Update - use of mixed waste organic material

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Published: 23 November 2018

Background

In July 2017, Council began a 10 year contract with Veolia Environmental Services to process our residential garbage to produce a mixed waste organic output (MWOO) that could be used to rehabilitate the Woodlawn mine site. The contract would result in Council diverting a large portion of our residential garbage from landfill and would allow Council to meet the solid waste diversion targets set by the State Government of 70% by 2021/22.

On Friday 26 October 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoked the exemption that allowed waste treatment companies to supply mixed waste organic material to be used to rejuvenate soil on agricultural land, in plantation forests and to rehabilitate mine sites.

Restrictions on the use of MWOO, including regulations on the processing and distribution and prohibiting its use for urban and domestic purposes, have been in place since 2010.

The decision to stop further use of the material follows independent research commissioned by the EPA which concluded that there are physical contaminants and potential environmental risks to the process and limited agricultural or soil benefits from applying MWOO.

A Daily Telegraph article published on 6 October 2018 claimed the scheme potentially exposed humans and livestock to cancer-linked toxins. An independent review of possible human health risks commissioned by the EPA found the use of MWOO on agricultural land is unlikely to present any health risk to the general public, and the risk for farmers who applied the material to their land is very low.

The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health have reviewed the initial findings, and further work overseen by an independent panel formed by the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer is underway.

What it means for Council

There will be no change to current waste collection services.

Under Council’s contract with Veolia, waste will continue to be received and processed into MWOO. There will be no impact on food and garden organics.

Diversion of general household waste from landfill will not occur as removal of the exemption means MWOO can no longer be applied to land remediation and Council will not be able to meet the diversion targets set by the State Government.

The Southern Sydney Region of Councils (SSROC) wrote to the NSW Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Gabrielle Upton MP, requesting:

  • The scientific basis for the revocation of the exemption, particularly its relevance to mine-site rehabilitation, to permit Councils and service providers some insight into the risks to and scale of both environmental and operational implications.
  • Written confirmation of a verbal undertaking that the **waste levy will not be levied on mixed waste organic output.
  • The plan and timetable for consideration of further controls in relation to mining rehabilitation and for resumption of the exemption under any necessary revised controls, including stakeholder engagement;
  • Written confirmation of the immediate suspension of the requirement for affected Councils to meet the diversion targets specified in the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014-21.

At a meeting with representatives from the EPA, including their CEO, Veolia and other SSROC Councils a number of points were clarified:

  1. The revocation of the exemption was a blanket response to a situation that in the short term mainly affects agricultural land, but may have long term consequences for other uses.
  2. The delay between receiving the initial report and revoking the exemption was due to the need to undertake human risk assessments and work with other government bodies such as NSW Health and the Department of Agriculture to obtain a full understanding of the issues and consequences.
  3. The EPA has not yet undertaken tests on the product produced by the Veolia MBT facility, as this was not in operation at the time they were conducting the testing.
    1. It is important to note that Veolia have confirmed that no product has left their site and at this stage no product has actually been used on the mine site and this will not occur until the EPA has been able to conduct tests.
  4. As the Veolia site is unique in that they are producing a product to be used exclusively to rehabilitate the mine site associated with the MBT facility and not on-sold for other uses, the EPA will give priority to undertaking tests and working with Veolia to institute a site specific exemption. It is not known at this stage what that exemption will look like, or how long it will take, but they are expecting it be within 2 to 6 months.
    1. If the exemption requires further processing, this will affect the overall diversion rates offered under the existing contract

The EPA have now confirmed an exemption from the waste levy for all processed WMOO sent to landfill over the next 12 months.

November 2018

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