Queensland waste levy – clean soils?
As of 1st July 2019, the new Waste Levy will apply to most wastes received by licenced landfill facilities in Queensland. The leviable areas cover 90 per cent of the Queensland population, so it’s very likely that it will significantly impact most industries that produce substantial quantities of waste.
While the beneficial reuse of waste via the End of a Waste system requires sign-off and approval from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science for each waste type, several waste streams are exempt from the levy by default under the Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy) Amendment Act 2019. These ‘exempt’ wastes include:
• Non-friable asbestos-containing material (not mixed with any other type of waste);
• Waste that has asbestos-containing material bonded to it (not mixed with any other type of waste);
• Any disposal items used during asbestos removal work, including plastic sheeting and disposal tools (not mixed with any other type of waste);
• Waste containing friable asbestos-containing material;
• Dredge spoil (which must have been treated if containing acid sulfate soils);
• Clean earth;
• Waste collected by or for State or Local Government or a plantation licensee under the Forestry Act 1959; and
• Other waste that are prescribed by regulation to be exempt waste, or for which there is in force a declaration by the chief executive that the waste is exempt waste.
At SESL, we’re experts in soil – so naturally, we’re interested in the waste streams that contain soils. Exempt wastes containing soils include “clean earth” and dredge spoil, with the most interesting addition being that of “clean earth”.
The Amendment Act defines clean earth as:
a) means earth that is not contaminated with waste or otherwise contaminated with a hazardous contaminant; but
b) does not include acid sulfate soil, other than acid sulfate soil that—
i. is not contaminated with waste, or otherwise contaminated with a hazardous contaminant, other than naturally occurring iron sulfides that produce sulfuric acid when exposed to air; and
ii. has been treated in accordance with best practice environmental management, within the meaning of the Environmental Protection Act, section 21, for the treatment and management of acid sulfate soils, as stated in a guideline prescribed by regulation.
While this definition provides clear intent, it fails to quantify the chemical requirements for clean earth. As scientists, we know that all soil contains quantities of compounds commonly referred to as “hazardous contaminants”. However, in other jurisdictions (and under other guidelines), the acceptable quantities of these “contaminants” are outlined in guideline documents. Currently, Queensland lacks a waste classification framework to characterise waste adequately. As such, much of the responsibility will lie with the waste receival facilities (landfills, etc.) to determine which waste is leviable and which meets the definition of “clean earth”.
This is a big deal, as levy rates can contribute significant costs to a project (see below).
Thankfully, this is where SESL can help.
At SESL, we’ve been working in jurisdictions that have been subject to waste levies for many years, including New South Wales, ACT and Victoria. We’re experts in assessing wastes, so that investigation reports can be provided to waste management facilities to determine the appropriate legislated disposal costs. While there is no classification framework to which we can compare “clean earth”, we can reference other guidelines and standards to provide supporting, relevant information about the waste based on intrusive assessments and laboratory analysis.
General waste will attract a levy of $75.00 / tonne, while regulated wastes will attract higher levy fees (Category 1 $155.00 / tonne, Category 2 $105.00 / tonne). The levy fees will increase by $5.00 / tonne annually. These costs are in addition to the processing and void space charges, which have been charged by facilities for decades.
These significant costs associated with disposal make the assessment of the soil for its suitability as “exempt” waste a very attractive option for cost-saving throughout a project. In addition to assessing wastes for disposal, SESL can assess the suitability of a waste for recycling. In doing so, materials may be transported to a facility or site that may not incur a levy. With stricter ERA conditions and more regulation, recycling facilities and developments will want to ensure they only accept suitable materials.
So in summary, recycling is likely to be undertaken in an uncontrolled, undocumented and potentially unsuitable manner, unless individuals and businesses take the initiative to ensure they are managing waste soils appropriately.