Proposed changes to Queensland’s waste legislation
WRR Bill 2023
On 22 February 2023, the Waste Reduction and Recycling and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 (WRR Bill 2023) was introduced into Queensland Parliament.
The WRR Bill 2023 proposes to amend provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act) and the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 (Qld) (Waste Act) to better embed the goals for, and practical implementation of, circular economy principles.
Definition of waste
The Waste Act and the EP Act are proposed to be amended to include a new definition of waste. The definition is still broad and includes anything that is left-over, unwanted from an industrial, commercial, domestic or other activity, or surplus to the activity generating the waste. However, importantly, the new definition carves out ‘things prescribed by a regulation not to be a waste’ and ‘resources’ generated by compliance with an end-of-waste code.
The purpose of the amendment is said to be to provide security and flexibility for those who want to invest in circular economy processes and products. Under the new definition, the pathway for repurposing different types of materials is intended to be clearer.
The WRR Bill 2023 does not go so far as to deem products generated by a waste-related environmentally relevant activity (e.g., composting or glass repurposing) to be a resource. However, it provides a platform for such activities to be prescribed under a regulation to no longer be a ‘waste’.
It will be interesting to see how this new definition will interact with the detailed end-of-waste codes in the Waste Act for specific products. This is especially topical, in light of the Department’s current review of the end-of-waste framework being undertaken by its consultants.
Definition of circular economy
Interestingly, the WRR Bill 2023 introduces into the Waste Act a specific definition of ‘circular economy’ and ‘circular economy principle’, which embeds this broader policy concept into the legislative framework. The circular economy is to be explicitly included in the State’s waste management strategy, as well as local government strategic planning for waste.
Clean earth exemptions
The WRR Bill 2023 proposes the removal of the automatic levy exemption for clean earth that is delivered to a leviable waste disposal site. The waste levy is proposed to now apply to any clean earth disposed of in a landfill or waste facility.
Clean earth is a valuable product used for things like retaining walls, filling and landscaping. Introducing a levy for the disposal of this material to landfill recognises the importance of beneficial reuse of this material.
Of note for landfill and waste facility operators is that an exemption may be available to landfill operators who take in the clean earth and use it for good operation and maintenance of the site.
This move to narrowing the scope of waste exemptions is consistent with the existing provisions in the Waste Reduction and Recycling Regulation 2011 (Qld) that phase out the exemptions for road plannings (from 30 June 2023), alum sludge (from 30 June 2024), and fly ash produced by a power station (from 30 June 2029).
Resource recovery area declarations
Of note for local governments and resource recovery operators, under these proposed amendments, the regulator will have broader powers for compliance action in resource recovery areas (RRA).
Currently, the regulator has power to revoke the RRA declaration over the area if the area does not comply with the requirements for an RRA, or where there is landfilling or certain excess stockpiling. Revocation means that the area must be quarantined for 12 months before the area is declared again. This has the obvious negative impact on the overall capacity of recycling infrastructure in a locality.
Under the proposed changes, the regulator can, following a show cause process, amend or suspend the resource recovery area to undertake an investigation of the site activities. If the regulator chooses to take no further action following investigation, the resource recovery area can continue to operate without the 12-month wait period.
The changes also mean that the regulator can effectively close an RRA (as the waste levy is payable during the suspension period) to investigate the ‘possible commission’ of an offence relating to the RRA requirements.
The WRR Bill 2023 has been referred to the Health and Environment Committee. Public submissions closed on 10 March 2023, and the Committee’s report is due on 14 April 2023.
The McCullough Robertson team will be closely monitoring the WRR Bill 2023.
Watch out for our waste series which will provide insights into current issues and trends we are seeing in the waste industry.
This publication covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. It is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.