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Waste approvals in Western Australia

Glen

Waste management and recycling has become an increasingly important topic of discussion in Western Australia for two primary reasons. First, the import restrictions imposed by China in April 2018 under its Blue Sky/National Sword program, prevents 99% of the Australian recyclables previously sold to China from being exported there.[1] The recycling restrictions under The Blue Sky/National Sword program significantly affects WA’s ability to manage and recycle its waste. Secondly, WA’s population is expected to increase to 3.2 million people by 2026[2], with most of the growth anticipated to take place in metropolitan Perth. Consequently, WA’s waste infrastructure capacity must grow to meet the increased waste supply.  

Further, WA must develop its waste infrastructure if it is to achieve the waste diversion targets set out in the Western Australian Waste Strategy: Creating the Right Environment.[3] Despite the need for new waste management facilities, it can be a lengthy process to obtain all of the necessary approvals. This challenge has been identified in various reports[4] and is an issue faced by some of our clients.

While it is difficult to generalise about the approvals, licences and assessments required to operate a particular waste facility, it is likely to be some combination of the following:

(a) development approval from a local government or from a Joint Development Assessment Panel;

(b) environmental impact assessment by the Environmental Protection Authority under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA);

(c) assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth);

(d) an application for a works approval and licence for prescribed premises under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA); and

(e) assessment under the Public Health Act 2016 (WA).

Waste Approvals Image.jpg

Obtaining the requisite combination of approvals and licences and undergoing the necessary assessments can significantly delay waste management and recycling projects. This in turn can divert recyclable materials into landfill. Numerous recommendations have been made to improve the assessment and approval process for waste management and recycling facilities.[5] The three recommendations identified and summarised below are particularly relevant.

First, the WA government could develop a specific State Planning Policy for waste facilities which would provide planners and decision-making authorities with a transparent and consistent policy framework for assessing applications for waste facilities, as well as guide their siting, design and access routes. Such a policy could also clarify the development approvals process.[6] However, given the ‘high level’ nature of a State Planning Policy, it is acknowledged that adopting this recommendation in isolation will not adequately address the issues facing the assessment and approval process for waste management facilities.

Secondly, the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) could identify and reserve certain areas of land for waste facility use under a region planning scheme. Since local planning schemes automatically include land reserved under a region planning scheme, this would streamline and centralise the development application process by making the WAPC decision-making authority in respect of planning approvals for waste facilities. If a particular site is reserved under a region planning scheme, then obtaining approval to develop the site should be quicker and easier than it would be for non-reserved sites.[7]

Thirdly, creating a specific zone under region planning schemes for waste facilities would also simplify the assessment and approval process. Currently, waste facilities can only be developed on land zoned ‘Industrial’, which is limited and consequently in high demand. Prospective developers of waste facilities face competition for industrial sites from developers seeking to utilise the land for a range of other industrial land uses.[8] Appropriate zoning for waste facilities under a region planning scheme is likely to result in an assessment and approval process that is faster, easier and more certain.

[1] Jenni Downes, China’s recycling ‘ban’ throws Australia into a very messy waste crisis (27 April 2018) The Conversation <https://theconversation.com/chinas-recycling-ban-throws-australia-into-a-very-messy-waste-crisis-95522>

[2] Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage ‘WA Tomorrow (2015): Population Report No. 10’ (August 2015) <https://www.planning.wa.gov.au/publications/6194.aspx>

[3] See Waste Authority, Western Australian Waste Strategy: Creating the Right Environment (March 2012) p 24; Office of the Auditor General Western Australia, Western Australian Waste Strategy: Rethinking Waste (Report No 23, October 2016) pp 5, 7-8.

[4] Government of Western Australia, ‘State Planning Strategy 2050’, Page 80; Waste Authority ‘Strategic waste infrastructure planning project: investigation report’ (June 2014), page ii, ix, 51 -52; Western Australian Local Government Authority, ‘Background Paper on Local Government Waste Management Infrastructure’ (April 2011) page 12-14.

[5] Western Australian Auditor General’s Report ‘Western Australian Waste Strategy: Rethinking Waste (October 2016); Western Australian Local Government Authority, ‘Background Paper on Local Government Waste Management Infrastructure’ (April 2011); Waste Authority ‘Strategic waste infrastructure planning project: investigation report’ (June 2014).

[6] Waste Authority ‘Strategic waste infrastructure planning project: investigation report’ (June 2014), page 66.

[7] Ibid, page 72-73

[8] Ibid, page 107