The Environment and Planning 5 Minute Fix gives you a snapshot of what you need to know about a range of environment and planning issues across the country. This edition focuses on the latest in waste, climate change and sustainable development including new waste levies in Queensland and South Australia, a "climate emergency" declaration in Sydney and new additions to Australia's list of threatened species and ecological communities.

Waste

New South Wales

Progress of waste avoidance and resource recovery 

NSW's progress against the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014-21 is detailed in the recently published Progress Report 2017-18.  While there was an increase in total waste generated per capita, progress has been made towards the 2021-22 targets for recycling, more waste has been diverted to landfill, more residents have access to problem waste and various programs have been implemented to reduce illegal dumping by 30% by 2020.  Looking forward, the EPA is leading the development of a 20-year waste strategy for reducing waste and increasing recycling.

Early success of container deposit scheme

Two billion bottles and cans have been collected in the first 19 months of the NSW Government's container deposit scheme, which has exceeded expectations and is described as a "phenomenal success" by the Minister for Energy and Environment, Matt Kean.  Approximately one in two adults in NSW have participated in the scheme, reducing the amount of containers reaching landfill by approximately 57%.

Policy switch in tackling plastic waste

The NSW Government is developing the State's first "comprehensive" plastics policy, and is reportedly planning on overturning its opposition to banning plastic bags.  At present, NSW is the only state that has not banned plastic bags.  Victoria's ban will be introduced in November this year.

Organic waste bans lead to increased waste sent to landfill

A recommendation by the NSW EPA is set to stop farmers using ordinary household garbage collected from red-top bins as fertiliser, due to concerns over plastic contamination.  Permits allowing the production of mixed waste organic outputs have been revoked.  More than 100,000 tonnes of material from "red-top" household bins has been sent to landfill instead of being spread on farms.

Queensland

New environmentally relevant activities involving waste commence

On 1 July 2019, new environmentally relevant activity (ERA) for mechanical waste reprocessing commenced (ERA 54), and changes to descriptions and activity thresholds were made to certain ERAs involving waste being crushing, milling, grinding or screening (ERA 33), other waste reprocessing or treatment (ERA 55), regulated waste transport (ERA 57), thermal waste reprocessing or treatment (ERA 61) and resource recovery and transfer facility operation (ERA 62).  Conditions of existing environmental authorities for these activities will transfer to and continue to apply on a replacement environmental authority, however, fees for new ERA thresholds may apply.

Separately, further amendment to the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 has been made to clarify that on-farm composting of organic material is not an ERA requiring approval (without the additional previous qualification that the composted organic material had to be supplied, free of charge, for use at a farm) and that the transport of waste generated by or for a State or local Government entity from the construction or maintenance of a State-controlled road, local government road or railway corridor is not an ERA requiring approval where the waste is transported between State or local Government entity sites.

Commencement of waste levy

The new landfill tax commenced 1 July 2019, with the waste levy being set at $75 per tonne for general waste and for regulated wastes sent to landfill – $105 per tonne for Category 2 and $155 per tonne for Category 1.  The waste levy will include 39 out of 77 local government areas, and cover 90% of Queensland's population.  It does not apply to recyclable materials.  More information on the waste levy here and here.

Release of waste management strategy and EfW discussion

Queensland's new Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy has been finalised.  The strategy moves away from the current "take-make-use-dispose" approach towards a "more circular" system keeping materials in use for longer and extracting maximum value from them.  Targets for 2050 include a recycling rate of 75% for all waste types and a 25% reduction in household waste.

An action under this strategy has been the release of the Energy from Waste policy discussion paper, which is open for public consultation until 26 August.  Energy from Waste (EfW) refers to converting waste materials into fuel or energy (electricity, heat or cooling).  The discussion paper provides a set of proposed principles to help guide EfW developments and aims to obtain feedback on how stakeholders see the role and use of EfW technologies in Queensland's waste management.

South Australia

Unexpected waste levy increase

The SA Government has announced that the solid waste levy will rise from $100 to $140 from 1 January 2020 (increasing from the originally planned $3 increase).  According to the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association, industry is supportive of government action that promotes resource recovery and market development, but considers increasing landfill levies should not be the only response from government, and that policy support, with telegraphed changes that industry can plan for, is needed for such a significant increase.

Fine for asbestos storage 

A skip bin operator has been fined $21,000 for receiving and storing asbestos without a licence.  The operator was licensed as a waste transporter, but did not have a licence to receive or store asbestos at its depot.  The waste should have been taken to a facility licensed to receive or dispose of asbestos.

Victoria

Maximising recovery and reprocessing resources from waste stream?

The Victorian Auditor-General's audit into the State's performance on recovering and reprocessing resources from waste has found that there are opportunities to develop an overarching state-wide policy on waste recovery and reprocessing, and to provide clearer guidance and greater implementation of state-wide strategies for waste processing.  Recommendations include developing a state-wide waste policy to guide agencies responsible for managing the waste sector, developing and publishing a document setting out roles and responsibilities of waste management entities and strengthening Planning Schemes to ensure multi-unit developments have appropriate waste management plans.

Huge costs in accepting waste without an EPA licence

A Nagambie gold exploration company has pleaded guilty to accepting industrial waste (electronic waste and spent bleaching earth) without an EPA licence in 2014-2015.  The company was fined $20,000 and ordered to pay more than $10,000 in costs, and has been issued a Clean Up Notice by the EPA to remove all e-waste and treat all contaminated soil by 2020, the cost of which will likely exceed $300,000.

Western Australia

Grants for waste management and recycling in WA

Western Australian Environment Minister, Stephen Dawson, has announced grants of $2.29 million to improve waste management and increase recycling across Western Australia.  These funds will be shared among 28 projects.  The funding targets projects that improve recovery and reuse of focus materials in the State Government's Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 and initiatives that encourage behaviour change.

Climate Change

International

Global legal action against climate change

New analysis shows that more than 1,300 legal actions regarding climate change have been brought since 1990 in 27 countries. Of those, 1,023 were brought in the US and 94 cases were brought in Australia.

Commonwealth

Platform to track business pledges on zero emissions

ClimateWorks Australia has launched a new initiative, in which it will use a single platform to track the climate change and zero emissions energy pledges of Australian companies, governments and organisations. The platform is aimed at compiling information to bring consistency and transparency to the pledges of organisations in these areas. The launch of the platform is expected in the second half of 2019. 

Input sought for national hydrogen strategy

The Federal Government is currently seeking input on the development of Australia's hydrogen industry, as led by the COAG Energy Council, by the release of nine issues papers seeking input into specific topics including investment, export, community concerns, supporting electricity systems, hydrogen for transport and for industrial use. The consultation process will feed into a national strategy for the development of an Australian hydrogen industry, due to be published by the end of 2019. More info here and here.

Analysis of renewable energy targets across the National Electricity Market

Research from consultants, Green Energy Markets, has found that Victoria and South Australia are within reach of their energy targets, but New South Wales and Queensland are falling short based on current trends. Tasmania achieved more than 100% renewable generation last year (the excess being due to exporting a portion of its hydro and wind power). Western Australia was not included in the study.

Amazon seeks to prevent emissions publication in Australia

Amazon has applied to the Australian Government's Clean Energy Regulator (CER) to prevent publication of its emissions and energy data for the 2017-18 financial year under freedom of information laws. Amazon has claimed that their emissions data could reveal a "trade secret" relating to a reduction of energy usage and information that gives Amazon an advantage over its competitors. The CER is still considering the application.

Meeting net zero targets under the Paris Agreement

The Climate Change Authority is updating its previous advice to the Australian Government regarding policies and recommendations to meet Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement. The updated advice will seek to provide recommendations to ensure Australia can meet its emissions target. Submissions for the Authority's report are open until 23 August 2019. New South Wales

Declaration of a "climate emergency"

The City of Sydney has formally declared a "climate emergency", stating that climate change poses a serious risk to Sydney residents. The minutes from the meeting reportedly call on the Federal Government to urgently respond to the emergency through measures such as reintroducing a price on carbon and creating a body to transition workers from fossil fuel industries to alternative employment.

Queensland

Preparing small business for climate change

To support small businesses to prepare for the impacts of climate change, the Queensland Government has launched the Small and Medium Enterprise Sector Adaptation Plan. This forms part of the suite of adaptation plans being developed under the Queensland Climate Adaptation Strategy and sets out seven action areas to better support business owners to plan for the impacts and opportunities arising from climate change. The Industry and Resources Sector Adaptation Plan is due also to be released this year. More info here and here.

Calls for a meeting on safety in solar farms

The Queensland Government has called for an “urgent industry roundtable” meeting on safety in solar farms. This is in the aftermath of the Queensland Court of Appeal's decision to invalidate a previous government rule change which provided that only licensed electricians could mount and fix solar panels. More info on the decision here.

South Australia

SA joins global Green Ammonia Consortium

The South Australian Government has joined the international Green Ammonia Consortium as an advisory member, as part of efforts to develop a hydrogen production and export industry in the State. The Consortium has been established as an independent association under Japanese law. Membership is open to entities with an interest in renewable green (renewable) ammonia.

Western Australia

Renewable hydrogen

WA Minister for Regional Development, Alannah MacTiernan, has launched the Western Australian Renewable Hydrogen Strategy with the overarching vision that WA will be a significant producer exporter and user of renewable hydrogen. The strategy details the Government's commitment to support and facilitate industry efforts to develop a renewable hydrogen industry in WA, with strategic focus areas being export, remote applications, blending in gas network and transport.

Additions to Australia's national list of threatened species and ecological communities

Sustainable development – regulatory approval

Commonwealth

Commonwealth Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, has added 34 threatened species and three ecological communities to Australia's national list of threatened species and ecological communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

ACT Environment grants for 2019-2020

ACT Environment Grants has awarded grants to 12 projects to the value of $218,183.00 for the 2019-20 round. These projects will contribute to the improvement of the ACT’s ecosystem health and conservation outcomes. Protecting native wildlife South Australia’s new wildlife regulations are now in place which are aimed at protecting native wildlife and strengthening the bond between Australia’s natives and people. Under these regulations, there are now 27 types of wildlife permit types (up from the previous 12). Further, 40 additional native animals are now exempt from requiring a wildlife permit.

New South Wales

Guide to reduce risk of pollution from service station runoff

The NSW EPA has issued the Practice Note – Managing forecourt run-off from service stations, which is a guide that outlines how potentially polluted run-off from service stations can be managed by service stations to better protect the environment. The guide provides recommendations on planning and design, managing risks, and approaches for collecting and treating forecourt run-off at service stations.

Failure to comply with environmental obligations under the Mining Act results in penalty

A mine operator has been convicted of three environment related offences under the Mining Act. The offences were failing to comply with a notice that required environmental remediation works to be undertaken, failing to submit a mandatory Annual Environmental Management Plan and failing to pay annual levies and charges.

Managing native vegetation on rural lands

A performance audit assessing whether clearing of native vegetation in rural areas is effectively regulated and managed under the NSW legislative framework has informed a report prepared by the Audit Office of New South Wales. The report, Managing Native Vegetation, concluded that native vegetation on rural land is not effectively regulated and managed because the processes in place to support the regulatory framework are weak.

Compliance with framework for regulating power stations

The EPA has reviewed stack emission air quality monitoring and reporting at all power stations. The EPA announced that this review found extensive compliance. Queensland

Queensland

Ban on combustible cladding

Combustible cladding is set to be banned on all new Queensland buildings, with support from industry to the proposed new regulations. The ban would extend to all aluminium composite panels with a PE core of greater than 30%, and would restrict usage across all buildings in Queensland.

South Australia

Impacts to certain industries in EPA cost recovery measures

New measures will be introduced to recover part of the costs associated with environmental regulation and support to industry as provided by the SA EPA. These measures will be introduced from 2019-2020 and will predominately affect petrol stations, the recovery and transfer sector, and businesses licensed under Schedule 1 of the Environment Protection Act 1993. In particular, petrol stations will now require an environmental licence, and there will be an increase in fees for large fuel storage facilities as well as for resource recovery and transfer activities.

First phase of SA's new planning system is operational in the outback

The Planning and Design Code and supporting Development Assessment Regulations are now operational in land outside of council boundaries and non-metropolitan coastal waters. The Code will replace all existing Development Plans for land outside of council boundaries. The Code will be introduced across SA in phases over the following 12 months.

Protecting native wildlife

South Australia’s new wildlife regulations are now in place which are aimed at protecting native wildlife and strengthening the bond between Australia’s natives and people.  Under these regulations, there are now 27 types of wildlife permit types (up from the previous 12). Further, 40 additional native animals are now exempt from requiring a wildlife permit.

Victoria

Protecting Victoria’s marine and coastal environment

Victorians are being invited to comment on the new Marine and Coastal Policy, aimed at guiding decision makers in the planning, management and sustainable use of the coastal and marine environments. Consultation will close on 15 August 2019.

High-risk building cladding

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Planning Richard Wynne have announced a $600 million package to fix buildings with combustible cladding. This program will be overseen by the new agency, Cladding Safety Victoria, which will manage funding and work with owners and owners' corporations to help rectify non-compliant cladding by providing support and guidance. Where eligible, funding will be provided for project management support, professional design services, building surveying, permits and approvals, building materials and rectification works.

Western Australia

Strengthening heritage protection

New protections for Western Australia's heritage places have come into effect, with the introduction of the Heritage Act 2018 and Heritage Regulations 2019. The new legislation simplifies assessment procedures in an aim to provide transparency and clarity and improves protection for heritage places at risk from "demolition by neglect".

Fracking implementation plan

The WA Government has considered the Inquiry Report into hydraulic fracture stimulation in WA and has approved the Implementation Plan in response, prepared by a Senior Officials Steering Group.

Strategic mining proposal approved for the Pilbara

The WA Government has approved BHP's 50-100 year strategic mining proposal for the Pilbara. The EPA recommended environmental approval of BHP's strategic proposal, with conditions. Strategic proposals allow the EPA to consider the cumulative impacts of future proposals. BHP must still refer future individual proposals to the WA EPA to determine if they meet the environmental standards set by the strategic assessment.