The resources sector is working towards achieving waste management and resource recovery targets
Disposal and recovery
In 2014, the Queensland Government released The Queensland Waste Avoidance and Resource Productivity Strategy (2014–2024) (Waste Strategy), which provides direction and targets for waste management and resource recovery in Queensland over the next 10 years.
According to the Recycling and Waste in Queensland 2017 report, approximately 1.3 million tonnes (or 47.8%) of the 2.8 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste reported in 2016-17, which includes contributions from the resources sector, was recovered. This is similar to the 47.2% recovery rate reported in 2015–16. To put these values into context, a summary of waste recovered and disposed for other headline waste sources is provided below.
Source: Queensland Government (2017) Recycling and Waste in Queensland 2017
In line with the Waste Strategy, the recovery rate target for commercial and industrial waste is set at 55% across Queensland by 2024. While the percentage of waste recovered has positively been trending upwards over the years, there is still work to be done by commercial and industrial waste generators, which includes the resources sector, to further reduce landfill waste and increase recycling and reuse in order to reach this target. However, it is important to note that many resource companies are currently recovering everything feasibly possible given the restrictive requirements for regulated waste provided under the Environmental Protection Act 1994.
Investigation into the transport of waste in Queensland
In August 2017, the Queensland Government commissioned the Honourable Peter Lyons QC, former Supreme Court Judge, to undertake an investigation into the interstate transport of waste into Queensland after allegations of inappropriate practices to avoid landfill levies in other jurisdictions. The investigation delivered two recommendations:
- The Queensland Government consider implementing a general levy on all waste disposal to landfill; and
- The Queensland Government to continue to work with the national, state and territory governments on a national framework that would reduce or limit the unnecessary transportation of waste within Australia.
New resource recovery and waste strategy
On 20 March 2018, the Queensland Government announced its intent to develop a comprehensive new strategy underpinned by a waste disposal levy to increase recycling and recovery. The Government is of the view that the new strategy will provide policy certainty that has been lacking, leading to significant under investment in new and expanded resource recovery infrastructure in Queensland. It will also prioritise waste types for action and identify key re-investment opportunities.
In the first steps towards change, the Government introduced the Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 to establish a waste levy and supporting reporting and compliance framework across 38 local government areas across Queensland (see the draft Regulation for areas affected). QRC provided a submission on the Bill as part of the Parliamentary Committee process. On 22 October 2018, the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee, who considered the Bill, tabled its report with one recommendation that the Bill be passed.
The waste levy is to commence on 1 July 2019 following the Bill’s second reading and debate in early 2019. The levy for general waste will start at $75 per tonne with Category 1 and 2 regulated waste at $155 and $105, respectively. The rates listed will increase by $5 per year for the next three years.
A draft of the new strategy will be released in early 2019 for public consultation.
Regulated waste is a type of waste that requires a higher level of management to prevent harm to the environment or human health.
QRC has worked with Government since 2013 to progress reform to shift the operation of the regulated waste framework and categorisation under the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 from a binary system (i.e. regulated or not) to a risk-based approach (e.g. high, medium or low risk). The regulated waste reform started to gain momentum with the release of a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) in July 2017, however, this was later dovetailed into works to inform the new waste levy and strategy in 2018.
Legislative amendments to the Regulation on 5 October 2018 subsequently afforded a pathway for waste generators, including the resources sector, to test and categorise waste based on their physical (e.g. solid or liquid) and chemical properties having regard to relevant thresholds. There are two categories of regulated waste – Category 1 (highest risk) and Category 2 (moderate risk). Where waste properties fall below the thresholds for Category 2 regulated waste and is of low risk, this material is deemed not-regulated waste or general waste.
From the perspective of the resources sector, the change to the regulated waste framework now allows for:
- New options to reuse and recycle material no longer classified as regulated waste (i.e. general waste); and
- Scale the handling, management and/or disposal of different regulated waste categories accordingly (as opposed to managing a low risk waste as if it were a high risk).
QRC is currently working with Government to develop guidance material in relation to the handling, management and disposal of different regulated waste categories.
End of Waste framework
The End of Waste framework under the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 allows the resources sector and other waste generators to reuse or transfer waste material to a third party for beneficial purposes. Examples of where waste from the resources sector can be beneficially used rather than being disposed to landfills, include:
- Reuse of treated water sourced from coal seam gas wells for crop irrigation; and
- Reuse of drilling muds for rehabilitation of well pads.