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Waste: Comparative Data and Management Frameworks

Waste: Comparative Data and Management Frameworks

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper 09/2010 by Stewart Smith

In 2006-07 some 43.7 million tonnes of waste was generated in Australia. The management of waste has been on the national and State environmental agenda for at least the last 20 years.

This paper is divided into two parts. The first part looks at the waste data of the mainland States: Queensland; NSW; Victoria; South Australia; and Western Australia. The comparative performances of these jurisdictions are briefly commented upon. Part two of the paper looks at the institutional arrangements and waste management policies of these States.

Limitations of Waste data
National information on waste and resource recovery is limited and there are differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in how data is collected and reported. This makes comparison of figures, such as disposal and recovery rates across States and Territories, problematic.

Comparative Waste Data
In 2002-03 the mainland States of Australia had a total generated waste of some 31.7 million tonnes. By 2006-07, total generated waste had increased by some 33% to a total of 42.3 million tonnes. In raw tonnage terms NSW contributed the most (15.3 million tonnes). Perhaps of more interest are the raw tonnage statistics reported on a per capita basis. Analysis of the data shows that:
    In 2002-03 South Australia had the highest per capita waste, but by 2006-07 Western Australia had the highest;
    South Australia was the only State to reduce its per capita total generated waste over the time period 2002-03 to 2006-07;
    The greatest percentage increase in total generated waste between 2002-03 and 2006-07 was by Queensland – up 83%. However, Queensland had the lowest per capita tonnage;
    The per capita total generated waste for NSW was up 22% over the time period (at 2.23 tonnes per person in 2006-07).

The diversion rate is the proportion of total generated waste that is recycled rather than disposed. It is often expressed as a percentage of the total waste generated. Currently South Australia has the highest diversion rate – 66%, with Victoria (62%) and NSW (52%) following.

There are three main components to the waste stream. These are:
    Municipal waste;
    Commercial and Industrial waste; and
    Construction and Demolition waste.

In 2006-07 South Australia had the highest municipal diversion rate (54%), compared to NSW at 38%. The lowest was Western Australia at 29%.

In 2006-07 Victoria had the highest Commercial and Industrial diversion rate (69%). In contrast, NSW had the lowest Commercial and Industrial diversion rate (44%).

The Construction and Demolition waste diversion rate for NSW for 2006-07 was 67%. The highest diversion rate was South Australia (79%), whilst the lowest was Western Australia (17%).

The Institutional Waste Framework
New South Wales
The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 provides for setting environmental standards, goals, protocols and guidelines. The Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001 requires the development of a NSW waste avoidance and resource recovery strategy. The Act also established a framework for extended producer responsibility schemes for industry.

In October 2007 the Department of Environment and Climate Change published the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2007. The Strategy aims to maximise the conservation of natural resources by avoiding waste and minimising environmental harm from waste management and disposal of solid waste.

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 requires licensed waste facilities in NSW to pay a contribution in respect of each tonne of waste received for disposal at the facility. The levy rate for 2010-11 for the Sydney metropolitan area is $70.30 per tonne.

In March 2010 the NSW Government introduced the Waste Processing and Recycling Corporation (Authorised Transaction) Bill 2010 (No 2). With the assent of the Act on the 23 March 2010, the legislation permits the Government to privatise the publicly owned Waste Processing and Recycling Corporation, which trades as WSN Environmental Solutions. It has been reported that the sale of WSN is on track to be completed by the end of 2010.

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is responsible for the development and implementation of Victoria's statutory framework for waste. The Environment Protection Act 1970 is the principal piece of legislation regulating the waste industry in Victoria. Amendments to the Act in 1985 introduced industrial waste management policies. In 2002 the Environment Protection (Resource Efficiency) Act permitted the Environment Protection Authority to develop waste management policies. This change meant that policies that deal with municipal waste could also be developed.

The Victorian Zero Waste Strategy was launched in 2005. The strategy established four Statewide targets for waste reduction, resource recovery and littering by 2014. The strategy contains 28 key actions made up of industry incentives, education, and advisory support. Strategies focus on the improvement of waste management systems and infrastructure, the establishment of product stewardship agreements, the development of both new and existing markets for recycled products, and raising the awareness and

capacity of communities and business.

A new statutory authority, Sustainability Victoria, was established to support and coordinate the implementation of Towards Zero Waste. Sustainability Victoria develops Statewide strategies for municipal, commercial and industrial wastes. It provides information and advice to business, government and the community on various issues including: recycling; energy efficient buildings; and green power.

Levies apply to municipal, commercial and industrial and prescribed industrial wastes deposited onto land at licensed facilities in Victoria. The current levy for metropolitan and provincial Melbourne is $30 per tonne, rising to $40 per tonne in 2011-12.

Waste in Queensland is currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Act 1994, the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 and the Environmental Protection (Waste Management) Policy 2000.

The policy establishes a preferred waste management hierarchy and principles for achieving good waste management. The Waste regulations give legislative support to various national guidelines, plans and Australian Standards, while the Environmental Protection Regulation provides the ability to licence and apply conditions of operation to certain activities, including waste transfer stations, regulated waste treatment facilities and waste disposal facilities. Waste legislation in Queensland is administered by the Department of Environment and Resource Management in Queensland.

The Queensland Waste Management Strategy 1996 aims to minimise or avoid impacts on the environment due to waste whilst allowing for economic growth. In October 2007 the discussion paper Let’s Not Waste Our Future was released to seek public input into the development of a new waste strategy and waste reform for Queensland. However, the document has not progressed past the discussion paper stage.

Queensland does not have a landfill levy or legislated landfill bans. However, in May 2010 the Queensland Minister for the Environment was reported as saying that the Government was considering the introduction of a waste levy, amid concerns that the State would become a dumping ground for waste from other States.

Western Australia
The Environmental Protection Act 1986 and its associated regulations established a licensing framework which covers a variety of waste facilities. The Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2007 and its associated regulations established the Waste Authority on 1 July 2008. The key responsibilities of the Authority are:
      the development of a long-term waste management strategy for Western Australia;
      to improve waste services;
      to avoid generating waste;
      to set targets for resource recovery.

The Waste Authority is fully funded through the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Account. The second draft of the State Waste Strategy created under the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2007 was released for public comment in March 2010.

The Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Levy Act 2007 established the power to prescribe a landfill levy. The levies have risen substantially for 2010. For instance, landfill levies for putrescibles increased from $8 per tonne in 2009 to $28 per tonne for 2010. Similarly, for inert materials the levy increased from $3 per tonne in 2009 to $12 per tonne for 2010.

South Australia
The Environment Protection Authority is South Australia's primary environmental regulator, responsible for the protection of air and water quality, and the control of pollution, waste, noise and radiation. The Authority developed the Environment Protection (Waste to Resources) Policy, which is due to commence on 1 September 2010. The Policy will require waste from metropolitan Adelaide to be taken to resource recovery facilities prior to disposal at landfill, and bans a variety of wastes from landfill.

Zero Waste SA was established by the Zero Waste SA Act 2004. Zero Waste SA is the primary agency responsible for the target ‘reduce waste to landfill by 25% by 2014’ in South Australia’s Strategic Plan. Zero Waste SA developed a Waste Strategy 2005–2010. A Consultation Draft for the next phase (2010-2015) was released in August 2010. The first Waste Strategy (2005-2010) focused on introducing kerbside recycling systems in Adelaide and engaging communities in recycling practices. The new Draft Strategy redirects the main waste focus from recycling to reducing and avoiding waste.

The Zero Waste Act 2004 also established the Waste to Resources Fund. As of July 2010, a landfill levy in South Australia was payable at a rate of $26 per tonne in metropolitan areas and $13 per tonne in non-metropolitan areas.

It should also be noted that South Australia has a container deposit refund scheme. This was introduced in 1977, and allows South Australians to collect a ten cent refund deposit for each beverage container they return to a recycling depot. South Australia has also banned lightweight plastic bags.


Whilst the limitations of the data discussed in section one of this paper must be considered, it could be argued that the most successful State in terms of waste minimization and recovery is South Australia. If this conclusion holds, the obvious question is why? Is it solely due to the work of ZeroWaste SA? Or is the awareness of waste issues heightened in South Australia by their container deposit legislation and, more recently, the ban on lightweight plastic bags?