Features, Last Word

A golden opportunity

Queensland flood

This year will be critical for Queensland’s waste management and resource recovery sector. Dr Georgina Davis, the new Chief Executive Officer of WRIQ, explains.

There are several important programs of work underway by the Queensland Government. The commencement of the levy efficacy review and Waste Strategy review is imminent, with these items to be completed by 30 June 2022. Given the interaction between the levy and strategy, the consultation will be combined into a single consultation, but WRIQ understands that there will be two separate reports from the process. 

We expect the outcomes from the reviews to inform the remaking of the Waste Reduction and Recycling Regulation (2011), which expires this year. Given the timeframes associated with the review of the levy and strategy, and the time required to undertake an appropriate and meaningful consultation with industry on the remaking of the regulation, it is likely that an extension to the existing regulation will be required. 

The current levy discounts for prescribed recycling activities listed in Schedule 3 of the Regulation are also set to expire on 30 June. It is critical that these discounts for highly efficient resource recovery activities are extended while the review is underway and outcomes from the review are used to inform changes to the regulation and these discounts. WRIQ is advocating for the reduction or removal of the levy from some of these prescribed recycling activities where the department has now received data to verify that they are achieving full or higher rates of resource recovery. 

There has also been the recent release of the Organics Strategy and Organics Action Plan, coupled with the Environmental Authority (EA) Modernisation Process, for facilities holding an EA for Environmentally Relevant Activity 53 (organic materials processing). Time will tell if the PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) limits contained in the new EA conditions will be untenable and at odds to the targets to drive FOGO collections in the strategy.  

Acknowledging the various programs of work occurring at Queensland level, from the development of Regional Waste Plans, Queensland Energy Plan, Residual Risk Framework, to an E-product paper and the rest, there is much for industry to be involved in, and we are wary of participation fatigue across the sector.  

Then there are numerous and varied activities on organics, plastics, harmonisation and product stewardship, among others, directed from Federal level. Industry’s concern is that this activity is increasingly appearing unco-ordinated, duplicative with state initiatives and, in some cases, just competitive; and that industry consultation is sometimes deficient.  

Positively, South-East Queensland is seeing work commence on the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games with a little over 3300 more days to go. The event has committed to being climate positive and one that will create lasting benefits to the climate and Queensland’s community, while accelerating the transition to zero net emissions. Planning and development of new infrastructure projects is well underway, along with a considerable commitment to the redevelopment of existing facilities. Overall, there will be more than 30 venues (both permanent and temporary), as well as several athlete villages. To support this development, the Queensland and Australian Governments have established a joint Olympic Infrastructure Agency to deliver key projects for the games, and there will be several committees and bodies of work established within that agency. Work has commenced with regards to developing service strategies for the various precincts and villages, and on the processes to develop a carbon budget and strategies to achieve climate positive outcomes. 

There is a complex relationship between the resource recovery practices that will be needed in both the planning and construction of Olympic infrastructure and the services for the active life of that infrastructure, and low-carbon transitions. The waste management and resource recovery sector will be significant in ensuring that the Olympics achieve climate positive outcomes as well as a net-zero waste games, particularly given the footprint of hosting such an event. The industry must be an active participant in the development of the infrastructure and service plans for the Olympics, through to the carbon accounting conventions around the life cycle of the games (construction, service delivery and legacy applications). The importance of incorporating highly interconnected sectors into analyses of low-carbon transitions, will highlight the challenges for designing appropriate policies, accounting frameworks, and interdisciplinary impact assessment methods that look beyond sectorial and statewide horizons.  

With new strategies, increasing targets, the Olympics and a growing population there is a significant demand for new waste and resource recovery infrastructure and, at a time where the pace of innovation and technological advancement is unprecedented. 

With new technologies, infrastructure and investment, we will need more skills and more workforce. We need to improve the performance of the skills system servicing our sector and we need to identify investment priorities for the higher education and VET sectors. 

We know we have a range of higher priority industry skills demands .We have a skills shortages and in many critical areas of our industry we are experiencing workforce shortages. WRIQ is developing a review paper detailing skilling issues and priorities for the sector, including occupations and qualifications that are higher priority and worthy of government investment. Work is underway with universities to better align degree units and provide real industry experiences. 

While there is a lot the sector needs to do and we are facing challenges, the new opportunities are unprecedented. There has never been a more exciting time to be working in the Queensland sector. 

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