For COAG’s export bans to be a success, harmonisation of Australia’s regulatory framework is key. Jim Fairweather, ResourceCo CEO, explains.
The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has labelled the NSW State Budget ‘short sighted’, with the real economic potential of the waste and resource recovery industry being bypassed for a reliance on landfill levies.
The NSW Budget has allocated $96 million, or $240 million over four years, to waste management programs designed to accelerate the state’s circular economy transition.
Victorians are being asked to provide feedback on the proposed model for the state’s container deposit scheme (CDS), which will be rolled out by 2023.
Is the Federal Government’s $190M Recycling Modernisation Fund the answer to transforming waste and recycling capacity? Brittany Coles speaks with Josh Wilson about the reform needed to deal with Australia’s waste crisis.
Industry has defended Australia’s recycling operations following an ABC Four Corners investigation on ‘plastic wars’ that revealed the actions of the American plastics industry are ‘fooling consumers’.
The Queensland Government has released its highly anticipated Energy from Waste (EfW) policy following a webinar with the state’s Environment Minister, Leeanne Enoch.
Enoch hosted a ‘lunch with the Queensland Environment Minister’ via zoom last week due to social distancing restrictions, to announce the EfW policy and how it will play a key role within the waste and resource recovery system across the state.
The EfW policy aims to capture embodied energy from residual materials that would otherwise have been landfilled, as Queensland transitions towards a circular economy.
Enoch gave a candid update of the current state of play in Queensland, noted that the policy aligns with both the waste management hierarchy as well as Queensland’s strategic priorities, and provides industry with certainty on how EfW will be regulated and assessed in the state.
As well as establishing an EfW hierarchy to address the differing technologies available, the policy outlines seven outcomes to guide proponents on how environmental authority applications for EfW facilities will be assessed and regulated, detailing requirements that will need to be met to demonstrate operational performance of proposed facilities.
Gayle Sloan, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Australia (WMRR) CEO, said QLD’s EfW policy is a “very sensible and well considered document”.
She said EfW draws on international best practice, resisting the temptation that WMRR have seen in other Australian jurisdictions to create poorly thought out interventions that impact confidence and investment.
“The release of the document is a positive step towards offering EfW proponents some much-needed certainty, offering clear pathways to EfW, and importantly, a clear expectation about community engagement and social license,” Sloan said.
“All these steps are pivotal in rebuilding the economy and creating local jobs in the post-COVID world that we are building.”
Mark Smith, Waste Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) CEO, agrees that the EfW policy provides an important building block for the Queensland waste and resource recovery sector and importantly sets out expectations from government to market.
However, Smith said a key challenge for state and local government and the private sector, who are the largest funders of infrastructure in Queensland and Australia, will be how the changes and improvements to waste and recycling management is communicated to the Queensland community.
“Recent research from CSIRO tells us that in order for community to trust and accept upgrades to waste facilities or new facilities being establish, is their confidence in the industry and their confidence in the government bodies regulating the sector,” he said.
“WRIQ is committed to improving the sector’s public brand and wants to ensure our members are supported by government when they decide to make investments to support the Queensland economy.”
Smith said it’s really important that government understand and recognise their role in building community awareness around the “role our sector plays in maintaining the economy and maintaining our way of life”.
WRIQ has congratulated the Queensland Government for releasing the policy and the commitment to releasing further guidance at the end of the year.
Sloan said that WMRR also appreciates the Queensland Department of Environment and Science’s (DES) strong engagement with the industry in the establishment of this policy.
“We look forward to the development of further detail on how industry can meet EfW requirements in Queensland, utilising what we know is international best practice, including the EU Waste Directives,” she said.
Smith said WRIQ will reach out to DES to also support the development process of the policy.
According to WMRR, during the webinar, Enoch also reassured attendees that resource recovery is at the forefront of many of the government’s decisions, acknowledging that the essential waste and resource recovery sector is a vital stakeholder and contributor to Queensland’s post-COVID economic recovery, particularly as the industry will be able to provide home grown manufacturing opportunities.
The Queensland Government has announced a six-month deferment to the waste levy increase that was set to begin on July 1 2020.
The levy has been deferred for six months due to the impact of COVID-19 on businesses operating within the waste sector in QLD.
The announcement has been welcomed by the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), whilst Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland (WRIQ) stated in a members notice that the timing of the landfill level deferral is disappointing.
The six-month deferment will see the waste levy remain at $75 per tonne for general waste, and $105 and $125 per tonne for regulated wastes until 31 December 2020.
QLD joins the ranks of NSW and Victoria, being the first state movers in providing some form of levy relief, the former by way of deferring waste levy payments for the foreseeable future and the latter deferring its 1 July 2020 levy increase to 1 January 2021. WA’s waste levy has also been frozen for the 2020-21 year.
The move has been praised by the WMRR and CEO Gayle Sloan has credited the QLD government “proactivity in deferring the levy increase and the Department of Environment and Science is to be commended for listening to, and considering, the very real concerns of the industry”.
“As industry continues to face financial and operational challenges related to the pandemic, WMRR is encouraged to see jurisdictions taking a commonsense approach towards costs and regulatory pressures placed on our essential industry,” Sloan said.
“In deferring the levy increase, operators and their customers may have some financial respite while continuing to focus on the job at hand, which is keeping our services operating while ensuring the safety of our staff and community.”
Sloan stated that the WMRR has recommended that only the first proposed levy increment in 2020 be deferred to provide relief to operators and their customers facing financial challenges and all later increments should continue as planned in order to safeguard ongoing investments that will build the industry.
WRIQ CEO, Mark Smith, received advice from DES on the Government’s decision to defer proposed landfill levy price increases last Friday evening on May 29, and believes the decision will impact QLD businesses and clients differently within the industry.
“This 11th hour notification is disappointing, as it provides our members and industry with minimal time to adapt and notify their supply chain of pricing impacts,” Smith said.
In response, WRIQ is collating general legal advice with WRIQ partner, Minter Ellison, to form advice and resources for its members, set to be available on Thursday June 4.
“The market works best when there is market certainty. Changing market conditions 4 weeks out from proposed increases will impact businesses differently. However in the age of Covid I recognise government need to make decisions that are best suited for the whole of Queensland,” Smith said.
He added that Post Covid, WRIQ would like to sit down with Government to determine a minimum timeframe in the event of future pricing changes.
“I respect that changes to landfill levies need to run a particular process but businesses also need to run to notify their clients and customers of the pricing changing. It would be great to bring both these processes into alignment,” he said.
The WMRR is also encouraging all future engagements with state governments.
“It is WMRR’s hope that SA will not continue to turn a blind eye to industry’s concerns and will follow in its neighbours’ footsteps by offering levy relief to operators,” Sloan said.
Last year the SA government implemented a 40 per cent levy increase, which Sloan stated was a shock announcement “with no industry consultation whatsoever and continues to place significant strain on existing projects and operations”.
“Now is the time to ease these financial pressures on operators so that we can maintain a viable industry and importantly, assist in the rebuilding of a post-COVID economy,” she said.
According to advice from DES to landfill operators, business systems and processes need to be reviewed to ensure the QLD deferral is incorporated.
“Your current levy obligations remain, including waste measurement and recording, monthly data returns and monthly invoice payments, so continue these as-normal,” the DES advised to landfill operators.
The NSW Government is seeking an industry partner to co-develop a funding proposal for new paper/cardboard processing capacity in preparation for the 1 July 2024 COAG export ban on mixed waste paper and cardboard.
Following COAG’s March 2020 agreement to phase out exports of certain waste materials, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Federal Government would co-invest in recycling infrastructure with state and territory governments and industry.
The Federal Government has now invited state and territory governments to submit funding proposals for new paper and cardboard processing.
“These proposals need to be for economically viable projects that best address national pressures, utilise best-practice methodology, know-how and technology, achieve value for money and maximise industry financial contributions,” a NSW Government statement reads.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has welcomed the announcement, and is optimistic about further funding announcements in due course.
“If governments’ ongoing efforts in developing the right policy and funding settings for the impending COAG waste exports bans are anything to go by, then there is much Australia can look forward to in its goal to build domestic recycling capacity and future-proof our essential waste and resource recovery sector,” a WMRR statement reads.
With COVID-19 impeding growth and progress for numerous industries, WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the association is encouraged by the scale of work being undertaken to ensure Australia has the necessary strategic policies to build a sustainable environment and lay out a roadmap for recovery.
“One of the things we’ve been saying to all governments is that planning for the bans must continue so that Australia can emerge out of COVID-19 with a viable and resilient sector that drives domestic processing of materials and importantly, provides local revenue and jobs – not just during the infrastructure development phase, but also across operations throughout the lifespan of facilities and services,” Ms Sloan said.
“The release of this EOI is proof that the government agrees that there are opportunities in our sector – both in the domestic recovery of materials and the recovery of economies.”
According to Ms Sloan, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for Australia to build a resilient domestic economy.
“The WARR industry stands ready to continue working with governments to capitalise on these opportunities and create remanufacturing jobs and investment throughout Australia,” she said.
“This is a sector where the well will not run dry because where there are people, there are and will be waste (resources) ready to be remanufactured back into the products they once were.”
Applications to the Federal Government are due 31 July, with a decision on successful projects expected at the end of August.
Commencement of the Victorian EPA’s new Environment Protection Act 2018 has been postponed until 1 July 2021, due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.
The Act was originally scheduled to commence 1 July this year.
According to a Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning statement, the decision is part of the state government’s focus on delivering a suite of initiatives designed to ease the burden on business, industry and Victorians as they address the impacts of the pandemic.
“As a result of this decision, the EPA will continue to regulate under the Environment Protection Act 1970, including all subordinate legislation (regulations and statutory policies including state environment protection policies and waste management policies) until the new commencement date,” the statement reads.
“The Victorian Government is committed to the EPA’s reforms and the long-term benefits they will provide for all Victorians. This is not a cancellation of the environment protection reforms. As with many aspects of working life at the present time, it is a responsive adjustment to the current circumstances.”
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has welcomed the announcement, with CEO Gayle Sloan noting that WMRR has been engaging with the regulator.
“Originally slated to commence this July, the new Act represents a significant shift in approach towards prevention, as well as a more flexible, risk-based approach to compliance – both of which are welcome, but will take time for industry and government to work through together to get the balance right,” she said.
“Additionally, with the current challenges being faced by all of Australia, including our essential industry, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is consumed with the job at hand of keeping our services operating and ensuring the safety of our staff and the community, and we need to remain focused on this task at this time and not further regulatory change.”
According to Ms Sloan, the deferral further illustrates that the Victorian Government listens to the needs of industry and considers its concerns and recommendations.
“WMRR appreciates the government’s decision to defer the commencement of the new EP Act by a year, which affords all of us – industry and governments alike – time to work through the sticking points and ensure that the Act meets all its objectives and the industry is given sufficient time to plan for the changes,” she said.
“Importantly, the EPA is keenly aware that now is not the time to be effecting significant regulatory changes, and as we continue to face mounting challenges related to the pandemic, business as usual is unrealistic.”
WMRR is encouraging other government to reconsider the need to progress additional regulations that will place undue financial and operational pressure on operators already facing difficult times.
“We would encourage other jurisdictions to urgently pivot towards a post-COVID-19 world for our essential industry, by actioning strategic policies and plans that will build a solid foundation for a strong and sustainable environment, as well as fast tracking the capital funding, planning, and approval of waste and resource recovery and remanufacturing infrastructure,” she said.
“Doing this now, we hope, will enable us to come out of this pandemic with a strong and viable sector, which will positively offer a much-needed boost to local economies, creating local jobs that will be welcomed now and into the future.”
According to an Engage Victoria statement, the EPA will continue to work with Victorian businesses, organisations and communities to prepare them for the act’s new date.
“This includes finalising and releasing the environment protection regulations and the Environment Reference Standard,” the statement reads.