Managing Richmond Valley Waste

Managing Richmond Valley Waste

North Coast councils have been exploring opportunities for an alternative waste treatment facility for the past five years. Local and regional landfills are approaching capacity. Increasing challenges include managing leachate and carbon emissions from landfill, as well as rising costs.
Around 40 percent of North Coast councils’ waste is sent to landfill, despite having recycling and composting services in place for some time. A lot of this waste is transported to Queensland.

Richmond Valley Council worked with 12 North Coast councils and the Department of Regional NSW to prepare the North Coast Region Waste Investment Report 2020. The Waste Investment Report includes a stocktake of waste types and quantities in each council area. It highlights the need to develop alternative waste treatment infrastructure to divert residual waste from landfill. The Waste Investment Report provides the information base for councils to test the market for alternate waste treatment solutions. These solutions may include thermal treatment technologies.

The Energy from Waste Report from the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer was issued in May 2020. Additional advice was provided in November 2020 to communicate work undertaken subsequently, including an independent expert review of the draft NSW best practice air emission limits for energy recovery facilities.

The NSW Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan 2021 recognises that thermal treatment of waste will form part of the solution for managing residual waste in NSW. This will provide an opportunity to replace less environmentally sound energy sources, such as coal-fired power stations, and avoid methane emissions from landfill. The Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan takes a precautionary approach to ensure that social and human health risks are addressed and that facilities are located to meet future waste management demand. Four priority areas are identified where future energy-from-waste facilities may be located in NSW. These include the Richmond Valley Regional Job Precinct.

Richmond Valley’s selection reflects the findings of the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041, which identified the Northern Rivers as an area that would require either extra landfill capacity or an energy-from-waste facility. The inclusion of the Richmond Valley site in the Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan also complements the findings of the North Coast Region Waste Investment Report.

Any future proposals will be required to comply with current State planning and environmental legislation and policies, including the NSW Government’s Policy Statement on Energy from Waste Facilities. This policy statement provides for extensive community consultation and includes some of the most rigorous environmental controls in the world. Under the policy, proposals must:
• Meet international best practice techniques, including emissions controls
• Use technologies that are proven, well-understood and capable of handling the waste inputs
• Meet technical, thermal efficiency and resource recovery criteria
• Undertake monitoring with real-time feedback.

If an energy-from-waste facility was approved, the planning consent and Environment Protection Licence would define the conditions for operating, monitoring and reporting. The Thermal Energy from Waste Regulation forms part of the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021 and establishes the requirements an energy-from-waste facility would need to comply with in NSW.

The Regional Growth NSW Development Corporation is leading the development of an energy-from-waste facility in the Parkes Special Activation Precinct, and has issued a Fact Sheet. There are two energy-from-waste facilities under construction in Western Australia at East Rockingham and Kwinana. The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia has published a Thermal Treatment Fact Sheet. There are more than 2450 facilities operating internationally.

An expressions of interest for alternative waste solutions (EOI) process was undertaken by Richmond Valley Council on behalf of nine North Coast councils. The EOI gauged appetite from the market for alternate waste treatment solutions for landfill and recyclable waste streams and closed in June 2022. Submissions covered residual, recyclate and food organic/green organic streams. A wide range of technologies have been put forward, including energy from waste. Submissions have been assessed using the methodology outlined in the EOI documents. Leading waste management consultancy MRA assisted with the EOI process and assessment. The EOI process was a first step to determine if there might be interest in offering an alternative waste solution for the North Coast. It does not commit any of the participating councils to any particular course. If the participating councils are interested in pursuing any of the proposals, further discussions can take place.

Benefits to participating councils will include:
• Long-term certainty on a residual waste disposal route.
• Long-term certainty on residual waste disposal pricing.
• Pricing cost competitive with landfill.
• Remission from the NSW Waste Levy, as it does not apply to waste treated in an energy-from-waste facility.
• Reduce carbon footprint relative to landfill.
• Freedom from the need to develop landfill capacity, with attendant development, resourcing and environmental management costs.

While there is interest in establishing an energy-from-waste facility in the region, it will be some time before we are at a decision point on whether this technology will be viable on the North Coast. Richmond Valley’s designation as a priority area in the Infrastructure Plan provides long-term certainty for any potential investors. It ensures the community and the region is well placed to benefit from the additional jobs, infrastructure and business growth energy-from-waste facilities can provide.

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