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Proposed NSW C&D Recycling Reforms – Short Term Pain for Longer Term Gain

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has released a consultation paper highlighting a range of law reforms to drive improvements in the way the construction and demolition wastes are managed. What does it mean for your facility?

The reforms come after a major overhaul of waste laws in November 2014. The previous reforms to the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 saw a drop in licensing thresholds, meaning that a lot more facilities had to secure an EPA licence. Requirements for installing weighbridges, legal limits on waste stockpiles, monthly waste reporting to the EPA and implementation of the ‘Proximity Principle’ to prevent the long-haul transport of waste for disposal were among these reforms.

The new reforms put the industry on notice with minimum standards for licensed recovery facilities to ensure that they manage and recycle construction and demolition waste materials responsibly. Mandatory requirements for tipping, spreading, inspection for contamination, sorting then recycling are proposed as part of these reforms.

Mandatory recycling targets at the facility level of at least 50% for sites that process less than 30,000 tonnes per year, or 75% for facilities that process more than 30,000 tonnes per year are proposed. This reform is being considered to motivate investment in recycling infrastructure, retain local jobs and reduce the incentive for long haul transport of waste where processing, recycling and disposal of residuals may be achieved at lower cost.

The NSW Government plans to abolish the ‘Proximity Principle’ which was introduced in 2014. The objective of this policy was to ensure that waste is managed locally, and within a 150 km radius of the site of generation. A key objective of the policy was to reduce the transport of waste to jurisdictions with no landfill levy, where the economics of waste disposal are much more favourable.

Due to difficulties in policing this law, and continuing long haul transport of waste for the intention of ‘recycling’ and not ‘disposal’, this policy is being abandoned. Though reporting using the EPA’s online waste tracking system will continue.

The reforms also take aim at facilities that are manufacturing ‘recovered fines’, or soil-like material used in construction applications under the current Recovered Fines Resource Recovery Order 2014 and Exemption 2014.  This material will no longer be able to be lawfully used post 1 March 2017, due to concerns over poor process control, testing and compliance at some sites.

However, the EPA is proposing to replace the Order and Exemption with one that will allow the material to be suitable as alternate daily cover on landfills – albeit a limited, low value market option. Facilities that have good process control and contaminant identification and separation procedures can still apply for a Specific Exemption under the Regulation to continue to sell material for use in higher-value construction applications.

The proposed reforms, among others, are being delivered by the EPA due to a reduction in recycling rates across the sector, and concern from the construction industry over some low-quality materials, potential asbestos contamination and continued long haul transport of waste.

Clearly, the reforms will encourage greater local investment in recycling infrastructure for the management of construction and demolition waste, retain local jobs and prevent the long-haul transport of waste to be managed in other regions or jurisdictions.

Facilities that have minimised investment in processing and recycling infrastructure at their sites will feel the pain of these law reforms, though facilities that have been investing in line with best practice recycling techniques will see little impact.

To assist with the transition, the NSW EPA will commence a fourth round of the Resource Recovery Expansion and Enhancements Grants Program to provide financial support to facilities to modernise infrastructure and comply with the proposed laws.

The NSW EPA is seeking feedback on the New Minimum Standards for Managing Construction and Demolition Waste in NSW. Comments close on 17 November 2017.

Mark Jackson is the Director at Jackson Environment and Planning.