first webinar was held in June and comprised a range of commercial operators and local government representatives.

Lacey says the feedback that emerged from the webinars was that each council or operator had their own focus and concerns, rather than everyone sharing the same problems, with some consistent themes emerging.

Mandalay’s levy ready focus led them to five initial focuses. These were: who has access to your data and how do they manage it? Is your data centralised? How will you price and communicate that with your customers? How will you manage multi-site environments? Finally, how will you validate core processes that may impact levy calculation, including stockpiling and the capturing of residuals or exempt waste streams?

Lacey points out that the question of who is assessing and managing data has implications for understanding the integrity of information. She asks how reliable are the data and are there too many staff members overseeing it, leading to unnecessary risks and complexity of audit? She says this will be a key priority for Mandalay in its assistance to local government and private sector stakeholders.

The second question about centralised and standardised data, provides opportunities to better align existing systems.

“If you’ve got seven facilities, you need to ask: are they all using the same data set? Because if they’re not, then you may have to administer levy changes for those seven different facilities separately, which can be time consuming and increase the risk of error,” Lacey says.

“A single location to update your data with levy requirements would be a much more manageable update by your software provider, than if all seven locations have to be administered.”

The third consideration, pricing and change mechanisms, highlights the importance of both communicating these changes to customers prior to the new levy and also understanding your own internal price change mechanism. At the webinar, council operators asked: how will they communicate this to their customers, what’s the language and rhetoric that needs to be used and what is their timeline for communication? Lacey says these are important considerations, particularly since the launch date is at this stage indicative.

Queensland’s directions paper highlights that landfill infrastructure, such as weighbridges and security fencing, will need to be made levy ready.

“The more prepared we can make our frontline staff for the levy go live, with knowledge, verbal scripts, or in some cases handouts and escalation points, the better positioned they will be to deal with challenging customers,” Lacey says.

She says that promotion of the levy isn’t the only focus when it comes to pricing, which is especially the case for local government areas, who may have already gazetted their pricing for the financial year.

“It’s imperative that we understand how to change pricing. Do we have mechanisms in place to add a levy, or amend pricing that’s already promoted and where will the changes need to be actioned visibly?”

Lacey says the management of sites without weighbridges raises several issues around infrastructure and staffing requirements. She notes sites may have no weighbridge, or they may have multiple weighing points and infrastructure requirements may lead to further administration from staff.

She says the question of standardisation also arises when you start to look at whether operators are charging by tonne or by volume.

“If you have a facility that charges by tonne, with an inbound and outbound weigh point, it’s pretty straightforward that your pricing will now be $70 per tonne on top of your operational price, but what does that mean per metre?

“Is the Department of Environment and Science going to give us a framework of determined or deemed weights such as the NSW Environment Protection Authority does? Are they going to give us conversion factors for volumetric pricing?”

Lacey says these considerations can lead to a change in training requirements for your administrative and operational staff.

With many councils now looking at their infrastructure, Kerry Dalton, Coordinator Waste and Recycling Environmental Compliance at Bundaberg Regional Council, notes the inclusion of municipal solid waste will affect its weighing systems.

“At the moment, we don’t weigh our domestic vehicles. They’re just charged based on whether it’s a ute or a car. Under the new legislation, we will have to weigh every single domestic vehicle going to the landfill, which means we will have all these vehicles going over the weighbridge,” Kerry explains.

Kerry says as weights aren’t stored for domestic vehicles, they will have to now tip their waste and return for reweighing, adding that the council is now exploring other methods of tackling this.

Bundaberg Regional Council operates seven landfills out of 12 sites and notes that it will have to install weighbridges at all of its landfill sites by 2024.

“There’s a tonnage-based system applied so your allowable tonnages at a landfill will determine when you need to install the weighbridge,” she says.

“What we’ll have to do is look at those facilities, particularly those under 2000 tonnes and consider other operational alternatives. Turning them into transfer stations can create a financial impact.”

Kerry says getting councils levy ready will require significant training on how to record waste movement from site to site, which may involve using digital devices such as tablets to communicate this or bringing in additional staff.

Mandalay’s final consideration, validating your core processes in preparation for the Queensland levy, focuses on stockpile management, capturing residuals on site and anything that may need to be recorded as operational use.

Lacey notes that if operators are pulling residuals out of the waste stream, but don’t have a method of capturing that data, then they could end up with unnecessary landfill levy costs. She says that now is a good time to look at tightening up your stockpile processes and considering how you can track the materials that don’t go to landfill with internal transactions.

“Past levy experience and our experience in other states tells us that the more information that a facility has to support recovered items, or those used for operational purposes, the more confident they can be in not paying levy unnecessarily.”

Lacey says that aside from the importance of understanding vehicle numbers across a facility for operational decision making, capturing free loads or charity/donation loads is also something that facilities should focus on. She notes that often these may not be captured in a transactional system.

“As we move into a leviable model in Queensland, these transactions will be reportable for levy or exemption calculation, so it is imperative that we start the process of changing habits now,” Lacey says.

Mandalay Technologies will host a series of webinars available for all Queensland waste managers to attend. Their next webinar will focus on a comprehensive levy ready checklist and will be held at 10-11am on 28 August, 2018.

To register, head to www.qld-waste-levy-webinar.eventbrite.com.au or email: alogovik@mandalaytech.com

Fast Fact:

Mandalay levy ready focus – the top five issues:

Who has access to your data and how do they manage it?

Is your data centralised?

Pricing and change mechanisms – how will you price, how will you communicate that with your customers?

Multi-site environments – how will you manage the different data requirements of weighed and non-weighed sites?

Validate core processes now that may impact levy calculation – stockpiling methods, capturing of residuals/operational use products, and free or charitable transactions.