Waste management and recycling has become an increasingly important topic of discussion in Australia. Western Australia is part of that conversation. Public awareness has been increased because of factors such as the import restrictions imposed by China in April 2018 under its Blue Sky/National Sword program, which prevents 99% of the Australian recyclables previously sold to China from being exported there. The scale of waste management is likely to increase. WA’s population is expected to increase to 3.2 million people by 2026, 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. 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 and is an issue faced by a number 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:
- development approval from a local government or from a Joint Development Assessment Panel;
- environmental impact assessment by the Environmental Protection Authority under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA);
- assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth);
- an application for a works approval and licence for prescribed premises under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA); and
- assessment under the Public Health Act 2016 (WA).
Obtaining the requisite combination of approvals and licences and undergoing the necessary assessments can significantly delay and add to the establishment costs of waste management and recycling projects. Numerous recommendations have been made to improve the assessment and approval process for waste management and recycling facilities.
The most significant regulatory challenges for our clients in the waste sector have been obtaining planning approvals. ‘Waste’ is not a word that conjures a positive response and surprisingly, at the local level, neither is ‘recycling’. How these problems are resolved is not purely legal, but the approvals process plays an important part. While the best approach is negotiation, litigation is often open as a last resort option.
 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>
 Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage ‘WA Tomorrow (2015): Population Report No. 10’ (August 2015) <https://www.planning.wa.gov.au/publications/6194.aspx>
 See Waste Authority, Western Australian Waste Strategy: Creating the Right Environment (March 2012) p 24; Waste Authority, Draft Waste Strategy 2030 (2018) p 8; Office of the Auditor General Western Australia, Western Australian Waste Strategy: Rethinking Waste (Report No 23, October 2016) pp 5, 7-8.
 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.
 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).