The NSW senate has released a comprehensive and welcomed reform plan for waste and recycling in NSW, writes Alex Serpo, Policy Officer at the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council.
A parliamentary inquiry into waste regulations has handed down its recommendations, including investigating options to restructure the NSW EPA.
It recommended the NSW Government investigate options to restructure the NSW Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA) to improve its performance and an independent review conducted into the EPA to assess the adequacy of funding for performance of compliance and enforcement, community engagement and a perceived conflict of interest between its compliance and policy and education roles.
The terms of reference sought to understand the impact of waste levies, the role of waste to energy and its impact on the recycling industry, regulatory standards, guidelines and policy statements on this and references to regulations overseas. In addition, it focused on illegal dumping and actions to prevent it, impacts of landfilling and the transport of waste out of the state.
NSW is the second highest per capita producer of waste in the world, with the final report acknowledging that successive NSW Governments have “failed to effectively leverage levy funds” to support the development of much-needed services and infrastructure, leaving the state dependent on landfill.
“The committee has made a number of recommendations to overcome this issue, including that the NSW Government hypothecate a greater percentage of waste levy funds to local councils and the waste industry to support the provision of additional waste services, initiatives and infrastructure,” said the Hon Paul Green MLC Committee Chair, in the Chair’s foreword.
Mr Green said there was a great deal of debate during the inquiry about whether the NSW EPA is regulating the waste industry effectively. He said stakeholders pointed to the increase in illegal dumping, including the insidious crime of dumping contaminated waste such as asbestos, the growing volume of NSW waste being transported to Queensland, and concerns about criminal elements targeting the waste industry, as examples of the NSW EPA failing to provide the strong, decisive, but fair regulatory approach this industry requires.
“The committee has made several recommendations to overcome these concerns, including that the NSW Government investigate options to restructure the NSW EPA, and undertake an independent review of the NSW EPA’s performance of its various functions.”
“Another key concern for stakeholders was the role of energy from waste technologies in New South Wales. Inquiry participants debated whether there was a place for energy from waste facilities in managing residual waste once higher order waste management techniques have already been exhausted, and whether the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement is sufficiently robust.”
He said the committee supports energy from waste in some circumstances, and has made a number of recommendations aimed at strengthening the regulatory framework for such facilities, including that an expert advisory body chaired by the Chief Scientist examine and report on these issues.
Among the report’s numerous recommendations are that the NSW Government ensure all funds allocated to Waste Less, Recycle More are spent in accordance with the program and that the NSW EPA undertake an audit of the program to ensure funds are fully expended to meet its objectives. It also recommends the NSW Government investigate opportunities to hypothecate a proportion of waste levy funds to support the development of innovative waste management technology, in addition to urgent consideration of attaching the waste levy to the generator.
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said in a statement to AAP: “The government will consider all the recommendations from the parliamentary inquiry.”
Another recommendation is an independent inquiry into the operation, regulation and approvals of the Mangrove Mountain Landfill site. Furthermore, it recommends the EPA develop and implement resource recovery criteria for landfills in NSW. The NSW Government has until 28 September to respond to the inquiry.