Australia: Waste policy and environmental compliance priorities in Victoria

Last Updated: 10 October 2013
Article by Elisa de Wit and Damon Jones


The Victorian Government has recently released a number of strategic plans and reports which impact on the waste sector and businesses who have licence and other compliance obligations with EPA Victoria. The documents address priorities over the next 12 months as well as longer term strategic priorities relating to resource recovery and environmental performance.

The plans and reports covered by this update include:

  • Draft Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan 2013-2043
  • 2013 Consultation Draft Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Strategic Plan
  • EPA Annual Report 2012-2013
  • Annual Plan 2013-2014: Delivering on our 5 Year Plan – Year Three
  • EPA Annual Compliance Plan 2013-2014.

Norton Rose Fulbright has a market leading waste sector and environmental practice in Victoria and we would be happy to assist you with preparing a submission on the Statewide Plan and/or Metropolitan Plan.

Waste and resource recovery plans

The Victorian Government released two draft waste strategic plans in late September:

  • Draft Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan 2013-2043 (Statewide Plan), open for public consultation until Friday 6 December 2013, and
  • 2013 Consultation Draft Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Strategic Plan (Metropolitan Plan), open for public consultation until Monday 25 November 2013.

The two plans form a key part of the Government's implementation of its waste policy Getting Full Value: the Victorian Waste and Resource Recovery Policy (Getting Full Value) which was released in April 2013.

In early 2013, the Government also established a Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to consult with the waste sector and provide recommendations on the institutional and governance arrangements to best deliver on the objectives of Getting Full Value. Following the release of the MAC recommendations the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, the Hon Ryan Smith MP, announced a number of institutional changes.

The key institutional change recommended by the MAC and adopted in the Statewide Plan is the proposed amalgamation of the existing twelve regional waste management groups (RWMGs) into six RWMGs, and one Metropolitan Waste Management Group (MWMG) which will incorporate the existing MWMG and the Mornington Peninsula RWMG. The RWMGs and MWMG will be established as statutory bodies under the EP Act.

  • The MAC also recommended the following in relation to the development and delivery of the Statewide Plan:
  • Sustainability Victoria (SV) should have the responsibility to develop the Statewide Plan
  • the Statewide Plan should provide a clear framework for the planning of Victoria's waste system and facilitate integration and alignment of regional and metropolitan plans
  • the metropolitan and regional WMGs should be responsible for planning for all waste streams, including C&D and C&I, consistent with the Statewide Plan
  • the proposed metropolitan and regional WMGs should develop waste and resource recovery implementation plans (Implementation Plans) that will be:
    1. consistent with the directions in the draft Statewide Plan
    2. each include a draft infrastructure Schedule (including a Landfill Schedule)
    3. include cross regional boundary planning
    4. be referenced in Victoria Planning Provisions clause 19.03-5 Waste and Resource Recovery (so that Implementation Plans are considered where relevant in all planning decisions relating to the use and development of land)
    5. be developed through an integration process with SV.

Statewide Plan

The draft Statewide Plan aims to provide Victoria with a 30 year roadmap (with a particular focus on the next five years) to guide planning and future investment in waste management and resource recovery infrastructure. It maps all current waste and resource recovery infrastructure (over 500 sites across Victoria) and provides an evidence base which "identifies gaps and opportunities and provides intelligence to industry to inform their investment decisions". The objectives of the SWRRIP are to:

  • facilitate efficient markets by consolidating material streams to establish economies of scale that attract industry investment
  • maximise the recovery of valuable resources from waste streams
  • support the Getting Full Value action to facilitate the long term purpose of landfills to only receive treated residual waste, and
  • provide industry, local government, metropolitan and regional WMGs and other government agencies with the information and guidance to inform planning at the state, regional and local levels.

The draft document identifies several major opportunities to increase recovery from the waste stream, including increased recovery of garden and food organics, glass and tyres; improved source separation to increase recovery rates of paper, cardboard and timber; and increasing the recovery of shredder flock (which accounts for around 10% of residual waste sent to landfill from the C&I sector).

In this context, the Statewide Plan identifies the concept of "hubs and spokes" to describe the trend for the waste management system to continue to consolidate smaller infrastructure into larger regional hubs. It indicates that establishing a market for the products made from recovered resources is fundamental to the establishment of a "hubs and spokes" network.

In relation to landfills, the Statewide Plan envisages a shift away from smaller landfills (accepting waste less than 25,00 tonnes a year) to larger regional landfills as costs associated with landfill continues to increase. It proposes that government agencies, including the Department of the Environment and Primary Industry (DEPI), EPA, SV and the new RWMGs and MWMG, should consider the changing role that landfills will play in resource recovery systems in the longer term.

Consultation on the draft Statewide Plan has commenced and stakeholders are encouraged to make submissions on the draft plan to Sustainability Victoria, which is also conducting a series of workshops and engagement sessions. For further information on the consultation sessions and how to lodge a written submission go to Sustainable Victoria.

Metropolitan Plan

The Metropolitan Plan creates the framework for infrastructure and services required for the recovery of waste in metropolitan Melbourne over the next thirty years. It must be reviewed every four years. The draft plan released in September by the MWMG is therefore part of the consultation phase of the official review of the 2009 Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Strategic Plan which is due for review.

The Metropolitan Plan is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1: The Metropolitan Plan: assesses the current situation and sets the strategic framework for the management of all solid waste in metropolitan Melbourne
  • Part 2: The Municipal Solid Waste Infrastructure Schedule: sets out a plan of existing and required infrastructure for municipal solid waste
  • Part 3: The Metropolitan Landfill Schedule: identifies the location and sequence for the filling and operation of landfill sites.

The draft Metropolitan Plan acknowledges that a number of government initiatives and policies in the pipeline will affect waste management in Melbourne. In particular, the Metropolitan Planning Strategy for Melbourne will undoubtedly impact waste management, and the draft Metropolitan Plan acknowledges the importance of land use planning and municipal strategies on any strategic plan for waste resource recovery in Melbourne. Integrating recovery infrastructure with land use planning is identified as a significant policy reform that the draft Statewide Plan and Metropolitan Plan together must implement.

The draft Metropolitan Plan reviews the current mix of waste materials and tonnages managed in Melbourne to project trends for future waste resource management. The report envisages increased tonnages of 1.6% per year, meaning that in 30 years' time, waste tonnages in Melbourne will have increased by 66%. Waste recovery services will be required to keep pace with this increase.

The report highlights a number of other challenges and opportunities for municipal waste management. In keeping with the 'Fair Value' ethos, these challenges are viewed through an economic lens. In particular, there is recognition that the market for organic waste products is small, and will need support or development, if the services and facilities planned to recover this waste are to be economically viable.

The framework of resource recovery for Melbourne, consolidated in the Metropolitan Plan, will tackle the following five key priorities:

  • Aligning infrastructure investment with market development (i.e. resource recovery is market driven, so that demand for materials and end products shapes infrastructure planning and investment)
  • Land use planning and siting facilities (i.e. aligning land use planning with waste and resource recover planning, and protecting suitable land for waste and resource recovery facilities, as per the Statewide Plan)
  • Addressing south-east Melbourne's immediate waste recovery and disposal need
  • Expanding the capacity of Melbourne's transfer-station and resource recovery centre network, and
  • Continuing council cluster procurement for organic facilities.

Part 2 of the Metropolitan Plan identifies the existing and required infrastructure for municipal solid waste. In particular, the Schedule uses the analysis of projected types of material going to landfill over the next thirty years to identify potential markets for this material, and any market barriers or failures preventing recovery which could be remedied by the provision and ongoing operation of infrastructure and services. This approach is consistent with the broader objective of reducing the amount of material which is committed to landfill.

Overall, the focus of both the Statewide Plan and Metropolitan Plan is to use projections of waste generation over the next thirty years to identify the best available strategy for the recovery of economic value in waste across Victoria. The draft plans set out proposed infrastructure and service development over the coming decades to achieve this goal.

EPA Annual Report 2012-2013

EPA Victoria's annual report for 2012-2013 (Report) was released in September 2013. It provides a useful overview of EPA's activities in the last 12 months and important insights into its priorities for the current financial year.

Titled "Year Two – Change ready and facing the challenges" to reflect that 2012-2013 was the second year of EPA delivering on its 2011-2106 five year plan, the Report outlines EPA's performance against its three broad strategic goals of:

  • dealing with past pollution
  • tackling current environmental issues, and
  • shaping the environmental future.

The Report highlights EPA's continuing focus on compliance and enforcement activities and 'getting its house in order' in terms of its statutory tools and systems.

The following are some of EPA's key activities and accomplishments in 2012-2013 outlined in the Report:

Dealing with past pollution

  • In February 2013, EPA released the Contaminated Environments Strategy (publication no.1511)which outlines how EPA will manage sites where activities before 2010 were either likely to or did contaminate land, ground water or surface water.
  • In March 2013, EPA began a series of projects aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Environmental Audit System by reducing red tape and clearly outlining guidelines and protocols. The Environmental Audit System is designed to manage contaminated environments on a risk basis.
  • EPA undertook 138 inspections on known contaminated sites (on the Priority Sites Register) to compare compliance and the progress of site remediation against existing notices. EPA issued new notices where required.

Tackling current environmental issues

  • EPA's sustained increase in compliance and enforcement activity is evident in the Report. For example, Pollution Abatement Notices (PANs) were again used by EPA in 2012-2013 as a key remedial tool for bringing licensed sites into compliance. 316 PANs were issued in 2012-2013 and it is the second year that there has been a significant increase in PANs issued (322 PANs in 2011-2012; 193 in 2010-2011; 127 in 2009-2010; 128 in 2008-2009).
  • Illegal dumping of waste was a key compliance and enforcement priority for EPA in 2012-2013. It performed over 235 compliance inspections and issued 65 notices for illegal dumping of waste.
  • EPA continued to target odour and dust at sites across Victoria, with a particular focus on Clayton/Dingley and Brooklyn. The second half of 2012-13 saw successive months with the lowest odour reports on record, representing a 56 per cent decrease in odour reports since 2008-2009.
  • EPA inspected 300 licensed sites, including prescribed industrial waste management sites, chemical works, sewage treatment plants, and operating landfills.
  • EPA initiated a number of major prosecutions which resulted in convictions, fines and orders to fund environmental projects pursuant to section 67AC of the Environment Protection Act 1970 (EP Act). Fines and orders were generally in the range of $40,000 to $160,000.

Shaping the environmental future

  • Following a period of policy development and consultation, EPA and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries completed their review of statutory policies under the EP Act (State Environment Protection Policies (SEPPs) and Waste Management Policies (WMPs)). The review recommends a simpler, more streamlined statutory policy framework to focus on setting longer-term objectives and environmental quality standards. Separate implementation plans will be developed for individual statutory policies.
  • The Environmental Protection (Fee) Regulations 2012 (Fee Regulations) were remade to apply from 28 October 2012. The Fee Regulations set fees for the majority of EPA administered licences and approvals. Key changes include the adjustment of licence fee structures, incorporating risk as a factor in setting 'base fees' and simplifying the calculation of works approval fees.
  • EPA undertook a much needed review of its 270 guidance documents. The review resulted in 30 guidelines that were no longer relevant being revoked and the update or development of several guidelines.

EPA priorities for 2013-2014

EPA has released further details of its priorities for 2013-2104 in two documents:

  • Annual Plan 2013-2014: Delivering on our 5 Year Plan – Year Three
  • EPA Annual Compliance Plan 2013-2014: An outline of EPA's key compliance and enforcement priorities and projects in 2013-2014.

Both documents, but particularly the annual compliance plan, reveal a dedicated approach to regulatory compliance over the coming year. They also highlight EPA's increasing reliance on the assessment of risk to the environment as the basis for setting priorities and allocating resources. The reauthorisation of field officers during 2012-2013 is a good example of EPA's renewed emphasis on compliance, and the aim to heighten EPA's visibility in the field.

EPA is continuing to prioritise strategic activities, including proactive compliance assessments based on priority environmental issues identified by EPA and the community. It strategic objectives include long-standing environmental problems which have not been solved by traditional compliance approaches (e.g. the illegal dumping of waste). EPA envisages that about 30% of its inspection and desktop assessment capacity will focus on its strategic objectives.

It is likely that the coming year will also see a continuation of the increased use of Pollution Abatement Notices, clean up notices and reliance on environmental auditors as a result of its licensing reform process.

Annual Plan

Strategic priorities and activities identified in the Annual Plan include:

  • further implementation of the Contaminated Environments Strategy, which will include applying EPA's Contaminated Environments Risk Ranking Assessment (CERRA) tool to assess the level or risk posed by contaminated environments and to prioritise inspections and reviews
  • inspection of 300 (of approximately 700) licensed sites and gathering of evidence on operators' performance and management systems to calculate a 'risk score' for each licensed site (based on a Licence Operator Risk Assessment (LORA)) that will determine the frequency of inspections from mid-2015 onwards
  • detailed assessment of 50 Annual Performance Statements including 20 field based audits
  • implementation of the recommendations for a new statutory policy framework for SEPPs and WMPs
  • implementation of regulatory commitments in the Victorian Government's Getting Full Value: Victoria's Waste and Resource Recovery Policy (see below for further details), and
  • development of clear standards and expectations for organics processing and disposal.

The Annual Plan also outlines how EPA intends to contribute to the Victorian Government's commitment to reduce the regulatory burden on business by 25% by 1 July 2014. This includes commitments to the following targets in 2013-2014:

  • average time taken from receipt of a works approval application to its acceptance for assessment: reduce from an average of five weeks in 2012-2013
  • percentage of proposals relating to works exempt from the requirement to prepare a works approval: approximately 20%
  • average time taken from acceptance of a works approval application to a decision: 3 months (compared to 3.8 months in 2011-2012), and
  • average time taken by EPA for a CUTEP decision following submission/notification from an environmental auditor: reduce by 60% to 56 days.

EPA Annual Compliance Plan

Based on a risk identification process undertaken by EPA in 2012-2013, the Compliance Plan identifies six focus areas for EPA's compliance and enforcement activities in 2013-2014. EPA intends that EPA's strategic compliance work will focus largely on these areas from this year onwards. The six focus areas are:

  • contaminated environments: implementation of the priorities outlined in the Contaminated Environments Strategy
  • landfills: EPA intends to develop guidance for the siting, design, management, rehabilitation and aftercare of small landfills which are exempt from EPA licensing
  • stormwater contamination in urban areas: EPA aims to improve waterway health by working to minimise contaminants from point and dispersed sources
  • stockpiling of materials and illegal dumping of waste: for example, the stockpiling of tyres
  • residential encroachment in industrial areas: in the context of increasing urban development leading to residential areas being built closer to existing industry, and
  • organics: EPA intends to develop a baseline understanding of current practices, clarify roles and responsibilities of stakeholders, investigate the environmental and health impacts of priority types of waste, and redevelop guidelines for composting facilities.

In terms of EPA compliance activities outlined in the Annual Plan and Compliance Plan, these include the following:

  • EPA plans to visit every licensed site in Victoria between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2015 and will collect information to identify the ongoing frequency of future compliance maintenance inspections.
  • In 2013-2014, EPA aims to conduct 3,000 field inspections and 1,800 desk-based assessments across Victoria.
  • EPA will continue to review its environmental assessment programs to ensure there is scientific evidence which supports decision making, compliance and enforcement activities and also continue to implement reform of the Environmental Audit System with the aim of reducing red tape and costs for business.
  • EPA will continue to implement the stages of the risk-based approach to planning and development. EPA was focused on stage 1 in 2012-2013. The stages are:
    1. embedding a consistent, coordinated, risk-based and proactive approach to planning in all EPA regions
    2. communicating EPA's role and priorities to external planners, and focusing EPA resources on providing them with high-quality, targeted advice on the critical planning matters that are most important to EPA, and
    3. empowering EPA and external planners to build a planning system that addresses critical environmental issues through the establishment of a reform agenda, and building the relationships that enable EPA to maximise opportunities of strategic planning.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Elisa de Wit
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