Engaging with our communities

In 2019–20 the EPA committed itself to becoming a world class regulator. As part of this transformation, we committed to collaborating and engaging more closely with stakeholders. The need to do this was reinforced by what we heard from an in-depth survey of stakeholders in 2020. This section describes some of the ways we engage with stakeholders, and specific instances of engagement.

Dynamic online ‘Have your say’ channel informs our work

The EPA is committed to listening to our stakeholders’ views and responding to them. Our online consultation platform draws and collates valuable feedback on all new and draft policies, guidelines and regulations. This feedback shapes our next steps on regulatory updates and new policy directions or guidelines. After you ‘have your say’ we post summaries of feedback and next steps. We also use the platform to run short internal and external surveys.

In 2020–21 we ran 11 targeted or public consultations. These attracted 880 submissions. Three documents were particularly notable.

The EPA Regulatory Strategy received the most submissions– 315.

The updated Energy from Waste Policy set out a planned expansion of restrictions to air emissions, reflecting the latest advice on standards from the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer. It drew 190 survey responses and 135 written submissions.

The Construction Noise Guideline contained ways to reduce the impacts of construction noise, and requirements for construction project managers to connect with and speak to their communities early. We received 46 submissions about it from stakeholders, including the transport industry, acoustics industry, local councils and community. We expect to finalise the guideline in late2021.

Several consultations are already active or planned for 2021–22. These include:

  • a model transport infrastructure licence designed to provide clear and consistent environmental conditions for major transport infrastructure construction projects
  • changes to requirements for radiation licensees.

Informing, consulting and involving our stakeholders

The EPA is continuing to improve engagement processes to better inform, consult and involve our stakeholders.

In 2020 we commissioned an independent research firm to conduct an in-depth stakeholder survey. This reached 2,010 members of the public and 1,120 direct EPA stakeholders (who include regulated businesses, local councils, licensees and community groups). It told us about our stakeholders’ interests and priorities, and how they view our actions.

The survey results suggested how we could improve our engagement processes and the way we deliver services. We welcomed these insights and acted on them by:

  • creating a Charter of Engagement that outlines our commitment to working with others
  • running roadshows at 12 locations around NSW, at which the EPA Executive met with council and licensee stakeholders and consulted on the EPA’s Regulatory Strategy
  • setting up a new central system called The Hub to coordinate licensing requests and starting more targeted, industry-specific engagement with waste, forestry and council stakeholders.

The 2020 stakeholder survey also found that:

most of the NSW community (72%) agrees that the aim of environmental regulation should be to improve, rather than maintain, the health of the environment

the community wants to know more about the environmental priorities for NSW, with 40% asking for more leadership from the EPA in setting the environmental agenda and explaining what work is critical for the environment

awareness in the community of the EPA is high – 85% (as in previous years) – but genuine knowledge of the EPA’s work is low

overall, industry and government stakeholders are more satisfied with the EPA (62% and 68%) than community and environmental stakeholders. Key stakeholders see the EPA brand as professional (66%), approachable (62%) and trustworthy/ honest (58%). These were the top-rated attributes and were based on interactions and experiences with EPA staff.


EPA helps communities assess asbestos risk and safety

EPA officers with a Lidar drone

Regulatory Operations staff member with the Fire and Rescue NSW Lidar Drone in Moree. Photo: EPA

In some parts of NSW, local councils have to manage asbestos in many burnt and derelict buildings. These buildings may pose a health risk to neighbours, worry people in the community and hamper economic growth. Unfortunately, the cost of remediation is often greater than the value of the land on which the buildings sit, which means owners are unable or unwilling to clean up. The buildings then become the community’s problem.

In late 2020 the EPA worked closely with the NSW Asbestos Coordination Committee Working Group on a pilot project to develop a management tool – a hazard and risk assessment methodology – that could help councils reduce the risks posed by asbestos and other materials in burnt or derelict buildings.

Moree Plains Shire Council, in the state’s north-west, asked the EPA for help with assessing asbestos risk at 60 burnt or derelict properties. In late 2020 this council’s area was selected as the pilot site for testing the new management tool.

We led a multi-agency team (which included some of the agencies that had developed the tool) in using the new tool to assess the properties identified by the council. The team also mapped the area using the latest drone-based technology and monitored ambient air for asbestos fibres. It found that:

  • 48 properties contained asbestos
  • 20 were classified as being of ‘greatest danger to the community’
  • 3 were recommended for immediate demolition and clean-up.

Air monitoring showed no asbestos readings of concern to the community.

The team devoted much effort to engaging with the community, particularly the local Aboriginal community. This was done with invaluable input from:

  • the Moree Local Aboriginal Land Council
  • Embrace, a local Aboriginal community engagement business
  • Aboriginal Affairs NSW.

The team also used social media to update the community about the work while it was being carried out.

As the lead agency for the NSW Asbestos Coordination Committee, we are pleased with the outcomes focus of the Committee’s Working Group and proud of its involvement in this important trial. The Working Group is finalising the assessment methodology and building a package that will be available to all local councils to help them address this important environmental and community issue.

Reducing all types of illegal dumping incidents

Preventing harm gives better environmental outcomes than just cleaning up after damage is done. That’s why targeted education campaigns and measures to influence behaviour change are valuable regulatory tools that can deliver great benefits for the community.

Influencing and engaging with communities to improve environment protection is an important aspect of robust regulation. It is one of the key activities taking us towards being a world class regulator.

Raising awareness around donating responsibly

This year the EPA trialled a communication campaign in Lismore on the NSW north coast and Penrith in Sydney’s west to encourage responsible donating and reduce dumping at charity shops and donation points. The campaign messages were based on research which found that half the people who leave items outside charity shops or donate items in poor condition:

  • don’t realise these items are often unusable
  • are unaware of the financial impact they are having on charities.
image used in social media showing broken furniture and other items left outside a charity bin with the message It's great to donate but don't leave your donations exposed

Charity dumping social media campaign.

In October and November 2020, five key behavioural messages were distributed across both communities via a targeted social media campaign and ads on local radio and in newspapers. Participating charities and councils displayed the messages as signs, posters, donation bin stickers and flyers.

Across both areas the social media campaign achieved 713,000 impressions, with a reach of 273,000. Community surveys found 94% of respondents agreed they would ‘definitely donate responsibly in future’. Dumping also fell significantly during the campaign, with an average decrease of 61% across sites.

Giving homeowners the low down on ‘free fill’

Since 2019, we have been alerting property owners to the dangers and potential harm of receiving free fill through a Free fill – is it worth it? media campaign. This is aimed at changing people’s behaviour when sourcing fill so they don’t receive contaminated material. The campaign is part of a larger program on illegal landfilling that’s guided by the NSW Illegal Dumping Strategy 2017–21.

social media image showing grandparents on the lawn with children with a cut away showing the soil below with the potential for lead and asbestos contamination. Message is Free fill - not worth the cost

Free fill lead asbestos awareness social media campaign.

The campaign supports landowners, who are often targeted by unscrupulous operators looking to get rid of contaminated material under the guise of ‘clean free fill’. Targeted videos, social media ads and posters highlight the EPA’s message that ‘free fill could be packed with dangerous contaminants such as lead, asbestos and building rubble’.

The online education campaign displayed our ads when landowners used search engines to look for free fill. It provided a safety checklist and reinforced the message that bad fill:

  • damages the environment
  • impacts human health
  • devalues private property
  • is costly to clean up.

The campaign had a wide reach on social and digital media, with over 13,000 clicks on link ads leading to the EPA ‘clean fill’ webpage and 936,000 Facebook video views.

The materials for this campaign have been translated into three community languages (simplified Chinese, Arabic and Vietnamese) and all resources are available on the EPA website for councils to use as part of local campaigns.

Making it convenient to dispose of problem wastes

The EPA has two free and convenient programs for the collection of problem wastes:

  • Community Recycling Centres (CRCs) – permanent drop-off centres for common household problem wastes
  • Household Chemical CleanOut – free special events for the safe disposal of potentially hazardous household chemicals.

The programs are funded by the waste levy and promoted to the community through local newspapers, social media, radio, council newsletters and other channels.

In 2020–21 the two programs together collected a total of 5,670 tonnes of potentially hazardous household waste – 32% more than in 2019–20. Both programs experienced unprecedented demand as many people renovated and cleared out their homes and garages while travel was restricted.

Encouraging communities to properly dispose of household waste

In 2020–21 illegal dumping of household waste accounted for 64% of all illegal dumping. Most of this waste is dumped on the kerbside, often because people think it is fine to leave out bulky household items without booking a collection service. But cleaning up bulky household waste is costly, dumped items look unsightly, and dumping often leads to items going to landfill when they might have been re-used or recycled.

In early 2021 we launched a social media campaign about illegal dumping of household waste targeting Greater Sydney via Facebook video ads. The campaign aimed to make people more aware of how to lawfully dispose of household items and of options for re-use.

The campaign reached more than 1.7 million people and provided useful insights into people’s awareness of, and attitudes to dumping household items. The results showed many people in the community still think it’s acceptable to leave unwanted items on the kerbside even when they haven’t booked a collection with their council. We will continue to work with stakeholders and refine messaging to reduce dumping of household waste.

Evolving the conversation with the community about litter

Launched in 2014, the EPA’s highly successful education and awareness campaign Don’t be a Tosser! established a new social norm in NSW – to not litter. The campaign is based on detailed research into what drives littering behaviour. It is re-evaluated every year and continues to evolve to reach specific audiences and target their respective littering behaviours.

Don’t be a Tosser! is a critical part of the EPA’s litter prevention strategy. It places responsibility for littering on the individual and encourages people to think about their actions.

The campaign supports the EPA’s ambitious new targets to:

  • reduce all litter items by 60% by 2030
  • reduce plastic litter items in particular by 30% by 2025

as outlined in the Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 – Stage 1 2022–2027.

bus shelter showing the large Don't be a tosser characters with litter stuck to their heads

Don’t be a Tosser! campaign 2020. Photo: EPA

Since 2013–14 Don’t be a Tosser! has achieved an impressive reach – about 88% of the population – and contributed to a 43% reduction in litter volume in NSW (as against 19% nationally). It has also achieved significant success in changing attitudes: 94% of the campaign audience approve of the Tosser message.


Collaboration and engagement on Snowy 2.0

EPA officers wearing hi viz and helmets in the field inspecting sediment and erosion controls beside a lake

EPA officers inspecting the sediment and erosion controls at Tantangara with Snowy Hydro contractors. Photo: Debora Vidal

Snowy 2.0 is the largest renewable energy project now under way in Australia, and an important part of the nation’s transition to a low-carbon emissions future. It is also a Critical State Significant Infrastructure project. Located in Kosciuszko National Park in the Snowy Mountains – a sensitive environment – Snowy 2.0 involves building:

  • a power station about 600 m below ground
  • 20 km of access tunnels
  • 27 km of water tunnels to link two existing dams.

The EPA is the primary environmental regulator for the project. We are working closely with Snowy Hydro Limited (the project proponent), the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to protect the significant environmental values of Kosciuszko National Park.

Our approach is twofold. We have issued an environment protection licence that authorises construction works subject to strict requirements to protect the surrounding environment. We have undertaken extensive engagement and education, first identifying the environmental values that need to be protected and then providing Snowy Hydro, its contractors and the entire Snowy 2.0 workforce, with the skills, knowledge and power to protect these values.

We regularly brief the Snowy 2.0 workforce and make clear our expectations. Our current focus is protecting the pristine water quality of Kosciuszko National Park. We are working closely with Snowy Hydro to protect water bodies near the construction site by ensuring water is carefully managed during the construction process.

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