A Resourceful Inquiry
The collection and recovery of waste is one of the major infrastructure challenges that Sydney will face over the next decade. Sydney is in need of a resource revolution and it appears industry and governments agree.
In April 2017, the NSW Parliament’s Planning and Environment Committee established an inquiry to examine the waste industry, with particular reference to 'Energy from Waste' technology. The inquiry is looking at the provision of waste disposal and recycling services, the impact of waste levies and the capacity to address the ongoing disposal needs for our State’s waste needs.
What has struck me about the Inquiry, is the level of engagement and the contribution of private industry players, local governments, industry associations and consulting firms. While the Inquiry has some way to go, there appears to be a level of consensus from initial submissions.
SUEZ believes that Energy from Waste (EfW) has a role to play in the waste management chain and in the entire supply chain for waste that cannot be recovered, recycled or reused. Our council, commercial and industrial customers have long been looking for diversion from landfill whilst optimising the cost of waste management. It is now an absolute expectation that waste will be recycled, recovered or re-used. Through energy and re-use, EfW can divert more than 95 per cent of waste from landfill; it’s our missing link in the state’s waste management infrastructure.
From the Inquiry to date, we’ve seen private enterprise largely advocate for the development of the EfW market. In particular, industry has noted the maturity of the technology and the industry in Europe and called for long-term infrastructure planning, a stable regulatory environment and community education to support infrastructure development.
Within Local Government, many Councils have supported the waste industry’s view that EfW is a proven alternative to landfill that is tried and tested for processing waste left over after recycling. Randwick, Wollongong, Hunters Hill, Canterbury Bankstown all submitted that EfW should be considered as part of the mix, while the regional organisations of Councils (Western Sydney Region, Northern Sydney Region, Southern Sydney Region along with the Hunter) were also supportive. The Western Sydney Region highlighted a concern about the lack of a coordinating body to strategically plan for Sydney’s waste infrastructure needs whilst the City of Sydney called for the development of a metro wide waste strategy. The Southern Sydney region also rightly pointed out that State Government needs to consider the importance of raising awareness of EfW technology as a safe and proven solution to our increasingly urgent and growing waste problem.
From the consultants, MRA highlighted that EfW has a role to play in meeting our renewable energy targets, and the technology can offset dependence on fossil fuels and supplement other renewables by providing continuous baseload power. MRA said EfW could reduce Australia's GHG emissions by up to 46.7 MT C02. In their submission, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation identified up to 800MW of new bioenergy and EfW generation capacity, valued at between $3.5 billion and $5 billion, which could be developed in Australia by 2020.
There are opposing views. The Total Environment Centre (TEC), National Toxics Network, Blacktown and District Environment Group and the Australian Industrial Ecology Network have provided submissions. The TEC and others acknowledged the inherent risks with emissions from EfW. That’s why EfW is and should be one of our most tightly regulated industrial processes. Around two thirds of the footprint of a modern EfW facility is dedicated to emissions control and it’s positive to see that the NSW Energy from Waste Policy Statement’s technical criteria on emissions aligns with Europe’s strict standards and global best practice.
The TEC said it would consider the merit of proposals on a case by case basis for a genuine source separated and maximised recycling operations and where facilities exceed regulatory expectations. The National Toxics Network also remains unconvinced and notes in particular that there’s still plenty of room for improvement to support the recycling, reuse and other technologies such as composting to energy. On this point, industry agrees and as The Australian Council of Recycling said: the mass burn of recyclable materials that can be recovered by viable technological and commercial means should be avoided.
Let’s be clear, EfW is only part of the resource revolution we need in Sydney but it’s encouraging to see strong alignment between industry and local government in particular. SUEZ’s vision for a resourceful New South Wales is where our communities abandon a linear model of consumption from cradle to grave for a circular one where recycling and reuse will become the norm.
We believe our EfW future will involve multiple facets: alternative fuels, dedicated small scale steam and/or electricity generation plants, large scale energy from waste and anaerobic digestion. These are not new and innovative in a global context, but they are new developments for our market and EfW will play part of the role in forming a circular economy where we transform what is waste into new resources.