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Waste management facilities are not the same as shopping centres

The Federal government is to be congratulated for overhauling procurement rules to require recycled content in new building and civil works.

The imminent ban on exports of recyclables is going to turn the market on its head. We need to urgently expand markets and build new processing facilities in Australia or we could drown in 1.3 million tonnes (MT) of recyclables that we previously exported.

MRA has estimated that we need to build at least 100 new pieces of kit to meet the existing State Government waste targets and process the new 1.3 MT of exported materials. Industry is keen to invest and there is plenty of superannuation money looking for a secure home right now.

With the stage set, all that remains is getting the kit approved and built. How hard can it be?
Quite hard… And time consuming… And expensive…
So here are a few pointers from a waste planning consultant, for proponents:

1. Choose your site carefully
Sites located too close to people, water or other special places require in-depth assessment (environmental impact statement; EIS). And ensure the zoning is right – preferably “Industry” zoning, but some other zones work as well.
2. Understand Thresholds
EPA and Council Thresholds (t/yr) determine planning and licensing requirements. They should be used to define short term and long term goals for the project and options for future expansion.
3. Be practical in scale
Be aware that the more tonnes through a facility, the greater the requirement for environmental controls from the regulators. So be realistic about how big you need it. There are pros and cons of going big early vs late.
4. Prepare a professional planning application
Waste facilities have the potential to locally pollute the environment (even though they ultimately contribute to a cleaner and better world).
A good application will provide a robust assessment of everything from stormwater to truck movements to waste classification and stockpiling of materials. Providing information up front results in quicker assessment timeframes with less wrinkles to be ironed out and happier regulators.
5. Use a waste planner not a town planner
A professional planning application requires a good understanding of the business of waste. Most general planning companies do not understand waste. That means waste supply, market demand, Government policy, recycling, offtake agreements, social licence, environmental footprint and diversion targets etc. These are critical to your application but don’t generally apply to housing or shopping centre applications. The regulators want to know in much more detail about the role and function of the facility in a broader policy context. So recommending a waste planner may sound self-serving but it nonetheless, makes a difference.
MRA often sees rejected proposals done by non-waste town planners. It is good for our business but a waste of your money. Get it right the first time. It may mean slowing down a bit at the start to get the context right, but better that than being interminably stuck in planning revisions, appeals, the Courts or ultimately a refusal.

Esther Hughes is a principal environmental planner at MRA Consulting Group.

NSW government releases COVID-19 guidance for waste and recycling industry

The NSW government has advised the waste and recycling industry and councils that it will continue to work closely with them to ensure critical waste services continue. It has also issued a set of guidelines for staying healthy and safe during COVID-19.

In a joint statement, the government and the EPA said that although the risk of transmission of COVID-19 when handling waste was low, waste handling should continue using safe routine procedures.

Despite public health orders listing restrictions to activities and places that are closed, the government acknowledged that the waste and recycling industry provides an important service for the community and businesses.

Worker health and safety

It advised that it was still possible to go to work in the waste and recycling industry if it wasn’t possible to work from home and that workers can continue to travel for the purposes of work.

However, it suggested that workers could carry identification, wear a uniform or carry a letter from their employer to assist with COVID-19 compliance checks.

Under the model work health and safety laws, the government said that employers must have measures in place to eliminate or manage risks arising from COVID-19. These include providing workers with appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves and eye protection, and information and training on how and why they are required to use them.

SafeWork NSW has also advised that although employers may not be able to eliminate the risk of workers contracting COVID-19 while carrying out work, they must do all that is reasonably practicable to minimise that risk.

The statement pointed to the latest COVID-19 information and advice from SafeWork NSW and advised operators to keep up to date to ensure that any action taken is appropriate.

Disposal of household waste

Meanwhile, the government is clear that waste items from people in isolation with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in nonhealthcare facilities, such as homes and other lodgings, should be placed in the red-lidded rubbish bin.

It has also issued this advice for people in isolation is as follows:

  • Dispose of all used personal care items such as tissues, disposable masks and gloves in a rubbish bin that’s lined with a plastic bag.
  • When the bin is three-quarters full, tie-off the plastic bag to prevent spillage of the contents. Avoid touching the inside of the bag and dispose of the bag into the general household red-lidded rubbish bin.
  • Hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be used if hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Disposal of clinical waste

Waste generated from clinical settings such as hospitals, nursing homes or mobile clinics, must be Coronavirus (COVID-19) 9 April 2020 Information for the waste and recycling sector Supporting NSW during COVID-19 stored and processed as per usual.

This includes clinical waste, cytotoxic waste, pharmaceutical, drug or medicine waste, and sharps waste. If waste managers and operators who transport, store, treat or dispose of clinical and related waste are unsure, they should refer to the following NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) advice:

  • Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 for licensing requirements
  • Part 11 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 for requirements relating to the storage, transport and disposal of clinical waste.

Retail waste disposal

The government said that it has allowed for waste disposal from retail premises at any time, under the Environmental Planning and Assessment (COVID-19 Development – Extended Operation) Order 2020.

By working with councils to support communities across the state in response to COVID-19 the government said it is making orders to allow for development to be carried out without the normal planning approval in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of everyone.

Interstate transport of waste

The government is also working with the transport industry to ensure uninterrupted movement of goods and other materials across state borders. NSW has not imposed any state-based restrictions on the movement of waste although in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Queensland government has tightened restriction on entry into the state.

These restrictions provide for the continuation of essential goods and services. Transporters can apply for an entry pass into Queensland at qld.gov.au/border-pass and regulations for tracking waste out of NSW or overseas still apply.

 Business continuity plans

The government has clearly stated that operators responsible for providing waste and recycling collection services and facilities should have a business continuity plan in place.

Plans should include the priority responsibilities of storing, transporting and disposing of waste appropriately, as well as measures to continue essential waste services like kerbside collection. Plans should be assessed and revised to account for changing circumstances, such as reduced staff numbers or the loss of key personnel, with focus given to high-risk activities.

Licence holders and other entities regulated by the EPA should also have environmental risk management procedures in place to assist in minimising risks to the environment and human health and meet regulatory requirements.

They must also continue to immediately notify the EPA of pollution incidents and compliance issues. Operators should maintain good communications with clients and the EPA, particularly around any predicted service disruptions.

Where social distancing requires the extension of operating hours, waste operators should contact the EPA for further assistance.

Key contacts

  • Environment Line on 131 555
  • Service NSW – for information and advice for NSW businesses go to service.nsw.gov.au.
  • Health – follow the COVID-19 health advice at NSW Health at health.nsw.gov.au.
  • Worker health and safety – follow SafeWork NSW advice at safework.nsw.gov.au.
  • Waste – for information about transport and disposal of waste visit epa.nsw.gov.au or call the Environment Line on 131 555.