Soldiering on: The Next Generation proposal

Waste Management Review sat down with Dial A Dump Industries Managing Director Ian Malouf at Waste 2018 to discuss government policy and the status of the Next Generation proposal at Eastern Creek.

It was touted as the world’s largest waste to energy plant (WtE), but in March this year, Ian Malouf’s $700 million proposed facility, The Next Generation (TNG), at Eastern Creek, was struck a blow.

A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry established its terms of reference in 2017 to “report on matters relating to the waste disposal industry in NSW with particular reference to ‘energy from waste’”.

Of its 36 recommendations, one said that, subject to the current assessment process being conducted by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, the NSW Government does not approve the facility. The NSW Department of Planning has now ruled it should be refused on several grounds and the Independent Planning Commission will have the final say shortly.

Industry advocacy bodies, such as Alex Serpo of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, last month in Waste Management Review argued that the inquiry was established off the back of the TNG proposal, with few chapters in the end actually devoted to WtE.

Waste Management Review sat down with Dial A Dump Industries Managing Director Ian Malouf at this year’s Waste 2018 event at Coffs Harbour, talking National Sword, government policy and the TNG proposal. But the battle for the Eastern Creek plant is far from over, as Ian says he’s prepared to take the matter to court if necessary.

“We’ll soldier on with the plan for Eastern Creek. We’re not going to stop that process,” Ian says.

“We’re going to turn our mind to establishing facilities in other regional areas in the state of NSW, in areas that want us and we will power their town. So we’re putting it out to all councils if someone wants us, we can collectively group councils together.”

TNG was planned to be located 35 kilometres west of Sydney in Eastern Creek and divert 500,000 tonnes of residual non-putrescible solid waste each year from landfill – enough to power 100,000 homes. The same site is home to the Genesis Xero Waste Recycling Facility, a material processing centre for waste from the construction and demolition, and commercial and industrial sectors, as well as landfill capacity and waste disposal facilities.

Its proximity to the NSW power grid provided a strategic outlet for the facility, and TNG had also offered to supplement free power for 1000 homes in western Sydney. Its vision remains to deliver a net positive greenhouse gas effect, eliminating about 1.5 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions per year.

In the consultation process, TNG conducted multiple presentations to council and officers, two public exhibitions, 8000 DVDs and pamphlet drops delivered door to door, and online radio, news and television promotion. In addition, it door-knocked neighbouring businesses, corresponded with key stakeholders and community groups and participated and took questions in the parliamentary inquiry process.

Hitachi Zosen Inova Australia declared itself the technology supplier, offering its moving grate combustion technology, which is currently used in more than 500 projects worldwide.

Ian says the parliamentary inquiry decision went against the grain of WtE as being an important part of a waste hierarchy – with landfill at the bottom.

“We started this journey four years ago. Now, there is a real groundswell of support for us from industry. They can’t believe we’re not getting up on this, especially at this time right now,” he says.

It comes as the federal government has indicated a strong willingness to prioritise WtE projects in response to National Sword.

In late April, after a meeting of environment ministers, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said he asked the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Australian Renewable Energy Agency to prioritise WtE and build on the $200 million invested in this area. Minister Frydenberg noted at the time how common it was in Europe to process residual waste through WtE.

It’s particularly challenging times for the industry with National Sword, and Ian says it isn’t helped by the fact that manufacturers have continued to import packaging products from overseas, as it is currently cheaper to import glass bottles than to recycle them.

“The fact that we export our mixed plastic waste and then we buy it back as a bottle is ludicrous. Bottles shouldn’t be coming into our country, they should be transported in bulk. Anything they want to bring in, whether it is beer, water or wine should be coming in vats and bottled here. That way, we create a new industry and we solve our glass problem. The same should apply to plastic.”

At April’s meeting of environment ministers, ministers agreed to a target of 100 per cent of Australian packaging be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.

While making a number of pledges, ministers agreed to have a mid-June teleconference to discuss progress on recycling, and to meet in late 2018 to further progress delivery of the commitments.

The NSW Government released a one-off $47 million package to offset increasing kerbside collection costs and improve recycled product production, but Ian questions just how far the figure will go to solving the problem.

“You need billions of dollars of infrastructure to solve this problem in doing it correctly to reuse the materials here.”

When it comes to waste, Ian says it’s the jobs of governments to create markets by insisting on the use of Australian recycled products and following the practice themselves. Ian says once they do this, and stop trying to influence what should go in the household bin, the industry will do the rest.

He notes that that’s what industry does: if there is a market, the industry will supply it. Attendees at the environment ministers’ meeting agreed to advocate, where appropriate, to increase the recyclable materials in goods purchased by governments, such as paper, road base and construction materials.

Ian says once governments create markets, they should let the waste industry get on with the job.

“We’re here trying to spend a billion dollars for a waste to energy plant and we asked for nothing.

“As a company we are high achievers, and our goal is to have the most sophisticated and integrated waste facility in the world – something that all Australians can be proud of and that NSW should be embracing.

“We have the country’s best recycling plant and we’re expanding that now at Eastern Creek as our next stage of constant improvement.

“We’ve got the landfill, which in the modern world is necessary for contaminated soils, but not for combustible materials and the energy plant will complete that circuit.”

In an April statement, Professor Mary O’Kane, Chair of the Independent Planning Commission, said the commission will examine the application, the department’s report and other relevant material, providing a further layer of scrutiny to the process, and carefully weigh all views – community, proponent and government agencies’, before deciding if the proposed facility is in the public interest.