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.
The Coffs Waste Conference is running a weekly webinar series to showcase presentations that were scheduled for the 2020 event.
“While we can’t deliver the conference to you in person this year, our conference team have been working closely with the Waste Management & Resource Recovery Association (WMRR), and are planning to bring you a weekly webinar series to keep you informed and up-to-date in a virtual environment,” a Coffs Waste Conference statement reads.
A selection of content will be streamed live through Zoom, with each week focusing on a different topic area. Each topic will include approximately three presentations that were incorporated in the original conference program.
Webinars will begin Wednesday 6 May, running for approximately 10-12 weeks. Week one will feature keynote addresses from Waste 2020, week two will focus on organics and FOGO, week three on the role of social enterprise in a circular economy and week four will include a COAG panel discussion.
The cost for each weekly session will be $75 for WMRR members and $85 for non-members. Further information on presenters, content and the registration process will be released shortly.
Coffs Waste Conference is also calling on individual session sponsors, for more information click here.
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Proponents of thermal waste-to-energy (WtE) activities in South Australia must engage the community in “genuine dialogue” and ensure the provision of accurate and reliable information, according to the South Australian EPA’s recently released thermal WtE position statment.
“A proposal to undertake a thermal WtE activity has the potential to generate interest and concern within the community, including non-government environmental organisations or other interest groups,” the statement reads.
“WtE projects requiring development approval will be subject to community consultation and/or notification as required by the Development Act 1993 and the EP Act during the development, assessment and licensing notification processes respectively.”
Additionally, refuse-derived fuel produced with EPA approval will no longer be considered waste under clause 4(a) of the Waste to Resources Policy, meaning its use in thermal WtE activities will not attract the payment of the waste levy.
“Thermal WtE activities receiving waste in accordance with the Resource Recovery Criteria, Thermal Efficiency Criteria, and holding an EPA Resource Recovery Approval will not be liable for payment of the waste levy, with the exception of thermal WtE activities receiving kerbside collected MSW,” the statement reads.
“For thermal WtE activities receiving kerbside collected MSW from a council or any other party contracted by a council, it is an additional requirement to demonstrate that the council’s kerbside collection system achieves the current MSW diversion target published within the Waste Strategy.”
Released following industry consultation in 2019, the statement aims to help planning authorities, licensees and development proponents understand the position of the EPA and the regulatory requirements for thermal WtE activities.
“The EPA will use this position statement to assess development assessment referrals and activities of prescribed environmental significance requiring a licence under Schedule One of the Environment Protection Act 1993 relating to WtE activities,” the statement reads.
According to the statement, South Australia’s Waste Strategy supports the efficient recovery of energy from residual waste and niche waste streams through best available technologies that suit local conditions, and can deliver environmental benefits and economic opportunities.
“In keeping with the waste management hierarchy and circular economy objectives, thermal WtE activities using waste that would otherwise be disposed to landfill are supported once sufficient material resource recovery has been undertaken,” the statement reads.
“The production and use of refuse derived fuel from waste that would otherwise be disposed to landfill will be supported where it includes appropriate material resource recovery, as set out by this position statement.”
When assessing a development application referral involving one or more prescribed activities, the EPA has the power to request further information, direct conditions for approval by the planning authority, or direct the refusal of the application as a referral body according to the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016.
“Following the receipt of formal development approval, the conduct of any prescribed activity of environmental significance will also require an environmental authorisation from the EPA in the form of a licence,” the statment reads.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Australia’s (WMRR) South Australia branch is hosting a free members-only webinar on 29 April to deliberate key elements of the position statement.
At the webinar, WMRR members will hear from South Australian EPA Chief Executive Tony Circelli and Senior Environment Protection Officer Waste Reform Projects Brian White.
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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.
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.”