NSW EPA to end agricultural use of mixed waste organic material

The NSW EPA is stopping the restricted use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land and is ceasing use on plantation forests and mining rehabilitation land until further controls can be considered.

In a statement, NSW EPA said the decision followed comprehensive independent studies, but the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) is calling for greater involvement in consultations in what it describes a “surprise announcement”.

Mixed waste organic material is predominantly made from organics in general household waste. Application on agricultural land ceased from Friday 26 October and use on plantation forests and mining rehabilitation land will be suspended until further controls can be considered.

NSW EPA Acting Chair and CEO Anissa Levy said there was a robust scientific basis for the EPA’s decision to stop the use of the material.

“The restricted use of the mixed waste organic material had been permitted on the basis that it provided beneficial reuse of waste. Extensive independent research commissioned by the EPA found that it no longer passed that test,” Ms Levy said.

“The research found there were limited agricultural benefits from the application of mixed waste organic material at the regulated maximum levels of application, but there were potential risks to the environment from the presence of some contaminants, such as small pieces of plastic and glass, as well as concerns about soil quality degradation.

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Ms Levy said that as a result, the NSW EPA is revoking the Resource Recovery Exemption and Order – the regulatory instruments that permitted the material to be applied to specific land uses.

“As part of the EPA’s regulatory role, we commissioned an independent assessment of possible health risks related to the use of this product on agricultural land. The assessment used very cautious assumptions to estimate how much exposure a person might have to chemicals present in the material.

“Based on a review of the findings of this health risk assessment the use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land is unlikely to present any health risk to the general public.”

The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health have reviewed the initial findings of the health risk assessment and expert scientific advice, and further work is being done, overseen by an independent panel formed by the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer. This is expected to be completed in the coming months.

The EPA is contacting all councils affected by the change to their waste management services and all landholders who have previously used the material to let them know, and to support them as they manage these changes.

WMAA in a statement argued that the waste and resource recovery industry was informed some six weeks ago that the EPA had completed research into the impacts of mixed waste organics and the expectation was that the regulator would then release its findings for wider consultation.

“Industry has after all had a long history of transparent and constructive consultation on the issue, dating back to 2008 when Hyder Consulting (now Arcadis) completed an extensive project into the chemical contaminants of alternative waste treatment (AWT) organics – the “AWT DORF” project – that was sponsored by industry, WMAA, and numerous state governments and departments, including the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.”

WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan said that it is imperative that industry is given a chance to review the findings particularly as the EPA has confirmed in today’s statement that the use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land is unlikely to present any health risk to the general public.

She said this is consistent with research and assessments conducted by industry.

“We are calling on government to openly and collaboratively work with industry to ensure that NSW’s resource recovery industry’s future is not undermined and that industry and local government are not adversely impacted by this decision,” said Ms Sloan.

“Industry and local councils have invested significantly in AWT in NSW over many years with the support of the EPA. The EPA itself, in its review of waste and resource recovery infrastructure, noted in 2017 there was in fact a one million tonne shortage of AWT processing capacity across the state.”

WMAA acknowledges that there must be continued leadership by the EPA to drive positive resource recovery outcomes based on robust consultation and said it is looking forward to working with government on the future of recovery in NSW.

“We await the release of the technical report but in the interim, we need to ensure that collections do not cease because of this decision and that we do not lose the community’s confidence in resource recovery in NSW. It is also important that industry does not suffer losses because of this decision,” Ms Sloan said.

“It is vital that we maintain public confidence in our industry particularly given the challenges of late. Industry and government have a shared responsibility to work together to find long-term sustainable solutions. We appreciate government is willing to look into financial relief packages for industry and local government that may be severely impacted by the revocation of this exemption and order.”

NSW launches draft of its Circular Economy Policy

The NSW Government has revealed its draft of its Circular Economy Policy as part of the state government’s plan to improve its resource recovery methods.

The policy draft defines the state government’s role in implementing circular economy principles across NSW and how it can commit to achieving long term objectives.

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Minimising the consumption of finite resources by replacing raw materials with recovered and recycled products is one of the main principles of the policy.

Additionally, the policy aims to decouple economic growth from resource consumption by maximising the value of resources through keeping materials in use for as long as possible.

Product design will also play a role to implement a circular economy with an aim of creating long lasting products that are able to be easily re-used, remanufactured and repaired.

The draft aims to extend the life of existing landfills to reduce the demand for new landfills along with a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Local market for high quality post-consumer recycled materials will be developed to keep them materials use for longer to reduce dependency on international markets. It also aims to improve the quality of collected materials through better sorting.

To move away from the “take, make and dispose” status quo, the policy recommends innovating technologies that increase resource recovery efficiency and referencing higher value re-use opportunities.

Creating new jobs in manufacturing, service and resource recovery sectors is listed as a main principle behind the delivery of a circular economy.

The draft sets out certain focus areas to guide future government action which involve supporting innovation, encouraging sustainable procurement practices for businesses and government, improving recycling systems and making the most of organic resources through food donation or composting.

Mainstream product stewardship will also aim to provide incentives for producers to take responsibility for the management of products at the end of their lives.

To establish this framework, the NSW Government aims to incorporate circular economy principles in the revision of the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy in 2019. A Circular Economy Implementation Plan to be developed by 2020 will also aim to provide timing and direction for the implementation of circular economy principles.

Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said the policy draft is the beginning of a better way for NSW to manage its waste and resources.

“Achieving a circular economy will minimise our waste, reduce our impact on the environment and is an opportunity to boost the NSW economy,” Ms Upton said.

“It’s an antidote to the current “linear economy”, where we make things, use them and then throw them away. Instead, we can use items for as long as possible, through repair, re-use and recycling, rather than being thrown away.

“At the same time NSW is working with the Federal Government on the development of national circular economy principles,” she said.

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has welcomed the release of the draft, however it says there is more work to be done on the policy.

The association has urged the NSW Government to set up an organisation similar to Sustainability Victoria or Green Industries South Australia to implement in the final policy.

WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan said that all states are preparing or implementing similar strategies, so it is vital that they align and work together.

“WMAA supports the paper’s proposal that the NSW Government will investigate opportunities to incorporate circular economy principles into the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy as part of the five-yearly review process,” Ms Sloan said.

“WMAA commends the government for its support for broadening and strengthening stewardship schemes. This has been discussed time and again and it is pleasing to see that industry’s feedback has been heard,” she said.

“We are also calling on government to consider how the waste levy should look like in a circular economy environment, including how collected monies are re-invested in industry to further boost processing and jobs.

WMAA calls for Federal Govt leadership on waste

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has called on the Federal Government to use its position to lead the waste sector with policy and legislative measures to drive effective change.

It follows the release of a discussion paper to update the 2009 National Waste Policy that seeks input on priority issues for the future of Australia’s waste management and resource recovery.

Feedback on the discussion people will inform updates to the 2009 National Waste Policy for consideration by environment ministers later this year.

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It presents six key targets for Australia to encourage a circular economy for Australia to achieve by 2030, including a reduction of total waste generated by 10 per cent, achieving an 80 per cent recovery rate and phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics.

It also outlines a target to halve the volume of organic waste, increase average recycled content across all goods and infrastructure procurement and provide data to allow governments, business and individuals to make informed decisions.

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has called on the government to lead the national waste dialogue and provide leadership for the sector.

WMAA is also urging the Federal Government to take a whole of government approach to build a circular economy and take inspiration from Europe to develop a more sophisticated system.

The association identifies the lack of data across the entire supply chain as a hurdle to creating a more advanced network.

WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan said the targets set out in the discussion paper must focus on growing jobs and the economy and ensuring the industry is able to support itself.

“Setting strong interim targets and providing clarity around how these targets will be enforced are a good start,” Ms Sloan said.

“The Federal Government has a number of tools that it can but is not utilising, including policy and legislative levers that can effectively drive change.

“For instance, the Federal Government can exert its import powers to ensure everything that comes to market adheres to extended producer responsibility best practice. It can also grant tax incentives to organisations that actively work towards the targets set in the paper,” she said.

WMAA says that using the Federal Government’s position would allow it to bring together national organisations such as national retailers, manufacturers, distributors and reprocessors.

“There is a real knowledge gap, particularly in the first four stages of this cycle and the Federal Government is in a position to collate this data through the Policy and national engagement,” Ms Sloan said.

“There is value in looking to the EU as they have shown how this can be done by effectively producing 54 clearly defined measures, all with responsibilities allocated. Further, the Federal Government needs to set up a third-party organisation, similar to WRAP UK, which sits uniquely in the space between government, business, and community to collate data and aid in the forging of partnerships to drive a sustainable economy.”

WMAA will be publishing a paper this week that will aim to provide information on how the Federal Government can support industry, boost jobs and drive economic growth through the National Waste Policy.

You can read the discussion paper here.

Queensland waste levy introduced into parliament

Queensland’s waste levy is one step closer as the legislation has been introduced into parliament.

It aims to stop trucks from New South Wales dumping waste in Queensland and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill while also encouraging more recycling jobs.

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A levy existed in Queensland until 2012, when it was removed, making it the only mainland state without a levy.

The new levy will begin on 4 March 2019 at a rate of $70 per tonne for general waste.

In the 2018-2019 state budget, the Queensland Government committed $32 million in advance payments to councils to ensure residents would not have to pay more for their waste.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 will allow the government to invest in waste management and recycling.

“We are providing advance payments to councils that covers 105% of the cost of their municipal waste,” Ms Enoch said.

“This means councils are being paid more than the cost of what they actually send to landfill every year.

“Councils will have no reason to increase rates because of the waste levy – we are giving them more than enough funding to cover this. In fact, councils could choose to use the extra funds to increase their waste management services,” she said.

Ms Enoch said that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste that go to landfill, less than three jobs are supported, compared with nine if that amount was recycled.

Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said that WMAA sees this as a great opportunity to grow and develop the resource recovery sector in Queensland, creating jobs and investment in the state.

“This will bring Queensland back in line with the majority of Australian states, and it is a step towards creating a level playing field across the country that industry so desperately needs,” Ms Sloan said.

Waste Recycling Industry Queensland Chief Executive Officer Rick Ralph said  industry and all levels of government have a critical role in delivering the objectives of Queensland’s new waste strategy.

“We are committed to realising council and the State Government’s future direction on waste, and to reshape Queensland to become Australia’s leading secondary resources and recycling state,” Mr Ralph said.

Q&A War on Waste episode to feature WMAA

Q&A War on Waste episode to feature WMAA

ABC’s current affairs program Q&A will feature waste management leaders as it discusses the current issues facing Australia’s waste and recycling industry.

It will be a special War on Waste episode, and will feature a diverse range of panellists, including the Waste Management Association of Australia CEO Gayle Sloan.

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Joining them will be Craig Reucassel, host of the ABC’s War on Waste program and Tony Jones, the host of Q&A.

Ms Sloan will also appear in episode three of the second season of the War on Waste, which begins on Tuesday 24 July.

The panel will also include Ronni Kahn, an Australian entrepreneur who started the food rescue charity Oz Harvest. The charity partners with the United Nations Environment Programme to raise awareness on the issue of food waste and works with governments and key stakeholders with a goal to halve waste by 2030.

Nature’s Organics CEO Jo Taranto will also be part of the panel. She is also the director of social enterprise start up “Good for the Hood”, whose mission is to inspire communities around the country to reduce waste.

Rounding out the panel is the President of the Australian Local Government Association David O’Loughlin. He has held executive positions across the public and private sectors of the construction industry for more than 27 years and now represents local government, including at Ministerial Councils and the Council of Australian Governments.

The Q&A episode will broadcast on Monday 23 June at 9:35pm (AEST). To ask a question of the panel, click here. To register to join the audience, click here.

Industry, government and community tackle plastic waste

Industry giants, community groups and government bodies came together to tackle the issue of plastic packaging waste in Australia.

Consumer goods manufacturers Coca Cola, Danone, Unilever and Kellogg’s, tech companies Fuji Xerox and Dell, supermarkets Coles and Aldi and senior figures from the NSW Environment Protection Authority met with local community groups to discuss the future of plastic packaging in consumer goods.

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The event was hosted by the Boomerang Alliance with the support of Bloomberg Australia, and examined the infrastructure holes that need to be filled in order to improve Australia’s capacity for waste collection, processing and recycling.

Representatives from Clean Up Australia, Responsible Cafes, Bye Bye Plastic, Planet Ark, Close the Loop and the local Sydney councils of Randwick, Waverly and Inner West Councils also added to the discussion.

A guest panel of speakers shared their expertise and included Australian Packaging Covenant CEO Brooke Donnelly, Waste Management Association Australia CEO Gayle Sloan, Founder of BioPak Richard Fine, and Nature’s Organics CEO Jo Taranto.

Ms Sloan said every council’s waste management has the same definition in their contracts regarding what’s recyclable.

“We have conveyors and depending on the money and infrastructure available, they’ll use infrareds to split out the different types of plastics,” she said.

Most material recovery facilities do this but at a cost and we don’t have enough people buying back [the recycled material]. That’s the problem.”

Mr Fine said it is important that companies are marketing their products as compostable get certified to a recognised standard.

“There’s a lot of greenwashing out there providing vague claims of ‘biodegradable’ which is confusing the consumer and damaging the industry as a lot of these products will simply break down and fragment into small pieces,” he said.

Pictured left to right: Richard Fine, Brooke Donnelly, Justin Dowel, Jo Toranto, Gayle Sloan, Jayne Paramor.

WMAA and ACOR call for national recycling action plan

Australian politicians have been called to implement the Australian Circular Economy and Recycling Action plan at the Ministerial Council by the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) and the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

The move comes in response to China’s National Sword policy, with the Action Plan aiming to build upon state government’s short-term actions to maintain community confidence in recycling services.

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WMAA Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said a concerted effort at this critical point in time is required by all.

“It is absolutely the case that the industry’s future direction is at an important crossroads, with an opportunity to grow more Australian-based manufacturing jobs, and actively build on the 20 years’ worth of environmental gains in Australia,” Ms Sloan said.

“WMAA and ACOR have a united industry position on this important topic, and are committed to working with government to ensure the success of the Australian Circular Economy & Recycling Action Plan,” she said.

WMAA and ACOR are advocating to Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and state ministers to work with the recycling and resource recovery industry to change strategic directions.

ACOR chief executive officer Peter Shmigel said a $150 million national Action Plan would enable the ‘three I’s’ that are needed to reboot recycling and kickstart the circular economy.

“Investment in infrastructure and new markets, improvement of recyclate material quality and recycling contracts, and innovation in positive purchasing of recycled content products by governments,” Mr Shmigel said.

“It is time to transform the recycling and resource recovery industry so it can help transform our economy to a more competitive, sustainable and circular model that makes the best use of as many resources, including human resources as possible in Australia,” he said.