NWRIC State Associations update

National Waste and Recycling Industry Council State Affiliates provide a detailed overview of industry and policy changes across the country. 

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is the national industry body for commercial waste and recycling operators Australia wide.

It brings together national businesses and affiliated state associations to develop and promote policies and actions to advance waste management and resource recovery in Australia  – ensuring a fair, safe and sustainable industry that serves all Australians.

NWRIC affiliated state associations include the Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ), the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW & ACT (WCRA), the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA), the Waste Recycling Industry of South Australia (WRISA), the Waste Recycling Industry of Western Australia (WRIWA) and the Waste Recycling Industry Northern Territory (WRINT).

State Association staff updates

With the closing of the financial year WRIQ said farewell to Rick Ralph, who after 14 years with WRIQ formerly handed over the CEO role to Mark Smith.

WRISA welcomed their new EO Adam Gray who has taken over this role from Chris Bridesdon.

On behalf of all the affiliates and NWRIC members I would like to pass on our thanks and gratitude to Rick and Chris for their contribution to the waste and recycling sector over the many years and wish you both well in your new endeavours.

Rick will now focus on his podcast series Talking Garbology – Waste and Recycling Unwrapped’ .

To tune in visit: https://thegarbologist.com.au/ . 

While Chris will continue with his waste management consulting services.

WCRA – Waste Management Award to increase in November 2020

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has announced that there will be an increase in all modern award minimum wages by 1.75 per cent. 

In handing down this decision, the FWC decided that some industries have been more effected by the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore the timing of the increase will be staggered for different industry sectors.

It was decided by the FWC that the Waste Management Award 2020 is a Group 2 Award, with an increase of 1.75 per cent from the start of the first full pay period on or after 1 November 2020. 

The Waste Management Award 2020 covers employers in all Australian jurisdictions who operate a business in the waste management sector.  For more details, contact the WCRA office on 02 9604 7206 or email memberservices@wcra.com.au.

WRIQ – Levies and action against illegal activities

Reminder to waste operators in Queensland that the government has passed the amendment regulation relating to the landfill levy (Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy Rates for 2020–2021) Amendment Regulation 2020). 

Businesses should have updated contract pricing and implemented appropriate auditing to ensure their supply chains have been notified. 

WRIQ has provided information to its members on what changes are required. If you would like a copy of the advice please contact memberservices@wriq.com.au

The Department of Environment and Science (DES) has recently taken action on a large illegal stockpile.

The WRIQ welcomes the action being taken by DES on illegal operations, as they damage the reputation of legitimate operators and create false markets.

WRIQ hopes to see more of this action on rogue operators.

WRISA – SA Draft Waste and Food Waste Strategies out for comment

With the SA Government releasing both its Draft Waste Strategy and Food Waste Strategy for public comment last week, Adam Gray, WRISA’s new EO, will be reaching out to members seeking their input and preparing a response. 

Submissions are due with the government by 15 August 2020. Please feel free to reach out to Adam at Adam@wrisa.com.au.

WRINT – new Board appointments 

The WRINT at its recent AGM has appointed Mark Sweet from VTG Waste as their President and Dean Caton from NT Recycling as Vice President. Congratulations to both.

WRINT, an affiliate of the NWRIC, represents and supports waste and recycling businesses operating across the Northern Territory.

Associate membership is also now available to state and local government bodies and businesses supplying the waste and recycling sector.

For more information about getting involved and advancing the waste and recycling industry in the territory please contact their Executive Officer Rick Ralph at Benjas1@bigpond.com.

This article is the second in an ongoing monthly series. 

Related stories: 

NWRIC State Associations update

National Waste and Recycling Industry Council State Affiliates provide a detailed overview of industry and policy changes across the country. 

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is the national industry body for commercial waste and recycling operators Australia wide.

It brings together national businesses and affiliated state associations to develop and promote policies and actions to advance waste management and resource recovery in Australia – ensuring a fair, safe and sustainable industry that serves all Australians.

NWRIC affiliated state associations include the Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ), the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW & ACT (WCRA), the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA), the Waste Recycling Industry of South Australia (WRISA), the Waste Recycling Industry of Western Australia (WRIWA) and the Waste Recycling Industry Northern Territory (WRINT).

Two new State Association appointments:

Mark Smith, previous EO at VWMA, has headed to warmer weather this month to take on the CEO role at WRIQ.

Alex Serpo, NWRIC’s Secretary, has moved across to fill the EO role at the VWMA.

While retiring from WRIQ, Rick Ralph will continue as EO for WRINT.

Congratulations to Mark and Alex. I know both are looking forward to their new roles, meeting members and advancing the industry.

Mark can be contacted at mark.smith@wriq.com.au and Alex at Alex@vta.com.au

WRIQ – Environmental Regulator Survey:

Have your say on the Queensland’s Environmental Regulator – WRIQ is inviting Queensland waste and recycling operators to share their experiences on Queensland’s environmental regulator.

The survey includes a focus on how performance of the industry’s regulator, the Department of Environment & Science (DES), has evolved since a WRIQ review in 2018 identified important industry concerns. It will also seek opinions on implementation of the new Queensland waste strategy and waste levy.

The survey is open to anyone in the Queensland waste industry and participants are encouraged to share their thoughts on the key issues, which WRIQ will then share back to government and our members.

It is expected the survey will identify priority areas for both WRIQ and DES. The survey comes at an important time for the industry, with the Queensland State Election later this year and expected economic stimulus packages issued by State and Federal Governments post Covid-19 response.

To complete the survey please click here.  The survey closes on 19 June.

Please contact memberservices@wriq.com.au if you have any questions.

VWMA – Chemical Stockpiles, Waste Education, New Recycling Authority:

EY Report into Chemical Stockpiles ReleasedErnst and Young (EY) has released its report into the EPA’s management of 14 chemical waste sites between January 2016 and April 2019, including the facility which caught fire in Campbellfield in April 2019.

In response, the EPA has already acted, including the development of a digital priority waste tracking system.

The VWMA will be working closely with the EPA to help roll out and improve this technology, as well as other important programs to ensure the safe disposal of hazardous liquids.

New yellow top bin waste education material available to businesses – In order to reduce contamination in yellow top bins, Sustainability Victoria has launched a new public education campaign.

The education material can be viewed at www.recycling.vic.gov.au. Businesses and councils wishing to share the material can download it from the Victorian Government website.

Please share this material if you can.

Advertising commenced 24 May and will run until 30 June, including broadcast free to air TV and on demand TV, social media and radio.

Consultation Underway to Develop a New Recycling Authority in VictoriaThe VWMA are currently consulting with the DELWP on the introduction of a new Waste and Recycling Act and Waste Authority for Victoria. The Waste Authority will help to deliver the new Recycling Victoria program.

The VWMA will be seeking to work proactively with government on all aspects of this new program, including the container deposit scheme, Recycled First and regulations to protect waste as an essential service.

WRISA – Container Deposit Review, Single Use Plastics:

Container Deposit Scheme Review – The SA government is currently completing an economic study and material flow analysis on kerbside, MRF and commercial CDS activity.

The outcomes of these investigations will be included in the impending CDS Review Discussion Paper, which will contain proposed changes to the scheme and form the basis of the next round of public consultation.

Legislation amendment and implementation are expected to commence in late 2020 and run through to early 2021.

Single Use Plastics – The Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2020 was recently introduced into parliament.

On commencement, the main points within the legislation include prohibition of the sale, supply or distribution of single-use plastic drinking straws, cutlery, and drink stirrers.

Following a period of 12 months, expanded polystyrene cups, bowls, plates and clam-shell containers, and oxo-degradable plastic products will also be prohibited.

The legislation also contains provisions for exemptions and the inclusion of additional products, which can be made via regulations.

Related stories: 

Construction sector to prioritise recycled

Recycled First aims to bring a unified approach to the application of recycled materials on road infrastructure projects. Waste Management Review homes in on the program.

With Victoria’s big build delivering more than 100 road and rail projects across the state, there are significant opportunities to grow the use recycled and reusable materials in construction projects.

In early March, the Victorian Government announced the Recycled First program. Recycled First will build new requirements into future projects under the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority, with the goal of bringing a uniform approach to the use of recycled products.

The program will mean recycled and reused materials that meet existing standards, whether it be recycled aggregates, glass, plastic, timber, steel, reclaimed asphalt pavement or organics, take precedence over new materials.

The program complements the Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria: A new economy policy, which includes the introduction of a four-bin system, supported by a planned Container Deposit Scheme (CDS), waste-to-energy investment and a dedicated waste authority and new Act.

Recycled First doesn’t set mandatory minimum requirements or targets, it focuses on a project by project basis. In this way, the aim is to allow contractors to liaise with recycled material suppliers and determine if there are adequate supplies of the products needed for their project.

For these projects, bidders will need to demonstrate how they’ll optimise the use of recycled materials. Additionally, contractors must report on the types and volumes of recycled products they used.

Organisations interested in delivering major transport infrastructure projects will need to demonstrate how they will prioritise recycled and reused materials while maintaining compliance and quality standards.

According to the Victorian Government, work is already underway with current construction partners to get more recycled content used on major projects, in addition to the new Recycled First requirements.

The M80 Ring Road, Monash Freeway and South Gippsland Highway upgrades are using more than 20,000 tonnes of recycled materials and 190 million glass bottles are being used on surfaces of the $1.8 billion Western Roads Upgrade.

Recycled demolition material has also been used in recent months to build extra lanes along 24 kilometres of the Tullamarine Freeway, as well as the Monash Freeway and M80 Ring Road.

Around 14,000 tonnes of excavated soil from the Metro Tunnel site in Parkville is being applied on pavement layers on roads in Point Cook.

Alexis Davison, Director, Program Services and Engineering, Major Road Projects Victoria, says Major Road Projects Victoria is working closely with the Department of Transport to review the current specifications for recycled and reused content to allow for greater use and remove barriers to their implementation.

“We’re aiming to deliver sustainable and innovative transport infrastructure for Victoria – and Recycled First will explore new and better ways to do that,” Alexis says.

“Specifications already allow the use of some recycled materials, and we’re compiling reference guides for road and rail infrastructure to ensure our project teams and contractors are aware of them.”

Claire Ferres Miles, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainability Victoria (SV), says the first-of-its-kind policy builds on SV’s ongoing work in research and market development to find new uses and create markets for recovered materials in the construction sector.

She says that SV will expand its work to support the groundwork for new recycled products and materials, through testing, trials and commercialisation.

“Through Major Roads Project Victoria and Recycled First, we now have a direct line for these products to be utilised in major Victorian Government projects, and in parallel, SV will work in partnership with the local government sector to increase the use of recycled content in their procurement,” she says.

Claire adds that SV will continue to build on its partnerships with the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) and the university sector to ensure performance-based standards and specifications are in place.

Claire points to the state government’s 10-year Recycling Victoria plan, which includes a landmark $300 million industry package.

“The introduction of Recycled First by the Victorian Government sends strong, positive signals that align with SV’s successful Research, Development and Demonstration program. This has achieved a significant increase in the use of crushed concrete, crumb rubber and recycled glass sand in construction projects,” she says.

Alex Fraser remains one of Victoria’s leading suppliers of recycled construction materials: recovering, recycling and supplying up to three million tonnes of construction materials made from recovered, construction and demolition and glass waste each year.

The use of these materials is reducing the carbon footprint on new infrastructure projects by up to 65 per cent. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the company’s efforts are reducing construction materials to landfill, truck traffic and extraction of limited natural resources.

With its Melbourne sites in Clarinda, Laverton and Epping, Alex Fraser’s network of facilities circumference the city and are ideally placed to reliably supply major projects.

From the Western Roads Upgrade, the Southern Roads Upgrade, Level Crossing Removal Authority projects, and freeways like the Monash and Mordialloc Freeway and North-East Link, the company is poised to support Recycled First.

Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy says recycled construction materials are being used in great quantities in all sorts of projects throughout Victoria, and increasingly in other states.

“The vast majority of the construction industry is well aware of the consistent high quality of recycled materials, as well as the many commercial and environmental benefits they offer,” Peter says.

“An initiative like Recycled First sends an important message from government to industry that investing in Victoria’s circular economy and reducing the environmental impact of construction through responsible product choices is a priority.”

Peter says that now more than ever, it’s important that those building our cities are aware of the sustainable options available to them.

He cites the Joint Ministerial Statement on Extractive Resources – which highlights the Victorian Government’s priorities to address constraints in virgin extractive resources, including by facilitating substitution with recycled product.

“Virgin material close to Melbourne is already limited. Switching to recycled not only attracts environmental savings but reduces the strain on metropolitan extractive industries,” he says.

Major works such as the Tullamarine Freeway, the M80, The Dingley Bypass and the Monash Freeway have exemplified the Recycled First concept, as they have included large quantities of recycled materials.

“Current projects like the Mordialloc Freeway, many Level Crossing Removal projects, the Monash Freeway upgrade, and the Western Roads upgrade include masses of recycled content, including millions of glass bottles from kerbside collections,” Peter says.

Additionally, Peter says forward thinking municipalities like Bayside, Monash, Yarra and Maribyrnong are actively seeking out sustainable materials to build greener roads in their cities.

When it comes to the debate on mandatory targets, Peter says Alex Fraser does not advocate for mandating the use of recycled materials across the board. He says project managers should make decisions based on quality, timelines, cost and environmental factors.

“We’ve seen mandated approaches in other jurisdictions result in perverse outcomes. For example, there may not be much benefit in mandating the use of recycled material on a project that is many kilometres from a recycling facility, but only around the corner from a quarry.”

He says it would be encouraging to see a stronger policy position on the protection of critical resource recovery infrastructure.

“We know for recycling to work at all, facilities need to be positioned close to where recyclable material is generated and close to where markets exist for recycled products,” he says.

“Planning policy has to support other policies to ensure continued investment in resource and recovery infrastructure in Victoria is viable.”

Peter points out that even with the introduction of recycling schemes like the CDS and a glass bin, recycling glass fines in construction remains critically important to the effective management of glass waste.

He says that experience with the rollout of the CDS interstate indicates that higher overall glass recovery volumes are achieved but recycling options need to be found for the kerbside glass that is seen to be inferior to the cleaner CDS derived glass.

“More than 40 per cent of recovered glass is unable to be traditionally recycled back into bottles, because the fragments are either too small to be optically sorted, opaque, or covered in paper and plastics. In Victoria this equates to around 140,000 tonnes per annum,” he says.

“Recycling this mass of glass fines into construction sand will be important in reducing landfill and providing the construction industry with a sustainable alternative to already limited supplies of natural sands.”

Peter says Victoria has long led the way in the use of recycled material in infrastructure.

“It would be great to see the same enthusiasm in other states, where greater barriers to the uptake of recycled material exist. It’s especially encouraging to see other states drafting improvements to their specifications” he says.

“The quality and performance of recycled material has been well proven over decades. Clear policy positions from government along with supportive and straight forward specifications will make a significant difference to the use of recycled materials in major projects beyond Victoria.”

The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) focuses on supporting the commercialisation of intelligent transport solutions.

As sustainability becomes an increasing priority for the roads sector, it has had an increasing recycling focus over the past few years.

Through its Port Melbourne research lab and partnerships with the roads sector, ARRB has been testing recycled crushed glass, crumb rubber asphalt, reclaimed asphalt pavement and a range of other materials. ARRB CEO Michael Caltabiano says stakeholders are focused on ensuring they can do their best to reinforce circular economy principals.

“For the roads sector that means using recycled product as much as we can,” Michael says.

ARRB is involved in a number of key Victorian projects, including a trial of recycled crushed glass in asphalt on local roads in west Melbourne with Brimbank City Council. Additionally, Tyre Stewardship Australia, ARRB and the Victorian Department of Transport are conducting the first crumb rubber asphalt trial on an arterial road.

Michael says ARRB has also been funded by Queensland and WA state road agencies to look at the polymer characteristics of the plastic waste stream and how it might be incorporated into bituminous projects.

“The flame burns brightly in keeping the recycled products agenda going in the roads sector,” Michael says.

“Government is focused on it and so is ARRB – our task is to design the specifications for the future. We need to understand the science of how these product perform and produce the guidelines and specifications for local governments and state governments to use and put in their tender documents.”

Related stories: 

Recycling Victoria: a new economy? Part three

The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.

This is the final article in a three part series: part three will explore Recycling Victoria’s organics recovery targets, the state government’s Social Procurement Framework and efforts to support safe and effective high-risk and hazardous waste management. To read part two click here

In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.

The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.

Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.

REDUCING METHANE MECHANISMS

 Listing organics as a priority material, Recycling Victoria seeks to cut the volume of organic material sent to landfill by 50 per cent between 2020 and 2030, with an interim target of 20 per cent reduction by 2025.

The strategy also aims to ensure every Victorian household has access to food and garden organic waste recycling services or local composing by 2030.

Furthermore, the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund will encourage investment in organic waste sorting and processing infrastructure, while the Recycling Markets Acceleration package aims to build strong markets for products made from recovered organic waste such as compost.

The Victorian Government will also introduce new rules requiring businesses to sort commonly recyclable materials and organic waste from unrecoverable waste.

Frank Harney, Australian Organics Recycling Association Victoria Chair, says that while the strategy broadly represents positive movement for the organics sector, particularly in regard to state-wide FOGO collection, more work needs to be done to stop organics ending up in landfill. Frank adds that were it up to him, organics in landfill would be banned immediately.

“We don’t have the capacity in composting facilities to handle more material. We’re currently processing 700,000 tonnes and that will at least double. We’re already at processing capacity now, so there needs to be a lot of initiatives directed at decontamination and getting sites licensed,” he says.

Frank highlights decontamination as critical, suggesting that while councils are working at further educating the public, a certain level of contamination will always be present at kerbside.

“The system needs to be designed in a way where it comes in the front gate, gets decontaminated, gets chipped and into the vessels, and then goes out to maturation sites,” he says.

Frank also suggests that more work needs to be done on the classification of waste, so organic material can be more efficiently composted. He adds that while he isn’t sure why a lettuce leaf needs to go through maturation, “that’s the rule.”

The structure of contracts also needs to change, Frank says, suggesting that awarding large scale council contracts to single entities creates a number of logistical market challenges.

PROACTIVE PROCUREMENT

As a large buyer of goods and services, the Victorian Government has committed to creating strong markets for recycled materials. As such, Recycling Victoria states that the state government will seek new opportunities to purchase products containing recycled materials and use recycled materials to build roads, railways and other public infrastructure.

“The Victorian Government’s Social Procurement Framework requires government buyers to consider opportunities to deliver social and sustainable outcomes in every procurement activity. This includes sustainable material choices and buying products made from recycled content where appropriate,” the strategy reads.

Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, highlights that the Victorian Government is simultaneously the state’s largest employer and its largest procurer of goods and services.

“It’s great to see the government playing an essential role in driving circular economy outcomes through the policy,” he says.

According to Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser Managing Director, the strategy is a sign of support for resource recovery and recycled content infrastructure.

“We know that a strong market for recycled materials supports resource recovery, which diverts more material away from landfill and reduces stockpiling. It also preserves valuable natural resources which are increasingly difficult to access and costly to transport,” he says.

“Many Big Build projects are located close to Melbourne, making recycled material from metropolitan areas the ideal supply choice. The use of locally sourced recycled content substantially reduces heavy vehicle use, which reduces congestion and carbon emissions.”

It should be noted however that Recycling Victoria lists no concrete targets. Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO, says this is cause for concern, and reflects a limited level of understanding as to where the real opportunities to procure recovered materials are.

“The upside however is that state agencies such as the Major Roads Projects are getting the message to increase recycled content in their procurement. This shift in behaviour has to be adopted more widely across government,” Rose says.

“To do this, the government has to remove the perceived risk of substituting virgin materials with recovered materials by fast tracking standards, working with industry to address supply chain issues and providing practical guidance in specifying state and local government tenders.”

On the flip side, Rose says the resource recovery industry has to step up to ensure quality materials can be supplied in line with construction and manufacturing standards and timelines.

“Working together is critical here, and government should establish supply chain groups to resolve these barriers to increasing the use of recovered materials,” she says.

TRACKING REGULATION:

To support safe and effective high-risk and hazardous waste management, the state government has committed to implementing stronger regulation, policy and planning. Industry investment in better hazardous waste management, including opportunities to maximise the safe and cost-effective recovery and recycling of these wastes will also be encouraged.

Furthermore, the Victorian Government will consider the potential introduction of new levies for waste being stockpiled for long periods. A Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate within the EPA will also be established to work across government with WorkSafe Victoria, emergency services agencies, local government and other regulators.

Rose says the NWRIC is pleased to see resources being committed to support a waste crime prevention inspectorate. She adds that for too long, unlicensed and illegal waste activities have been allowed to occur across the state, harming the environment and putting the community at risk and undeservingly damaging the reputation of good operators.

“Together with the recent changes to the environment protection Act, this resource will provide the EPA with the necessary tools to stop unlicensed and illegal waste management activities,” Rose says.

“The NWRIC considers that all waste and recycling operations must be conducted in accordance with state, national and international environmental, health and safety regulations. Failure to do so is not acceptable.”

The moves come of the back of a 2019 $5.5 million investment to switch to a GPS electronic tracking system, following a series of high-profile illegal stockpile fires. With improved data analytics and reporting, the system is designed to better record the production, movement and receipt of industrial and high-risk waste.

According to Mark, the VWMA is supportive of the state government’s intention to level the playing field.

“Illegal operators undermined confidence in the system and undercut legitimate businesses. Illegal sites have chewed up millions of dollars in clean-up costs, and I’m hopeful all these investments will begin to tackle upstream and downstream players that feed this underbelly,” he says.

“Essential to the success of this program will be recognising the role compliant operators can play, and the broader onboarding of industry.”

Mark says the VWMA sees itself as a partner with the EPA on that process.

“The EPA has been really supportive of us in helping build businesses capability and capacity to understand their duties and obligations. It is a big task and we want to work with the government on this,” he says.

Related stories: 

Recycling Victoria: a new economy? Part two

The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.

This article is the second in a three part series: part two will explore the forthcoming CDS, waste as an essential service and the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund. To read part one click here

In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.

The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.

Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.

CASH FOR CANS

Before Recycling Victoria’s February release, Victoria, often touted as the ‘progressive’ state, was the only Australian jurisdiction without a container deposit scheme (CDS) in place or forthcoming.

The state government’s CDS hesitance has been an ongoing point of frustration for industry, with Ms D’Ambrosio telling delegates at VWMA’s August 2019 State Conference that the state government had no current plans to develop a CDS.

Additionally, despite an acknowledgement of demonstrated success in other jurisdictions, Infrastructure Victoria’s October 2019 interim waste report suggested more analysis was needed on how to design an optimal scheme for the state. That said, the times are changing, with Recycling Victoria committing to introduce a CDS by 2023.

Speaking with Waste Management Review in March, Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister, said the Victorian commitment means Australia is now fully covered by CDS.

“The next question is whether we can get those schemes operating as harmoniously as possible. We know a harmonised approach between the states and territories would lead to the very best outcomes for Australia,” he said.

While the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) would prefer to see a national CDS, Rose Read, NWRIC CEO, says at minimum, Victoria should work with all other state and territory CDS’ to ensure performance criteria for community access, network distribution, collection and material recovery targets.

She adds that reporting set by governments should be consistent to ensure services can be delivered cost effectively by the industry to the beverage suppliers.

While Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, says he is supportive of Victoria’s CDS announcement, he similarly stresses the need to select a model that puts community access, ease of use and accessibility first, and doesn’t put remote and regional communities at a disadvantage.

“I’m optimistic that government will appropriately consultant with all the key stakeholders about a CDS role out including the VWMA members. Our association is here to advocate for our members and I’d really encourage the teams working on CDS to engage with us, Victoria’s peak body representing the sector” he says.

“I’d encourage any of our members who are concerned about CDS in Victoria to reach out and voice those concerns directly with us, so we can consider them when engaging with the government in coming months.”

ESSENTIAL REGULATION

Recognising that major reforms are needed to lift the performance of Victoria’s recycling sector, the state government will establish a new dedicated Waste and Recycling Act to govern all aspects associated with waste and recycling services. And in effect, regulate waste as an essential service.

“This new Act will address current gaps by requiring improved data collection from waste and recycling organisations (including material recovery facilities) to provide transparency and accountability for what happens to our waste,” the strategy reads.

Nick Harford, Equilibrium Managing Director, says regulating waste as an essential service represents sensible reform. He notes that in 2019, the Essential Services Commission was asked by the state government to review the waste and resource recovery sector.

“They provided a confidential report to government last year, and obviously we don’t know what was in it. But they indicated at the time that they saw a limited availability of recycling markets and additional capacity constraints,” he says.

According to Nick, the Essential Services Commission also indicated that they wanted to explore contractual arrangements, barriers to market and community and business expectations.

“I think these are the sorts of things they will now examine, and given the nature of those things, I expect there will need to be some consultation with stakeholders, if not the broader Victorian community,” he says.

Nick notes that responsibilities are likely to change under the Act, highlighting that local government currently holds authority for MSW waste, with different systems and kerbside compositions across local government areas.

“I think government is signalling that these new powers may enable a state-wide approach. It may be outcomes focused, for instance, the state government sets its expectations and it’s up to local government or other authorities to achieve that. Or it could be a more mandated approach,” he says.

The state government will also establish a new waste authority in 2021, with the aim of better governing Victoria’s waste and recycling systems, and holding waste service providers to account. This will ensure, the strategy suggests, that recent recycling disruptions are not repeated.

In terms of how these changes will affect the private sector, Nick forecasts that it will lead to increased accountability.

“It’s flagged in the policy that greater data collection and reporting is expected. Which I assume is another driver for legislating as an essential service, because it gives the state power to demand reporting from the sector,” he says.

“That will potentially lead to more costs, but we’ll have to see how it pans out. Recycling companies have been getting better and better in terms of tracking and reporting their materials handling. So really, it’s just business as usual. I think the general principle is that an informed market is an efficient market.”

Nick highlights that if the Essential Services Commission informs the purchase of waste and recycling services in a more effective manner, it could lead to increased competition, and as such, more innovation, as companies look for opportunities and competitive advantages.

WASTE-TO-ENERGY CAP

In addition to essential services regulation, Nick highlights Recycling Victoria’s waste-to-energy (WtE) commitments as significant, albeit vague.

“This is an area where we as an industry need to see more detail, because the state government mentions giving priority to aerobic digestion as a technology, as well as putting a cap on the amount of material that can go to WtE via thermal technology,” he says.

Despite a recognition of the role WtE plays in a functioning resource recovery sector, the state government has placed a cap of one million tonnes a year on the amount of residual waste that can be used in thermal WtE facilities, until 2030.

“The cap will be implemented through new rules which will be given effect by legislation or regulations. The cap will include all thermal WtE facilities and apply to the quantity of waste they use as feedstocks,” the strategy reads.

In reference to the cap, Nick says he isn’t sure how it will play out.

“Does that include facilities that are already approved, even if they are not up and running? Australian Paper for example is already approved, which is 700,000 tonnes per annum of material earmarked for thermal processing. They haven’t secured that material yet, but it is on the drawing board,” he says.

According to Rose, applying a volume cap provides certainty to industry, and importantly, gives the community confidence that genuine recyclables won’t be used as feedstock.

“However, the NWRIC does not believe a cap of one million tonnes is appropriate, as currently there is over 4.2 million tonnes going to landfill, of which between 40 per cent to 50 per cent of this material would be considered eligible residual waste,” she says.

Under Recycling Victoria, the state government has also committed to supporting early entrants into Victoria’s WtE market, including facilities that use organic waste to make bioenergy or provide precinct-scale energy.

Investment support will include grant or loan funding, and investment facilitation to help proponents navigate regulatory and financial processes. The government will also fund research to develop safe end uses for residual products such as ash and digestate.

CAPACITY EXPANSION

The state government has allocated $100 million via the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to help local businesses establish and upgrade infrastructure to sort and reprocess recyclables for use in manufacturing. The fund will be administered by Sustainability Victoria (SV).

“The package includes $30 million in grants to make Victoria a leader in recycling innovation – creating new products from recycled materials like glass, plastic, organics, electronic waste, concrete, brick and rubber,” Premier Daniel Andrew said.

“The government will also provide $10 million in grants to help businesses improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and increase recycling in their daily operations – saving them time and money.”

Sustainability Victoria Chief Executive Officer Claire Ferres Miles

Claire Ferres Miles, SV Chief Executive Officer, says SV are proud to have played a significant role in developing the Recycling Victoria policy.

“Our work to transform the recycling sector is already underway – SV designed and recently launched $39.5 million in grants from the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to boost recycling capacity in Victoria,” she says.

“We look forward to supporting all Victorians as together we transition to a circular economy, and ensuring our community has a recycling system that can be relied on.”

According to Claire, widespread disruption to global recycling market has exposed the volatility of Victoria’s recycling system, and the need to invest in industry to increase resilience.

“The Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund is focussed initially on plastics and paper and cardboard reprocessing and glass beneficiation, as there are significant gaps for these materials,” she says.

Claire notes however that the exact processing gap for any material is not clear cut, with many variables.

“Using market intelligence and horizon scan activity, we are proactively working to be aware of how materials are moving through our economy and where government intervention is required,” she says.

“As an example of this, we used our e-waste material flow analysis to identify photovoltaic panels as an emerging waste issue. This data has supported us to develop a national stewardship approach to address this issue.”

In addition to the Infrastructure Fund, Recycling Victoria will see the expansion of the state government’s Investment Facilitation Service.

“SV’s Investment Facilitation Service is available to all Victorian-based resource recovery businesses, and since its inception in 2015, has engaged with over 400 resource recovery projects,” Claire says.

“The service promotes opportunities in the sector, supports business case development and coordinates the investor’s relationship across government.”

The service has also been a critical conduit through which industry concerns and needs informed Recycling Victoria’s development, Claire says. She adds that much of this feedback and insight is reflected in the policy.

“Over the coming months, SV will work closely with industry to define an enhanced role for this service that is high value and fit-for-purpose, for both current and emerging challenges, and opportunities to achieve investment attraction in Victoria,” Claire explains.

In addition to the paper and cardboard, plastic and glass materials fund, SV has opened grants for the Infrastructure Fund’s hazardous waste stream, with expressions of interest sought until 8 May.

“There is an estimated 15,000 – 29,000 tonnes per annum of liquid hazardous wastes containing recyclable solvent that needs to be managed in Victoria. Currently there is limited capacity to recycle these solvents,” Claire says.

“This funding will support the establishment of recycling infrastructure to viably increase the recycling of solvents for use in the Victorian economy.”

Of the Investment Fund, Jillian Riseley, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) Chief Executive Officer, says there is significant opportunity to improve infrastructure capacity across Victoria.

“It’s exciting as we look to the future and our role in facilitating the delivery of new recycling services contracts for councils,” she says.

Jillian adds that MWRRG is in the final stages of its review into the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan.

“It will make a range of recommendations for the waste and resource recovery sector to ensure we meet our future needs and objectives to reduce waste and increase resource recovery,” she says.

“In reviewing our Metropolitan Implementation Plan, we consulted with industry to understand the capacity and future needs of the sector to ensure we have the right infrastructure in place.”

MWRRG have ensured that the review recommendations align with the objectives of Recycling Victoria, the findings of Infrastructure Victoria’s report on the waste and resource recovery sector and the national waste policy, Jillian adds.

According to Duncan Lummis, ARCADIS Associate Technical Director, Recycling Victoria provides some long-awaited clarity and an outline route map to help steer Victoria away from its current over reliance on landfill and export markets for recyclables.

He adds that currently, multiple government agencies have either recently, or are in the process of, considering the scale of capacity gaps in Victoria’s reprocessing infrastructure.

“Sustainability Victoria’s updated 2018 Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan identified significant gaps across the state. Notably, these included a lack of reprocessing facilities for organic and residual wastes across all regions in Victoria,” he says.

These gaps, Duncan adds, have the potential to become more significant in light of the new, ambitious landfill diversion and recovery targets.

In the medium term, he says, FOGO processing capacity needs to be increased significantly to manage the newly expanded household services.

“The scale of the gaps, by region and material type, would be clearer with the release of government studies, data and analysis used to support the development of the new policy,” Duncan says.

In terms of Recycling Victoria’s infrastructure funding commitments, Duncan says “time will tell” as to whether the new funding referenced in the policy is adequate.

“Key considerations will be the measurement of future landfill diversion and recovery performance against the policy’s targets, and the ability of future funding priorities to be refocused where required,” he says.

“Flexibility to change future funding priorities is needed to address underperforming areas and sectors. The revamped waste data system in Victoria should also be used to ensure that future funding is appropriately targeted.”

Duncan says the decision to initially focus on organic, plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, textiles and tyre processing is positive.

“In addition, for WtE solutions to process residuals, the indirect support provided through increases in the landfill levy is a game changer that should enable much needed alternatives to landfill to enter the Victorian market,” he explains.

Duncan adds that contaminated soil reprocessing solutions would also benefit from clear, longer term support mechanisms to encourage investment.

“This would help to address the emerging PFAS issues, partly resulting from Victoria’s Big Build agenda, which has resulted in large quantities of contaminated soils being stockpiled” he says.

Duncan expects that specific materials will continue to be prioritised until the trajectory of landfill diversion and recovery performance demonstrates that the new targets are likely to be achieved.

“Confidence in the achievement of the targets is needed, which will not only be gained through the provision of key financial packages, levy increases and regulatory changes, but crucially, will be demonstrated and evidenced through more robust and reliable data,” he says.

“Monitoring of performance against the targets should be ongoing and used to inform future revisions to the policy when required, to help ensure councils, communities, commerce, industry and the waste management sector are collectively kept on track to achieve the targets.”

THE INTERIM WASTE REPORT

Published in October 2019, Infrastructure Victoria’s (IV) interim waste report sought to examine the waste and resource recovery sector through an infrastructure lens.

Evidence from the report suggested Victoria was failing to meet its stated waste policy objectives, including reducing waste to landfill and minimising the impact of waste disposal on human health and the environment.

While two separate documents, Jonathan Spear, IV Deputy Chief Executive, says he is pleased to see an alignment between IV’s report and Recycling Victoria.

“There are lots of themes there and lots of policy directions that government took after this final policy set,” he says.

“It was really good to see, and really good collaboration with IV with industry and with local government and state government to achieve that.”

Following the report, IV was tasked with providing final advice to government, which Jonathan says they have recently delivered.

“The key part of our work was being quite detailed about what the infrastructure requirements are for recycling and resource recovery,” he says.

“What we think government will do is use that to inform the finer details of implementing its policy, especially around what sort of infrastructure investments are meant to be made by industry and local, state and commonwealth governments.”

Jonathan expects IV’s advice will publicly available in the coming months.

Next week’s instalment will explore the policy’s organics recovery targets, the Victorian Government’s Social Procurement Framework and efforts to support safe and effective high-risk and hazardous waste management. 

To subscribe to Waste Management Review with free home delivery click here

Related stories: 

Recycling Victoria: a new economy? Part one

The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.

This article is the first in a three part series: part one will explore Victoria’s landfill levy increase and four-bin kerbside system. 

In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.

The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.

Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.

Key highlights include a $100 million investment in the state’s recycling system to drive research and expand local processing and manufacturing and the introduction of a state-wide four bin kerbside system.

When announcing the policy, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Recycling Victoria would help local businesses “give new life to old rubbish” and drive positive environmental outcomes for the state.

According to Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO, the policy is a signal that government has listened to industry and the community.

“From cleaning up what goes into the bins, improving local processing capacity and remanufacturing and growing local market demand for recovered materials, through to more resources to stop illegal waste activities and a recognition that waste and recycling is an essential service, the state government is committed to addressing the basic systemic issues facing Victoria,” she says.

Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, is similarly supportive, with the policy making headway into key areas VWMA has long advocated for.

“In particular, it’s promising to see Victoria commit to catching up with other states and territories on the container deposit scheme (CDS) front and making important investments into a level playing field by strengthening the EPA’s waste crime capabilities,” he says.

Mark is cautious about implementation however, suggesting Recycling Victoria does not allocate enough money to the private sector.

“We’ve seen VAGO report after VAGO report highlighting the deficiencies in government agencies to deliver waste and resource recovery programs. One way I think we can improve is by government seeing the private sector as a true partner for community engagement and education,” he says.

“It would be appropriate that we see quarterly reporting back to industry on the progress of this ambitious policy, as a way to hold government accountable for the delivery of the relevant actions”.

LOOKING TO THE LEVY

Under Recycling Victoria, the state’s landfill levy is set to almost double, jumping from $65.90 to $125.90 per tonne over three years. Recognising the challenges associated with the ‘tyranny of distance’, the strategy notes proportional increases will be reflected at regional landfills.

While the move prompted some mainstream media critique, with claims it would “hit ratepayers hip pockets”, industry reaction has been favourable.

Bingo Industries Managing Director Daniel Tartak, for example, suggests the increase will prompt technology investment and move Victoria towards international best practice diversion rates.

According to State Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the increase will help support recycling reforms and provide strong investment incentives. Furthermore, Ms D’Ambrosio highlights the increase as a mechanism to stop cross-border dumping, with Victoria’s levy historically lower than neighbouring states.

According to David Cocks, MRA Consulting Victoria Manager, harmonising Victoria’s levy with other jurisdictions is an essential move to help the state meet its resource recovery targets.

“The risk of significant impacts on our waste management system through the transportation of waste is absolutely critical. Plus, from the perspective of supporting investment in recycling, there is nothing like a good economic incentive, and the waste levy certainly supports that,” he says.

 “Additionally, when hypothecated, levies provide a significant opportunity for investment back into the sector to support higher order activities.”

While David says the strategy flags the role of hypothecation, the “sting in the tail” is that investment needs to come through.

“At the moment, circa $300 million has been foreshadowed as additional investment in the sector. But in three years time, the levy increase will produce an additional $240 million per annum – on top of what is already collected,” he says.

“Over the 10-year period of the strategy, these levy increases will realise $2 billion in additional revenue for the state. What is the proportional amount of this revenue to invest back into the sector? Is it 15 per cent or $300 million? I don’t think so.”

Rose says the increase is well overdue, highlighting that the NWRIC has consistently advocated for levy harmonisation to prevent inappropriate movement and disposal of waste.

“The proposed increase will reduce the gap in levy prices between states and encourage greater recovery of recyclable materials. It will also enable energy recovery from waste that can’t be recycled but does have a significant calorific value,” she says.

Furthermore, while Rose says staging the implementation over three years is sensible, NWRIC is recommending that the price increase be deferred for up to six months due to the impacts of COVID-19.

However, like David, Rose stresses the importance of hypothecation.

As highlighted in the NWRIC’s review of all state landfill levies last year, Victoria collected an estimated $215 million in levies in 2017-18, of which only $35 million or 16 per cent was invested back into local council, community and industry waste projects via the Sustainability Fund.

An estimated $104 million (50 per cent) was used to fund the Victorian EPA, Sustainability Victoria and Regional Waste Groups.

“In reviewing the Victorian state government budgets and financial reports, it is extremely difficult to get a clear view of where the levy funds are spent and what is achieved. As part of its landfill levy review, the NWRIC is calling on each state government to establish a separate trust fund and report annually on funds raised, spent and outcomes achieved,” Rose says.

“For too long these funds have been used to support other government activities outside the waste and resource recovery sector, rather than supporting better waste management practices and greater reuse of recycled materials.”

According to Mark, industry is supportive of the increase, under the caveat that the state government delivers the increase while monitoring compliance.

“In recent years we’ve seen government invest more money cleaning up illegal activity than what flows back to private operators who are the main employer and investor in the waste and resource recovery sector,” he says.

“It would be great to have more transparency on landfill levy collection and in particular distribution, including being transparent about what amount the government puts down compared to the private sector. Who gets what exactly shouldn’t be so hard to decipher. I think the NSW Government does this well, and it’s something Sustainability Victoria and DELWP could replicate.”

KERBSIDE REVAMP:

While the levy increase attracted much of the waste sector’s initial attention, scaling outward, it was the four bin kerbside roll-out that peaked major public interest.

The new system will include bins for combined food and garden organics (FOGO), glass, combined paper, plastic and metals, and residual waste. Additionally, all services and bins will be standardised, including lid colours, to simplify the system across councils.

Reforms will be implemented gradually, with the Victorian Government supporting the rollout of new glass bins and bin lids from 2021. According to the strategy, all Victorians will have a new glass bin or access to glass services by 2027. Mandatory rollout of FOGO recovery will commence in 2026-7, with all Victorians to have access by 2030.

“To support the reforms, the Victorian Government will review relevant existing guidelines, policies and regulation to make sure people living in diverse dwelling types, including multi-unit developments, have equitable access to best practice recycling,” the strategy reads.

Mark says while it’s great to see a commitment to standardising bins, the program should be brought forward.

“As I understand it, consistency across Victoria is unlikely to happen until 2025,” he says.

Furthermore, Mark says changes to the kerbside system should be well-funded and accompanied by a consistent public education campaign.

“I hope the agencies rolling out these reforms give the private sector the appropriate opportunities to inform and shape messaging, as the private sector has far more direct contact with the public then the state government does on this front,” he adds.

While the announcement might seem novel to the general public, it follows years of industry discussion over the viability of greater source separation. In the last two years for instance, Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Yarra City Council and Hobsons Bay have introduced and/or trialed four kerbside bins, to positive results.

Speaking with Waste Management Review in 2019, Chris Leivers, Yarra City Council Director City Works and Assets, said the council’s 2018 FOGO trial identified Yarra residents as willing to engage in new kerbside recycling systems. The trial was so successful, he said, that Yarra saw a 40 per cent increase in diversion from landfill, “with current FOGO contamination rates now averaging less than one per cent.”

A spokesperson for the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) highlights the new system as a positive initial step to ensure better material separation.

“Cross contamination of resources is a barrier to effective resource recovery, and the separation of glass is an effective way to reduce that cross contamination,” the spokesperson says.

“We have also called for the standardisation of bin lid colours in the past, so it is great to see the government taking up our recommendation.”

Furthermore, the spokesperson says greater source separation will result in reduced overheads and operating costs for recyclers.

“Greater separation, and therefore less contamination, means recyclers don’t need to reject as much material, therefore getting a better return based on increased volume of material recovered. This will be beneficial for councils in terms of increased shared returns,” the spokesperson explains.

To support councils through the roll out, VLGA is calling on the state government to support community education and initiatives to increases FOGO diversion.

“We specifically asked the government to fund these initiatives through the landfill levy. We also asked the government to support councils through procurement of products made with recycled materials,” the spokesperson says.

While David shares similar sentiments, calling source separation the most cost-effective way to recover resources, he says the state government needs to show evidence that a fourth bin for glass is the right move.

“They haven’t demonstrated a successful business case for that. They may have done the work, but it hasn’t been put forth. There are numbers stated in the policy, but I would like to see where they’ve done that analysis,” he says.

“Perhaps the fourth bin should be for paper and card, especially considering that a future CDS will remove a lot of glass from the kerbside bin.”

Rose also cautions that Victoria’s fourth glass bin is out of step with other states and territories, “making it nationally inconsistent and confusing for the community at large.”

“The NWRIC believes the majority of glass containers would be better dealt with through a CDS, as is being done by other states and territories. However, the fourth bin does mean better separation at source,” she says.

To help industry processes these materials, Rose says the Victorian Government should align with the WA State-wide Guidelines for Kerbside Recycling.

“In the case of Victoria, only the following items should end up in the yellow lidded bin: plastic containers, paper and cardboard boxes flattened (no shredded paper), aluminium and steel containers. All education messages should be consistently applied by local governments across the state to reflect this,” she says.

“The messaging needs to be simple and clear, reinforcing the right behaviours both within households and businesses. Industry should also have the ability to reject bins and loads that do not meet these requirements.”

From a logistics standpoint, Jillian Riseley, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) Chief Executive Officer, says MWRRG will continue to work with councils to implement the changes to their services. She adds that each council is in a slightly different situation, from those with food waste recycling and a glass bin collection already in place, through to those with neither.

“We continue to engage with councils and work with them to map and deliver resource recovery and waste services for their communities. Specifically, we are collaborating with councils on their development of transition plans,” Jillian says.

“In March we hosted a workshop with council waste officers to help them outline a process for the development of transition plans. Our collaborative procurement, contract management, education, training and marketing and communications expertise will support councils throughout the transition.”

Jillian adds that Recycling Victoria is a once in a generation investment.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to ensure we build a more sustainable, resilient sector with new jobs and opportunities for locally delivered resource recovery,” she says.

“Increased kerbside consistency and future state-wide education and behaviour change campaigns will reinforce the work councils already do to engage with their communities.”

Next week’s instalment will explore the forthcoming CDS, waste as an essential service and Victoria’s proposed waste-to-energy cap. We’ll also hear from Claire Ferres Miles, Chief Executive Officer, Sustainability Victoria. 

Related stories: 

Keeping Australia beautiful since 1971

Australia’s most iconic anti-litter movement captured the world’s attention when it began 50 years ago and significant progress has since been made. We look back at the organisation’s history.

What would the founder of Keep Australia Beautiful (KAB), the late Dame Phyllis Frost, say about the state of litter if she were still alive today?

Frost, who passed away in 2004, was known her commitment to causes, notably helping prisoners through the Victorian Women’s Prisons Council or combatting litter through the Keep Australia Beautiful movement.

In her address to the official launch of KAB NSW in 1975, Frost recounted how she was galvanised into anti-litter action. It followed her experience on a country highway between Melbourne and Bendigo in 1963.

En route to attend a meeting in Bendigo, Frost was feeling proud in a new car. In a small town called Elphinstone, a semi-trailer passed her by. Out of the window came fish and chip papers, a fruit peel and an old greasy rag. As a beer can bounced across the roof of Frost’s new car, she immediately pulled to the side of the road to inspect the damage.

Keep Australia Beautiful Founder Dame Phyllis Frost

Frost took a closer look at the scenery of the view behind her and to her horror found rolling plains strewn with paper, plastic bags, cans and bottles.

Soon after, she told the members of the National Council of Women of the experience and they agreed that the desecration needed to cease. In response, a group of service and voluntary organisations and a number of government departments were invited to join an anti-litter campaign.

There was no special name for the group in those days because anti-litter could too easily be confused with anti-liquor, which may in turn be perceived as un-Australian.

To that end, the group was called State Wide Civic Pride. Under the guidance of the then Minister of Local Government R J Hamer, the group adopted the name Keep Australia Beautiful Council. In 1968, the inauguration of the new look body was held.

Throughout KAB’s history, various programs which still exist today emerged. One of these is Tidy Towns, a concept borrowed from Ireland which commenced in 1968.

KAB Council WA on its website says it’s hard to think of a movement or campaign that has stirred such pride and action in our regional and remote communities than Tidy Towns. At the time, the competition accepted metro and regional entries and local government agencies, rather than communities, which are now in competition with one another.

GETTING ATTENTION FROM GOUGH

The 70s put the KAB movement on the map, with powerful publicity campaigns and educational approaches drawing support from government, celebrities, sporting heroes and the media.

By 1971, KAB’s National Association commenced, formed by KESAB and KABVIC by Colin Hills and Frost respectively. One year later, the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam launched Live Without Litter Week.

The Prime Minister appeared on television urging each and every Australian to get behind the anti-litter week.

“If for one week each of us can concentrate on litter prevention, then we can extend this consciousness to an all-year round effort to keep our environment clean,” Whitlam said.

In the Live Without Litter Week, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Cr A Whalley, Executive Director of KABC Gordon Cooper and then Premier R J Hamer all sported “Don’t rubbish Australia” t-shirts.

In 1974, KAB’s Dopes Rubbish Australia and Pig television campaigns launched. The Pig campaign urged communities not to be a “pig” and “keep it litter-free”, shaming those guilty of chucking stuff out the window or into their local basin.

In her 1975 reflection, Frost, a champion of social reform, estimated that litter was costing in the vicinity of $50 million a year to clean-up. At the time, KAB consisted of affiliations of major environmental, community and service organisations, including the environment protection authorities, gas and fuel bodies, water bodies, packaging companies and even the education departments.

Plastic manufacturers were also heavily involved, including the National Packaging Association, Plastic Institute, can makers and soft drink manufacturers. In that regard, Frost criticised the nay-sayers who took aim at their involvement in the process.

“Some fanatical but rather irrational conservationists view these last-named bodies as enemy forces in the battle for preservation of the environment,” Frost said.

“I believe, although some fanatics don’t concur with my belief, that to exclude them is just as ridiculous as debarring car manufacturers, salesman or drivers and those involved in the manufacture and sales of alcoholic drinks from taking any part in the fight against the road toll – as it is the misuse of their products that cause the road carnage.

“Let’s be realistic about it – the packaging and container people must be more involved than any other section of society if we are to win our battle.”

THE NATIONAL PICTURE

Since the various state and territory bodies operate independently, the achievements of the KAB movement are best looked at within each local jurisdiction.

Being Victoria-based, Frost remained at the coalface of Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria (KABV). KAB’s popularity even sparked attention from musical pop group ABBA.

In the 80s, events in Victoria recognised change took place at the grassroots with engagement from school children, holiday makers and beachgoers. Frost retired from her position as chairman of KABV in the 90s and the organisation kicked on with a range of new program initiatives like City Pride and Stationeers.

KESAB, a well-known organisation for community-based sustainability programs, presided over container deposit legislation in 1978. It also introduced the Waste Watchers program to schools in the mid 90s, opened a Statewide Recycling Education Centre in 2006 and introduced Australia’s first reverse vending machine in 2010.

NT, ACT, Queensland and Tasmania all embraced the Tidy Towns program over the years and in Queensland a variety of awards program rewarded positive behaviours. Additionally, the NSW branch held the first Litter Congress in 2014, which inspired various programs such as the EPA’s Hey Tosser! Campaign.

Now 16 years on from Frost’s passing, urbanisation has drastically changed the landscape and many stakeholders once involved in the KAB movement operate independently.

But despite the changes, stakeholders such as KAB Chair Dick Gross still affirm the organisation is still a grassroots community group and a “doer” rather than a “talker”.

Dick, who joined KAB at the ripe age of 60, was invited to join by longstanding litter stalwart the late Don Chambers.

He says that KAB has had strong times and less strong times, and now operates in a crowded space. Much of this, he attributes, is due to the industrialisation of waste management.

“Litter is dramatically different now in several ways. It dropped off the political agenda and now it’s dropping back in because of marine pollution and its effect on marine and human life,” Dick says.

On whether he ever sees a world without litter, Dick says that’s a dream, but questions whether it’s a pipe dream.

“I can’t see Australia ever getting rid of litter. We need punitive regulatory regimes and more resources and I don’t know if that will happen.”

In 2015, KABV changed its name to Keep Victoria Beautiful (KVB). In the wake of KAB’s 50th anniversary, Waste Management Review Editor Toli Papadopoulos sat down with current KVB CEO Sabina Wills to discuss some of the changes that have occurred over the past few decades.

Keep Australia Beautiful celebrated its 50th anniversary at Government House in Melbourne.

“The purpose of the organisation is about people taking action to beautify their own environment. They’re not waiting for local government or state government, they’re taking action themselves,” Sabina says.

“We really embody that through the programs that we run where we enable volunteers to take action.”

Sabina says programs like Tidy Towns and Sustainable Cities have rewarded positive actions.

KVB embraced this and many other programs throughout the 2000s, engaging communities with initiatives such as the Stationeers, Sustainable Cities, Tidy Towns and Adopt a Roadside programs. For example, Adopt a Roadside sees volunteers equipped with safety training and other necessary resources to remove roadside litter and/or undertake revegetation works within Victoria’s arterial road network.

“We need to recognise our volunteers more and say thank you more. I think that’s an important part of KVB because the volunteers delivering those programs are creating a beautiful location,” Sabina says.

Highlighting some of KVB’s most successful programs, she cites Tidy Towns, noting the national program has helped bind communities together.

Dick says that Tidy Towns has inspired some healthy competition between communities.

In 2009, KVB also became part of Sustainability Victoria until 2015, when KVB formed a not-for-profit which reports to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission. In addition to maintaining its initiatives from the early 2000s, KVB has entered new frontiers, including the development of a biodiversity report highlighting the accelerating rate of species loss.

Around 2016, Sabina joined KVB, after more than 20 years in the environmental services sector, including in government, associations and the private sector.

Reflecting on the past 50 years, Sabina says that although litter has reduced significantly, she laments on the overall rate of progress.

“I feel sad that we still have to pick up litter on the side of the road, that we haven’t in those 50 years transitioned away to it no longer being acceptable behaviour,” Sabina says.

“Yes, there’s been a huge reduction in litter, but it’s still there and that really saddens me.”

According to the National Litter Index by KAB, litter was up 0.9 per cent more in 2018-19 than it was in 2017/18 with 57,889 items counted. The biggest rises were observed in other glass, takeaway food and beverage packaging, offset to a degree by decreases linked to container deposit legislation.

In terms of how litter has changed over the decade, in 2008-09, there was almost 100,000 items counted. In 2018-19, that number sits just over 60,000. Taking into account population growth, there is far less litter than there was 10 years ago.

That being said, Sabina jokes that she wasn’t too upset when a litter run on the way to her office led to the discovery of a $50 note.

In terms of what lies on the immediate horizon, Sabina hopes to make some changes to KVB’s awards programs.

“The awards have been running over 30 years and I’ve certainly got a plan of how they’re going to look in 30 years. My big dream with the awards is for a state-based award and national-based award,” she says.

“I’d also love an international based awards to go to that next level. I think it is so important that everyone is proud of where they live and that sense of ‘my place is special’ is really important.”

But despite her dismay at the litter state of play, Sabina says if she were to ask herself what would Frost say in another 50 years’ time, given the changes over the past five decades, the future is unpredictable.

“It’s interesting what happened in the past 50 years. We’ve got an EPA and the EPA Act is getting re-written. So it is a bit hard to know how it will look in the future. I hope it’s going to look better, but then again I am an optimist,” she says.

Related stories:

The MUD dilemma

With multi-unit dwellings on the rise, Waste Management Review speaks with industry and government stakeholders about overcoming the associated waste management challenges.

As populations grow and property prices increase, Australian cities are facing a period of unprecedented shift. While the suburban ideal of a detached residence on a block of land might be aspirational to many, under present-day economic and urban planning conditions, multi-unit dwellings (MUDs) are increasingly becoming the norm.

In 2006, Bill Randolph of the University of New South Wales’ City Futures Research Centre said high-density housing, principally delivered by urban renewal and infill development, is expected to be the main source of future residential growth in major urban cities.

Almost 15 years later and Professor Randolph’s projections seem to be coming to pass, with 2018 Housing Economics Group data showing that MUDs rose from five to 25 per cent of total housing commencements between 1998 and 2018.

Whether this shift is positive or negative is a subjective matter, but data does suggest that high-density properties experience greater than average recycling contamination rates.

Contamination comes down to a number of unique challenges, according to research from the University of Technology Sydney. These include physical barriers such as distance to recycling bins, and social barriers such as a sense of anonymity or lack of responsibility for disposal and recovery.

Responding to these challenges, the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC) initiated a project to improve MUD recycling in 2018. Specifically focused on reducing contamination through waste infrastructure availability and resident facing engagement, SSROC conducted bin audits at 75 MUDs. While University of Technology Sydney evaluations found the project was well delivered, final analysis was unable to detect any impact on recycling behaviour.

Similar issues are equally present south of the border, with the Victorian Auditor General’s 2019 report Recovering and Reprocessing Resources from Waste suggesting that despite growing recognition of the issue, there is limited guidance or direction on MUD waste management from a planning or legislative standpoint.   

Council kerbside waste collection is unavailable to most existing MUDs, the report notes, with private operators sometimes engaged to ensure new and existing MUDs offer recycling collection services.

This is due to insufficient kerbside space for bins, the report suggests, and an incompatibility between the collection infrastructure needed to manage large multi-storey buildings and council equipment.

Furthermore, the report highlights that while councils can influence how much space new MUDs allocate for waste infrastructure through the planning process, they don’t currently require new or existing MUDs’ serviced by commercial operators to offer commingled recycling services.

As such, the report suggests that as the level of MUDs increases, overall recovery rates will decrease.

“Most MUDs have only one waste collection service – for landfill,” it reads.

PLANNING PROVISIONS

In Victoria, much like the rest of Australia, the prevalence of MUDs has grown significantly over the last 10 years, mainly in the CBD and inner metropolitan Melbourne.

According to Sam Trowse, Sustainability Victoria Land Use Planning Project Lead, this growth has typically occurred without specific waste and recycling guidelines for high-density residential development.

“This has created issues for councils and the resource recovery industry in ensuring correct design and management options are implemented to maximise recycling,” Sam says.

He adds that as a consequence, recycling rates are lower in MUDs than in single residential dwellings. Additionally, while some planning tools and other policy guidelines exist across Victoria, Sam says these differ from council to council.

“This can make it difficult for developers and waste management consultants to design waste and recycling systems effectively across different councils, and highlights the importance of seeking early council input into design,” he says.

To address these issues, Sustainability Victoria (SV) developed its Guide to Better Practice for Waste Management and Recycling in Multi-unit Developments in 2019.

The guide, Sam says, focuses on a number of challenges including limited space for infrastructure and collection services, collection contractor requirements and a disconnect between council waste management officers, land use planners and building officers.

“The guide also focuses on emerging themes such as waste generation rates, which enables building designers to understand likely needed storage space and options to increase organics recovery, dependent on the characteristics and size of the MUDs in development,” Sam says.

Another focus is the existence of opportunities for precinct-scale MUDs, such as onsite treatments, like waste-to-energy, and automated waste collection systems such as vacuum waste.

While the guide is extensive and separated into types such as low-rise apartments, mixed use and precinct scale developments, essential requirements include hygiene, system simplicity and indemnity and waste service flexibility.

Examples of design considerations also include adequate storage space for the easy manoeuvring of bins and vehicle access and turning areas free from obstacles.

While they are just guidelines, Sam notes the document was added to the Victorian Planning Provisions in 2020.

“This is a positive move towards reinforcing the guide through land-use planning decision making.

“It also means that developers will need to meet the requirements of the guide when submitting planning permits for MUDs to councils,” he says.

TRICKLE DOWN

According to Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association Chief Executive, MUDs pose an array of challenges to the association’s industry members. The dwellings are problematic, he explains, as there is little consideration of the waste needs of residents, especially in newer builds.

“It’s not uncommon to see beautifully designed buildings that feature elements helping to address energy and water efficiency, but failing on simple considerations like providing space for standard size waste trucks to access the site,” he says.

“MUDs are also great examples of how one or two poor behaving neighbours can have a huge impact on the efforts of the majority, leading to significant contamination issues.”

Recognising that the demographics of MUDs are very different, Mark says in addition to infrastructure concerns, what is often lacking is consistent community education on what goes in which bin. If recent challenges have taught VWMA anything, Mark says, it’s that the community is heavily engaged and passionate about waste management. He adds however that not all communities are afforded the same access to services, which is evident at MUDs.

While the Victorian Government is certainly taking strides in its approach to waste management in MUDs, planning responsibility often falls on council shoulders. As highlighted by Sam, guides and best practice can vary significantly between councils, and as such, harmonised design and education programs can be a challenge.

In an attempt to foster centralisation, the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG), which works on behalf of 31 Melbourne councils, developed its “Improving resource recovery in multi-unit developments toolkits” in 2018.

According to Jillian Riseley, MWRRG CEO, the toolkit is designed to help councils adopt and implement waste management considerations into the planning approvals process.

The toolkit features a waste management plan template, guide and checklist, enabling the user to calculate and record the number of bins required for building development, as well as collection frequency and storage management.

“The standard plan template can also be used as a base to customise and reflect council’s servicing capabilities, before providing it to developers to complete and submit with their planning permit application,” Jillian says.

She adds that MUDs can be a challenge for councils due to poorly designed collection areas, varying levels of collection services and limited opportunity for residents to recycle.

Onsite issues, such as inappropriate collection infrastructure or storage and bin and transportation access, can also limit the number and size of bins available to sort different streams of material, Jillian says. Furthermore, she adds that collection services and contracts vary depending on whether they’re provided by council or commercial contractors.

“In turn, this can make it more challenging to educate residents and standardise the type of materials suitable for collection, as well as manage contamination and compaction rates,” Jillian says.

Developed after extensive consultation and independent analysis, the toolkit helps councils align waste management plans with state objectives. “The toolkit helps councils save time and resources, with waste plan requirements able to be checked during the planning permit assessment process,” she says.

“The straightforward assessment list ensures a basic level of consideration for waste and resource recovery before the waste management plan is sent to a specialist waste management officer.”

Since MWRRG developed the toolkit, Jillian says multiple councils have developed their own parallel MUD guidelines.

“Councils are also trialling and implementing waste and recycling programs tailored to MUD residents including onsite composting, food and green waste recycling collection, hard waste services, onsite furniture reuse and new onsite signage,” she says.

Despite a number of positive movements in the MUD space, Mark says the Victorian Government’s recent four-bin announcement might force the state to reexamine its approach to waste management and MUDs.

“While the Victorian Government instituting a four-bin kerbside system is certainly a positive step, it will pose a number of challenges for MUDs, as space for existing infrastructure is already a challenge for bin placement and pick up,” Mark says.

“The VWMA will be working closely with the Victorian Government on the rollout.”

This article appeared in the April edition of Waste Management Review. We look forward to updating industry on this issues as it relates to current circumstances with many people working remotely.

Related stories:

Export ban exemptions

Despite the export ban commencing July 2020, the Federal Government could allow trade to continue under certain strict conditions. We speak to Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister.

In a speech to the first ever National Plastics Summit in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to match industry investment in recycling infrastructure dollar for dollar. With Australia’s recycling facilities “under severe strain”, the Prime Minister said government would allocate further funding in the May budget.

“We are working with state and territory governments to identify and unlock the critical upgrades that will lead to a step-change in their recycling capacity. And [we] will invest with governments and with industry on a 1-to-1-to-1 basis,” he said, according to a pre-released speech given to media.

The announcement came just three months ahead of the first round of export bans – with glass waste set to be banned by July 2020 – and serves as a sign that government has listened to industry calls for market intervention.

Since late 2019, the Federal Government has been undertaking extensive industry consultation, as required by COAG Regulation Impact Guidelines. As per the export ban Regulation Impact Statement (RIS), the aim of consultation is to determine the relative costs and benefits of regulatory and non-regulatory options under consideration.

Under proposed regulatory options, the ban’s implementation could take two forms: federal legislation or export restrictions. While federal legislation is conceptually straightforward, option two is more complex, with exports operating under permit systems and accreditation or supply chain assurance.

Exemptions to the ban could be considered, the RIS suggests, where continued export promotes circular economy principals, or materials have established industrial uses and end markets. Moreover, the RIS highlights materials originating from clean, well sorted steams, such as container deposit schemes or single source separation, as possible candidates for exemption.

While it could seem like a loophole to some, according to the RIS, allowing materials that meet certain standards to be exported reflects the variability of challenges facing each waste stream, as well as differences in infrastructure across states and territories.

According to Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister, material stream complexity, paired with an understanding of the challenges associated with broad policy decisions, has been a central focus of ban consultation.

“While we use the language of export bans, in essence, what we’re really interested in doing is allowing trade to continue if it meets certain strict criteria,” Trevor says.

“These aren’t clunky blanket bans; they are very targeted. The Federal Government is interested in the quality of material that might go offshore, and if certain quality conditions and eligibility criteria are met, operators may be granted permission via permits.”

While the exemption eligibility criteria is largely finalised, Trevor says discussion is still taking place around specific material definitions.

“The intention of government is to target these bans at mixed or contaminated streams, especially plastics. And that is actually quite a detailed conversation when it comes to individual polymer types, or different types of carboard, paper and pulp,” he says.

According to Trevor, under the restriction system, the Federal Government would have the ability to permit, audit and inspect all operators engaging in export. Once the ban is officially in force, he says policing responsibility will likely fall on the Federal Environment Department.

“Assuming the permitting process is indeed the model that’s followed, the exact drafting of the scheme would then be finalised inside parliament, and it’s likely that the Department of Environment could be in charge of that permitting process,” he says.

MATERIAL PRIORITIES

In January, the National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) called for a ban exemption for clean, high grade paper and cardboard.

Citing an export market worth more than $230 million annually, Rose Read, NWRIC CEO, said recycling services could fail without export capacity. Ms Read also noted that Australia does not currently have the capacity to locally remanufacture all the paper and cardboard it generates.

Ms Read’s comments reflect a common industry concern that material definitions are too broad, and that while banning some products, such as whole baled tyres, is appropriate, banning others, could be counterproductive.

When asked about these concerns, Trevor notes that significant refinements have been made to the definitions initially proposed at the November 2019 Meeting of Environment Ministers.

“The changes have been around paper and pulp, and really targeting the bans at where we believe the true issues and challenges lie, and not to get in the way of other export streams that are well sorted and pose no environmental threat,” he says.

At the next COAG meeting on 13 March, Trevor expects the government will announce final definition and timeframe decisions. He adds that details around how the government plans to co-invest in new facilities is also likely to be announced, a view already alluded to at the National Plastic Summit.

“There are very big challenges across some of these product streams, and one of the biggest is that in some areas, such as mixed paper and plastics, there aren’t many facilities or onshore capacity at the moment,” Trevor says.

“That’s the main reason the bans are staged in their implementation. The timeframes are tight mind you, but they’re deliberately tight because we want to bring the bans in as soon as we practically can.”

Responding to Sustainable Resource Use’s January Recycling Market Situation Summary Review, Trevor suggests that in some cases, Australia’s onshore reprocessing capacity will need to increase by “many multiples”.

The review, which suggests Australia may need a 400 per cent increase in plastic throughput to sustain domestic markets, highlights global markets for recyclable materials as volatile.

“One of the main motivations for the Federal Government being willing to co-invest and create better policy frameworks, is that we want to see a huge onshoring of recycling capacity,” Trevor says.

“We want to see that as soon as possible because of the great environmental and economic impacts and quite frankly, because it’s going to create jobs, especially in areas of Australia where we need them most, and that’s in regional cities and outer suburban areas.”

SHADOW BAN

Since the ban was announced, the appropriate level of government investment has been hotly debated. Multiple stakeholders, including Ms Read, have cautioned that in the absence of robust infrastructure investment, the regulatory measure is likely to fail.

Trevor’s Labor counterpart, Shadow Assistant Environment Minister Josh Wilson, shares similar sentiments, telling Waste Management Review that the Federal Government is not doing enough to deal with the reality Australia faces. It should be noted that Josh spoke to Waste Management Review prior to Mr Morrison’s plastic summit announcement.

“All the government has done so far is essentially put out a timetable, and it’s not clear at all how we’re going to meet that timetable,” he says.

“If you take mixed plastics, which we are supposed to stop exporting by the middle of next year, it’s very hard to see how that can be achieved when the level of plastic recycling and reprocessing is lower in Australia now than it was in 2005.”

In regard to infrastructure investment, Josh describes the Federal Government’s current approach as “hands off, help yourself.” The Australian Recycling Investment Fund, he adds, is insufficient, with new policy measures and resources needed to ensure the ban’s success.

“The Australian Recycling Investment Fund is not new or additional money, it’s $100 million dollars earmarked in the Clean Energy Finance envelope,” Josh says.

“The money was already being applied for recycling projects, and its loan funds, not direct funds. So, the idea that it’s direct funding that will change and improve the situation for infrastructure investment just isn’t true.”

When asked to respond to the Shadow Minister’s comments, Trevor notes that as part of the Federal Government’s plan to tackle plastic waste and halve food waste by 2030, the Recycling Investment Fund addresses broader issues than those of the ban.

The fund is designed to finance eligible large-scale commercial and industrial projects, typically requiring $10 million or more of Clean Energy Finance Corporation debt or equity capital. As opposed to general infrastructure investment, the Australian Recycling Investment Fund is focused on emerging technology.

“The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has existed for many years. Part of the reason why we’ve given them responsibility for administering the Recycling Investment Fund is their proven track record of making very sound business investment decisions in new facilities and new technologies,” Trevor says.

He adds that he expects the Australian Recycling Investment Fund to be entirely spent. Another concern for Josh is Australia’s tyranny of distance, and whether investment decisions will consider the needs of the entire country.

“I have portfolio responsibility for Australia as a whole in the waste space, but I am a Western Australian,” he says.

“If there’s additional reprocessing capacity located in the eastern states, what happens to a jurisdiction like Western Australia that would face the transport costs of taking our mixed plastics and other recyclables to those centres?”

Trevor explains that all the states and territories have been invited to approach the Federal Government with ideas and solutions.

“As you’d expect, each of the states are in a different position in terms of what their present offerings are. And each of them has natural views about the direction they’d like to take industry,” he says.

“We’ve received a lot of those proposals already and are going through the process of seeing where we can co-invest. But we’re also mindful that we need to have a national solution and will go through a common sense checking process to make sure there isn’t any duplications, or indeed any gaps.”

You can read the full article in the May edition of Waste Management Review. 

Related stories: 

Co-locating trust: social licence and WtE

Waste Management Review examines the implications of the social licence to operate in the emerging Australian waste-to-energy market.

In November 2019, Craigieburn residents on Melbourne’s urban fringe called on Hume City Council to reject a proposed waste-to-energy (WtE) facility in the suburb. The calls came amid concerns the plant would produce hazardous emissions, causing air pollution.

Katherine Lawford, No Toxic Incinerator for Hume spokesperson, said the community was upset, citing concerns the plant would lead to large volumes of waste transported into Melbourne for incineration.

The group was also apprehensive, Ms Lawford said, that the plant would undermine recycling efforts and encourage wastefulness. At the time of writing, there was no publicly accessible information on whether the proposed facility would use incineration or gasification technology.

While the Craigieburn facility’s fate is uncertain, No Toxic Incinerator for Hume’s concerns are not novel, with similar protests occurring across the country. Negative public reactions to WtE therefore foreground issues of residential encroachment, misunderstood technology and social licence to operate (SLO).

SLO, which evolved from broader concepts of corporate responsibility, centres on the idea that a business needs not only appropriate government or regulatory approval, but also a “social licence”. First used by Jim Cooney, an executive of international mining company Placer Dome, at a 1997 World Bank Meeting, SLO grew rapidly in use and pervasiveness. The term is now commonplace across a wide range of sectors including resources, farming, forestry and waste.

The Next Generation’s (TNG) failed 2018 WtE proposal, lodged by Dial A Dump Industries’ Ian Malouf, worked to gain SLO, but in the end, what went wrong is a matter that cannot be conclusively defined. The proposal, which sought to build and operate a large-scale combustion facility in Eastern Creek, Western Sydney, led to widespread public protest.

The proposal placed the facility strategically close to the NSW power grid, with Mr Malouf offering to supplement free power for 1000 homes.

As reported by Waste Management Review in 2018, TNG also 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 during consultation.

It’s worth noting that the plant was to be co-located with the Genesis Xero Waste Recycling Facility, meaning residents were potentially already accustomed to living near waste and resource recovery operations. The idea of co-location is highlighted by CSIRO’s Engaging Communities on Waste Project as a useful mechanism to drive greater community acceptance.

In spite of these factors, protest persisted, with Mr Malouf’s application referred to the NSW Independent Planning Commission for determination in April 2018, following 949 public objections. The commission rejected the proposal in July, citing, among other objections, that the project was not in the public interest.

CHANGING ATTITUDES 

According to Sustainability Victoria’s 2018 Resource Recovery Technology Guide, waste and resource recovery facilities represent some of the most contentious land uses operating in Australia today.

For waste and resource recovery planning in Victoria, communities must therefore be involved in determining waste and resource recovery priorities and have opportunities to participate in decision-making and long-term planning.

“Stakeholders have different contributions to make and different involvement needs at each stage of the decision-making process,” the guide suggests.

“At different stages, involvement may take the form of sharing information, consulting, entering into dialogue with certain parties or providing opportunity for stakeholders to deliberate on decisions.”

According to Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association Executive Officer, contention around waste facility land use stems from a lack of understanding of the role waste management plays in society and the technologies employed.

“While working with Sustainability Victoria in 2016, I was involved in social research with CSIRO that looked at community attitudes and perceptions about the sector. After surveying 1212 Victorians, we found that there are a number of factors that can build or improve SLO, including better community understanding of how the sector contributes to Victoria’s lifestyle and economy, and also governance (controls and oversight) arrangements by regulators.”

Government often views SLO, Mark says, as something an individual site or operator needs to secure. He would argue, however, that SLO exists on two levels  – the industry as a whole and individual sites – with both occupying a shared space with government.

“I’d also argue that government does not clearly understand its role in building public confidence in the sector,” he adds.

Mark says that with recent developments such as the export ban, the waste sector will require significant infrastructure upgrades and expansion.

“This expansion can’t and won’t happen if the private sector, who own and operate the bulk of assets in Australia, continue to encounter barriers to investment, such as communities slowing down development,” he says.

“We do occupy a shared space with government, so I think it’s important for government to reflect on their role and responsibility in building SLO and educating the public, especially around WtE.”

Similar concerns are referenced in Victoria’s Waste Education Strategy report, released in 2016. In the report, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio suggests that despite investment in waste education, success in addressing critical long-term issues has been inconsistent across state and local government, industry, schools, community organisations and third-party providers.

To address this, and facilitate greater instances of SLO, the strategy proposes increasing the Victorian community’s perception of waste management as an essential service.

As part of this strategic direction, Ms D’Ambrosio said the state government would work with the waste industry to help them engage local communities and encourage best practice approaches to community engagement.

CSIRO’s latest research, an update on Mark’s aforementioned 2016 project, also formed part of this strategy.

The 2019 project, titled Changes and perceiptions in Victorian attitudes and perceptions of the waste and resource recovery sector, surveyed 1244 Victorians living in metropolitan and regional Victoria. Respondents were asked for their views on living near WtE facilities, as well as waste and resource recovery complexes – including possible impacts, benefits and trust.

CSRIO identified eight key factors that drive social acceptance in the waste sphere, which were fairness and equity, governance, quality of relationships, trust in the sector, impacts to wellbeing, benefits of wellbeing, attitudes about waste and knowledge.

Andrea Walton, CSIRO Resources and Communities Team Leader, says urban growth, particularly in outer suburbs surrounding waste sites that previously had a significant buffer, bring local communities and waste sites into closer proximity.

“Population growth puts more pressure on the waste management system through the generation of increased waste volumes. Effective forward planning of waste management has become an expectation of citizens, partly because they view waste management as an essential service,” Andrea says.

“This type of planning builds trust in the sector and contributes to people’s social acceptance of the need for different types of activities and infrastructure to manage our waste.”

SLO has therefore become more pertinent, Andrea says, forming a basis for the approval of new sites, new technologies and the ongoing operation of existing sites.

When asked why CSIRO chose to include WtE in its updated research – WtE was excluded in the initial 2016 report – Andrea says while WtE is not a new technology globally, it is new to Australia.

As such, CSIRO thought it important to understand what Australians thought about WtE and what underpinned those attitudes. CSIRO found that overall, acceptance of living near a WtE facility was low, but significantly higher than acceptance of living near a waste and resource recovery complex that included landfill.

“People support the avoidance of waste and see landfill as the least preferred option for managing waste material. Negative views about living near a landfill mean relatively higher support for WtE. It’s important to note however that support for living near a WtE facility was still modest,” she says.

Perceptions of impacts were also lower for WtE than for a waste complex, with societal benefits assessed more favourably. Moreover, residents viewed WtE as potentially fairer when considered on a broader societal level, provided the burden to local communities was offset by benefits, such as local councils being paid accordingly.   

According to Andrea, a key challenge to achieving SLO is public access to information. CSRIO’s research shows a link between higher knowledge levels and increased social acceptance. That said, self-reported overall knowledge is low, suggesting opportunities for improvement.

“Effective community engagement is fundamental to this process as is communicating with local communities about how these sites are governed and the context of the state’s overall planning and strategies for waste management,” Andrea says.

She notes, much like Mark, that this process needs to involve both government and industry stakeholders.

“Done well, these initiatives help to improve trust in the sector and ultimately more acceptance of a waste operator’s activities. However, this sort of interaction has to be genuine and meaningful to local communities,” she says.

NEXT STEPS FOR EASTERN CREEK

In October 2019, Cleanaway and the Macquarie Capital Green Investment Group announced plans to co-invest and co-develop a WtE plant in Eastern Creek, not far from Mr Malouf’s proposed 2018 site.

According to Mark Biddulph, Cleanaway Head of Corporate Affairs, the proposed facility aims to divert up to 500,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste from landfill, and use it to generate electricity for more than 65,000 homes and businesses. He adds that the proposal is still in the early stages of the approvals process, having only recently received the Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements.

Despite this, Cleanaway hosted a community workshop in November 2019, with the aim of engaging a broad cross section of the community to seek questions, ideas and feedback. Further community engagement will take place throughout 2020.

“Cleanaway is committed to involving the Western Sydney community in the development process and engaging with them often and openly,” Mark says.

Should the facility be approved, Mark says Cleanaway is looking forward to setting up a visitor and education centre onsite to encourage further knowledge sharing. He adds that Cleanaway also plans to invest in a number of local community programs.

“Building trust and SLO within the Western Sydney is critical to Cleanaway. To do this we’re committed to ongoing engagement, transparency and best practice operations that reflect and align with sustainable waste management,” Mark says.

“It’s essential to bring the community with us on the journey.”

Related stories: 

X