NSW set to remove asbestos waste levy

The NSW Government is working to remove the asbestos waste levy to facilitate easier and cheaper legal disposal.

The NSW Asbestos Waste Strategy 2019-21, released by Environment Minister Matt Kean earlier this month, aims to reduce the illegal and improper disposal of asbestos waste.

According to Mr Kean, the strategy was developed after findings showed that asbestos waste accounts for up to eight per cent of illegally dumped waste across the state.

“The safe and lawful management of asbestos waste is a priority for this government, and that means making legal disposal of asbestos waste easier and cheaper,” Mr Kean said.

“To do this, we will work to increase the number of facilities which can lawfully receive asbestos waste, and make it cheaper to dispose of asbestos by removing the waste levy on separated, bonded and wrapped asbestos waste up to 250 kilograms.”

Mr Kean said the strategy also sets out plans to disrupt unlawful asbestos dumping by increasing risk for bad operators.

“Illegally dumped asbestos poses a threat to human health and our environment and results in significant clean-up costs,” Mr Kean said.

“We will monitor repeat offenders with GPS trackers to deter illegal dumping and cancel vehicle registration for people caught doing the wrong thing.”

The maximum penalty for illegal dumping of asbestos in NSW is $2 million for corporations and $500,000 for individuals.

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Levy reform urgently needed

A national approach to levy pricing, adoption of the levy portability principle by all jurisdictions, and more transparent management of levy funds are urgently required, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. 

Waste or landfill levies are a key regulatory tool used to improve recycling and fund environmental liabilities from waste generation. They have a significant effect on both the commercial environment of nearly every waste and recycling business and community behaviour. They also generate significant amounts of funds for each jurisdiction. Therefore, carefully considered levy regulations nationwide are essential to advancing Australia towards a circular economy.

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has recently undertaken a review of the current status of waste and landfill levies across Australia (see www.nwric.com.au). It examines by jurisdiction, how much the levies are, what waste types are levied, where and when they apply, how they are administered, the amount of funds raised each year and how these funds are spent.

It also analysed the impacts and benefits of these levies on waste and recycling outcomes across Australia and identified a number of issues that need to be addressed urgently to ensure the levies achieve what they were set out to do and not drive waste down the hierarchy.

Waste/landfill levies were first introduced in 1971 by NSW at a $0.56 per tonne. Since then South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland have introduced levies. In 2018-19 rates ranged in price from $0 to $250 with an estimated $1.13 billion raised. In 2019-20 this is expected to increase to $1.54 billion with the introduction of the waste levy in Queensland. This will equate to approximately $58 per capita per year, up from $39 per capita per year in 2018-19.

Of the $1.13 billion funds raised in 2018-19, an estimated $282 million or 25 per cent nationally was reinvested into activities relating to waste and recycling, state EPA’s or climate change (in the case of Victoria). At a state level the reinvestment rate of the levy ranged from 10.9 per cent in NSW, 25 per cent in WA, 66 per cent in Victoria to 73 per cent in South Australia. Funds not reinvested were either retained in consolidated revenue (as in the case of NSW and WA) or retained in nominated funds such as Victoria’s Sustainability Fund, SA’s Green Industries Fund or SA’s Environment Protection Fund where some of the funds may be invested in various non-waste or recycling related environmental activities.

In 2019-20 it is estimated that of the $1.54 billion in funds raised, around $569 million or 37 per cent will be reinvested into waste and recycling activities. This increase can largely be attributed to the Queensland government’s commitment to reinvest over 70 per cent of the levy, with local councils receiving 105 per cent of their levy contribution

On the positive side, the levies have increased resource recovery over time and enabled the commercial development of local resource recovery businesses including material recovery facilities, processing facilities for plastics, paper, cardboard, glass, timber, organics, alternate waste treatment plants and waste-to-energy facilities for fuel manufacture, thermal and electricity generation.

The levies have also funded various waste and recycling initiatives. These range from state EPA and local government environmental compliance activities, community and business waste and recycling education campaigns, research and development, data collection, construction of new infrastructure by local government and private enterprise, to cleaning up waste and pollution generated from illegal actions.

On the negative side however, differentials in levies across regions and between states has created a levy avoidance industry, both legal and illegal, resulting in potentially recyclable material ending up in landfill, and hazardous material being disposed of inappropriately. This has become big business particularly in NSW and WA due to the significant variability of levy rates for solid, hazardous and liquid wastes. It is estimated that between 1.5 million to three million tonnes of waste has been transported per annum either significant distances to landfills where levies do not apply, dumped into the environment, stockpiled or in the case of hazardous wastes hidden or mislabelled to reduce or avoid state levies.

Key learnings from this analysis are the vastly different approaches states and territories take to levies. This ranges from how much is charged between regions and states, what wastes are levied (e.g. solid, liquid, hazardous or prescribed) and how they are defined, where liability for the levy is charged, how the levy is administered and how levy funds are managed and reinvested into activities to improve waste and recycling practices and reported on.

Of major concern is the lack of transparency in most jurisdictions of how many funds are collected per year, how and where they are invested in waste and recycling activities and assessment of the effectiveness of the investment in achieving waste and recycling strategies and targets.

The NWRIC believes there is an urgent need to reform the current state levy structures, pricing, administration and investment management. It is critical this reform is done in a coordinated manner between all state and territories to remove interstate inconsistencies that are clearly driving poor waste disposal behaviours contrary to the objects of the levy to increase resource recovery and environmental protection.

This will be the only way to ensure the best return on investment of levy funds in delivering better waste management and resource outcomes expected by the community.

This article appeared in the October edition of Waste Management Review, some figures have been changed. 

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Location, location, location essential to the future of C&D

Construction recyclers do most of the heavy lifting in Australian recycling, but several stones remain in the gears to drive its future, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The trend isn’t hard to spot, behind the successful recycling strategy of any city are construction and demolition (C&D) recycling companies recovering large material volumes. C&D waste generation in 2016-17 (the latest year available) was just over 20 million tonnes nationally, or 38 per cent of the waste produced in Australia by weight.

Recovery of C&D materials across major urban centres can be as high as 90 per cent. So C&D recyclers have taken a hard problem, and over the last decade, have thoroughly crushed it.

Despite this welcome progress, many stones remain in the gears that drive its future development.

In 2019, the NWRIC undertook a survey of key C&D recyclers to determine barriers to advancing recycling in this sector. Our research identified six key areas for improvement:

  1. Implementation of effective specifications for the use of recycled aggregates in infrastructure construction
  2. Competition with virgin products
  3. Inconsistent landfill levies and insufficient enforcement resulting in levy avoidance
  4. Planning frameworks which often fail to provide certainty of site tenure
  5. Poor waste data that can inhibit policy and investment decisions
  6. Market economics that inhibit greater recovery of C&D materials in regional areas

While several of these challenges are self-explanatory, a few are worth discussing in detail.

The first is that local and state land use planning can fail to provide the site tenure required for some of the state’s highest performing C&D recovery facilities. This is a major challenge, as for C&D recovery facilities to be financially sustainable, they must be set close to urban centres where the waste materials are generated and eventually reused. Minimising transport distances is a key driver to the success of these facilities.

Likewise, these facilities require a reasonable footprint to be able to manage the flow of materials through the process; from receival, sorting, processing to stockpiling the various grades of final products ready for reuse.

Unfortunately, many of these sites across Australia are being threatened by encroachment of urban or commercial development, and in some cases, are being closed by local councils to create parks.

To solve this problem, the NWRIC recommends that current waste and recycling infrastructure plans that provide for C&D recycling be formally incorporated into local and state planning regulations, so that precincts or green zones for such facilities are clearly identified and protected for the long term. To be effective, the location and duration of tenure of these ‘green zones’ must be agreed by all levels of government.

A second major challenge is waste levy avoidance in the C&D recovery sector. Construction recyclers charge a gate fee to cover the cost of sorting and processing the materials they receive. This gate fee must be lower than the cost of landfill. To reach this cost, typically a landfill levy is required.

Unfortunately, where there are landfill levies, there is also levy avoidance resulting in potentially recyclable material being dumped or transported vast distances outside levy zones. One prominent example is the illegal waste stockpile in Lara, Victoria. This site contains a massive stockpile of up to 320,000 cubic meters of construction and demolition waste, including materials such as timber, concrete, bricks, plaster, glass and ceramics.

If one cubic meter weighs half a tonne, then this stockpile represents a loss of more than $10 million in levy revenue.  To clean up this illegal dump of C&D waste, the Victorian Government has committed $30 million, the largest waste related budget item for Victoria in 2019.

To ensure the success of the C&D recovery sector, states must address levy avoidance urgently. Possible solutions include better inter-agency engagement (across Police, EPAs and the ATO) to monitor and prevent illegal activity, and more widespread use of regulatory tools like mass balance reporting and GPS tracking.  Setting levies so any differences do not encourage its movement from one region or state to another, or applying the levy portability principle (i.e. the levy liability is a point of generation not disposal) both within and across state and territory boundaries.

Finally, C&D recovery providers can also help to support other recycling streams, including the recovery and reuse of tyres, glass and used plastics. Where these products are not suitable for cradle to cradle recycling, they can be reused as a substitute material for civil construction works. This further diversifies the market opportunities for these recovered materials, which in the past have relied on limited opportunities locally and internationally, ended up in landfill or illegally dumped.

This is why integration of state resource recovery infrastructure plans into local and state land use planning regulations is critical to the future success of C&D resource recovery. By securing space and long term tenure for these facilities states and territories will ensure a viable industry that can supply materials to the ongoing infrastructure development and construction needs of Australia.

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QLD levy comes into effect

The Queensland Government’s waste levy has come into effect, bringing Queensland in line with the majority of Australian states and territories.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said prior to the levy’s reintroduction Queensland was the only mainland state without a waste levy.

The levy will apply to most commercial and industrial waste going to landfill – starting at $75 per tonne.

The levy zone includes 39 out of 77 local government areas, which covers an estimated 90 per cent of Queensland’s population.

Ms Enoch said the government had employed extra compliance officers to ensure businesses were following new waste management legislation.

“The Department of Environment and Science will have 16 extra staff on the ground with more to come, which will help to prevent illegal dumping across the state,” Ms Enoch said.

Waste Management & Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said WMRR appreciated the state governments collaboration with industry throughout the levy development and implementation process.

“Queensland may have to play catch up on a number of waste management and resource recovery fronts, but the process the state government has undertaken in the lead‐up to the levy reintroduction is certainly one that other jurisdictions can and should learn from,” Ms Sloan said.

“The government did not rush into this, but instead heeded the advice of stakeholders and provided time for industry and councils to make the necessary adjustments and prepare for the levy.”

According to Ms Sloan, the state government have committed to reinvest 70 per cent of levy funds into the waste industry to drive investment in the domestic remanufacturing sector.

“WMRR recognises change is not easy, we know business as usual is not an option and we believe that the Queensland Government is to be congratulated for this move,” Ms Sloan said.

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QLD waste levy start date pushed back

The start date to the Queensland waste levy has been pushed back to 1 July 2019 and will have a higher price per tonne.

Originally scheduled to start on 4 March 2019, the waste levy will now start at $75 per tonne with the date of levy increments proposed to be moved to 1 July each year.

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Consultation about the waste levy was undertaken by the Queensland Government over several months, which found that stakeholders and local governments have asked for a later start date.

It has also committed 70 per cent of revenue raised through the levy will go towards councils, the waste industry, scheme start-up and environmental programs.

Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said delaying the start of the levy and changing the increment dates required the state government to adjust the waste levy rate to ensure it doesn’t fall behind other states.

“We are a consultative government and want to ensure the implementation of the waste levy is as smooth as possible for local councils, industry and for Queensland,” Ms Enoch said.

Ms Enoch also ensured Queenslanders would not have to pay more for their weekly council collections, as advanced payments would be provided to councils.

Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam said the state government has worked cooperatively with the association and is pleased to have reached a pragmatic outcome to ensure local governments are ready for the waste levy.

“A 1 July start date, even if that means a slightly higher rate, is exactly what we asked government for, and it’s good news for Queensland councils,” Mr Hallam said.

“The waste levy will help us advance toward a zero-waste future by 2035 and we thank the government for listening to our concerns about timing.”

Waste and Recycling Industry Queensland CEO Rick Ralph said he understood that more time for councils also means more time for industry to be ready and for the right regulatory structures to be put in place.

“The waste and recycling industry is getting on with the job of preparing for the waste levy and we’ll continue to work closely with the government to ensure the levy is implemented well,” Mr Ralph said.

The Queensland Government has also announced it will provide $6 million in extra funding to expand the Community Sustainability Action Grants Program to cover waste.

An additional $1 million will go towards a resource recovery Industries Roadmap and Action Plan and $6 million for a regional recycling transport assistance program.

QLD State of the Environment report highlights interstate waste

The Queensland Government has released its 2018 State of the Environment report, highlighting interstate waste as a pressure on the state’s landfills.

Relatively low costs of landfill disposal in Queensland are said to be the motivator for cross-border flow of waste in the report.

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More than 1.26 million tonnes of domestic waste, 2.146 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste (C&D), and 1.443 million tonnes of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste was sent to landfill in 2016-17.

Of this, 53,000 tonnes of domestic waste, 640,000 tonnes of C&D waste and 23,000 tonnes of C&I waste was generated interstate and transported to Queensland landfills.

The amount of trackable waste received from interstate also increased from around 13,000 tonnes in 2011-12 to 52,200 tonnes in 2015-16.

Littering and illegal dumping is also highlighted as a serious environmental pressure, with reports suggesting the problem as widespread throughout Queensland.

The average number of litter items was found to be higher in Queensland than other Australian stats, particularly at beaches, retail strips and recreational areas.

Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the increase in the amount of interstate waste was proof that that Queensland needed a waste levy.

“The state government’s waste management strategy will stop interstate waste and increase investment in the industry to encourage more recycling and create jobs,” Ms Enoch said.

Queensland opens $100M funding program for waste and recycling

A new $100 million program has been opened in Queensland that aims to improve the state’s recycling, resource recovery and biofutures industries.

The Resource Recovery Industry Development Program is designed to encourage removing waste from landfill, with the Queensland Government calling for interested parties to come forward with project proposals.

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Three streams are offered to capture projects across a variety of scales and levels of support.

Stream one is a rounds-based capital grants scheme with dollar-for dollar grants available up to $5 million to provide funding for infrastructure projects in new processing and technological capabilities.

The second stream is a broad incentives stream to attract or expand major resource recovery operations to divert waste from landfill.

A third stream will involve funding towards capital-intensive, long lifecycle projects which require support for investigations for final investment decisions.

Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Cameron Dick said the funding was made available over three years to develop a high value resource recovery and recycling industry.

“Our aim is to make Queensland a world leader in projects involving resource recovery, recycling and the re-manufacturing of materials to turn waste to energy,” Mr Dick said.

“Economically, we know such projects have the potential to generate new jobs for our communities and build confidence for business to invest in Queensland, and we know encouraging investment and innovation in the waste industry will also deliver long-term benefits environmentally.

“This program is another demonstration of the State Government supporting investment in Queensland through reducing waste going to landfill, and another leap forward in our journey towards a zero-waste future.”

Mr Dick said the projects will also create new products from waste, growing industry and reducing the impact on the environment.

“This funding will be available to support local governments and existing businesses and will attract new major projects to Queensland,” he said.

“Applications are also welcome from consortia: businesses or local governments working together on plans to deliver integrated projects.”

Minister for Environment Leeanne Enoch said this program was part of the Queensland Government’s long-term vision to attract investment, develop new industries and grow jobs.

“We have a real opportunity to improve waste management practices in Queensland,” she said.

“Research indicates that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste that goes to landfill, less than three jobs are supported. But if that same waste was recycled, more than nine jobs would be supported.

“That is why our Government is moving towards a comprehensive waste management strategy, underpinned by a waste disposal levy. Last week we introduced legislation into Queensland Parliament and we are now one step closer to stopping interstate waste being dumped here in our state and encouraging more investment in industry,” Ms Enoch said.

Waste Recycling Industry Queensland CEO Rick Ralph said the funding announcement is critical to investment decisions proceeding.

“It now provides Queensland industry the opportunity to develop and create new jobs by driving economic growth that in turn will reshape the state as Australia’s leading secondary resources and recycling capital.”

Expressions of interest for stream one will remain open until 5 October, with funding through streams two and three available through application. The Queensland Government aims to have the first projects funded within the first half of 2019.

For more information, click here.

Queensland waste levy introduced into parliament

Queensland’s waste levy is one step closer as the legislation has been introduced into parliament.

It aims to stop trucks from New South Wales dumping waste in Queensland and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill while also encouraging more recycling jobs.

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A levy existed in Queensland until 2012, when it was removed, making it the only mainland state without a levy.

The new levy will begin on 4 March 2019 at a rate of $70 per tonne for general waste.

In the 2018-2019 state budget, the Queensland Government committed $32 million in advance payments to councils to ensure residents would not have to pay more for their waste.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 will allow the government to invest in waste management and recycling.

“We are providing advance payments to councils that covers 105% of the cost of their municipal waste,” Ms Enoch said.

“This means councils are being paid more than the cost of what they actually send to landfill every year.

“Councils will have no reason to increase rates because of the waste levy – we are giving them more than enough funding to cover this. In fact, councils could choose to use the extra funds to increase their waste management services,” she said.

Ms Enoch said that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste that go to landfill, less than three jobs are supported, compared with nine if that amount was recycled.

Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said that WMAA sees this as a great opportunity to grow and develop the resource recovery sector in Queensland, creating jobs and investment in the state.

“This will bring Queensland back in line with the majority of Australian states, and it is a step towards creating a level playing field across the country that industry so desperately needs,” Ms Sloan said.

Waste Recycling Industry Queensland Chief Executive Officer Rick Ralph said  industry and all levels of government have a critical role in delivering the objectives of Queensland’s new waste strategy.

“We are committed to realising council and the State Government’s future direction on waste, and to reshape Queensland to become Australia’s leading secondary resources and recycling state,” Mr Ralph said.

Levy Loopholes

Australian Landfill Owners Association Chief Executive Officer Colin Sweet highlights some of the potential loopholes that could see the interstate waste transport issue remain in Queensland, among numerous other financial and health risks for operators.

Read moreLevy Loopholes

Queensland councils receive $5M to get levy ready

In a move to get Queensland Councils levy ready, the State Government will invest $5 million before the introduction of the waste disposal levy on 4 March 2019.

Local governments can apply for funding under the 2018-19 Local Government Levy Ready Grant Program to support infrastructure improvements at waste disposal facilities.

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The program will be open for submissions between 31 August and 12 October 2018.

Possible examples of infrastructure are fencing, security cameras, traffic control, weighbridges, gatehouses, upgrading IT or signage.

The grant program is being administered by the department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs on behalf of the Department of Environment and Science.

Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Queensland Government want to ensure councils have efficient, accurate and secure levy collection and landfill facilities.

“Local councils with waste disposal facilities where annual disposal of more than 5,000 tonnes of waste is allowed can apply for infrastructure funding for weighbridges and gatehouses,” Ms Enoch said.

“The Queensland Government is committed to making sure there is no impact on municipal waste collection through the introduction of the waste levy.

“There will be no extra cost to putting your wheelie bin on the footpath each week, and we are keeping that commitment,” she said.

Ms Enoch said Queensland’s new waste disposal levy would also lead to the creation of jobs, local waste management and resource recovery solutions, and market development, particularly in regional areas.

“This will provide a growing incentive for the community and business to take advantage of expanding resource recovery and recycling options across the state,” she said.

“The levy will also bring Queensland in line with New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, which have similar levies.

Queensland introduced a waste levy in 2011, which saw resource recovery companies investing in new recycling and processing infrastructure, however it was later repealed.

Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the amount of waste generated in Queensland was increasing faster than Queensland’s population was growing.

“Reintroducing a waste disposal levy is part of our broader strategy to improve waste recycling and recovery and support jobs growth,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

“Our local councils will play a key role in helping their communities reduce waste and increase resource recovery.”

For more information about the grant program, click here.

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