Mixed Waste Organic Material no longer in use

Mixed waste organic material is no longer able to be used on agricultural land, and is ceasing use on forestry and mining land until further controls can be considered.

This change does not apply to compost or biosolids.

The use of mixed waste organic material has already been restricted since 2010. This has included regulations on the processing and distribution, and prohibiting its use for urban and domestic purposes.

The decision by the EPA to stop further use of the material is now being made after a comprehensive, independent research program concluded that there are limited agricultural or soil benefits from applying mixed waste organic material at the current regulated rates, but there are physical contaminants and potential environmental risks.

The NSW EPA received the final Technical Advisory Report in late May. The EPA reviewed the report and sought further information from industry, including records of the amounts and distribution of material, as well as operational information about the alternative waste treatment facilities. 

The EPA also convened and sought specialist advice from an interagency committee, including Department of Primary Industries, NSW Health, NSW Food Authority and Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer, to review the information and agree on a course of action. That action included commissioning a human health and ecological risk assessment. Consideration also needed to be given to the statewide impacts of any proposed regulatory changes on waste collections, stakeholders involved and the community, before the final decision was taken to stop the application, and to inform what support was needed.

You can find out more about the research below.

Find out how this affects you

 

As a primary producer, you may know mixed waste organic material under trade names such as OGM (organic growth media), Agriblend or Pasture-ARRT Rejuvenate, supplied by Global Renewables, Biomass Solutions or Suez respectively.

The EPA has written to known landholders, including agricultural producers, to inform them of these changes, let them know how they can find out more information and to support them.

For more information, click here to download this factsheet (PDF 46KB).

What do you need to do?

  • Stop applying mixed waste organic material to your land
  • If you have any of this material stored, or would like to discuss your personal circumstances contact the EPA on 131 555, or at info@epa.nsw.gov.au
  • There is no change to the use of compost, which you can continue to use.

The EPA understands the changed regulations for mixed waste organic material will have important implications for several stakeholders. Removing the exemption could result in the short-term diversion of general household (red-lid bin) waste to landfill.

While the regulatory changes mean that this material is no longer able to be applied to land, the EPA has worked closely with the AWT industry to ensure that household waste collections will continue as normal.

The EPA will work closely with local and regional councils and the alternative waste companies to support them as they manage the impact from these regulatory changes, with a support package being developed for impacted councils, including financial support where appropriate.

The EPA will be in touch with each council to discuss their contracts.

The EPA’s decision to remove the exemption is part of a coordinated and deliberate approach to prioritise long-term environmental and community health, while also recognising the impact on landholders, companies and councils that utilise this material in their management of domestic waste.

What do you need to do?

  • If these changes apply to you, contact the EPA Environment Line on 131 555, or at info@epa.nsw.gov.au

The EPA is ceasing use of mixed waste organic material for forestry and mining land until further controls can be considered.

Mixed waste organic material may also be known under trade names such as OGM (organic growth media), Agriblend or Pasture-ARRT Rejuvenate, supplied by Global Renewables, Biomass Solutions or Suez respectively.

The EPA has written to known landholders, including mining companies, to inform them of these changes, let them know how they can find out more information and to support them.

 

The EPA’s decision to remove the exemption is part of a coordinated and deliberate approach to prioritise long-term environmental and community health, while also recognising the impact on landholders, companies and councils that utilise this material in their management of domestic waste.

What do you need to do?

  • Stop applying mixed waste organic material to your land
  • If you have any of this material stored, contact the EPA on 131 555, or at info@epa.nsw.gov.au

Communication

Q: How did the EPA tell people about the change?

The EPA has taken a careful, coordinated and deliberate approach to prioritise environmental and community health while recognising the impact on landholders, waste management companies and the councils that use mixed waste organic material as part of their waste management programs.

The EPA communicated these changes to stakeholders through many different channels. This included writing to all known landholders who applied the product to advise of the change; placing information on our website homepage and advertisements in regional newspapers; sending a media release to NSW metropolitan and regional media through a distribution service; consulting with affected waste management companies and working closely with them to ensure that household waste collections continued as normal; individually contacting councils; briefed or arranged for briefings of industry groups including waste, agricultural, mining and local government peak bodies, as well as the Australian Department of Environment, other state environmental regulators.

Mixed waste organic material (the material)

Q: What is Mixed Waste Organic Material?

  • Mixed waste organic material is a soil amendment made predominantly from the organic material in household general waste (red lid) bin, which was applied to agricultural land, mine-site rehabilitation, and plantation forests.
  • Mixed waste organic material is produced at alternative waste treatment facilities, primarily to divert general household waste (red-lid bin) from landfill, and is sold or provided by alternative waste treatment companies as a soil amendment, to improve agricultural soils.
  • Mixed waste organic material is also known as mixed waste organic output, ‘MWOO’, and marketed under the trade names Agriblend, Rehab-ARRT Rejuvenate (for mine sites), Pasture-ARRT Rejuvenate (broadacre agriculture) or OGM (organic growth media).

Q: How is it processed?

  • Processing typically involves two distinct stages:
    • mechanical sorting and separation to concentrate the biodegradable portion by removing plastic, metal and other large miscellaneous items such as car batteries and gas bottles, and
    • pasteurisation and biological stabilisation

Q: How has mixed waste organic material been used?

  • Specific rules around the use and application are detailed in the Resource Recovery Exemption (PDF 91KB) which mixed waste organic material producers were required to provide to all consumers (landowners etc) under requirements in the Resource Recovery Order (PDF 90KB).
  • The Resource Recovery Exemption prescribed that mixed waste organic material can only be used in certain farming activities, in plantation forestry and for mine rehabilitation.
  • The material can only be applied at a maximum rate of:
    • 10 tonnes per hectare for broad acre agricultural land
    • 50 tonnes per hectare for non-contact agriculture
    • 50 tonnes per hectare for plantation forestry
    • 140 tonnes per hectare for mine rehabilitation

Q: How long has this material been used for?

  • When mixed waste organic material was first proposed by the waste industry nearly 20 years ago, it enabled the diversion of waste from landfill and was a method to generate a commercially viable by-product from the waste.
  • Prior to 2010 the manufacture and distribution of this material was unregulated, and the EPA recognised the need to respond.
  • As a result, the NSW EPA’s predecessor commenced regulating the alternative waste industry in 2010, imposing strict regulations on the processing and distribution of mixed waste organic materials and prohibiting its use for urban and domestic purposes.

Regulatory changes to mixed waste organic material

Q: What is happening to mixed waste organic material now, and why?

  • The NSW EPA is revoking an exemption and order that allowed alternative waste treatment companies to supply mixed waste organic material for restricted use on agricultural land, and is ceasing land application on mine rehabilitation sites and plantation forests until further controls can be considered.
  • Independent research commissioned by the NSW EPA concluded that there are limited agricultural benefits from applying mixed waste organic material at the current regulated rates, and there are potential environmental risks.

Q: What was the research?

  • As part of its ongoing regulatory oversight of the production and application of mixed waste organic material, the EPA commissioned six independent research projects utilising the CSIRO, Department of Primary Industries, University of Sydney, University of New England and Office of Environment and Heritage.
  • The research results have also been peer-reviewed by local and international experts.
  • The approach was scientific, coordinated and deliberate to prioritise environmental and community health while recognising the impact on landholders, waste management companies and the councils that use mixed waste organic material as part of their waste management programs.

Q: What actions did the EPA take after receiving the final Technical Advisory Report? 

  • The NSW EPA received the final Technical Advisory Report in late May. The EPA reviewed the report and sought further information from industry, including records of the amounts and distribution of material, as well as operational information about the alternative waste treatment facilities.  The EPA also convened and sought specialist advice from an interagency committee, including Department of Primary Industries, NSW Health, NSW Food Authority and Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer, to the review the information and agree on a course of action. That action included commissioning a human health and ecological risk assessment. Consideration also needed to be given to the statewide impacts of any proposed regulatory changes on waste collections, stakeholders involved and the community, before the final decision was taken to stop the application, and to inform what support was needed.

Impact of using mixed waste organic material

Are there any environmental risks?

  • Following the introduction of regulations in 2010, a multi-year, multi-study independent research program commissioned by the NSW EPA concluded that there are limited agricultural benefits from applying mixed waste organic material at the current regulated rates, but there are physical contaminants and the potential for environmental risks from the ongoing application of mixed waste organic material to agricultural land.

Are there any health risks?

  • The NSW EPA also commissioned an independent assessment of possible human health risks related to the use of this product on agricultural land. The assessment used very cautious assumptions to estimate how much exposure a person might have to chemicals present in mixed waste organic material.
  • Based on a review of the initial findings of this health risk assessment the use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land is unlikely to present any health risk to the general public.
  • The risk for farmers who applied the material to their land is very low.
  • The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health have reviewed the initial findings of the health risk assessment and expert scientific advice, and further work is being done, overseen by an independent panel formed by the Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer. This is expected to be completed in the coming months.

What support is the EPA providing to impacted stakeholders?

  • The EPA has taken a careful, coordinated and deliberate approach to prioritise environmental and community health while recognising the impact on landholders, waste management companies and the councils that use mixed waste organic material as part of their waste management programs.
  • A support package is being developed for affected companies and councils, including financial support where appropriate. 
  • The EPA will communicate through multiple channels, including writing, the EPA website, call centre, and media to stakeholders
  • The EPA has written to known landholders, including agricultural producers and mining companies, to inform them of these changes, how they can find out more information and to support them.
  • The EPA is available to discuss individual circumstances with landholders and encourages people with questions to call the Environment Line 131 555.

Compost and other organic material

Does this regulatory change apply to compost?

  • No. Compost and biosolids have their own resource recovery orders and exemptions that must be met to be land applied. They are quite different as these waste materials are derived from different inputs.

What is the difference between compost vs biosolids vs soil amendment?

  • Compost is made from any combination of mulch, garden organics, food waste, manure and paunch that has undergone a composting process where the inputs are broken down by microbes which destroy pathogens, seeds and other weeds.
    In the context of kerbside recovery from households, compost is made from food and garden waste that is separated at the kerbside in the green lid bin, so it is not mixed with general waste before it is processed. There are still requirements about how it needs to be made and land applied, but they are less strict because it is a cleaner waste stream.
  • Biosolids are an organic solid waste generated from treating sewage. Solids produced during the various stages of sewage treatment plants, often called waste-water solids or sewage sludge, are collected and further processed.
    Once they are suitable for use they are called biosolids.
    The Environmental Guidelines governing the application of biosolids set-out a multi-barrier approach to prevent problems and detail the steps biosolids must pass through before they can be used.
    The guidelines also contain restrictions on how and where they can be used, such as how often they can be used, with-holding periods for different crops, and limits to how close they can be used to houses, waterways and other areas.
  • Soil Amendment is any material such as lime, gypsum, sawdust, compost, biosolids, animal manures, crop residue or synthetic soil conditioners that are worked into the soil or applied to the surface to enhance plant growth. Amendments may contain important fertiliser elements, but the term commonly refers to added materials other than those used primarily as fertilisers. It is often used to describe mixed waste organic material because it cannot correctly be called compost in NSW under the definitions of the regulation.

Can I still keep using compost and biosolids?

  • Yes. The requirements around compost and biosolids are unchanged. The research findings and regulatory changes only apply to organic outputs from mixed waste.

Impact on waste management

If this material is made predominantly from the content of our council collected red lid bins – does this mean my bin won’t be collected?

  • No. The EPA has worked hard with industry to ensure there will be no disruption to local waste collections.
  • The EPA is working with the affected alternative waste treatment companies, local and regional councils, and land-holders to support them as they manage these changes.

Contact us

  • EPA Environment Line: 131 555
  • Email: info@epa.nsw.gov.au

What is mixed waste organic material?

Mixed waste organic material is a soil amendment made predominantly from the organic material in the household general waste (red lid bin) which was applied to agricultural land, mine-site rehabilitation, and plantation forests.

It is produced at alternative waste treatment facilities, primarily to divert general household waste from landfill, and is sold or provided by mixed waste organic material companies as a soil amendment to improve agricultural soils.

It is also known as Mixed Waste Organic Outputs, ‘MWOO’, with the trade names Agriblend, Rehab-ARRT Rejuvenate, Pasture-ARRT Rejuvenate, and OGM (organic growth media).

Since this material was first produced 20 years ago, there has been a major shift to greater separation of organic materials (food and garden waste) and general waste.    

It was considered as an appropriate method at the time for diverting mixed waste from landfill to more productive uses – a key component of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle principles for best practice waste management. 

Are there any health risks?

The use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land is unlikely to present any health risk to the general public.

This is based on the review of the initial findings of an independent assessment commissioned by the EPA.  The assessment used very cautious assumptions to estimate how much exposure a person might have to chemicals present in mixed waste organic material.

The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health have reviewed the initial findings of the assessment, and further work is currently being done, overseen by an independent panel formed by the Office of the Chief Scientist. This work is expected to be completed in the coming months.

How was this regulated in the past?

Prior to 2010, the manufacture and distribution of mixed waste organic material was unregulated. 

In 2010 the EPA imposed tough restrictions around the production and land application of the material, implementing strict controls on how much material could be applied to agricultural land and stipulating the types of agriculture it could be used on, and applying withholding periods for agriculture products post-application.

Prohibited uses included in the keeping and breeding of poultry or pigs, food root crops, vegetables or crops where the harvested parts touch or are below the surface of the soil.

Specific rules around the use and application on agricultural land are detailed in the Resource Recovery Exemption (PDF 91KB) which mixed waste organic material producers were required to provide to all consumers (landowners) under requirements in the Resource Recovery Order (PFD 90KB).

What research was conducted?

As part of its ongoing regulatory role into the production and application of mixed waste organic material, the EPA commissioned six independent research trials.

The studies found there were limited agricultural benefits from applying mixed waste organic material at the regulated levels and that there are physical contaminants and potential environmental risks.

In particular, deterioration of soil health, chemical and physical contaminants such as small pieces of plastic and glass, were of concern.

The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health have reviewed the initial findings of the health risk assessment, and further work is being done, overseen by an independent panel formed by the Office of the Chief Scientist. This work is expected to be completed in the coming months.

 

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