Queensland flood reflections, WRIQ CEO, Dr Georgina Davis

Queensland flood

It has been heartbreaking to see the devastation of floods and other weather events yet again on our state. The most recent climate modelling for Queensland only suggests that these events will escalate in scale, intensity and frequency.

Our industry is working with Queensland’s impacted businesses, councils and communities to remove waste as quickly and safely as possible from the kerbside, out of the suburbs, and out of hearts and minds, noting the considerable wellbeing impacts from these events. Our early focus was on services for the removal of putrescible and hazardous wastes from communities and businesses across all of the impacted suburbs before they became a health issue. Management of the liquid and sludge wastes are also providing ongoing challenges and risks, requiring specialist handling and clean-up.

We know from our members, that the number of businesses impacted by the latest weather events is unprecedented and in excess of 2011. WRIQ members have been working around the clock to service their existing business clients and provide them with the additional resources they require to clean up so that they can resume their business operations.

Of course, some of WRIQ’s members were themselves impacted with a small number of operationally critical sites and industry assets being inundated by flood waters resulting in damage to vital and quite unique infrastructure. Work to resume business continuity across all facilities has now been successfully completed, and we are not only assisting with the clean-up but also maintaining the ongoing contractual obligations and essential day-to-day operations required by the many businesses and homes that have not been impacted by these events. It is certainly a tale of two halves for many of the areas.

While we must focus all our current efforts and attention to the clean-up and the associated welfare of our communities and businesses, we need to heed the lessons we are learning along the way so that the clean-up from the next disaster event runs smoother than the last.

It is important to note that the emergency response to clean up in these situations is devolved to local councils and their focus is on households, with an often-inconsistent approach to the assistance of small businesses. This lack of an overall approach means management of wastes and resource recovery is not optimised, particularly at a time where assets (physical and human) are always stretched.

The intensity and geographical spread of the recent weather events is also putting a strain on industry assets, highlighting the need for a macro-approach to these events and the importance of having the right facilities to handle and manage the wastes.

Since the 2011 flood event in south-east Queensland, local landfill capacity has significantly fallen and there is limited new landfill capacity in planning, indeed peak landfill was nearly a decade ago for SEQ. Many of the areas we identified and used in 2011 as bulk-out areas and consolidation points for the emergency and flood wastes have since been built on and are no longer accessible. Without a robust emergency response plan focused on a whole approach for the clean-up of these events, coupled with designated and planned facilities, recovery will become more difficult for our communities.

Queensland needs permanent structural processes in place for the management (collection, bulk storage, recovery as well as disposal) of disaster wastes. A robust and maintained Disaster Waste Plan for each local government area and at state level is essential – it must contain ongoing activities in preparation for the next event (whatever and whenever it may be) as well as emergency provisions that literally ‘snap into place’ which are already developed in association with, and understood by, all stakeholders.

We need plans for the more regular removal of hazardous wastes from businesses and from the environment; a central and current register of critical industries as well as those storing or handling wastes that we know will need immediate management; locations for the temporary storage and bulk-out waste facilities, particularly in more urban areas, to manage material flows and facilitate logistical efficiencies; and critically, these areas must be on hard-standing at the very least. These Plans must include post event licence and planning provisions for existing facilities, such as the temporary extension of operational/opening hours and proformas for documenting emergency waste so that it is immediately identifiable as non-leviable.

Queensland is currently undertaking a levy efficacy review and it is a timely reminder that the levy treatment of disaster wastes is included in the terms of reference for that review while the development of Regional Waste Plans will be another important tool in the future management of these events.

For more information, visit: https://www.nwric.com.au/


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