A Bill brought forward by the Greens in the NSW Upper House to ban the incineration of most waste has been voted down, with the major parties acknowledging that waste-to-energy (WtE) is one way of managing waste that cannot be recycled.
National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read said the Bill’s rejection opened the door for a serious discussion about recovering energy from residual waste in NSW, and agreed that clearer planning guidelines were required.
“Without doubt, recovering energy from residual waste is important in enabling NSW to transition to a circular economy over the next 25 years, but we need to have a clearer policy and guidelines on how this can happen,” she said.
“Further, included in any guidelines and policy direction must be the importance of social licence and community engagement in the planning and operation of any facility.
“Our members recognise the need to be transparent and educate the community on how these facilities operate, and explain the strict safety and environmental controls in place to protect the community and the environment.”
Read added that it was important to fully understand all the issues around WtE.
“The WtE debate is more than just diverting waste from landfill, it’s about recognising the greenhouse gas savings being generated, and the potential renewable energy that can be provided back to the grid, as well as the economic opportunities and employment potential for the community,” she said.
“For example, Cleanaway’s proposed development of a state-of-the-art energy from waste facility in western Sydney will see 500,000 tonnes of waste diverted from landfill, 390,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent avoided and 900 direct jobs.”
According to Read, it is not in industry’s financial interest to put valuable plastic, paper, metal or other recyclable materials into an energy recovery facility.
She added that the NSW Government was dragging its feet when it came to outlining its future position on initiatives for the waste and recycling industry.
“The NSW Government generates over $750 million per annum in landfill levies but has invested less than $100 million per annum back into the sector through its Waste Less Recycle More program, which has not shifted recycling rates since 2016,” she said.
“Landfill space is running out in NSW. The government’s waste model is no longer sustainable.”
Nationally, around 22 million tonnes of waste is sent to landfill each year, with NSW sending around 6.8 million tonnes, or more than 30 per cent to landfill.
“Industry is ready to invest and help generate new revenue streams for the NSW economy through more recycling and energy recovery, but we need the NSW Government to finalise its position on the future of resource recovery in NSW,” Read said.
The NSW Government was due to release a draft of its 20-year waste strategy before the end of 2020, but has recently advised industry it will not be released until the first quarter of 2021.
“Similarly, NSW has yet to sign up, match and make available the Commonwealth’s $190 million Recycling Modernisation Fund, which sees industry and government partner to deliver new infrastructure to sort, process and remanufacture waste plastics, glass, paper and tyres,” Read said.
“The National Waste Policy Action Plan has set a number of targets, including achieving an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030.
“Individual states, particularly NSW which makes up more than 30 per cent of national landfill waste, have a significant role to play in making this happen.”