NSW construction waste sent to Queensland for recycling is instead ending up dumped in landfill, a Fairfax investigation this week has revealed, raising fears the practice could compromise the legitimacy of NSW Green Star ratings.
The Green Building Council of Australia, however, says there’s no evidence any of its projects have been caught up in the scandal.
The investigation found that thousands of tonnes of construction and demolition waste declared to have been recycled has instead been dumped in Queensland landfills, a “rort” that has been occurring “for at least three years”, and continues to this day.
It said some waste companies have been taking loads from NSW construction sites to recycling facilities in Queensland to obtain documentation stating the materials would be recycled – a necessary requirement to obtain credits for Green Star rating tools.
However, the investigation discovered only “a tiny proportion” of materials were being recycled, with the vast majority being reloaded into local trucks and dumped in landfill (for which there is currently no levy in Queensland).
Local construction waste, meanwhile, was being properly sorted and recycled.
One of the companies involved in sending the waste to landfill, BMI Group, told Fairfax that NSW developers were using paperwork issued by such recycling facilities to get accreditation for “environmental building schemes”.
“There is a green star building accreditation which many builders seek waste credits for from time to time, however not through us directly,” BMI said.
Recycling of construction and demolition waste plays a key role in Green Star rating tools, with credits awarded for diversion from landfill. Overall, the Green Building Council of Australia, which administers the program, says Green Star buildings recycle 96 per cent of their construction and demolition waste.
No evidence of Green Star projects implicated
The GBCA told The Fifth Estate it was currently unaware of any NSW Green Star-certified projects claiming the construction and demolition waste credit being implicated in the scandal, based on the information it has received.
“We have established rigorous processes, and companies adhere to those processes in good faith in order to achieve Green Star points that help mitigate these types of practices,” it said.
GBCA head of market transformation Jorge Chapa told The Fifth Estate that waste disposal facilities were beyond the scope or direct influence of Green Star, though there were a number of checks and balances in the tool designed to ensure waste contractors and waste processing facilities operated responsibly.
“In order to be awarded Green Star points, waste contractors on building sites must monitor, measure and report all waste movements, including volumes and processing destinations. This includes requirements for third party audits to ensure accurate reporting,” Mr Chapa said.
“Waste processing facilities are required to be audited as operating in compliance with regulatory requirements. They are required to have an auditable trail of accurate reporting on the source and final outcome of all material processed, including a clear distinction between recyclables and residual waste to landfill.
“These waste processing facilities are required to publish verified reports on waste diversion from landfill. Qualified auditors must demonstrate experience in the waste industry without conflict of interest.”
When asked if the GBCA would consider disallowing documentation that NSW construction waste had been recycled in Queensland, Mr Chapa said the final choice of waste disposal methods was again beyond the scope or direct influence of the tool.
“Ultimately, where there is a market failure, a regulatory intervention may be required,” he said.
“Green Star’s role is to set benchmarks for best practice and above. As such, we are always looking for ways to improve the benchmarks, or credits, within Green Star. In the case of waste, we’ve been working with stakeholders to increase the rigour of reporting and auditing of recovery rates for all waste, not just construction waste.”
He said it was important to emphasis GBCA’s role was not to enforce legislation or to regulate behaviour.
“This is the responsibility of the authorities.”
Authorities passing the buck
The authorities involved, however, have been engaged in some heated blame-shifting this week.
On Tuesday the Queensland environment minister Leeanne Enoch released a statement saying the NSW government was “turning a blind eye” to interstate waste dumping, a statement perhaps related to the fact that the NSW Environmental Protection Authority has not prosecuted anyone under its “proximity principle”, which bans sending landfill-destined waste by road more than 150km from its source.
“The waste industry in Queensland is a big industry and while most do the right thing, we will not allow Queensland to become a dumping ground for interstate waste,” Ms Enoch said.
She said the government had established an independent investigation into cross-border transport of waste last year and would consider the recommendations stemming from a report soon.
“The Palaszczuk government is addressing the issue and I call on the NSW government to stop turning a blind eye and do their part to fix the legal issues surrounding this.”
The NSW government fired back, with its environment minister Gabrielle Upton calling on Queensland to introduce a waste levy, which she said would have an immediate effect on interstate waste movement. Currently NSW has a waste levy of $138.20 per tonne levy, which is driving much of the traffic into Queensland where there is no such charge.
“The Queensland government can stop the movement of waste by introducing a levy straight away,” Ms Upton said.
Mr Chapa said the GBCA could play an important advocacy role in matters like these.
“Where distinct state regulations drive undesirable practices, such as high fees in one state driving waste to other states, we will continue to advocate for better regulations and oversight.”
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of projects implicated in the waste scandal.