VWMA and EPA host waste tracker workshops

The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA), in collaboration with the Victorian EPA, recently carried out workshops to help inform and shape upcoming engagement activities related to EPA’s new integrated waste tracking tool.

In April 2019, the Victorian Government announced it would invest $5.5 million to switch to a GPS electronic tracking system on the back of 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.

The new system will enable the EPA to monitor the movement of waste more quickly and accurately, with additional modern surveillance devices and tougher penalties. This will deliver insights on sector activity, trends and highlight potential illegal activity.

Victoria will see the biggest overhaul of environmental laws taking place from July 1, when the Environment Protection Act and related subordinate legislation comes into effect. For more information about these incoming laws click here

According to EPA Executive Director Regulatory Standards Assessments & Permissions Tim Eaton, the system is designed to enable businesses to comply with new laws.

“It’s an important investment in creating more transparency of waste movement and improving usability with modern technology,” he said.

Despite the VWMA supporting the action, VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said government needs to ensure implementation doesn’t result in unintended consequences from rogue operators that will actively look for ways around the system, while at the same time burdening already compliant businesses.

Late last year, the VWMA did a call out to the industry for expressions of interest to join a working group around the topic of Prescribed Industrial Waste (PIW) and the incoming waste tracking system.

“Membership with the association empowers us to act on our member’s behalves. Members have raised concerns with me throughout the year about incoming changes so we decided to form a working group to better understand the industry issues, concerns and opportunities that exist with the incoming changes,” Mr Smith said. 

“Last year, we saw a very rushed engagement process by EPA in the lead up to shifting Victorian businesses from a paper-based waste transport system to an only online system. The process last year let down a lot of businesses and there was room to improve. This year we wanted to be on the front foot and work with EPA to ensure those improvements were realised.” 

Mr Smith added that despite rushed 2019 consultation, the EPA has since changed its approach, recognising the opportunities of early engagement and industry involvement.

“EPA have engaged early – from July last year at our State Conference they began engaging with industry and informing them about the incoming changes. The biggest challenge we have now is that there isn’t much time before going live for EPA 2.0,” he said. 

“This time round, we’ve seen business asked to provide input and feedback in the development of the new waste tracking system and its implementation. It’s great to see EPA recognising the important role that our members play in this process.”

Mr Smith flagged that the new normal for businesses in Victoria will be an expectation that they are taking active steps to understand what compliance means for them.

“In short they need to know and understand their risks and have the appropriate systems and processes in place to eliminate or reduce risk and impacts. The VWMA will provide our members information about incoming changes as they are made available, but I’d encourage members and non-members to subscribe to EPA’s communications via their website,” he said. 

VWMA represents Victoria’s largest collection of waste and recycling operators including private operators, local councils, state government agencies and service providers / suppliers to the industry.

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NSW EPA seeks comment on polluter pays Financial Assurance Policy

The NSW EPA is seeking comments and submissions on proposed measures that aim to ensure individuals and companies responsible for pollution or contamination pay the clean-up costs.

According to EPA Executive Director Regulatory Practice Nancy Chang, the EPA operates under a polluter pays principle, but when the polluter couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for the clean-up, the burden should is often left with NSW taxpayers.

“Under these proposed new measures, the EPA will take a risk-based approach to assess whether activities are of a high enough risk to need a financial assurance,” Ms Chang said.

“The NSW EPA is seeking comments and submissions on two draft policies that aim to provide a clear and consistent approach for how the EPA will manage potential environmental liabilities.”

Draft Policies under consideration: 

Financial Assurance Policy: this will help regulated companies or individuals identify when the EPA may require a financial assurance.

The draft policy includes a risk categorisation tool that the EPA will apply to determine whether a financial assurance is justified due to the degree of risk of environmental harm, the remediation or other work that may be required, or the environmental record of the regulated party.

Guideline on Estimating Financial Assurances: this will help regulated companies or individuals to obtain an independent assessment of costs where the EPA has determined that a financial assurance is required.

This draft guideline provides a transparent and consistent method for estimating these financial assurances. According to an EPA statement, the draft guideline has been reviewed by accounting and auditing experts to ensure it is fit for purpose.

Consultation is now open and closes 14 April.

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Toxic hospital waste attracts EPA fine

A shipment of hospital waste exposed to toxic chemicals has been secured and sent for proper disposal, during an investigation by the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA).

According to EPA Western Metropolitan Regional Manager Stephen Lansdell, the waste was found at a container depot in Altona.

“EPA officers found two shipping containers that had been sitting for more than two weeks at the premises of Melbourne Container Transport, in Kororoit Creek Rd,” he said.

“Inside, they found plastic-wrapped pallet loads of cardboard boxes and plastic containers carrying surgical masks, gowns, gloves and other items used by doctors when applying cytotoxic chemicals used in some cancer treatments.”

The EPA has fined the company $8261 for depositing industrial waste at a site that is not licensed to accept that type of waste.

“The contents of the containers were safely incinerated by a licensed company on the day they were opened for inspection,” Mr Lansdell said.

“While it was resolved without any hazard to people’s health, a case like this is disappointing because businesses have a clear responsibility to know the rules and do the right thing by the environment and the community.”

Under the Environment Protection Act 1970 and the Infringements Act 2006, the company has the right to have the decision reviewed, or alternatively to have the matter heard and determined by a court.

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Waste to Energy Forum announces program updates

The Australian Waste to Energy Forum, one of the country’s most comprehensive waste events, returns to the Mercure in Ballarat 18-20 February 2020.

In its fifth consecutive year, the forum aims to provide a platform for all interested parties to discuss developments in Australia’s growing waste-to-energy (WtE) sector.

The theme for this year’s Australian Waste to Energy Forum, On the road to recovery, was selected to address two key areas: the application of waste hierarchy fundamentals; and changing perceptions about WtE facilities and their role within an integrated waste management strategy.

As in previous years, the event will run as a single stream, so all attendees can participate in all sessions. The aim is to provide a platform for discussion of challenges facing the industry, as well as showcasing latest technology and processes from Australia and around the world – both thermal and non-thermal.

Additionally, the forum will explore ways local government can co-operate with industry to develop appropriate infrastructure and deliver optimum waste services to their constitutes. Attendees will also hear case studies of projects that have successfully applied WtE technology.

Program overview:

The program features a range of speakers including Stephen Adamthwaite from EPA Victoria, who will present discuss WtE proposals, with particular reference to how proposals will fit under the new EP Act.

Trevor Evans, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, will deliver the Minister’s Address via video, after an official opening from City of Ballarat Mayor Ben Taylor.

Toby Terlet, Veolia Kwinana Project Director, will then detail challenges faced by a WtE facility in Tyseley, UK, including major upgrade works at the same time as industrial action, heavy snow and a declining national public sector budget.

This keynote presentation will discuss how Veolia worked proactively through the challenges with City of Birmingham to further cement the successful long-standing partnership and resulting in a 5-year contract extension.

Johnny Stuen, City of Oslo Waste-to-Energy Agency Technical Director, will deliver the second keynote presentation: providing an overview of the waste management system in Oslo, volumes technology and development work.

Oslo has optical sorting facilities, one for biological treatment/biogas production, and two WtE plants. The commercial WtE plant is the bigger of the two, and has competed projecting a full-scale carbon capture plant at site, awaiting investment decision.

Mr Stuen will also address why and how the source sorting system works, providing a detailed overview of technology, concept and market work for the biological treatment of organic waste in the system. He will also address regulative processes, development processes and further work.

Attendees will also hear from DELWP’s Angela Hoefnagels, Sustainability Victoria’s Matt Genever, CSIRO’s Daniel Roberts, Recovered Energy’s Ian Guss and ResourceCo’s Henry Anning.

Other discussion topics include WtE in a Circular Economy, Anaerobic Digestion, License to operate, current project updates, project development considerations and future opportunities and developments.

The Forum will also provide an opportunity for organisations to gain visibility and exposure in an interactive conference environment, with a number of social events and networking functions.

For more information click here.

Image curtesy of Paul Benjamin Photography. 

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The handshake agreement

Waste Management Review speaks with Gavin Shapiro, Hones Lawyers Partner, about changing regulation in the C&D sphere.

After a spate of regulatory changes, the NSW EPA published two guidance documents to help the construction and demolition industry strengthen procurement and contract processes around waste disposal.

While not legally binding, the documents serve as a compliance guide for procurement officers and construction principals, with the aim of ensuring appropriate construction and demolition (C&D) waste disposal.

General guidance points include understanding waste streams, questioning quotes that appear too low, checking council development consent and environment protection laws and having clear roles and responsibilities for operators managing waste.

Gavin Shapiro, Hones Lawyers Partner and environmental law specialist, says while the guidelines don’t hold regulatory weight, they do offer useful instruction.

“There’s sound advice in the documents, and while I don’t agree 100 per cent with everything, I think it’s a good effort from the EPA to jolt industry in a positive direction,” he says.

“That said, from my experience, the only thing that pushes parties towards compliance is legal penalties and consequences. Legislation is the big stick the EPA has to wave around to incentivise compliance.”

Gavin notes that the guidelines, Construction and Demolition Waste: A Management Toolkit and Owner’s Guide to Lawful Disposal of Construction and Demolition Waste, follow earlier revisions to C&D waste standards in NSW.

Coming into effect 15 May 2019, the EPA’s Standards for Managing Construction Waste were designed to ensure waste facilities handling C&D implement appropriate processes and procedures to minimise human health and environment risks posed by asbestos.

Under the revised standards, waste facilities dealing with C&D are required to implement a two-stage inspection process to ensure unpermitted waste does not enter the facility.

In an additional layer of legal complexity, the May 2019 standards followed another set of revisions from November 2018.

As the more substantive of the two, the 2018 amendments include restrictions on exhuming waste at current or former landfills and increased penalty notice amounts for asbestos waste offenders.

As reported in Waste Management Review, the standards were devised after multiple investigations and industry feedback, and data analysis revealed a range of ongoing issues in the C&D waste sector.

In a 2016 consultation paper, the NSW EPA noted “poor processes” pose a risk to the community and resource recovery rates.

Issues highlighted include poor inspection and screening processes that failed to remove contaminants from mixed C&D, negligent handling and unprocessed waste sent for non-compliant disposal.

The quick succession of regulatory reforms, paired with the “need” to release detailed guidance documents, highlights an issue of scale for one of Australia’s fasted growing resource recovery sectors.

STRONG RECOMMENDATIONS

Tip three of the EPA’s owner’s guide “strongly recommends waste owners enter into a written contract with the contactor that established waste transport and disposal requirements”.

Tip three goes on to suggest that owners ensure any subcontractual arrangements are in accordance with the contact. While it may seem straightforward, according to Gavin, dodgy waste contracts are a significant issue in the construction sphere.

“There’s two problems. First, construction site principals often sign one contract with the head contractor. The head contractor then subcontacts to a demolition contractor, and the demolition contractor sub-subcontracts to a waste transporter,” Gavin explains.

“It’s very uncommon for the principal to contract with a waste transporter, and realistically, I don’t anticipate that the EPA’s new guidelines will change that – it’s just not how these projects work.”

The second and potentially more challenging problem, Gavin says, is demolition contactors and waste transporters often don’t sign written contracts.   

“It’s often a handshake agreement, which is something I’ve always advised clients against,” he says.

“Pushing parties to sign written contracts and subsequently seeing clear, stringent requirements enforced would be a big positive.”

Despite efforts to encourage to written contracts, Gavin says the “handshake agreement” is an ingrained part of construction culture.

“It’s just the thing that’s always been done – there’s a feeling that if an operator needs a written contract, they don’t trust the other party,” he says.

“But with so many incidents of waste offences and high potential liability, it’s a part of the culture that needs to change.”

Under the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act (POEO), waste generation from C&D sites, including soil and demolition waste, must be disposed of or reused lawfully.

As such, waste owners and waste transporters may both be guilty of an offence when waste is transported to a place that cannot lawfully function as a waste facility. This is the most common form of noncompliance and subsequent prosecution in the waste industry, Gavin says.

The POEO provides a defence for waste owners if the owner can establish the offence was due to causes out of their control and that they exercised due diligence.

Gavin notes however that no-one has successfully argued that defence in NSW for 30 years. He jokes that to successfully mount that defence, an owner would have to prove someone broke into their property, took materials offsite and transported them.

“In all seriousness, a waste owner would have to demonstrate such a high level of due diligence and best practice, plus prove they had no ability to control the waste management process,” he says.

“Fulfilling both those criteria is exceedingly difficult.”

While he believes much of the guideline advice is sound, Gavin cautions against the idea that principals should develop direct contractual relationships with waste transporters. He adds that given the scale of many of the projects in question, direct contracts can introduce untenable legal liability.

Another issue, Gavin says, is that recent C&D reforms have significantly increased risk for facility operators.

“It’s a tug of war between a genuine desire to see environmental protection through heavy regulation and growing resource recovery rates,” he says.

“Finding a middle ground between the two is the million-dollar question.”

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VIC EPA approves Laverton WtE plant

The Victorian EPA has granted a works approval for a waste-to-energy (WtE) plant in Laverton North.

The facility, to be developed by Recovered Energy Australia, will process 200,000 tonnes of source-separated residual municipal solid waste each year.

According to an EPA statement, Recovered Energy Australia propose to deliver approximately 15 mega watts of electricity to the grid annually.

“EPA assessed the proposal against all relevant environmental policies and guidelines and looked at any potential environmental and human health impacts that could result from the facility,” the statement reads.

“The works approval is subject to conditions. These conditions include the requirement for an EPA-appointed auditor to review detailed design, and for further EPA consideration prior to finalising detailed plans.”

Conditions also require the facility to achieve an environmental performance equivalent to European standards.

Recovered Energy Australia has also secured a planning permit from Wyndham City Council to construct and operate the proposed facility, seperate from the EPA works approval.

“Once constructed, Recovered Energy Australia will not be able to operate the waste to energy plant until it obtains an EPA licence,” the statement reads.

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VIC EPA extends battery plant consultation period

The Victorian EPA has extended its consultation period for a battery recycling plant works approval, due to a high level of local interest.

The consultation period has been extended to 52 days, with two extra information sessions held in January.

The development proposal, received from Chunxing Corporation, seeks to recycle the material into 28,000 tonnes of refined lead each year.

The proposal estimates 98 per cent of the lead, plastic and electrolyte (sulfuric acid) in batteries will be recycled.

According to the Chunxing Corporation application, Australia generates roughly 150,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries a year, most of which is sent to four existing facilities.

The application highlights that of the four facilities, only one conducts secondary lead smelting to produce lead product.

“We believe such incomplete ‘recycling’ is unsustainable, and vulnerable to overseas demand and policy changes, similar to the export of kerbside recycling, which collapsed after China introduced its China National Sword Policy,” the application reads.

“We also see this low penetration of ‘full recycling’ in the market as an opportunity.”

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VIC EPA approves Loy Yang landfill expansion

The Victorian EPA has granted a works approval application for an extension to Latrobe City Council’s Hyland Highway Loy Yang Landfill.

According to an EPA statement, the proposed extension includes four new landfill cells within the premise’s current boundaries.

“Under the council’s proposal, landfilling will occur up to February 2033, consistent with the council’s planning permission,” the statement reads.

The EPA assessed the works approval application for potential environmental impacts such as dust, landfill gas, leachate, odour, litter issues and potential land, surface water and ground water contamination risks.

“The approval is subject to conditions, including demonstration it is needed in light of government policy and landfill airspace demands at the time prior to the construction of the new landfill cells,” the statement reads.

Under the approval, council is required to develop and implement odour, groundwater, surface waste and landfill gas monitoring and management plans.

Additionally, council will have to engage an environmental auditor to prepare an environmental audit report before the construction of new landfill cells or a leachate collection pond.

The facility has been operating for 10 years at its current location under EPA Licence No. 25565. It is permitted to dispose of putrescible waste, solid inert waste, asbestos of domestic origin and shredded tyres to be deposited to land.

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VIC EPA to assess battery recycling plant proposal

The Victorian EPA is assessing a works approval application for a battery recycling plant with the capacity to process 50,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries each year.

The development proposal, received from Chunxing Corporation, seeks to recycle the material into 28,000 tonnes of refined lead each year.

The proposal estimates 98 per cent of the lead, plastic and electrolyte (sulfuric acid) in batteries will be recycled.

According to the Chunxing Corporation application, Australia generates roughly 150,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries a year, most of which is sent to four existing facilities.

The application highlights that of the four facilities, only one conducts secondary lead smelting to produce lead product.

“We believe such incomplete ‘recycling’ is unsustainable, and vulnerable to overseas demand and policy changes, similar to the export of kerbside recycling, which collapsed after China introduced its China National Sword Policy,” the application reads.

“We also see this low penetration of ‘full recycling’ in the market as an opportunity.”

Chunxing Corporation intends to engage in ‘full recycling’ to produce lead ingot, a valuable commodity that is returned back to battery manufacturers.

“They plan to secure significant market volumes of used lead acid batteries that are currently partially processed and sent for export, and believe the extra market capacity our plant will provide will lead to the federal Department of the Environment an Energy rejecting some export permits in favour of in-country full recycling options,” the application reads.

Chunxing Corporation’s proposed plant will use a six step process including physical separation, waste acid processing for value added fertiliser, smelting and desulfurisation.

The EPA will assess the proposal against all relevant environmental policies and guidelines and consider any potential environmental and human health impacts that could result from the proposed development, including, but not limited to, air emissions, noise and residual waste management.

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EPA and DELWP review EP Act submissions

The Victorian EPA and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) are encouraged by the level of interest in Victoria’s new environmental regulations and standards, after receiving more than 300 public submissions.

EPA Chief Executive Cathy Wilkinson said feedback has been positive, with suggestions from industry, business and community members on how to improve the regulations.

“It’s fantastic that so many individuals and organisations have taken the time to have their say,” Dr Wilkinson said.

“Their comments will ensure the regulations and standards are sound and robust.”

Taking effect 1 July 2020, the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 represents the most significant change to Victoria’s environmental regulatory regime since the introduction of the Environment Protection Act 1970.

Significant changes include a general environmental duty, which requires all Victorian undertaking an activity with potential environmental and human health risk to identify and implement reasonably practical means to eliminate or minimise risk.

Additional changes include higher penalties for illegal dumping, a public register, improved information sharing with other agencies and third party community rights.

DELWP Executive Director Mark Rodrigues said consultation engaged EPA Industry Reference and Community Groups and local and state government stakeholders.

“We’ve had a great response to the consultation process and this feedback will be invaluable in helping us shape this important legislation to better protect our environment,” Mr Rodrigues said.

According to an EPA statement, the EPA and DELWP are now reviewing all submissions, and have committed to responding through the Victorian Government’s Response to Public Comment Report in 2020.

“Feedback that goes beyond the scope of public comment on proposed regulations and standards will be considered in light of EPA’s broader transformation program,” the statement reads.

The Response to Public Comment Report will be released on the Engage Victoria website in early 2020.

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