EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford says the EPA does not intend to amend its MWOO revocation, or allow the material to be used as a soil amendment on agricultural, mining rehabilitation or forestry land.
“The research undertaken on MWOO has been extensive, including an assessment of human health and ecological risks when applied as a soil amendment and advice from scientific experts,” Mr Gifford said.
“The research clearly shows that the potential risks outweigh the limited benefits of applying MWOO on agricultural land, given the levels of contamination left behind such as glass and plastics, as well as metals and chemicals.”
The NSW EPA is seeking feedback on the future use of mixed waste organic outputs (MWOO), and a proposed transition package to support the alternative waste treatment (AWT) industry transition.
The proposed transition package follows the EPA’s October 2018 revocation of the general and specific Resource Recovery Order and Resource Recovery Exemption for the application of MWOO.
Mr Gifford said the NSW Government’s proposed $6.5 million transition package is designed to help industry consider and develop new sustainable solutions to manage general household waste.
“This is just the first step in considering new and future uses for general household waste, with significant work underway to improve the management of waste in NSW through the development of a 20 Year Waste Strategy,” Mr Gifford said.
“The $6.5 million package includes funding for AWT operators to undertake research and development into alternative products and end markets for household general waste, and to make the required changes to their facilities to produce products, such as refuse derived fuel or other innovative new uses.”
Mr Gifford said funding is available to introduce food organics and garden organics (FOGO) processing lines at AWT facilities.
“More than 40 NSW councils are already providing FOGO kerbside collections to households, or food only collections as sustainable alternatives in managing general household waste,” Mr Gifford said.
“The NSW Government is also extending existing funding to minimise the risk of disruption to kerbside collection services and ensure that any additional transport and landfill costs are not passed on to councils or ratepayers.”
According to Mr Gifford, NSW Health advised that they do not expect any adverse health effects as a result of past use of MWOO on agricultural land.
“The health risk assessment identified certain circumstances where exposure to chemicals could occur at levels that are higher than referenced doses, but these circumstances would be unusual and short lived,” Mr Gifford said.
According to Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel, if the NSW Government implements the EPA’s decision, waste to landfill or incineration will increase by roughly 25 per cent.
“It is hard to understand how an internationally proven product successfully used by local farmers and others for nearly 20 years – and which the NSW Government has previously said has no human health impact – can be banned,” Mr Shmigel said.
“While industry has been given no opportunity to see the report cited in today’s media, we were yesterday ‘confidentially’ briefed by the EPA that laboratory tests on our industry’s material were done at 10 times the actual permissible usage.”
Mr Shmigel said industry has on several occasions offered to develop and invest in new performance levels to address EPA concerns.
“That offer has been de facto rejected, or is now being dismissed as unachievable, without robust industry consultation,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Therefore, the prospect of an environmentally beneficial and economically sustainable way forward has been seemingly ruled out by the EPA, which is fully unproductive.”
In contrast, Total Environment Centre Executive Director Jeff Angel welcomed the EPA’s decision.
“This issue has been festering for over 10 years, when we and scientists first drew attention to the potential pollution from the toxic chemicals and plastics that was being applied as a so-called soil enhancer,” Mr Angel said.
“It’s now clear it was poisoning the environment and threatens human health. We don’t need this stuff spread across the environment, and better ways need to be found to reuse the resources.”