WMRR outlines COVID-19 clinical waste guidance

The National Biohazard Waste Industry (BWI) committee, a division of the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), has developed guidance to assist health care providers managing COVID-19 affected materials.

According to a WMRR statement, in the wake of the World Health Organisation’s pandemic declaration, stakeholders are considering additional measures to ensure the appropriate management of waste from patients, confirmed or suspected, to be infected with COVID-19.

“Under AS 3816:2018 Management of Clinical and Related Wastes, clinical waste is defined as any waste that has the potential to cause injury, infection, or offence, arising but not limited to medical, dental, podiatry, health care services and so forth,” the statement reads.

“At this time, we are not aware of any evidence that direct, unprotected human contact during the handling of healthcare waste has resulted in the transmission of COVID-19, nor is COVID-19 regarded as a Category A infectious disease.”

BWI understands that the World Health Organisation, and some Australian health officials, have declared that clinical waste from infected patients should be treated as normal clinical waste, “this however, may not be a uniform stance.”

“In light of the dynamic and evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation, along with the growing body of knowledge including the significant range of unknown characteristics, such as survival on surfaces, BWI feels it is prudent to suggest the adoption of additional measures,” the statement reads.

As governments evaluate the transmissibility and severity of COVID-19, BWI is aiming to offer a degree of precaution and assistance to staff who will be responsible for the management of higher than normal, and potentially more hazardous, clinical waste volumes.

“Additionally, it is hoped that these measures will also afford a greater level of protection to healthcare facility staff and waste handlers, both within and external to the facility, responsible for the management of clinical waste,” the statement reads.

Additional measures include: 

Health care workers are being urged to implement “double bagging” of waste from COVID-19 confirmed patients. According to the statement, this can be achieved by lining all clinical waste mobile garbage bins (MGBs) with clinical waste bin liners.

“By placing infected waste into a primary clinical waste bag and tying this bag up prior to disposal in the lined MGB – the bag lining the MGB must also be tied up – a significant increase in protection can be achieved,” the statement reads.

“For bins or containers that have been used in isolation rooms or in close proximity to patients confirmed as infected with COVID-19, the exterior surface should be wiped clean in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines prior to collection.”

Discreet notification and identification of any bins carrying infected waste is also suggested, as clearly agreed upon with waste management providers.

“Understandably, there may be a reluctance to overtly label bins containing COVID-19 waste, therefore this could be as simple as the addition of a simple mark or sticker as clearly agreed and documented between the facility and your waste management provider,” the statement reads.

BWI recommends these measures be adopted alongside personal protective equipment and other relevant practices.

“BWI would like to reiterate the importance of all facilities continuing to work and engage with their waste management providers on the recommended additional measures,” the statement reads.

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VIC Govt makes $100M investment in recycling industry

The Victorian Government will invest $100 million into the state’s recycling system to drive research and expand local processing and manufacturing.

The investment follows a suite of additional announcements earlier this week, including the introduction of a container deposit scheme and roll out of a four-bin kerbside system.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the measures are part of the state’s 10-year Recycling Victoria plan, which aims to reform waste management and create sustainable industry.

The plan, Mr Andrews said, will create an additional 3900 jobs for the sector.

“The $100 million investment will help local businesses give new life to old rubbish – better processing recyclable materials and getting more value from waste by making it available for end-market uses like recycled plastic in railway sleepers or recycled glass in footpaths,” Mr Andrews said.

As part of the package, the state government will double funding for businesses to invest in infrastructure to sort and reprocess recyclables for use in manufacturing.

Mr Andrews said the $28 million infrastructure boost will bring the total funding available through the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to $56 million.

“The package includes $30 million in grants to make Victoria a leader in recycling innovation – creating new products from recycled materials like glass, plastic, organics, electronic waste, concrete, brick and rubber,” he said.

“The government will also provide $10 million in grants to help businesses improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and increase recycling in their daily operations – saving them time and money.”

A new $7 million Business Innovation Centre will also be established, to bring industry, universities and councils together to develop new technologies and collaborate on creative solutions to waste challenges.

“For waste that can’t be recycled, processors will also be able to access $10 million for waste-to-energy initiatives, minimising the amount of rubbish being sent to landfill, while $11.5 million will go towards treating hazardous waste – protecting the community from illegal chemical stockpiles,” Mr Andrews said.

According to Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan, the Victorian Government is leading the way by committing significant new funds to the industry.

“WMRR is pleased that the Victorian Government has flagged infrastructure investment as part of this package,” she said.

“This will be key to driving success as we work with government to continue to grow markets domestically for these valuable resources.”

Ms Sloan said that with 14 million tonnes of waste generated annually in Victoria, the investment represents a fantastic opportunity to transition the state’s remanufacturing industry.

“WMRR acknowledges that a sustainable remanufacturing base will take time to develop in Victoria, and its success depends on robust government regulation and policy that support market development and community and business demand for recycled material, which will go a long way in providing industry with certainty to invest,” Ms Sloan said.

According to Ms Sloan, WMRR will continue to work closely with Victoria’s leaders to provide feedback and input on the projects, policies, and investment priorities that will drive the sector forward.

“Market development and remanufacturing demand cannot however be achieved by one state alone,” she said.

“As we head towards the COAG meeting next month and impending export bans, it is vital that there be national action on creating markets and demand for recycled products, this includes emphasis on design, a mandated product stewardship scheme for packaging and national specifications.”

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WMRR challenges export ban timeline

In a recently released statement, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) argues that export ban intentions will not be met under current proposed timelines.

“Developing necessary infrastructure alone will take years – and if this lack of emphasis on, and intervention in, the rest of the supply chain continues, the concern is that the bans will very likely result in perverse outcomes, including increasing volumes of materials sent to landfill,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, while the association recognises the Federal Government is working hard to understand the reality of the Australian market ahead of the ban, it queries the purpose of “yet another report” that does not offer new economic analysis.

“While WMRR agrees with some of the observations made in the recently released Recycling market situation summary review, these are neither new nor surprising, and have been widely advocated by WMRR and industry over the years,” the statement reads.

“Also, while the association acknowledges the intent behind the research, it is important that we move beyond consultants reviewing the work of other consultants, and instead talk with those at the coalface – the operators of the waste and resource recovery industry who manage these materials daily and directly, and will directly bear the impact (cost and market access) of the ban.”

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said a lack of emphasis on product design by manufacturers in the lead up to the ban was disappointing.

“These are major barriers to the effective operating of the waste export bans and overall success of any circular economy. Urgent government action is required not just to ban, but to develop robust policy, regulation and funding frameworks that address these market failures and create demand for recycled materials in Australia,” Ms Sloan said.

“We need real funded solutions that close the loop.”

According to Ms Sloan, solutions include interventions by way of national standards for design and specifications, incentives, taxation reform, mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes and enforceable targets including the use of recycled material.

“Importantly, the Federal Government needs to take the lead by committing to procurement of recycled material now. Without these levers, there will continue to be a lack of market demand, which begs the question, where do you think materials will end up,” she said.

Ms Sloan added that now is not the time to start adding low value material such as soft plastics to yellow recycling bins.

“Rather, we need to standardise nationally what can go in the yellow bin, and if producers wish to produce packaging outside of this standard and accepted suite, they need to meet the costs of collecting and recycling those materials,” Ms Sloan said.

“That said, now is absolutely the time to have an open conversation about who should be funding these systems, as we cannot continue to expect councils and householders to continue to go it alone; those who produce these materials must be required to contribute as they already do overseas.”

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Fuelling the market

Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about the potential tyre-derived fuel flow-on effects of the Council of Australian Governments’ proposed export ban.

In early August, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) released a communique detailing its decision to ban the export of waste materials including plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

Specifics of the ban have not yet been released, with government stating that it would develop a ban timeline and action plan in due course. Despite this, industry responses have been swift and overwhelmingly positive, with particular focus given to the potential waste-to-energy flow-on effects of a ban on tyre exports.

Gayle Sloan, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, says Australia has a robust and sustainable non-baling tyre recycling industry, which processes roughly 23 million used tyre units per annum.

“A ban on the export of whole-baled tyres will further drive the industry, which will create Australian jobs while ensuring human and environmental health are protected,” she says.

Pete Smigel, Australian Council of Recycling CEO, says consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable end-of-life disposal and recycling of products that offer sustainable environmental and human health outcomes.

“Australia has a great opportunity to develop a strong, sustainable and profitable tyre recycling industry that delivers significant environmental benefits and as well as job creation across the new manufacturing industry,” Pete says.

“It’s imperative this is supported by responsible government policy, and the COAG communique is a great step towards that.”

Tyrecycle, one of Australia’s largest collectors and recyclers of end-of-life tyres, operates numerous collection and processing facilities across the country, including Australia’s largest crumbing plant based at Somerton in Melbourne. It also has full chain-of-custody reporting.

Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says COAG’s signalled intention to ban the export of waste tyres is a win for the environment and the circular economy.

“The proposed ban presents the best opportunity to turn all end-of-life waste tyres in Australia into value-added commodities such as rubber crumb, rubber granule, tyre-derived fuel (TDF) and high-tensile steel, creating more sustainable jobs in Australia,” he says.

“A ban on the export of waste tyres should include both whole-baled tyres, which are sent unprocessed to countries such as India and Malaysia, as well as casings from old truck tyres sent into overseas markets for use as seconds or in retreading.”

Jim says these elements go hand-in-hand, given the ban on whole-baled tyres will require the establishment and growth of new markets for re-purposed tyre-derived products.   

Australia currently exports approximately 70,000 tonnes of whole-baled tyres per annum, which are then used in open burning as a fuel to heat drying kilns and in low-grade pyrolysis plants.

Rob Kelman, Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) Executive Officer, says operations like this are controversial, do not comply with environmental, health and worker regulations and are associated with high levels of pollution.

ATRA members agreed to ban the practice of exporting whole-baled tyres in 2014, due to poor environmental outcomes and a direct association with water borne diseases.

“The World Health Organization specifically identifies international movement of whole tyres as a key factor in the increase in Dengue incidence,” Rob says.

Australia’s tyre recycling sector is largely dominated by traditional recycling methods, which use a series of shredders, screens and granulators to separate waste tyres into commodities.

Jim says these commodities, which are valued commensurate with their level of refinement, are used as raw material in the manufacture of new products such as soft fall surfaces and asphalt, as well as civil work applications such as roads and infrastructure.

“Waste tyres are also used in TDF – a globally traded commodity, which fuels sophisticated, high-energy manufacturing environments and power generation plants overseas,” Jim explains.

“The technology is proven, and TDF has excellent environmental credentials that include a reduction in landfill, improved emissions and reduced use of fossil fuels.”

Jim adds that for every tonne of TDF used, one tonne of CO2 is displaced.

“It burns cleaner than coal and has twice the energy value of brown coal,” he explains.

“The global TDF market, which includes South Korea and Japan, is hungry for more and could easily consume all of Australia’s waste tyres as TDF, but there should also be a gradual push to increase the domestic uptake of TDF, most likely in cement kilns.”

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Environment Minister discusses export ban with industry

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has hosted a waste and resource recovery roundtable in Sydney, with Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

According to a WMRR statement, executives from Australia’s leading waste, recycling, and resource recovery firms shared their insight with Ms Ley on current barriers to growth and success, including the lack of a nationally consistent and harmonised policy and regulatory framework.

“The minister was keen to hear about the current challenges and opportunities, and importantly, the key elements that would give the export ban, announced at the COAG meeting in August, the greatest chance at success,” the statement reads.

The roundtable was attended by executives from SUEZ, Cleanaway, Veolia, JJ Richards, ResourceCo, Tyrecycle, Visy Industries, Re.Group, Bingo Industries, Alex Fraser, and O-I.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said industry certainty is lacking in Australia, due to different policies, strategies, regulations and specifications across jurisdictions, and the lack of markets.

“The goal posts are constantly changing and often, our industry is a political football which exacerbates the challenges because it causes greater instability and uncertainty,” Ms Sloan said.

“The minister listened intently and said she had a clear idea of the current landscape and need for greater harmonisation, which we appreciated.”

Ms Sloan said Ms Ley advised that the forthcoming export ban on waste paper, plastic, glass and tyres would be on the agenda at the 8 November Meeting of Environment Ministers.

According to the WMRR statement, industry leaders said they would applaud the ban if it was coupled with the expansion of reprocessing and recycling, and the development of domestic remanufacturing.

“Sure, we can stop shipping these materials, and industry does not want to export – we absolutely want to reprocess and recycle right here in Australia – but if there’s no buyback or take up of the recycled products, where does that leave us?” Ms Sloan said.

“The ban must be supported first and foremost by sustainable and mandated procurement at all levels of government, with the Commonwealth leading the way.”

In a separate statement, Ms Ley said the Federal Government would work with Australia’s leading recyclers to achieve the earliest possible export ban time frame.

“The Prime Minister has agreed with all state and territory governments that a ban will be put in place, and we want to establish a clear timetable and clear strategic priorities by working with both industry and the state environment ministers,” Ms Ley said.

“A ban on plastic exports should not lead to higher levels of stockpiling in Australia, and I will be challenging all parties, the states, the industry participants and the community to embark on genuine change in tackling waste.”

Of her meeting with WMRR, Ms Ley said it was clear that policy consistency was needed across the states.

“We need to give industry the confidence to invest in recycling and remanufacturing, and an assurance that markets are being created for their products,” Ms Ley said.

Ms Ley also meet with industry leaders at the Australian Council of Recycling in Melbourne, including senior executives from Visy, Veolia, Orora, 0-I, PACT, Sims Metal Management, Reconomy-Downer, Close the Loop and Tyrecycle.

“The clear message from this and my previous meetings is that the re-cycling industry is in no doubt about the opportunities for re-manufactured products or the ability to generate future investment for expansion,” Ms Ley said.

“Concerns remain, however, about excessive or inconsistent planning regulations that could hamper that growth and the disparate range of collection strategies across local government.”

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WMRR holds EfW conference

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has held the first Energy from Waste (EfW) Conference in Canberra.

Attendees heard from a host of international and local speakers, who tracked the success of EfW facilities globally and the current gaps, challenges and opportunities to drive the technology in Australia.

According to WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan, there are currently more than 2000 EfW plants operating safely around the world.

“EfW technologies have been proven overseas, and at this conference, attendees heard from our international keynotes about the success of EfW working as part of an integrated waste management and resource recovery system,” Ms Sloan said.

“Industry is not touting EfW as the be all and end all of waste management, rather it is a recovery solution above disposal when we are unable to recycle. EfW assists in driving positive diversion and recovery outcomes.”

Ms Sloan said harmonisation was another topic of conversation at the conference.

“At the Around the States panel, comprising senior government officers from QLD, SA, NSW, ACT, WA, and VIC, industry reiterated the need for all jurisdictions to come together, led by the Federal Government, to develop a nationally consistent policy and regulatory framework,” Ms Sloan said.

“That would go a long way in creating certainty for industry and all other stakeholders.”

Ms Sloan said attendees had numerous opportunities to discuss the various presentations.

“At an interactive session led by Arup, attendees were called upon to share their thoughts on what they believed were the gaps that needed to be closed, the opportunities that could be captured and the barriers that stood in the way of EfW development in Australia,” Ms Sloan said.

“From the feedback received at this session, Arup will now develop an industry roadmap to develop and establish EfW within a successful waste management and resource recovery system. WMRR will soon release this roadmap.”

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WMRR releases EfW factsheet

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) and Bioenergy Australia have released the first in a series of energy from waste (EfW) factsheets.

The factsheet references the waste hierarchy, outlining EfW as only suitable when waste can’t otherwise be reused or recycled.

“In Australia general waste is normally disposed of to landfill, without additional value being recovered,” the factsheet reads.

“It is at this stage that diverting the material to an EfW plant for energy recovery can provide for better environmental outcomes.”

WMRR NSW EfW Working Group Chair Miles Mason said interest was building on the role and benefits of EfW in an integrated waste management system.

“There is a growing dialogue around waste issues and media coverage is increasing. However, there is also a lot of misinformation out there,” Mr Mason said.

“The fact sheet answers some of the common questions that often stem due to a lack of easy-to-understand information such as does EfW smell? Is it safe? Does it reduce greenhouse gas emissions? And how does EfW fit in a circular economy? This document is a good starting point in the conversation.”

According to the factsheet, EfW facilities use technology to control emissions by removing chemical contaminants and further filtering the air to remove particulates from gas.

“As part of the planning and permitting process, a comprehensive air quality and human health risk assessment is carried out,” the factsheet reads.

“During operations, exhaust emissions from these facilities are continuously monitored using gas measuring equipment, to ensure they comply with even the most stringent environmental standards.”

WMRR NSW EfW Working Group Vice Chair Shaun Rainford said there are varying levels of understanding around the terms, concepts, suitable waste types and costs.

“There are different definitions and policies across jurisdictions, adding to the complexity of EfW,” Mr Rainford said.

“As the peak body of the waste management and resource recovery industry, it is WMRR’s role to assist in education and provide factual elements to the conversation.”

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Government to release procurement targets

Federal Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans will reportedly unveil ambitious new targets for sustainable procurement by all state governments.

Mr Evans said he would seek agreement on proposed procurement targets at the next Meeting of Environment Ministers, adding the Federal Government would offer funding support to develop Australia’s remanufacturing sector.

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan, who said WMRR had been calling for procurement targets for over 18 months, meet with Mr Evans to discuss what the next steps would be.

“WMRR welcomes the minister’s announcements and it is pleasing to see movement on the federal level, after years of industry advocating for federal leadership on a number of fronts, sustainable procurement being one of them,” Ms Sloan said.

“It became very clear early in the meeting that the minister understands the significance creating demand and markets for recycled products has on driving our industry forward.”

According to Mr Sloan, Mr Evans’ work in the retail industry, as CEO of the National Retail Association, has given him much-needed perspective and experience in supply chain management.

“Mr Evans has a wealth of knowledge on the roles, responsibilities and market demands within a supply chain,” Ms Sloan said.

“WMRR also had the opportunity to discuss the importance of national leadership in creating a level playing field and developing a common approach to levies and industry development as Australia, despite having seven jurisdictions, is one common market.”

Mr Sloan said WMRR also discussed the federal government’s role in driving resource recovery and remanufacturing through harmonised, effective and appropriate regulatory, policy and market settings.

“WMRR looks forward to our continued engagement with the minister and all levels of government, as we look forward and keep our eyes on the circular economy ball,” Ms Sloan said.

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QLD releases energy from waste policy

The public is being invited to comment on the Queensland Government’s Energy-from-Waste policy discussion paper, released earlier this week.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said finding alternative uses for waste was becoming more important than ever.

“The discussion paper is giving Queenslanders a chance to contribute to the development of a new policy, provide feedback on the types of technologies and help us plan for the future,” Ms Enoch said.

“The paper is an important action under the government’s new waste strategy.”

Ms Enoch said the government’s waste strategy outlined priorities and actions to help grow the recycling and resource recovery sector.

“We have set ambitious targets to recover 90 per cent of the waste we generate by 2050 and recycle at least 75 per cent of that waste,” Ms Enoch said.

“But we acknowledge that some wastes cannot be recycled, and it is better to retain the value of these wastes by recovering energy than it is to dispose of them to landfill. This is all part of our broader transition to a circular economy.”

Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) Executive Officer Rick Ralph said WRIQ and its members welcomed the new waste strategy.

“Energy from waste will play an important role in helping to achieve the objectives and targets of the strategy,” Mr Ralph said.

“The release of the Energy-from-Waste discussion paper is a step in the right direction. Industry looks forward to having this discussion with the government in this important initiative.”

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said energy from waste was a vital part of a sustainable waste and resource recovery system.

“Its technologies are also proven globally, with more than 2000 energy from waste facilities operating safely across the US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, many having operated for decades,” Ms Sloan said.

“We look forward to working with the Queensland Government to leverage the technical expertise of our industry to develop a policy that promotes investment in, and growth of, an integrated waste management and resource recovery system that includes energy from waste.”

Public consultation is open until 26 August.

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Tasmania releases Waste Action Plan

Tasmania’s draft Waste Action Plan, released 29 June, sets a framework to develop the state’s recently announced CDS and a statewide landfill levy.

Acting Environment Minister Elise Archer has opened the draft for public consultation.

In a cabinet reshuffle last week, it was announced Treasurer Peter Gutwein would soon replace Ms Archer as Environment Minister.

“With a growing population and the recent restrictions of recycling product exports to China, it is important Tasmania takes a more strategic approach to the way it manages waste into the future,” Ms Archer says.

“Dealing with our waste is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and the community.”

According to Ms Archer, the proposed state wide levy is set to replace multiple council levies already in place, with funds to be reinvested in waste and recycling infrastructure and programs.

“The draft plan also contains a series of ambitious, but achievable, waste management, litter and recycling targets that align with targets in the recently approved National Waste Policy,” Ms Archer says.

Other proposed measures include ensuing 100 per cent of packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, reducing waste generation by 10 per cent per person by 2030 and achieving an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030.

Additionally, the plan outlines efforts to ensure Tasmania has the lowest incidence of littering in the country by 2023.

The state government will also work with local government and businesses to phase out problematic plastic by 2030 and reduce the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 50 per cent by 2030.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the draft illustrated smart and progressive reform.

Mr Shmigel highlighted the CDS, waste reduction goals and the commitment to a new administrative structure for waste management as particularly positive.

“ACOR also thinks it’s terrific innovation that the Treasurer Peter Gutwein will also be Environment Minister,” Mr Shmigel said.

“It helps recognise that recycling is a great way to combine ‘green’ and ‘gold’ as it is both an economic and environmental positive.”

Mr Shmigel is calling on government to set the new levy at a sufficient level to drive positive results and industry investment, and make commitments to the positive procurement of recycled content products to boost local manufacturers.

Additionally, Mr Shmigel has encouraged state government to ensure the proposed resource recovery management body involves both local government and industry experts.

“This new plan can start turning the Apple Isle from a recycling laggard to a recycling leader, and that’s something our industry and no doubt the people of Tasmania support,” Mr Shmigel said.

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the plan shows a strategic approach to tackling waste, and highlighted its framework for addressing identified priorities.

“WMRR is pleased that Tasmania finally has a waste and resource recovery strategy and in releasing the plan, the minister has acknowledged that waste management is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and community,” Ms Sloan said.

“The minister should also be congratulated for listening to industry about the importance of a levy as an economic tool for prioritising resource recovery, as well as working with industry and the community to design and set the levy. This is a show of great leadership.”

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