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NSW EPA’s decision on MWOO gains backlash from industry

The NSW EPA has announced it does not intend to allow Mixed Waste Organic Outputs (MWOO) to be used as a soil amendment on agricultural, mining rehabilitation or forestry land.

Announced on October 16, EPA chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford said there had been extensive scientific research undertaken, which showed human health and ecological risks were too high to allow MWOO to be used on agricultural land.

“The research clearly shows that the potential risks outweigh the limited benefits of applying MWOO on agricultural land, given the levels of contamination left behind such as glass and plastics, as well as metals and chemicals,” Gifford said.

The NSW government is consulting on a $6.5 million package for industry to consider new solutions to manage general household waste. This includes funding for AWT operators to undertake research and development into alternative products and end markets for household general waste, and to make the required changes to their facilities to produce products such as refuse derived fuel.

While Gifford said these changes will help to create new “environmentally friendly solutions for household waste”, others in the industry disagree with the EPA’s decision to not allow MWOO on agricultural land.

Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA) executive director Tony Khoury told Inside Waste that the NSW EPA’s decision will have a significant negative impact on business confidence across the NSW waste and recycling sector.

“The decision will result in many tens of thousands of material being sent to landfill.

“MWOO has been extensively and successfully used with EPA approval and NSW government support to enhance our nutrient deficient soils for the last 18 or so years. It is a beneficial product that improves the growing properties of soil,” Khoury said.

In a statement, the NSW Ministry of Health advised that there were no adverse health effects as a result of past use of MWOO on agricultural land.

The department stated that the health risk assessment identified certain circumstances where exposure to chemicals could occur at levels that are higher than referenced doses, but that these circumstances would be “unusual and short lived”.

Khoury said the decision was made by the EPA with no meaningful consultation and with little regard for the impacts on the recycling sector.

“The NSW EPA need to make all reports used in its MWOO decision making available to industry along with the names of the authors of all such reports. Industry and each of the operators should be provided with an opportunity to review and comment on this material.”

SUEZ Australia and New Zealand CEO Mark Venhoek told Inside Waste that SUEZ only became privy to the reports of scientific data, relied upon by the NSW EPA in making the MWOO decision, on Wednesday afternoon.

“SUEZ will now analyse the EPA’s background documentation and studies used to support the decision.

“During the consultation period, SUEZ will seek clarity from the EPA on the science behind the findings, as well as the proposed transition funding package to support industry,” Venhoek said.

The company aims to continue to work constructively with the NSW EPA and its customers to find a solution to the current situation, he said.

The $6.5 million package for industry and AWT operators is one step the EPA is taking to support finding a solution to manage general household waste, but Khoury said it is a “mere drop in the ocean” compared with any potential financial damages claims made by the affected AWT operators.

“The NSW waste levy was set at a high level to encourage the diversion of waste from the bin with the red lid, from landfill to AWT processing. This decision to revoke the MWOO orders and exemptions in essence wipes out the AWT sector. Why do we then need such a high NSW waste levy?

“This decision by the EPA makes the waste levy an unnecessary tax on the waste management sector and adds to the cost of doing business in NSW. The NSW waste levy is out of step compared with QLD and Victoria and in fact has been subsidising the cost of long distance, interstate transport since 2012. WCRA will be calling for a total review of the NSW waste levy,” Khoury said.

Part of the funding available is for new infrastructure for the AWT industry to introduce food organics and garden organics (FOGO) processing lines at their facilities.

Gifford said it is just the first step in considering new and future uses for general household waste.

“[There is] significant work underway to improve the management of waste in NSW through the development of a 20 Year Waste Strategy,” Gifford said.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said if the NSW government implements the EPA’s decision, waste to landfill or incineration will increase by some 25 per cent, some 200 jobs may be lost, and council rates may go up.

“It is hard to understand how an internationally proven product successfully used by local farmers and others for nearly 20 years – and which the NSW government has previously said has ‘no human health impact’ – can now be banned.

“Compost products from all sources, including home-made compost in people’s backyards and bagged compost on the shelves at Bunnings, generally contain materials with impacts, as well as all their very beneficial aspects. The incidental impacts are managed through carefully developed rules and guidelines like Australian Standard 4454 which permits for trace levels of plastics and glass and other materials,” Shmigel said.

He said the industry, along with its partners in councils, has been positively contributing to the NSW environment and economy for decades.

“The minister has said he wants waste and resource recovery to be ‘self-sustaining, affordable and reliable’. The EPA position on MWOO will put all of recycling into disarray, increase taxpayer costs, and send material to landfill or incineration. That is a bad result for NSW,” Shmigel said.

Public consultation is open until November 28.