By Maria Marshall

Coverage of the waste sector under the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is likely to prompt re-evaluation of the planning, ownership, management and operation of landfill sites in the State’s urban and rural areas.

re-evaluation should take account of the broader regulatory and policy environment applicable to waste.

  • Elements of that broader environment in Victoria include Towards Zero Waste Strategy. This strategy sets statewide targets for waste reduction, resource recovery, littering, and specific targets and actions for Victoria’s municipal and business sectors to achieve more sustainable use of resources by 2014.
  • A metropolitan waste and resource recovery strategic plan has been developed to further the objectives of the TZWS. The Victorian Advanced Resource Recovery Initiative forms a part of this plan, $10m initiative to support the development of Alternative Waste Technology facilities for metropolitan Melbourne.
  • Review of the waste transfer and recycling facility provisions in planning schemes: An advisory committee has been set up to review land use definitions, zoning controls and other related provisions in waste transfer stations and materials recycling facilities within schemes.
  • A review is underway into Victoria’s 12 regional waste management groups. Among other things, it will set future directions for regional resource recovery planning as part of the development of an integrated waste management framework across the state.

TZWS was adopted by the Victorian Government in 2005. It establishes a vision for the State’s waste management and resource recovery, setting targets for waste reduction throughout the state. This includes 65 per cent waste diversion from landfill by 2014 for municipal waste, which has contributed 2.5 million tonnes, or 29 per cent, of the total waste stream in Victoria in recent years.  The Strategy seeks to achieve these targets through encouraging the recovery and re-use of materials by,

  • promoting progress in resource recovery technologies and
  • improving recycling and efficiency in resource use.

The Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery  plan  builds on the TZWS.  It recommends the setting up of up to eight facilities in metropolitan Melbourne and using new resource recovery facilities to service the growing waste management needs of the city.  VARRI is the first step in achieving this goal, involving consideration of various options for AWT facilities, which typically ferment organic waste.  Such facilities are expected to

  • eliminate methane and other greenhouse gases;
  • produce renewable energy;
  • produce other products including saleable nutrient rich compost; and
  • improve reuse of materials for continued circulation in the Victorian economy.

In line with existing guidelines (ed, Environment Protection Act 1970), the Metropolitan Waste Management Group and Regional Waste Management Groups are required to plan, coordinate and facilitate procurement of waste management and resource recovery services for metropolitan and regional local governments. Procurement guidelines are currently being developed to guide decision making for large scale capital intensive waste treatment facilities, such as those VARRI is designed to support. Each purpose-built facility is expected to cost between $70 million and $120 million.

The guidelines are being developed in line with the strategic plan and will ensure a complementary and flexible process to suit waste management opportunities that will arise over the life of the plan and the outcomes of the VARRI business case, currently under development.

The Waste Transfer and Recycling Facility advisory committee was appointed to review land use definitions. These include zoning controls and other related provisions in waste transfer stations, materials recycling facilities in planning schemes as well as make recommendations on

  • Improving the definition and assessment of these facilities through planning schemes.
  • Improving the zoning and other related controls to minimise the impacts of these facilities on nearby sensitive land uses and to facilitate proposals.
  • Improving mechanisms available to achieve compliance with regulatory guidelines, including planning scheme controls, permits and their conditions.
  • Simplifying planning permit applications for these facilities.
  • Improving coordination between strategic waste management planning and provisions in planning schemes.

In April, the advisory committee published an issues and options paper, outlining proposed changes to the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPP) on waste management. The paper considers moving away from the focus on waste management, to strengthen  support for  resource recovery efforts and to better relate to the government’s recycling and resource recovery policies.

  • Development of a model local policy for refuse transfer stations and materials recycling is to provide a starting point for developing local policies. It is hoped this approach will result in a more consistent treatment of resource recovery.
  • Development of additional guidelines and codes of practice for construction and demolition recycling and commercial and industrial recycling, which may be incorporated in planning schemes and become part of the statutory decision-making process.
  • Development of understanding between responsible authorities, including the Environment Protection Authority and the development of codes of practice relating to the operation, maintenance and management of these facilities to help ensure compliance.

While Melbourne and large regional centres are expected to exceed the targets set out in the TZWS it is considered that rural and regional areas are less likely to meet the targets due to a range of factors, including waste generation patterns, population density and resource recovery and disposal options.

The purpose of the review of regional waste management groups is to enable the government to plan future structural, funding and governance arrangements and activities for the groups to improve regional Victoria’s capacity to deliver on the TZWS targets while enabling local governments to provide cost-effective waste services to their communities.

As part of the review, Sustainability Victoria has prepared a consultation draft of a Future Directions paper on the possible future operating structures of the groups. The paper includes a discussion of barriers and opportunities for resource recovery in regional Victoria.

These include barriers to  developing resource recovery facilities noted in the  paper including lack of economies of scale to develop more efficient processing facilities. The paper suggests that the greatest opportunity for resource recovery is in and around the large waste generating towns of Victoria. There are a number of major waste generation centres in Victoria.

With the exception of Geelong the largest waste generating areas are located primarily to the north-west and north-east of Melbourne, along major transport corridors to Bendigo, Ballarat, Shepparton and Wodonga.

There is an opportunity to consolidate waste management around these large generating areas and thereby achieve economies of scale in transporting and processing materials.

While lower generating areas will still require active engagement and programs to reduce waste to landfill efforts should be focused in and around the large waste generating towns.

The absence of a full cost recovery pricing model is also noted as a barrier to improved management of waste streams and the uptake of resource recovery technologies in regional Victoria.

In regional Victoria the introduction of price signals for emissions from landfill through the CPRS will drive a shift towards better cost recovery .Nevertheless, a strong land use planning framework which facilitates the development of AWTs and resource recovery facilities may also be necessary.

The future directions paper also proposes that existing RWMGs be subsumed by regional business units of Sustainability Victoria.  This reform appears to be a regional extension of the reforms introduced in 2002 when the MWMG was set up as a statutory entity independent of local councils.  This reform had the effect of transferring liability for the former RWMGs within the Melbourne metropolitan area to State Government.

The Future

The policy documents referred to in this article underscore the need to encourage resource recovery efforts. Implementation of these policies coupled with the introduction of a carbon price through the CPRS will likely result in major changes in the Victorian waste management sector There is a need to plan ahead to determine where such facilities would be best located, and applicable siting criteria, such as buffers. The integration of waste management policy with Victorian planning schemes will help to ensure this.

Maria Marshall is planning and environment partner at Maddocks.