Waste sector update and exemptions

17 September 2021

The waste sector and councils provide important services to the community and business. We are working to minimise impacts on the industry and ensure continuity of service for the community. 

Safe and staged re-opening of waste and recycling operations

Waste and recycling operations and services that paused activity due to the COVID lockdown restrictions are able to recommence in a safe and staged way. Health advice has confirmed that accessing household services, including waste and recycling services, is a reason to leave your home. This includes other organisations which provide circular economy services, such as charitable recyclers, who also have the opportunity to consider recommencing services.

Changes for the general public

Community members who may have been limited in their ability to access a wide range of waste disposal and recycling services, including charitable donations, are now able to leave home for the purpose of managing their waste. Services may re-open gradually, and access to waste services may be limited or restricted, based on the management decisions of each waste operator. Community members are encouraged to check for updates on services in their own area before leaving home, and are reminded that they must comply with Health Orders.

Changes for council and industry

Waste and recycling facilities currently closed to the public will be able to re-open in a safe and staged way, provided they have COVID-19 safety measures in place to protect the community and staff, following revised Government advice.

This means that councils and other waste providers may work towards opening of facilities to the public such as landfills, Return and Earn and Community Recycling Centres.

Councils, waste facilities and other providers should consider their own particular situation when deciding when and how they can safely re-open. Additional guidelines have been developed by the EPA to assist operators in coming to a decision for their sites.

These guidelines cover pre-planning considerations, ways to modify site operations to allow for COVID-safe operations, increased use of site specific communication and social media, and checking supply chains are in place to support re-opening.

How is the EPA assisting?

The EPA is providing information, guidelines and support to waste industry operators and the general public to understand the changes and allow individual site operators to consider their own circumstances in making a decision about re-opening.

Information is being provided through direct email communication with operators, local government and industry associations; updated information on the EPA website; development of guidelines and FAQs; and updating of existing resources to reflect the current position.

Licensees are encouraged to call the EPA to discuss any concerns they may have with their ability to comply with statutory requirements which arise as a result of re-opening.

These activities, from both a business/operator and public perspective, will need to adhere to all relevant Public Health Order requirements such as use of QR codes and social distancing

Questions and answers

Waste and resource recovery services

Can landfills and recycling facilities continue to operate?

Yes.  Site operators must comply with the 1 person per 4 square metre rule, implement your COVID safe plan and adhere to all public health order requirements.

You must wear a face mask when outside and inside.

Can donations still be collected from charity bins?

Health advice has confirmed that accessing household services, including waste and recycling services, is a reason to leave your home. This includes other organisations which provide circular economy services, such as charitable recyclers, who will also have the opportunity to consider recommencing services.

Councils and charities may wish to put up signage to let the community know if charity bins are not in use and where they won’t be making regular collections. Councils have discretion to continue to provide the service where necessary including altering frequency of collections and if clean up around a bin is needed.

Can charitable recyclers open retail shopfronts?

Charity stores as with other retail outlets in NSW are subject to Public Health Orders. Operators will need to check the latest Public Health Advice for their region on the NSW Health website regarding restrictions on retail businesses that can stay open to the public.

Where stay at home orders apply charity retail stores will not be open.   

Can specialist waste services, such as motel quarantine, septic pump out and clean-up from incident response (such as spills and fires) still occur?

Yes.  Waste collection to maintain critical services is permitted to protect human health and the environment.

Can kerbside recycling and green waste be collected?

All regular domestic waste collections including the red, yellow, blue and green-lid bins are considered to be critical waste work and should continue.

Similarly waste collections from health and medical, aged care, hotel, commercial and industrial premises can also continue.

What if I can’t meet my environmental licence obligations eg monitoring?

If you have any concerns about being able to deliver on your environmental obligations as a consequence of these requirements please raise them with the EPA early so that we can assist you, and contingency plans can be put in place. 

Can two people from a different household be in the same collection vehicle?

You may only travel in a car/vehicle with other people that you live with, unless your travel is:

  • to engage in work
  • to provide a public transport service
  • to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person
  • in an emergency
  • for compassionate reasons

If you use a vehicle for work, you are allowed to share the car (car pool) with a person you do not live with if it is required for your work; for example, if you are a driver working in a team of two people.

Can waste employees share vehicles (car pool) or use mini-buses to transport staff?

The intention is to limit the number of interactions between people from different households.  The sharing of vehicles with people from different households is strongly discouraged. Refer to the response above for further details.

In the Public Health Orders issued 17 July 2021 workers in the waste industry have now been declared exempt as authorised workers.

  • Workers in the waste industry are now authorised to travel outside an affected local government area if required for work purposes, but only for the provision of critical waste work
  • The exemption covers waste resource recovery services, including collection, treatment and disposal services
  • Details can be found Section 33 in Authorised Workers on the Service NSW website
  • You can leave home to go to work if you are an authorised worker living in a local government area of concern ie working in resource recovery including collection, treatment and disposal services
  • This exemption allows waste workers to enter common property on a residence under the direction of ensuring the health, safety or security of residents, ie waste disposal work can be carried out on common property of residential premises.
  • This exemption also allows authorised council workers to undertake critical sanitation works, such as the cleaning of parks, amenity blocks and streets.
  • For the latest updates for authorised workers, please visit nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules

Impacts to the public

Why are some waste and recycling services open and others still closed?

Waste and recycling operations and facilities that paused activity due to the COVID lockdown restrictions are able to recommence in a safe and staged way, consistent with current Health advice and COVID restrictions.

This means that councils and other operators may work towards a safe and staged opening of facilities to the public such as landfills, Return and Earn and Community Recycling Centres.

Councils, waste facilities and other operators should consider their particular situation when deciding when and how to safely recommence operations.  

Some businesses or facilities may choose to limit operations or continue to pause operations while they plan and implement measures, or the local COVID situation eases, to ensure they can operate in a COVID safe way.

Can the community attend their waste transfer station, depot or landfill themselves?

Yes.  Waste and recycling facilities currently closed to the public will be able to re-open in a safe and staged way, provided they adhere to all relevant Public Health Order requirements such as use of QR codes and social distancing.

While Greater Sydney is in lockdown and all residents are required to limit their movements, accessing household services, including waste and recycling services, is a reason to leave your home.

Some facilities may choose to stay closed or delay reopening while they plan and implement detailed measures to ensure they can operate in a COVID safe way.

Should transfer stations stay open?

Yes, if they support regular domestic waste collection services managed by council or other critical waste services.

I work at a waste facility weighbridge – what happens if a customer arrives and isn’t wearing a mask?

The new Public Health Orders require anyone visiting a workplace to wear a mask and to check in using a QR code. Ensure that you have signage up showing the requirement and politely remind the person to put their mask on.

QR code information

By law some businesses, venues and events are required to have a NSW government QR code to allow staff and customers to check in using the Service NSW app. Further information is available at https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/check-in

Can council bulky kerbside waste collections continue?

Councils have discretion to continue where it is necessary to offer such services, for example in the event of an emergency or dumping incident or for items that pose a health or environmental risk if not cleaned up.

Can councils clean up waste from a dumping incident?

Councils have discretion to provide a clean-up service where necessary for example in the event of an incident (such as illegal dumping), emergency or health or environmental risk.

Is Return and Earn still operating?

Yes. Return points in Regional NSW remain open and return points in Greater Sydney are reopening in stages:

  • In Stage 1, all return points in the following LGAs re reopening from Wednesday 15 September 2021: Blue Mountains, Camden, Canada Bay, Hawkesbury, Hornsby, Hunters Hill, Inner West, Kuring-gai, Lane Cove, Mosman, Northern Beaches, some suburbs of Penrith, Randwick, Ryde, Sutherland, Sydney, The Hills, Waverley, Wollondilly and Wollongong.
  • In Stage 2, all return points in the following LGAs are reopening from Wednesday 29 September 2021: Bayside, Blacktown, Burwood, Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield, Georges River, Liverpool, Parramatta, remaining suburbs of Penrith, and Strathfield.

Anyone visiting a return point must comply with the latest Public Health Orders, including checking-in via the QR code displayed, wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing of a least 1.5 metres from others, and practicing good hygiene.

Please check the Return and Earn website or use the myTOMRA App for updates to the operational status of return points.

Community Recycling Centres

Should Community Recycling Centres close?

Waste and recycling operations and facilities that paused activity due to the COVID lockdown restrictions are able to recommence in a safe and staged way, consistent with current Health advice and COVID restrictions.

Accessing a Community Recycling Service is a reason to leave your home.

Where a local Community Recycling Centre is closed residents should safely store any household problem waste until it re-opens.

Will the Community Recycling Centres outside of Sydney, Blue Mountains, and Wollongong close?

Councils and other waste providers may work towards a safe and staged opening of facilities to the public such as Community Recycling Centres.

Councils should consider their particular situation when deciding when and how they can safely re-open.

These centres must be operated in a COVID safe manner.

If you visit a centre, please practice good hygiene before and after visiting, wear a mask onsite, practice physical distancing and register check-in details using a QR code or similar.

What do I do if I have household problem waste?

If you have household problem waste that you would normally take to a Community Recycling Centre or Chemical CleanOut event and it is currently closed, please store it safely at home, including away from children until you can take it to your local Community Recycling Centre.

Check old containers for damage or potential leaks. Double wrap in newspaper and then in a plastic bag and place in a secure container like a crate or bucket.

Keep flammable materials away from potential ignition sources like batteries and gas bottles.

I am moving house and need to dispose of household problem waste. What do I do?

If you are moving house, please contact the Environment Line on 131 555 to talk about disposal and recycling options.

When will my local Community Recycling Centre re-open?

Community Recycling Centres paused operations temporarily to adhere with the Public Health Orders. They will re-open when they have implemented detailed measures to ensure they can operate in a COVID safe way.

The NSW EPA website is the best place to stay up to date regarding re-opening dates and times. Please visit www.cleanout.com.au

When will the Chemical CleanOut events be on again?

The Chemical CleanOut events will recommence when it is safe to do so. This service already adheres to strict COVID safe procedures to ensure the safety of staff and the community and will continue to do so when events resume.

Authorised workers and work

In the Public Health Orders issued 17 July 2021 workers in the waste industry have now been declared exempt as authorised workers.

  • From 28 August, authorised workers need to register all travel within NSW if leaving Greater Sydney or leaving or entering an area of concern for work.
  • From 20 September authorised workers are required to have a COVID-19 vaccination or exemption before they can continue to work. More information for authorised workers is below.
  • Workers in the waste industry are authorised to travel outside an affected local government area if required for work purposes, but only for the provision of critical waste work
  • The exemption covers waste resource recovery services, including collection, treatment and disposal services
  • Details can be found Section 33 in Authorised Workers on the Service NSW website
  •  You can leave home to go to work if you are an authorised worker living in a local government area of concern ie working in resource recovery including collection, treatment and disposal services
  • This exemption allows waste workers to enter common property on a residence under the direction of ensuring the health, safety or security of residents, ie waste disposal work can be carried out on common property of residential premises.
  • This exemption also allows authorised council workers to undertake critical sanitation works, such as the cleaning of parks, amenity blocks and streets.

For the latest information on work travel registration nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/travel-registration

For the latest information on vaccination requirements for authorised workers

For the latest updates for authorised workers, please visit nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules

What is an authorised worker?

The NSW Government has prepared a list of authorised workers by industry.https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/authorised-workers

An authorised worker can travel outside an affected local government area they live in if they are required to leave home for work, providing they meet vaccination requirements and have registered to travel for work.

For example, workers in waste resource recovery services (including collection, treatment and disposal services) are authorised

workers. https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/authorised-workers

Do authorised workers need to carry a letter from their employer?

There is no formal requirement to carry a letter, but employers might like to provide employees with a letter saying something like…

Re: Authorised Worker Status

This letter confirms that (employee name) is permitted to travel as they are an authorised worker carrying out critical waste resource recovery services including collection, treatment and disposal services, in accordance with the Public Health Orders released on 19 July 2021. (Supervisor name) can be contacted to verify this information. 

In addition, you will need to register your travel if you are an authorised worker living in a local government area (LGA) of concern and you need to leave your area for work. This includes travelling to another LGA of concern (also known as a 'workers permit').

Do authorised workers need to be vaccinated?

Some workers are required to have a COVID-19 vaccination or exemption before they can continue to work. For details see vaccination requirements for authorised workers

I live in a local government area of concern – can I leave the area to do my job in the waste sector?

If you live in a local government area of concern and you cannot work from home and your workplace is allowed to be open

  • you can go to work if it is within the local government area in which you live
  • you cannot leave the local government area that you live in to go to work unless you are an authorised worker and meet the vaccination and travel to work registration requirements.

For more information see vaccination requirements for authorised workers

For more information on work travel registration see nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/travel-registration

For more information see https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/greater-sydney-workers

Can a critical waste worker from outside Greater Sydney come into Greater Sydney and out again to make a delivery?

Yes, if you have registered to travel to work. An authorised waste worker must comply with the stay at home order when they return each day, in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 outside Greater Sydney. You must stay home. Only leave your home if you have a reasonable excuse. For further information about the stay at home requirement visit nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/greater-sydney#stay-at-home-rules-greater-sydney

Are authorised workers living outside the affected local government areas able to enter one of the affected local government areas?

Yes, as long as the work being completed is deemed critical and they are an authorised worker. From 28 August, authorised workers need to register all travel within NSW if leaving Greater Sydney or leaving or entering an area of concern for work. For more information see nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/travel-registration

Do we have to wear face masks in vehicles and on premises?

Yes. You must wear a face mask when working in Greater Sydney across ALL sectors including waste. The only exceptions are when you are in a vehicle alone or with another person from the same household. Further information about mask wearing requirements is available at face mask rules.

Testing

Testing requirements for local government areas of concern

Follow the rules for COVID-19 testing if you need to leave your local government area to go to work as an authorised worker.

You should get a COVID-19 test if you:

It is important to always ensure you are following the latest rules and restrictions from NSW Health.

Find out more about the testing rules for Greater Sydney.

Do I need a COVID-19 test to go to work outside Greater Sydney?

If you are working more than 50km from Greater Sydney, including the Blue Mountains and Wollongong, you are required to get a test in the 7 days before working. You do not have to self-isolate when you are waiting for your test results.

Do authorised workers living outside of the affected local government areas need a COVID-19 test after entering one of the affected local government areas for critical work?

No, it is not required.

Do I have to get tested in my local government area?

No, you can go to a COVID-19 testing clinic near your home or work https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/greater-sydney-workers

As an authorised worker required to undergo a COVID test do I have to self-isolate while waiting for my COVID test?

If you demonstrate any COVID symptoms, get tested immediately and self-isolate until you have been given the all clear on your test. You cannot go to work and must self-isolate until you get a negative result.

How do I prove I have had my COVID-19 test?

You will receive an SMS or printed confirmation from NSW Health when you have done your test. https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/greater-sydney-workers

We are aware that some private clinics are not providing this confirmation that testing has occurred. We have alerted NSW Health to this issue and will advise when we receive further updates.

What if the clinic I attend for testing doesn’t provide a paper confirmation or SMS?

NSW Health is aware that some testing clinics are not offering confirmation and is seeking to quickly resolve the issue.

What happens if I am an authorised worker and have symptoms?

Get tested immediately and self-isolate until you have received a negative test result. You cannot go to work until you receive the negative test result.

NSW EPA

I have a concern regarding our ability to meet our environmental obligations in our environment protection licence, who do I advise?

Notify Environment Line info@epa.nsw.gov.au – your issue will be fast tracked.

How often is this information updated?

New questions and answers will be added as required. Please check back for updates.

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