Final weeks for public feedback on the future of waste in NSW

Over 10,000 people have already provided a submission on the NSW Government’s plan to tackle the use of plastics, reduce waste and pollution and increase recycling across the state.

There are currently two papers open for consultation until Friday, May 8.

The issues paper Cleaning Up Our Act: The Future for Waste and Resource Recovery in NSW was released for public consultation last month, to help shape the development of the NSW 20-Year Waste Strategy.

The NSW Plastics Plan discussion paper outlines actions to reduce single-use plastics in NSW and help the shift towards a circular economy. 

For more information on the policy proposals click here.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said in a statement that the plan is crucial considering in 2018-19, 60 per cent of all littered items were made from plastic and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish. 

The second paper open for public submissions is the Cleaning Up Our Act: The Future for Waste and Resource Recovery in NSW issues paper.

The Cleaning Up Our Act plan outlines options to reduce waste and increase recycling, guides the opportunities and strategic direction for future waste and recycling infrastructure, and for growing sustainable end markets for recycled materials. 

A NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment spokesperson said there has been a fantastic response to the consultations on the 20 Year Waste Strategy and Plastics Plan.

“We have received thousands of submissions and encourage more people to have their say, with consultation running until 8 May,” the Department spokesperson said.

The Department spokesperson said to adapt during COVID-19, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has moved planned face to face engagement, to hold online forums and a webinar. 

“The online forums allowed participants to take an in-depth look at the issues and opportunities presented by the 20 Year Waste Strategy and Plastics Plan papers, with a strong level of engagement from industry, councils, peak bodies and government agencies,” they said.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will analyse all submissions following the closure of the consultation period next month.

“Submissions will be analysed and taken into consideration when developing the 20 Year Waste Draft Strategy and there will be an opportunity to provide feedback on the draft strategy in late 2020,” the Department spokesperson said.

“The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is looking forward to analysing the submissions and developing an innovative and impactful 20 Year Waste Draft Strategy in late 2020.”

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Recycling Victoria: a new economy? Part one

The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.

This article is the first in a three part series: part one will explore Victoria’s landfill levy increase and four-bin kerbside system. 

In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.

The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.

Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.

Key highlights include a $100 million investment in the state’s recycling system to drive research and expand local processing and manufacturing and the introduction of a state-wide four bin kerbside system.

When announcing the policy, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Recycling Victoria would help local businesses “give new life to old rubbish” and drive positive environmental outcomes for the state.

According to Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO, the policy is a signal that government has listened to industry and the community.

“From cleaning up what goes into the bins, improving local processing capacity and remanufacturing and growing local market demand for recovered materials, through to more resources to stop illegal waste activities and a recognition that waste and recycling is an essential service, the state government is committed to addressing the basic systemic issues facing Victoria,” she says.

Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, is similarly supportive, with the policy making headway into key areas VWMA has long advocated for.

“In particular, it’s promising to see Victoria commit to catching up with other states and territories on the container deposit scheme (CDS) front and making important investments into a level playing field by strengthening the EPA’s waste crime capabilities,” he says.

Mark is cautious about implementation however, suggesting Recycling Victoria does not allocate enough money to the private sector.

“We’ve seen VAGO report after VAGO report highlighting the deficiencies in government agencies to deliver waste and resource recovery programs. One way I think we can improve is by government seeing the private sector as a true partner for community engagement and education,” he says.

“It would be appropriate that we see quarterly reporting back to industry on the progress of this ambitious policy, as a way to hold government accountable for the delivery of the relevant actions”.

LOOKING TO THE LEVY

Under Recycling Victoria, the state’s landfill levy is set to almost double, jumping from $65.90 to $125.90 per tonne over three years. Recognising the challenges associated with the ‘tyranny of distance’, the strategy notes proportional increases will be reflected at regional landfills.

While the move prompted some mainstream media critique, with claims it would “hit ratepayers hip pockets”, industry reaction has been favourable.

Bingo Industries Managing Director Daniel Tartak, for example, suggests the increase will prompt technology investment and move Victoria towards international best practice diversion rates.

According to State Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the increase will help support recycling reforms and provide strong investment incentives. Furthermore, Ms D’Ambrosio highlights the increase as a mechanism to stop cross-border dumping, with Victoria’s levy historically lower than neighbouring states.

According to David Cocks, MRA Consulting Victoria Manager, harmonising Victoria’s levy with other jurisdictions is an essential move to help the state meet its resource recovery targets.

“The risk of significant impacts on our waste management system through the transportation of waste is absolutely critical. Plus, from the perspective of supporting investment in recycling, there is nothing like a good economic incentive, and the waste levy certainly supports that,” he says.

 “Additionally, when hypothecated, levies provide a significant opportunity for investment back into the sector to support higher order activities.”

While David says the strategy flags the role of hypothecation, the “sting in the tail” is that investment needs to come through.

“At the moment, circa $300 million has been foreshadowed as additional investment in the sector. But in three years time, the levy increase will produce an additional $240 million per annum – on top of what is already collected,” he says.

“Over the 10-year period of the strategy, these levy increases will realise $2 billion in additional revenue for the state. What is the proportional amount of this revenue to invest back into the sector? Is it 15 per cent or $300 million? I don’t think so.”

Rose says the increase is well overdue, highlighting that the NWRIC has consistently advocated for levy harmonisation to prevent inappropriate movement and disposal of waste.

“The proposed increase will reduce the gap in levy prices between states and encourage greater recovery of recyclable materials. It will also enable energy recovery from waste that can’t be recycled but does have a significant calorific value,” she says.

Furthermore, while Rose says staging the implementation over three years is sensible, NWRIC is recommending that the price increase be deferred for up to six months due to the impacts of COVID-19.

However, like David, Rose stresses the importance of hypothecation.

As highlighted in the NWRIC’s review of all state landfill levies last year, Victoria collected an estimated $215 million in levies in 2017-18, of which only $35 million or 16 per cent was invested back into local council, community and industry waste projects via the Sustainability Fund.

An estimated $104 million (50 per cent) was used to fund the Victorian EPA, Sustainability Victoria and Regional Waste Groups.

“In reviewing the Victorian state government budgets and financial reports, it is extremely difficult to get a clear view of where the levy funds are spent and what is achieved. As part of its landfill levy review, the NWRIC is calling on each state government to establish a separate trust fund and report annually on funds raised, spent and outcomes achieved,” Rose says.

“For too long these funds have been used to support other government activities outside the waste and resource recovery sector, rather than supporting better waste management practices and greater reuse of recycled materials.”

According to Mark, industry is supportive of the increase, under the caveat that the state government delivers the increase while monitoring compliance.

“In recent years we’ve seen government invest more money cleaning up illegal activity than what flows back to private operators who are the main employer and investor in the waste and resource recovery sector,” he says.

“It would be great to have more transparency on landfill levy collection and in particular distribution, including being transparent about what amount the government puts down compared to the private sector. Who gets what exactly shouldn’t be so hard to decipher. I think the NSW Government does this well, and it’s something Sustainability Victoria and DELWP could replicate.”

KERBSIDE REVAMP:

While the levy increase attracted much of the waste sector’s initial attention, scaling outward, it was the four bin kerbside roll-out that peaked major public interest.

The new system will include bins for combined food and garden organics (FOGO), glass, combined paper, plastic and metals, and residual waste. Additionally, all services and bins will be standardised, including lid colours, to simplify the system across councils.

Reforms will be implemented gradually, with the Victorian Government supporting the rollout of new glass bins and bin lids from 2021. According to the strategy, all Victorians will have a new glass bin or access to glass services by 2027. Mandatory rollout of FOGO recovery will commence in 2026-7, with all Victorians to have access by 2030.

“To support the reforms, the Victorian Government will review relevant existing guidelines, policies and regulation to make sure people living in diverse dwelling types, including multi-unit developments, have equitable access to best practice recycling,” the strategy reads.

Mark says while it’s great to see a commitment to standardising bins, the program should be brought forward.

“As I understand it, consistency across Victoria is unlikely to happen until 2025,” he says.

Furthermore, Mark says changes to the kerbside system should be well-funded and accompanied by a consistent public education campaign.

“I hope the agencies rolling out these reforms give the private sector the appropriate opportunities to inform and shape messaging, as the private sector has far more direct contact with the public then the state government does on this front,” he adds.

While the announcement might seem novel to the general public, it follows years of industry discussion over the viability of greater source separation. In the last two years for instance, Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Yarra City Council and Hobsons Bay have introduced and/or trialed four kerbside bins, to positive results.

Speaking with Waste Management Review in 2019, Chris Leivers, Yarra City Council Director City Works and Assets, said the council’s 2018 FOGO trial identified Yarra residents as willing to engage in new kerbside recycling systems. The trial was so successful, he said, that Yarra saw a 40 per cent increase in diversion from landfill, “with current FOGO contamination rates now averaging less than one per cent.”

A spokesperson for the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) highlights the new system as a positive initial step to ensure better material separation.

“Cross contamination of resources is a barrier to effective resource recovery, and the separation of glass is an effective way to reduce that cross contamination,” the spokesperson says.

“We have also called for the standardisation of bin lid colours in the past, so it is great to see the government taking up our recommendation.”

Furthermore, the spokesperson says greater source separation will result in reduced overheads and operating costs for recyclers.

“Greater separation, and therefore less contamination, means recyclers don’t need to reject as much material, therefore getting a better return based on increased volume of material recovered. This will be beneficial for councils in terms of increased shared returns,” the spokesperson explains.

To support councils through the roll out, VLGA is calling on the state government to support community education and initiatives to increases FOGO diversion.

“We specifically asked the government to fund these initiatives through the landfill levy. We also asked the government to support councils through procurement of products made with recycled materials,” the spokesperson says.

While David shares similar sentiments, calling source separation the most cost-effective way to recover resources, he says the state government needs to show evidence that a fourth bin for glass is the right move.

“They haven’t demonstrated a successful business case for that. They may have done the work, but it hasn’t been put forth. There are numbers stated in the policy, but I would like to see where they’ve done that analysis,” he says.

“Perhaps the fourth bin should be for paper and card, especially considering that a future CDS will remove a lot of glass from the kerbside bin.”

Rose also cautions that Victoria’s fourth glass bin is out of step with other states and territories, “making it nationally inconsistent and confusing for the community at large.”

“The NWRIC believes the majority of glass containers would be better dealt with through a CDS, as is being done by other states and territories. However, the fourth bin does mean better separation at source,” she says.

To help industry processes these materials, Rose says the Victorian Government should align with the WA State-wide Guidelines for Kerbside Recycling.

“In the case of Victoria, only the following items should end up in the yellow lidded bin: plastic containers, paper and cardboard boxes flattened (no shredded paper), aluminium and steel containers. All education messages should be consistently applied by local governments across the state to reflect this,” she says.

“The messaging needs to be simple and clear, reinforcing the right behaviours both within households and businesses. Industry should also have the ability to reject bins and loads that do not meet these requirements.”

From a logistics standpoint, Jillian Riseley, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) Chief Executive Officer, says MWRRG will continue to work with councils to implement the changes to their services. She adds that each council is in a slightly different situation, from those with food waste recycling and a glass bin collection already in place, through to those with neither.

“We continue to engage with councils and work with them to map and deliver resource recovery and waste services for their communities. Specifically, we are collaborating with councils on their development of transition plans,” Jillian says.

“In March we hosted a workshop with council waste officers to help them outline a process for the development of transition plans. Our collaborative procurement, contract management, education, training and marketing and communications expertise will support councils throughout the transition.”

Jillian adds that Recycling Victoria is a once in a generation investment.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to ensure we build a more sustainable, resilient sector with new jobs and opportunities for locally delivered resource recovery,” she says.

“Increased kerbside consistency and future state-wide education and behaviour change campaigns will reinforce the work councils already do to engage with their communities.”

Next week’s instalment will explore the forthcoming CDS, waste as an essential service and Victoria’s proposed waste-to-energy cap. We’ll also hear from Claire Ferres Miles, Chief Executive Officer, Sustainability Victoria. 

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LGNSW calls on state govt to fast-track funding

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) is calling on the state government to fast-track its commitment to fund constructive and future-focused recycling measures in this year’s budget.

LGNSW President Linda Scott said the sector welcomed the government’s long-term proposals to tackle the use of plastics, reduce waste and increase recycling, but increased investment “must start now.”

“The government’s proposed review of the waste levy is great news, but the national waste ban targets designed to reduce waste start on 1 July. There is no time to lose,” she said.

“For two years, councils have been asking for the waste levy (estimated at $800 million this year) to be reinvested for the purposes it is collected.”

According to Ms Scott, this year’s $800 million waste levy should be immediately invested in maintaining and improving kerbside recycling options throughout the state.

“Communities cannot be expected to continue to underwrite the increasing costs associated with our growing waste problems, including increased stockpiles of recyclable waste,” she said.

“The levy needs to be spent on local resource recovery and reprocessing infrastructure projects that can be put in place in this year’s budget to reduce the prospect of stockpiles of rubbish in our streets.”

Ms Scott said a well-funded and coordinated plan that leverages the buying power of all levels of government is a good first step, and long overdue.

“It’s time to rewrite existing regulations and procurement policies, which we know continue to stymy innovation and the development of new recycled products and markets,” she said.

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NSW proposes levy amendments and mandated govt procurement

The NSW Government will investigate waste levy amendments to ensure regulatory settings remain fit for purpose, according to the state’s newly released 20-Year Waste Strategy consultation paper.

According to the paper, the state government will review waste levy boundaries, levy exemption for problem wastes, national levy harmonisation and complementary price-based instruments such as pay-as-you-throw initiatives.

The paper also proposes standardised collection systems for households and businesses, place-based infrastructure development, waste benchmarks for the commercial sector and potential government procurement targets.

The announcement comes as the state government opens consultation on two draft strategies: the 20-Year Waste Strategy and Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW.

Citing 2018 waste generation figures, Environment Minister Matt Kean said the state’s waste industry needs to be more sustainable, reliable and affordable.

“We need a smarter approach that makes use of all the levers available to us. We need to drive sustainable product design and waste reduction, and maximise the amount of used material that is recirculated safely back into the productive economy,” he said.

According to Mr Kean, the 20-Year Waste Strategy canvasses options to reduce waste and increase recycling, outlines opportunities and strategic direction for future waste and recycling infrastructure and seeks to grow sustainable end markets for recycled materials.

“The 20-Year Waste Strategy will be a vehicle that not only enables the state, businesses and the community to improve our approach to waste. It is also intended to generate new economic opportunities, reduce costs to citizens and businesses through a smarter approach, and increase our resilience to external shocks,” he said.

The NSW Plastics Plan, Mr Kean said, outlines a clear pathway to reduce single-use, unnecessary and problematic plastics.

According to the discussion paper, potential priority directions include making plastic producers more responsible for collection and recycling, and mandating 30 per cent minimum recycled content in plastic packing by 2025.

“It sets the stage for the phase-out of priority single-use plastics, tripling the proportion of plastic recycled by 2030, reducing plastic litter by a quarter and making our state a leader in plastics research and development,” Mr Kean said.

“Lightweight plastic bags are proposed to be phased out six months from the passage of legislation, with other timelines to be determined after feedback from the public consultation process.”

Local Government NSW President Linda Scott said the proposals were far-ranging and far-sighted, offering smart and innovative state-based solutions to Australia’s growing “waste and recycling crisis.”

“Together, NSW local governments have been campaigning to save recycling since 2018 – and it is clear Environment Minister Matt Kean and the Premier have not only listened, but heard our call,” she said.

“For two years councils have been asking for the waste levy to be reinvested for the purpose it is collected, and the Premier’s announcement that this levy will now be reviewed is very welcome news.”

According to Ms Scott, steps to reduce waste, including banning plastic bags in 2021, will play a critical role in helping to create a circular economy.

“Joining with the Commonwealth to fund council-led waste and recycling infrastructure proposals will help ensure our waste is managed more sustainably, creating jobs in NSW,” she said.

“Increasing state and local government procurement of recycled goods, while leveraging off existing procurement platforms, is long overdue. Local governments are also very supportive of state-wide education campaigns so everyone is able to do their bit to reduce waste and increase recycling.”

Waste Management & Resource Recovery Association Australia CEO Gayle Sloan said with plastics at the forefront of the community’s mind, it’s encouraging that NSW is looking to align with other jurisdictions to design out unnecessary single-use items.

“It also appears that NSW is prepared to go further, with mandated recycled content of 30 per cent by 2025, and emphasis on designing out waste and making producers take greater responsibility for collecting and recycling in NSW, including the possible use of more extended producer responsibility schemes,” Ms Sloan said.

“These are all positive policies that may result in less reliance on councils and householders to meet the costs of these schemes.”

Consultation closes 8 May.

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ACOR reveals only eight per cent of waste levy revenue is reinvested

Only eight per cent of the $2.6 billion collected in waste levies over the last two years has been reinvested in recycling infrastructure and technology, according to new analysis by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

An ACOR statement reveals that in 2018 and 2019, a total of $446,093,088 in waste and resource recovery grants funding was given or pledged by state and federal governments.

According to the statement, this expenditure compares to $2.67 billion collected in waste levies by mainland state governments over the 18/19 and 19/20 financial years, representing 16.7 per cent.

“Of the $446.1 million given or pledged in funding, 50.5 per cent was allocated to infrastructure-related initiatives and reprocessing-related initiatives. This represents around 8 per cent of the collected waste levies. Less than $100m of the $225m has actually been given to recipients to date,” the statement reads.

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel said governments set waste levies up with the explicit aim of incentivising waste reduction.

“But more than 80 per cent of these state-based levies are ending up in consolidated revenue or other purposes,” he said.

“This is problematic because recycling rates have plateaued and Australia will no longer be allowed to export a great deal of material to Asia for recycling.”

Mr Shmigel said that without substantial investment soon, current kerbside recycling services may be put at risk. He added that with the export ban set to begin in less than six months, stockpiling might occur.

“Those who decided on the ban need to realise that without reinvestment in domestically sustainable recycling, and its necessary infrastructure, more material that Australians expect to be recycled – especially plastic – will need to go to landfill,” Mr Shmigel said.

“On independent modelling by MRA Consulting, some $300 million in one-off investment is needed to be able to process and remanufacture the types of paper and plastic we have been exporting.”

While Mr Shmigel said industry is prepared for matching arrangements and low-interest loans, he noted that there has been nowhere near that level of expenditure in 2018 and 2019.

“Australian recycling can be domestically sustainable and a world leader, and it requires waste levies to be expended on what they were set up for: support recycling,” he said.

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Landfill levy waived for bushfire victims

Landfill levies have been waived for residents in bushfire affected areas across Victoria, following an announcement from state Premier Daniel Andrews.

“As Victorians begin returning to their homes and land following the recent bushfires, the state government will make sure people can dispose of their bushfire waste without paying the landfill levy,” Mr Andrews said.

“This is practical and immediate support for people who are undertaking the heartbreaking task of cleaning up their homes and properties.”

According to Mr Andrews, bushfire waste includes debris from homes, businesses, sheds, stock, fencing and equipment that has been damaged.

“The levy waiver will also make it easier for people to dispose of dead livestock,” he said.

The Victorian EPA will work with landfill operators and councils in fire-affected areas to apply for the exemption.

“If residents or business owners have any questions or concerns about bushfire waste clean up and disposal, they can contact EPA for further information,” Mr Andrews said.

The exemption follows similar measures in NSW, with the state government waiving the levy in bushfire natural disaster areas in November 2019.

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said thousands of people across NSW are reeling from the effects of the November bushfires, which are still burning.

“We know that the effects of these bushfires will be felt for months, and even years to come, and we hope that this streamlined waste process can provide a little relief for those coping with the effects of these horrible bushfires,” he said.

The NSW exemption will apply until 29 February 2020.

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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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