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In late 2018 we invited the community to provide feedback to inform a waste-to-energy policy for the ACT to clearly outline the Territory’s position on energy recovery and provide a framework for assessing any future waste-to-energy proposals.

More than 600 people had their say via a survey, written submissions, drop-in sessions and community and industry focus groups. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback.

The feedback we received from local residents, businesses and industry has informed the ACT Waste-to-Energy Policy 2020-25.

The policy allows non-thermal waste-to-energy treatments that produce valuable byproducts, such as the production of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) or anaerobic digestion. RDF is a solid fuel made from waste that would otherwise go to landfill. Anaerobic digestion is an advanced form of organic waste composting that results in a useable agricultural product.

Established operators conducting thermal waste-to-energy activities in the ACT will not be impacted by this policy. Landfill gas processing will also be unaffected, this remains an essential part of the ACT’s best practice landfill management.

We are looking at:

Canberra’s population is growing and as the population increases so too will the waste we generate. Above all else, we need to continue to reduce, reuse and recycle, but we also need to consider how we approach the extraction of valuable resources from waste that would otherwise end up in landfill.

The development of a waste-to-energy policy for the ACT was one of 18 recommendations of the Waste Feasibility Study roadmap released in May 2018.

A clear policy on waste-to-energy, similar to other jurisdictions in Australia including Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia, provides certainty for industry and residents about whether waste-to-energy infrastructure and technology is a good fit for the ACT and what won’t be supported. In addition to certainty, by having the right policy in place we can protect our environment and grow our economy.

We will use your views to:

Your views have helped to finalise the ACT Waste-to-Energy Policy 2020-25.

FAQs

Q: Why are you prohibiting the thermal treatment of waste?

A: There are a number of factors which contributed to the decision to prohibit new facilities from conducting thermal treatment of waste in the ACT.

The ACT Government is committed to addressing waste issues including waste reduction, reuse and recycling initiatives. These initiatives should be fully investigated before committing to thermal waste-to-energy technologies.

Although thermal waste treatment plants have been operating internationally for several decades, there is still great concern and uncertainty around the operation of these facilities and their long-term impact on health and the environment. This was a message we received from a wide cross section of the community in our 2018 engagement process.

Implementation of thermal waste treatment in other jurisdictions is often driven by factors beyond waste management. Small countries with large populations mean that there is often not space suitable for landfills. In these cases, thermal treatment becomes the primary viable option for dealing with waste. Thermal treatment of waste also provides district heating in some countries which lack alternative natural resources.

In comparison to other Australian jurisdictions, the land in the Canberra region is unlike those found on the West Australian Coast where the porous sandy soil makes contamination of groundwater and aquafers from leaking landfills a major concern. Also, the ACT is not experiencing a waste crisis as has occurred in Victoria's western suburbs where landfill capacity has been recently required to expand. The ACT has landfilling capacity for the short to medium future.

Q: Does the policy impact importing or exporting waste?

A: No. Movement of goods (which includes waste) across borders in Australia is covered by commonwealth mutual recognition laws. This means that goods produced in one state or territory cannot have restrictions placed on them by another state or territory before they are sold.

Waste can be bought and sold like any other product or commodity and is covered by the mutual recognition laws. This means that waste from one jurisdiction cannot be banned from export to another or be required to meet different standards with respect to their quality or composition. Exceptions can be made to these rules in very specific circumstances, for example, labelling laws for the container deposit scheme. However, Commonwealth approval is required, and the exemption must be justified.

If thermal treatment of waste were permitted in the ACT it would not be possible to restrict a facility to only treat locally produced waste. Given the ACT only provides a relatively small amount of residual waste, any thermal treatment facility would be very likely to be treating waste from other capital cities.

Q: What methods of waste‑to‑energy does the policy allow?

A: The policy will permit energy recovery from waste that does not involve thermal treatment. This includes the use of landfill gas extracted from our landfills for electricity generation, anaerobic digestion and processing of waste into Refuse Derived Fuels (RDF). Refuse derived fuel will not be permitted to be burnt in the ACT but can be exported interstate or overseas for use.

The policy will also not impact thermal waste-to-energy operators which were established before the policy takes effect. These operators will however be required to make periodic improvements to reduce pollution under the Environment Protection Act 1997.

Q: How will the policy help the ACT reach its 90% resource recovery target?

A: The ACT Waste Management Strategy seeks to drive resource recovery in the ACT towards 90%.

Around 80% of this will be achieved through a focus on waste avoidance, reuse and recycling, through services such as the yellow bin kerbside collection, green bin garden waste collections, the Container Deposit Scheme, bulky waste collections (to be rolled out beginning July 2020) and options for the future implementation of a household food waste collection service. The production of refuse derived fuel can be undertaken within the framework of the new waste‑to‑energy policy and provides the opportunity achieve up to 87% resource recovery in the ACT.

Q: Does the policy place additional restrictions on waste-to-energy operators?

A: Other than prohibiting all new forms of thermal treatment of waste, the policy does not place further restrictions on operators. The ACT has a robust legal framework and these facilities will be regulated under various ACT laws including the Environment Protection Act 1997 and the Waste management and Resource Recovery Act 2016 and the conditions imposed by licenses to operate.

Q: Why are you prohibiting the thermal treatment of timber waste?

A: Sending waste timber to landfill is not desirable however the thermal destruction of waste with no beneficial recovery of energy is no better. By banning the thermal treatment of waste timber, we are encouraging waste operators to find better ways to manage this waste stream. The high energy content of waste timber makes it suitable for use in RDF which can replace fossil fuels in existing industrial processes achieving genuine recovery of the energy.

Q: Will the policy impact the treatment of medical waste in the ACT?

A: No, the treatment of medical or biological waste such as clinical waste or diseased animals is outside the scope of the policy. Facilities treating medical waste will not be impacted by the policy.

Q: Is there a review period for the policy?

A: It is the intention of the Government to undertake a legislative review on the basis of this waste-to-energy policy in 2021.

Q: Have we considered composting our food waste?

A: The waste-to-energy policy sets out what waste‑to‑energy activities will be permitted in the ACT.

The ACT Government is examining options to introduce a household food waste collection service, including the feasibility of extending the green bins garden waste program to include food waste. Any decisions on processing methods to process will be undertaken in accordance with this waste‑to‑energy policy.