Adaptive and responsive Business Recycling Unit during COVID-19
The EPA’s Business Recycling Unit helps businesses avoid, reduce and recycle waste and develop circular economy initiatives. Bin Trim, Rebates and Circulate programs help NSW meet future infrastructure and service needs as waste volumes continue to grow.
In May 2020 Round 4 of one of our main programs in this area, Bin Trim, awarded 22 grants with a combined value of $5 million.
An ANZ employee implementing Bin Trim labelling system for paper and cardboard. Photo: EPA
Bin Trim grantees visit businesses to carry out waste and recycling assessments. Round 4 grantees aimed to engage nearly 8,000 businesses, but when these grant projects started it wasn’t clear how COVID-19 might affect them. This year the EPA’s Business Recycling Unit helped grantees adapt their programs to meet pandemic conditions, as well as supporting them with training and communication.
With the EPA’s support, some grantees changed their plans to target business sectors that were less impacted by COVID-19. Others went to great lengths to accommodate the changing COVID restrictions and specific needs of participating businesses: for example, environmental consultancy WildBlueGlobal was able to work with the aged care sector by doing extra planning and taking extra health and hygiene measures. The EPA also allowed grantees to change how and when they engaged with businesses, with some grantees using technology to conduct assessments remotely and many receiving extensions to compensate for time lost in lockdowns.
Bin Trim grantees have achieved outstanding results and are on track to hit their targets by the end of the program round in late 2021.
Since June 2020:
grantees have engaged more than 7,300 businesses
each business has received at least one site assessment
more than 4,500 businesses have acted to reduce waste and increase recycling
more than 25,000 tonnes of waste are now being diverted from landfill each year (an estimate from follow-up assessments).
This result has added to the success of Bin Trim’s previous rounds.
Since the program began in 2014, 37,000 businesses have taken part.
Collaboration and a focus on customer service have allowed the Bin Trim program to thrive in 2020–21 despite unexpected and unprecedented conditions.
Returning, earning and delivering: the NSW container deposit scheme
Family using a Return and Earn facility. Photo: EPA
The NSW container deposit scheme, Return and Earn, was launched on 1 December 2017. It is the largest litter reduction scheme ever introduced in the State. Before Return and Earn, more than 160 million drink containers were littered each year, representing 44% (by volume) of all litter in NSW.
Return and Earn has become part of life in NSW: it has more than 620 collection points across the State and 77% of adults have used it.
As at June 2021 more than 5.7 billion containers have been returned for recycling. The redemption rate has risen year on year and has now reached 68% of all containers supplied into NSW (rolling 12-month average). Over the scheme’s lifetime, it has cut the volume of eligible drink containers ending up as litter by 52%.
As well as cutting litter and boosting recycling, Return and Earn has delivered economic and community benefits. It has put more than $570 million in refunds back into the hands of the community. It has also become an important fundraising channel, generating more than $24 million for charities and community groups via donations and fees from hosting return points. We can truly say that the scheme’s focus on people is at the heart of its success.
Ensuring compost quality
Source separated food organics and garden organics (FOGO) is a valuable resource when collected from the kerbside and processed into compost.
In late 2020 and early 2021, the EPA conducted a study into the characteristics of recovered organics taken from FOGO and Garden Only (GO) source-separated waste. This study was part of a package to help councils and the
alternative waste management industry move to collecting and processing source-separated organic wastes.
Samples were taken from:
- 13 food organics and garden organics composting facilities
- 5 garden organics composting facilities
- 3 units that dehydrate food waste.
Unavoidable waste in bowl ready for composting. Photo: Evolving Images/EPA
The samples were taken from metropolitan, regional and rural areas of NSW and analysed for about 260 chemical and physical, contaminants, pathogens relevant to human health, and other attributes.
The data is still being analysed and interpreted. (For some of the analytes, there are no established guideline values for recovered organic materials.) When this process is complete, the data will form an evidence base for future decisions about ensuring quality product from source-separated FOGO.
The EPA will share the study’s results with the organics industry, councils and the community. We encourage and support processors and the community to take up best practices. This study will help make sure recovered organics are safe and provide sustainable and beneficial uses.
Waste Crime Taskforce
The EPA Waste Crime Taskforce addresses the most serious and complex waste-related crimes and organised criminal behaviour. It brings together experienced investigators, waste-compliance, legal and intelligence staff from the EPA with officers of the NSW Police Force and other agencies. It works to deter and disrupt waste crime through intelligence-led investigations and other regulatory interventions.
Waste crime in NSW is organised: there are networks of offenders involved at each stage of the waste process. Many waste offenders have been or are currently involved in other crimes, and some have links to other organised groups such as outlaw motorcycle gangs.
Most waste crime relates to the disposal of waste, although the waste industry has also been used to launder money. A common crime is to illegally dispose of waste – typically building and demolition material including asbestos – on rural and other landholdings within the greater Sydney metropolitan area, to cut disposal costs and avoid paying the waste levy. Some landowners accept money to have waste left on their property however, they often don’t know that the material contains asbestos and other contaminants. In 2020–21 the EPA detected another practice: building and demolition waste being illegally disposed of in warehouses.
False waste records are often created and supplied to developers and others to conceal that waste has been disposed of unlawfully. Industry’s use of paper waste records, including waste classification reports and waste disposal dockets, enables waste fraud and illegal disposal. Online systems and other information security solutions would reduce opportunities for waste fraud.
This year the Waste Crime Taskforce started eight prosecutions against several individuals and companies for waste crime offences including the pollution of land and the supply of false or misleading information about waste.
One person has received a jail sentence and others have been heavily fined. The NSW Police Force has also prosecuted some of the same people for deception, money laundering and criminal group offences.
An example of a matter finalised in 2020–21 was the investigation and subsequent prosecution of Michael Laird for land pollution.
Helping communities and charities dispose of waste
Each year the EPA issues numerous exemptions to the waste levy. This is to help communities faced with unusually large clean-up tasks (such as after bushfires, storms and floods, animal disease outbreaks or whale deaths) and charities that carry out services for the community. It’s an instance of the EPA putting its principles – to be service-oriented and people-centred – into action.
A waste levy exemption was also granted by gazette for a further 12-month extension to 1 May 2022 to four of the five existing alternative waste treatment facilities that had demonstrated progress to transition to sustainable resource recovery outcomes.
we approved 77 applications for levy exemptions
community service: 66
natural disaster: 7
biological (disease outbreaks): 1
whale carcass: 3
60,000 tonnes of waste were collected under all existing exemptions.
The natural disaster exemptions related to the seven natural disasters declared in NSW this year. Such exemptions are usually issued soon after a disaster declaration is finalised and left in place until the clean-up is completed. This assures councils and residents of affected areas they will not have an additional financial burden on top of the costs of clean-up.
Community service exemptions help registered charity groups who have to dispose of waste arising from their activities. Most of this waste is unwanted or unusable donations. NSW charity groups spend more than $7 million a year disposing of unsaleable items, which eats into the services they can provide for clients. Exempting them from the waste levy relieves them of additional cost.