A burning issue for council

ABOVE: A Waste and Resource Recovery Facility in Richmond Valley. Photo: Richmond Valley Council

Susanna Freymark

What is the council’s intention on waste and incinerators?

Liz Stops asked this question in the public access time at last month’s Richmond Valley Council meeting.

At the council meeting of Tuesday, September 20 at 6pm, waste is on the agenda again.

The State Government has identified four sites suitable for Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities and the Richmond Valley Jobs Precinct (RJP) in Casino is one of them.

Councillor Patrick Deegan put forward questions in writing to be addressed at the meeting.

The questions are:

• The NSW Government’s chief scientist and engineer’s report on Energy from Waste quotes a paper that recommends the avoidance of proximity to food production. As the RJP is identified as one of the possible locations for EfW, do the businesses of Casino and the Richmond Valley and local agricultural industries meet the definition of food production, and how does this possible location fit with the recommendation?

• The NSW Environment Protection Authority Energy from Waste Infrastructure Plan, dated September 2021, indicates EfW should be located away from high density residential areas due to risks from pollution. If EfW is unsuitable for high density residential areas due to pollution, what are the risks, if any, for areas with lower populations?

• Richmond Valley Council’s current practice is to landfill 51% of its waste. What are the environmental impacts of this practice and how does it compare to alternative options?”

General manager Vaughan Macdonald responded in the council meeting agenda and will address the matter at the meeting.

Here’s a summary of what he said:

All forms of residual waste treatment including landfill, energy from waste facilities and other technologies potentially pose risks to human health. That is why the Environment Protection Authority applies stringent conditions to these activities.

For EfW, this includes standards to enable emissions to be managed and controlled. Emissions to air standards for energy recovery facilities in NSW are the most stringent in the world.

An energy recovery facility operating in NSW will be required to have lower emissions to air than any industrial facility operating in Europe.

EfW facilities need to be in an economically viable transport distance of waste sources, so are sited close to developed areas where waste is generated. Proximity to food production and residential areas (of any density) are not a factor that determines the emissions standards to be met.

Mr Macdonald said it was important to read the full detail of the Chief Scientist & Engineer’s Report.

A review of health impacts concluded that older incinerator technology and infrequent maintenance are linked with adverse health effects. There were fewer effects associated with more modern plants.

The NSW Government identified the Richmond Valley Jobs Precinct in the EfW Infrastructure Plan.

This is due to an EfW facility being a potential solution to the waste challenges being investigated by councils along the North Coast into alternative waste treatment solutions at that time.

It should also be noted that EfW facilities are operating in high density areas of major cities in Asia and Europe.

Council’s current kerbside waste collection has 51% going to landfill. When construction and demolition and commercial and industrial wastes are added, the total waste landfilled is estimated to be at least 60%.

The North Coast Waste Investment Review found that landfill disposal of residual waste is the worst performing option in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

In her public access time, Ms Stops said she was aware some council staff visited an incinerator site in Japan.

“I’m wondering why there has been no similar visit to a zero waste facility,” she said.

“There are many around the globe in various stages of development. Zero Waste Australia has developed a strategy for WA that could potentially be adapted to this area.”

“I’m keen to learn if council has considered anaerobic digestion, material recovery and biological treatments or gas phase chemical reduction, which can be powered by green hydrogen.”

Ms Stops said she knew the council had already improved waste strategies such as household waste separation, isolation and treatment of organics so they could be used as garden mulch, as well as recycling facilities at the tip.

Has the council made any verbal or written agreements regarding strategies to deal with waste? she asked.

A month ago, Mr Macdonald said the council had not.

Jo Immig from the National Toxics Network said the State Government was one step closer to approving a ‘waste to energy’ incinerator in Casino with the passing of its new energy from waste regulation.

“A waste incinerator in Casino would likely take waste from surrounding Northern Rivers shires, including Byron and Ballina, as proposed in the NSW North Coast Waste Investment Review (2020) that only considered waste to energy incineration options,” Ms Immig said.

“If waste incinerators are too polluting for residential areas in Sydney, then they’re not safe anywhere and especially not in food producing regions and biodiversity hotspots in the Northern Rivers.”

Waste incinerators were dressed up as ‘renewable energy producers’ that were plastic burning facilities producing the dirtiest form of energy, she said.

The State Government released a fact sheet on EfW facilities.

It said, “Energy from waste has been safely and effectively used around the world for the past 50 years, with over 2000 plants operating worldwide including over 1000 in Japan, over 400 across Europe and at least 80 in the United States.

“There are three large-scale energy from waste facilities proceeding in Western Australia and a further three approved in Victoria.”

IndyNR.com will be at the council meeting on Tuesday, September 20 and will report on the discussions on waste.

Read the full council agenda before the meeting.

The sorting of rubbish into council collection bins.

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