By Madeline Simpson, Special Counsel and Tooru Nishido, Paralegal, Brisbane.

On 8 July 2019, the Queensland Government released the Energy from Waste Policy Discussion Paper (EFW Discussion Paper) for public consultation. The EFW Discussion Paper outlines the Queensland Government’s proposed approach to developing and implementing energy from waste (EFW) technologies in Queensland as part of ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill. Broadly, public comment is sought from stakeholders and the general public on the role that EFW should play in Queensland’s approach to waste management and the principles of any EFW framework that should be adopted.

Background

For over a year, the Queensland Government has been conducting a comprehensive review of Queensland’s waste management framework. These efforts recently culminated in the passing and commencement of the Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy) Amendment Act 2019 (Qld) which re-introduced a waste levy for much of Queensland from 1 July 2019 in order to serve as a price signal and deter waste being sent to landfill. Additionally, the Queensland Government also recently finalised the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy which outlines a high-level plan for state-wide waste reduction and measures to manage the impacts of waste. This strategy included the Queensland Government setting the following long-term waste targets:

1.       reduce waste generation from households by 25 percent by 2050;

2.       recycle 75 percent of all waste by 2050; and

3.       divert 90 percent of waste from landfill by 2050.

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy identified the development of an EFW policy as key action that should be undertaken.

What is EFW?

Based on the EFW Discussion Paper, EFW broadly refers to the recovery of useful energy from waste materials through generally thermal, biological or chemical processes. Thermal technologies use heat to release energy through incineration. Biological processes include anaerobic digestion, fermentation and solid fuel production. Chemical technologies include using agents to break down wastes in order to obtain liquid fuels. All these technologies are deployed around the world with varying degrees of technological maturity.

EFW Discussion Paper

The EFW Discussion Paper will form the basis of Queensland’s future EFW policy which will aim to provide certainty to proponents while ensuring that the EFW industry is appropriately developed and does not become overly relied on as a waste management solution. Any EFW policy must carefully balance incentivising the use of EFW technologies and ensuring that the technology does not undermine recycling or waste avoidance.

The Queensland Government maintains that the preferred order of waste management actions (ie waste hierarchy) should be:

1.       reduce waste production where possible;

2.       reuse and recycle waste; and

3.       recover energy from waste that cannot be recycled.

The EFW Discussion Paper addresses a number of matters but focuses on considering the following core issues:

  • adopting a risk-based approach to the development of EFW infrastructure;
  • ensuring that the waste hierarchy is not undermined (as discussed above);
  • promoting genuine energy recovery (ie that the energy generated is greater than the energy used during the EFW process);
  • managing potential environmental impacts and whether international best practice standards and/or guidelines should be adopted;
  • developing a clear, consistent and well-informed planning approval and assessment process for emerging EFW technologies; and
  • ensuring that appropriate and transparent community engagement occurs with those communities potentially impacted by proposed EFW infrastructure.

Public consultation

Public comment on the EFW Discussion Paper is currently sought by the Queensland Government, with a particular focus on the issues above and the proposed policy principles articulated in the EFW Discussion Paper. In addition to general comment, the EFW Discussion Paper outlines a number of specific questions for public consultation, which include:

1.       What role should facility operators, collection contractors and local councils be expected to play in ensuring that only appropriate residual waste is accepted for energy recovery?

2.       Should the Queensland Government ban specific materials from landfill, or from both landfill and EFW facilities?

3.       What aspects of the current planning and assessment framework do you think require clarification and how can the planning process support effective community engagement?

4.       What role should the government play in assessing significant EFW proposals?

5.       Should proponents of EFW facilities be required to demonstrate that they have obtained a social licence to operate a proposed facility and how would this be demonstrated?  

Submissions on the EFW Discussion Paper may be made until 5pm on 26 August 2019 with further information available here.

If you have any queries about the EFW Discussion Paper, please contact our team below.

Madeline Simpson
Madeline Simpson
Special Counsel, Brisbane
+61 7 3258 6444