NSW and Fed Govt reach new bilateral agreement under EPBC Act

Major project assessments are set to be streamlined under a new bilateral agreement between the Federal and NSW Governments.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the new Bilateral Assessment Agreement will reduce the risk of Federal and state government duplication under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, while maintaining strong environmental safeguards.

“The changes are being made within the current Act, and do not form part of the wider EPBC review under Professor Graeme Samuel,” she said.

“They help all parties to understand what is expected of them in protecting the environment and the responsibilities they face in putting forward major projects.”

The new agreement includes harmonisation of the way proponents ‘off-set’ environmental impacts through the provision of alternate habitat areas.

“The NSW Biodiversity Offsets Scheme will now apply to all projects under the Bilateral agreement, and requires companies to contribute to the Biodiversity Conservation Trust that funds appropriate environmental protections to achieve strategic biodiversity gains across the state,” Ms Ley said.

According to NSW Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes, the bilateral agreement is just one element of ongoing reforms designed to provide greater certainty, timeliness and transparency to the NSW Planning system.

“This agreement will mean environmental protections are applied more consistently than ever before to deliver better environmental outcomes,” he said.

“It will also help to achieve a single, streamlined assessment process that provides certainty for industry and investors by eliminating double-handling delays.”

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Industry responds to COVID-19 support packages

Waste Management Review will be running a four-part series throughout April on conquering waste industry challenges amid COVID-19 and possible future opportunities. In this first part, we highlight a summary of support packages available to the sector across each jurisdiction and what industry groups are hoping to see going forward.

Read moreIndustry responds to COVID-19 support packages

NSW transfer station awarded $66K weighbridge grant

Waste 360 has been awarded a $66,496 grant from the NSW Planning, Industry and Environment Department to install a weighbridge at its new transfer station in Strathfield, NSW.

According to Planning, Industry and Environment Department Circular Economy Executive Director Sanjay Sridher, the grant was awarded under the Waste Less, Recycle More Initiative’s Weighbridge Fund.

“The weighbridge will enable Waste 360 to collect valuable data that helps to provide more accurate information on the volumes of waste and recyclables generated in NSW and supports improved environmental performance across the state,” he said.

Mr Sridher said this was the final round of funding under the Weighbridge Fund grants program.

“Over 35 waste and recycling facilities have received more than $2 million in grants under the Waste Less, Recycle More initiative to support the installation of weighbridges,” he said.

“This program has played an important role to support the modernisation of the waste sector in NSW. Better data collection through the use of weighbridges at licensed facilities improves understanding of the volumes of waste and recyclables, and facilitates the collection and payment of the waste and environment levy.”

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NSW targets zero organics in landfill by 2030

The NSW Government’s Net Zero Plan Stage One: 2020-2030 seeks to achieve net zero emissions from organic waste in landfill by 2030, with targeted actions to support councils improve services and product quality.

“Organic waste, such as food scraps and garden trimmings, makes up about 40 per cent of red-lidded kerbside bins. When sent to landfill, the decomposing material releases methane that may not be captured,” the plan reads.

“However, when this waste is managed effectively, through proper composting and recycling processes, methane emissions can be substantially reduced, soils can be regenerated to store carbon and biogas can be created to generate electricity.”

The plan outlines specific actions including supporting best-practice food and garden waste management infrastructure, and ensuring compost or other organic soils are of the highest quality for land application.

Furthermore, the state government will facilitate the development of waste-to-energy facilities in locations with strong community support, and update regulatory settings to ensure residual emissions from the organic waste industry are offset.

The NSW economy will see over $11.6 billion in private investment and 2400 new jobs as a result of the plan, according to Environment Minister Matt Kean.

“Where there are technologies that can reduce both our emissions and costs for households and businesses, we want to roll them out across the state. Where these technologies are not yet commercial, we want to invest in their development so they will be available in the decades to come,” Mr Kean said.

The plan outlines four key priorities: drive uptake of proven emissions reduction technologies, empower consumers and businesses to make sustainable choices, invest in the next wave of emissions reduction innovation and ensure the NSW Government leads by example.

Mr Kean said roughly two-thirds of the plan’s private investment will be directed at regional and rural NSW, “diversifying local economies that are doing it tough after the drought and devastating bushfire season.”

“Global markets are rapidly changing in response to climate change, with many of the world’s biggest economies and companies committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050. NSW already leads the nation with its economic and investment plans and from today, NSW will lead the nation with its Net Zero Plan,” Mr Kean said.

“Our actions are firmly grounded in science and economics, not ideology, to give our workers and businesses the best opportunity to thrive in a low-carbon world.”

The plan is financially supported by a $2 billion bilateral agreement between the Federal and NSW Government, announced in January 2020.

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NSW allocates $1M to tackle local litter

The NSW Government is calling on councils and industry groups to apply for more than $1 million in grants to tackle litter in their local area.

A total of $1.17 million – comprising $670,000 for round six of the Community Litter Grants and $500,000 for the inaugural Cigarette Butt Litter Prevention Grants – is available to councils, businesses and organisations.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said more than 200 projects have been funded under the program, with some recording up to 80 per cent litter reduction in their targeted hotspot.

“Cigarettes butts are consistently the most littered item in NSW every year. I look forward to seeing innovative projects to help reduce the millions of butts littered each year and by doing so, cleaning up our environment,” he said.

According to Mr Kean, the community grants can be used to fund a number of litter initiatives including community education and engagement, clean-ups, new bins, promoting programs aimed at addressing littering, and strengthening the capacity of environmental groups working in the sector.

“Our community groups and councils are fantastic partners to assist with tackling litter. It is local communities who know their litter hotspots and can develop practical and effective solutions,” he 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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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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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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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 awards litter prevention grants

The NSW Government has awarded more than $930,000 to councils and community groups under the latest round of litter prevention grants.

Planning, Industry and Environment Department Circular Economy Executive Director Sanjay Sridher said funding has been awarded to 13 local councils in both metro and regional NSW.

“They include cleaning up and preventing litter at transport interchanges in Blacktown, preventing litter at tourist hotspots in Byron Bay and funding for solar smart bins in Forbes, which will send an alert to the council when a bin is full,” he said.

“Nobody likes to see litter in their parks or waterways, and tackling the problem at a local level – through the councils and groups that really know the area – is an effective way to prevent litter for the long term.”

According to Mr Sridher, eight community groups have also received funding.

Projects include reducing plastic at Lake Macquarie Cafes, support for the Airds Clean Up Crew in the Macarthur area and helping Tathra Surf Life Saving Club with its clean-up and litter patrols.

“Now it’s a matter of making sure the right programs are in place to clean-up hotspots and give tossers a nudge when it comes to disposing of rubbish properly,” Mr Sridher said.

The grants program is supported by NSW’s first litter prevention strategy, which sets out actions and timeframes to achieve the state government’s target to reduce the volume of litter in NSW by 40 per cent by 2020.

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