Randwick Council’s website ‘Our Beach Pollution Ends Here’, which encourages residents to ‘adopt’ a drain in a bid to raise awareness and reduce stormwater pollution of Sydney’s beaches, has been nominated for a Webby Award, one of internet’s most prestigious awards.
In a bid to combat the economic downturn brought about by COVID-19, NSW Minister for Planning and Public spaces, Rob Stokes, has revealed the government’s Planning System Acceleration Program.
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.
- 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.
Submissions and comments are being sought by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) on proposed measures to ensure that those organisations responsible for pollution or contamination pay the clean-up costs.
On the day that Google honoured all cleaning workers globally on its Google Doodles, the Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA) executive director Tony Khoury, has praised the association’s members who are waste collection contractors. Khoury described them as both resourceful and operational, saying that this will ensure that the essential work is still performed.
“The issues surrounding COVID-19 have had a major impact across the community. In these tough and uncertain times, the workers and contractors that collect waste and recyclables continue to perform their work albeit in difficult circumstances,” he said.
According to Khoury, the feedback from WCRA’s Members, is that many commercial waste accounts are either on hold, requesting a reduced service or are looking to cancel.
He noted that some members have also highlighted the difficulties associated with having staff work from home.
“Like many businesses at the moment, IT systems are struggling to cope and the problems that were previously solved with a simple office chat and a cup of coffee, are just a little more difficult to resolve,” he said.
Government assistance welcomed
However, he welcomed the initiative by the Federal Government to increase the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 until 30 June 2020.
“Any waste and recycling contractor that requires a piece of equipment and is in a position to bring forward a purchase decision can do so and obtain instant tax relief,” he added.
A new Department of Regional NSW has been established to better coordinate support for communities, businesses and farmers in the bush that have endured drought, bushfire and flood and now face the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro, said that the department will bring together Primary Industries, Local Land Services, Resources and Geoscience and regional coordination across government to form a central agency dedicated to regional issues.
It will be led by incoming Secretary Gary Barnes, currently the Coordinator General, Regional NSW, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
Response to regional needs
Barilaro said that the government was urgently responding to the desperate needs of people in the regions and this new agency would work to ensure community wellbeing, resilient economies and strong key regional industries.
“We know that the issues faced by the people of Cootamundra are very different to those faced in Coogee and so it is imperative we have a government designed to properly support every corner of this State,” he explained.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made a big impact on what has already been a devastating start to 2020, as farmers continue to suffer through the worst drought in recorded history and towns torn apart by bushfires continue to feel the effects months on.
“The new Department of Regional NSW will be a voice in government for people in the bush and will have a laser-like focus on the challenges and opportunities unique to regional communities, helping them to get through hardships many of us have not seen in our time.
“This department will allow a more streamlined response to regional issues as experts in areas such as primary industries, land management, resources, regional development, drought response and bushfire recovery work closer together than ever before.”
According to Barilaro, the department will drive the delivery of recent bushfire and COVID-19 stimulus and industry recovery packages along with the NSW Government’s drought initiatives, $1.7 billion Regional Growth Fund and $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund.
“I said that regional communities would get their fair share and to date, we have fulfilled that commitment, from securing billions in funding to the urgent measures we have rolled out for farmers, business owners and families,” Barilaro added.
The Department of Regional NSW will be led by incoming Secretary Gary Barnes, currently the Coordinator General, Regional NSW, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
Everyone working in waste and recycling knows that getting a planning approval for a waste facility is a long and excruciating process. NSW is the worst. No-one wants a waste facility next door so all applications are opposed by someone. It is not a question of whether there will be objections, but how many.
The City of Parramatta Council is trialling two innovative sustainable road solutions aimed at reducing waste materials and combatting heat. An asphalt product incorporating recycled soft plastics from plastic bags and packaging, waste glass and waste toner from used printer cartridges Reconophalt, will be used in the first trial in Epping and Ermington.
City of Parramatta, Lord Mayor Cr Bob Dwyer acknowledged the growing problem that single-use plastics and other materials pose to the environment.
“Finding new ways to recycle and reuse materials means we can reduce the amount of waste that ultimately enters landfill,” he said. “By taking tonnes of plastic and glass from local recycling plants and using it to create roads, we are able to turn trash into treasured infrastructure.”
According to the manufacturer of Reconophalt, Downer, the equivalent of approximately 500,000 plastic bags, 165,000 glass bottles, and 12,500 toner cartridges is diverted from landfill for every 1km of a two-lane road.
Partial DPIE funding
This project has been partially funded through the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s ‘Waste Less, Recycle More’ initiative, which has been funded by the waste levy.
The second trial, which is being conducted in partnership with Blacktown and Campbelltown councils and Western Sydney University, will examine how lighter coloured roads can help reduce the amount of heat being absorbed and retained by roads on hot days. Renoir Street, Old Toongabbie; Roslyn Avenue, Northmead; Corry Court and carpark, North Parramatta; and part of Binalong Park car park, Old Toongabbie are among the first roads in NSW to be coated with a new ‘cool’ seal coat, GuardTop CoolSeal, a light grey coloured coating, which can be 5-14ºC cooler than regular dark asphalt on a hot day. It is applied to asphalt surfaces to protect and maintain the quality and longevity of the surface.
Researchers from Western Sydney University will collect and analyse data taken from the trial sites, before determining the product’s overall impact in reducing heat.
“As Western Sydney can be several degrees hotter than suburbs in the east, it is crucial we explore ways we can keep our streets cooler – especially in the summer,” Dwyer said.
“Parramatta is going through an incredible period of growth and transformation, and Council is dedicated to building a sustainable and innovative City that will meet the needs of our community well into the future. These road projects are just two examples of how we are achieving this,” he added.
The NSW EPA has assured the waste and environment industries that it will continue to fulfil its responsibilities as the state’s primary environmental regulator while maintaining the health and safety of staff, communities, industry and other partners.
In reference to the evolving situation with COVID-19, the agency explained in a statement that this includes working to minimise any disruptions to its regulatory activities, offering the industry guidance if required, and asking for cooperation from industry and partners.
“Please be assured that the EPA will continue to be guided by the latest advice from NSW and Commonwealth health authorities and will consider the impact of that advice in the delivery of our regulatory functions,” the EPA said.
Business continuity plan
The EPA said that it has a business continuity plan in place which is being reviewed regularly in light of the most up-to-date advice, to enable us to meet our regulatory responsibilities. That includes planning to allow staff to work remotely where appropriate so that we maintain our compliance, enforcement and pollution response activities as best we can to prevent environmental and community harm.
That means that compliance with licence conditions and issue clean-up notices and prevention notices where necessary will continue to be required.
However, the EPA may consider requests for exemptions on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.
“As we continue to closely monitor the situation, we are providing on-going, up-to-date and appropriate communication with our employees, regulatory partners and government,” the statement said.
Expectations from the regulated community
As the country face the current unprecedented situation together, the NSW EPA has strongly recommended the implementation of a business continuity plan, if one is not already in place.
“That plan should take into account the updated advice being provided by NSW and Commonwealth health officials, including any sector-specific advice. Now is also the right time to check you have everything in place to enact your pollution incident response management plan,” it explained.
The EPA has asked all licensees to assist in managing risks during this period notifying it by email to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- If you anticipate any significant risk to your ability to comply with your licence or licences under which you operate.
- If you need advice on business continuity preparedness for your operations.
The EPA stressed that this is not a legal obligation but, rather a request to assist the EPA and the NSW Government in managing the current situation in the public interest.
It explained that a business continuity plan would help meet responsibilities for any environmental impacts from activities because as licence conditions and other regulatory responsibilities remain in place, associated obligations will also remain in place.
These include the priority responsibilities of maintaining and operating pollution control equipment, and storing, transporting and disposing of waste appropriately. The EPA said that it expected licensees in the waste industry to continue to maintain good communications with clients and the EPA, particularly around any predicted service disruptions. Licensees must continue to notify the NSW EPA of pollution incidents and other regulatory or compliance issues.
The grease trap collection industry is expected to continue to be negatively impacted by the general downturn in tourism and fewer people at events, stadiums and in public places. The directive for all restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs to only serve take-away food is now expected to exacerbate its financial viability.