NSW Asbestos Waste Strategy

Australia was one of the highest users of asbestos in the world. It is estimated that asbestos is present in one in three Australian homes. This has long term implications for our waste management system as asbestos is removed from our built and contaminated environments.

Most asbestos waste comes from renovation and development and includes legacy asbestos waste, such as pieces found in backyards and under houses. The risk of asbestos to people’s health can be managed with correct handling, storage, transport and disposal. However, environment protection agencies and local authorities across Australia are still challenged by illegal dumping and improper disposal.

The NSW Government remains committed to protecting people and the environment by improving asbestos waste management practices in NSW. Current actions, some initiated under the NSW Asbestos Waste Strategy 2019-21, fall under two strategies. These strategies are the waste focussed NSW Waste and Sustainable Material Strategy 2041 Stage 1 plan: 2021-2027 and the multi-agency asbestos focussed Asbestos in NSW: Setting the Direction 2021-22.

NSW Asbestos Waste Strategy 2019-21

The NSW Asbestos Waste Strategy (PDF 0.7MB) proposed innovative measures to reduce illegal dumping and unsafe disposal and promote lawful and appropriate disposal of asbestos waste. The measures were the result of social research, ongoing feedback from stakeholders, pilot programs and evaluation of existing processes.

We took a whole-of-system approach to promote good behaviours and discourage poor behaviours. Six interrelated approaches were developed to implement the strategy.

Key activities and achievements

Supported practical options for safe and lawful asbestos waste disposal, such as collection by private operators, and worked with other government agencies to manage waste generated from disasters.

Acceptance at Community Recycling Centres

Worked with Community Recycling Centre (CRC) operators to assess the feasibility of receiving small quantities of householder wrapped bonded asbestos free of charge.

Next steps

Assess the ability of asbestos waste infrastructure to handle increasing volumes of asbestos waste and dispose of it safely.

Consider options such as special events to safely dispose of asbestos waste, or subsidised asbestos collection services.

Private sector collection

Encouraged and supported the private sector to explore innovative and cost-effective options for collecting asbestos such as providing asbestos disposal bags with skip bins and asbestos pick-up services.

Skip bins were delivered to customers with two asbestos collection bags, resulting in 5.62 tonnes of asbestos waste being collected and transferred for lawful disposal.

Next steps

Work with private industry to support initiatives that make it easier to safely dispose of asbestos waste. Enable operators to vary their Environment Protection Licences to trial and implement approaches like the bagged bonded asbestos waste trial.

Disaster management

Worked with emergency services to ensure mechanisms are in place to swiftly handle asbestos waste after disasters.

Worked with councils to lead the disaster response for waste generated from the 2019-20 bushfires and 2021 and 2022 floods.

Developed the Emergency Waste sub plan, part of the State Emergency Management Plan (EMPLAN).

Next steps

Work with councils to update the plan in preparation for managing asbestos and other waste generated in future disaster events.

Collaborate with SafeWork, Fire and Rescue and Public Works Advisory to investigate reforms for placarding of loads of asbestos waste.

Expand regional capacity

Worked with regional waste facilities to build capacity and expand capability to manage large-scale asbestos waste disasters.

We surveyed regional waste facilities and councils to identify the regional landfills accepting asbestos waste, construction and demolition waste and hazardous waste after natural disasters and the disposal costs.

We fund the Local Government NSW Asbestos Policy Manager role. In 2019-20, the LGNSW officer successfully delivered Asbestos Forums for council officers in Narrabri, Shellharbour, Blacktown and Queanbeyan. In 2021, the officer established the NSW Council Asbestos Network to facilitate information sharing, resources and best practices; delivered Asbestos Awareness Training to staff at council run landfills in Albury, Hay and Broken Hill; Asbestos Removal Training to council waste facility workers at Moree; and Asbestos Regulation and Management Forums for council officers in Cobar and Tamworth.

Next steps

Include research findings, on the effect of extreme weather events on waste volumes and waste management capacity, in infrastructure planning.

In 2022 we supported the preparation and delivery of the Asbestos Safety and Management Conference held by the Blue Mountains City Council and the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA).

Support other agencies and industry

We worked with local government, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the waste industry to support the management of asbestos waste at waste storage and landfill facilities.

Continued to support SafeWork and Local Government NSW to provide training and guidance to improve the safe and lawful storage of asbestos waste.

Next steps

Undertake a feasibility assessment of residual waste infrastructure needs with a focus on the required airspace and transfer stations needed to underpin the system.

Include asbestos waste in the waste volume projections and requirements for transfer stations receiving asbestos waste.

Worked with other government agencies and industry to explore options to make it cheaper to dispose of asbestos waste.

Waste levy exemption

We investigated amendments to the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 (Waste Regulation) to exempt household amounts of bonded, separated and wrapped asbestos waste from waste levy contributions. 

We consulted on options to implement the exemption, while avoiding perverse outcomes and reducing asbestos disposal costs, with external stakeholders in 2021.

Next steps

The proposed levy waiver for household asbestos will be considered as part of the upcoming Waste Levy Review. This ensures that there is a more comprehensive assessment of how to put in place efficient and cost-effective solutions to the safe disposal and management of household asbestos consistent with any other proposed amendments to the waste levy framework.

Alternative cover at landfills

Trialled alternative asbestos cover options at landfills in consultation with SafeWork NSW to ensure that environmental and Work Health Safety requirements at landfills are performance risk-based and cost-effective.

General Solid Waste (GSW) was trialled as an alternative landfill cover. There were no perverse outcomes where risks were appropriately managed.

Some Environment Protection Licences have been varied to permit the use of GSW as an alternative landfill cover for asbestos waste. This is expected to reduce the cost to the disposer.

Next steps

Work with landfill operators who want approval to use GSW as an alternative cover for asbestos waste.

Worked with local and state government to provide the community with education and information so that they know how to safely manage asbestos waste and understand the consequences of illegal dumping and improper disposal.

Education and communication

Worked with local and state government to develop a waste communication and education strategy based on the outcomes of customer experience behavioural research.

We collaborated with the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), local councils and SafeWork to promote consistent multi-agency asbestos awareness messaging based on customer experience behavioural research to coincide with Asbestos Awareness Week.

Campaigns targeted homeowners and tradies to raise awareness of the health risks of exposure to asbestos, where asbestos can be found, protection from exposure and removal and lawful disposal of asbestos waste. 

We delivered the community awareness campaign Free fill - it is worth it? based on customer experience behavioural research. The campaign targeted residents in peri-urban areas and regional NSW and aims to raise awareness of the hazards of accepting free fill which can be contaminated with asbestos.

Next steps

In 2022 we released a state-wide awareness campaign targeting do-it-yourself renovators and tradespeople.

Enhance the resources available on asbestos.nsw.gov.au to make it the primary source of comprehensive, understandable and reliable information about asbestos waste disposal in NSW.

Release online learning modules for Building and Development Certifiers to improve asbestos and waste management on construction and demolition sites.

Assist councils and hardware stores

Supported local government and hardware stores to provide up-to-date, best practice information to the community.

Relaunched www.asbestos.nsw.gov.au with improved information about asbestos following user research.

Added an Asbestos Finder tool to www.asbestos.nsw.gov.au to allow users to search by products that may contain asbestos or locations where asbestos may be found.

Developed fact sheets in multiple languages to distribute to the community through local government. 

Worked with councils and retailers such as hardware stores to raise awareness about asbestos risks with consumers and home renovators.

Next steps

Add new resources to asbestos.nsw.gov.au

Use council forums to promote www.asbestos.nsw.gov.au as a source of accessible, up-to-date, best practice information for communities.

Work with Local Government NSW to host online asbestos management training modules to build the capability of Council officers and landfill staff.

Worked with other government agencies to consider ways to strengthen planning requirements at source sites to improve waste disposal practices and close loopholes for unlawful waste transporters.

Connect EPA and SafeWork databases

Expanded the use of WasteLocate in 2017 to include asbestos contaminated soil for improved reporting and tracking. Worked with SafeWork NSW to determine if current databases can be updated to allow better integration and outcomes.

Gained access to SafeWork’s  asbestos notification system for investigative purposes.

Gave householders access to WasteLocate to track asbestos waste being transported from their property.

Next steps

Lead the establishment of a nationally consistent tracking and data system to improve the quality of data and give us better oversight of hazardous waste movement in NSW and other jurisdictions.

Work with SafeWork to implement digital transformation strategies to improve databases.

Maintain and improve where possible the functionality of WasteLocate for SafeWork NSW.

Strengthen consent conditions

Consulted with local government and the (then) Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) to strengthen the drafting and enforcement of consent conditions.

Worked with DPIE to commission a review of the NSW Planning Framework. The report includes actions to support improved asbestos management within the NSW planning framework.

Next steps

Results of the NSW Planning Framework Review will be used to inform Action 8 of the Asbestos in NSW: Setting the Direction 2021-22.

The now Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) will review asbestos identification and management requirements and investigate ways to improve consistency of approach across development pathways.

Increased the risk and consequence of being caught illegally disposing of asbestos waste to deter people from doing the wrong thing with asbestos waste.

Generator pays

Investigated amending environmental legislation to require waste generators to pay the landfill or resource recovery facility directly.

Explored potential benefits and issues arising from targeting larger waste generators using this model.

Next steps

Investigate legislative reforms to strengthen our regulatory powers. Options could include requiring waste generators to pay disposal fees directly to waste facilities for all waste to ensure that waste is transported to facilities and not illegally dumped.

Evidentiary burden

Considered changes to environmental legislation to reduce evidentiary burdens associated with proving asbestos dumping crimes.

Key changes were included in the Environment Legislation Amendment Act 2022 to

  • Enable the EPA and councils to issue a clean-up notice to all persons reasonably suspected of having contributed to a pollution incident

  • Enable the EPA and councils to take action against owners of vehicles used to illegally dump waste

  • Make it a general offence to provide false or misleading information to the EPA

  • Address inconsistencies in the maximum penalties for false and misleading information offences across several environment protection Acts

GPS tracking

Identified ways to enable offenders (transporters who illegally or incorrectly dispose of asbestos) to be caught through technological solutions such as GPS tracking devices on waste vehicles that transport asbestos.

Considered options for tracking the transport of asbestos waste. The next phase of work will continue under the NSW Waste and Sustainable Material Strategy.

Next steps

Investigate the feasibility of extending licensing and education requirements for waste transporters. Continue to investigate ways to improve compliance tools and opportunities for cross Government collaboration.

Investigate legislative reforms

Investigated legislative reforms to deter unlawful behaviour, such as: introducing jail terms for waste offenders; suspension of driver licences or the vehicle registration involved in illegal dumping; and increasing penalty amounts for non-compliance with statutory notices.

Implemented changes through the  Environment Legislation Amendment Act 2022 now enables the EPA and councils to act against owners of vehicles used to illegally dump waste. 

Next Steps

Investigate the following measures to support legislative reforms:

  • requiring electronic waste dockets at waste receiving facilities to minimise falsified dockets
  • requiring generators to pay disposal fees directly to waste facilities to ensure waste is transported to the facility and not illegally dumped
  • working to strengthen the investigation and enforcement powers of EPA officers to combat illegal dumping and increase the penalties for waste crime offences.

Construction and demolition management

Introduced legislative provisions to improve the management of asbestos during resource recovery of construction and demolition waste.

The 2019 Standards for managing construction waste in NSW (PDF 189KB) (the Standards), contain the standards a construction and demolition waste facility must comply with.

The Standards were implemented to

  • Ensure that waste facilities handling construction waste implement appropriate processes and procedures to minimise the risk of harm to human health and the environment posed by asbestos
  • Improve community and industry confidence in the quality of the recycled products they use

In 2020, an EPA led campaign targeted twelve construction and demolition waste recycling facilities to assess the environmental controls and management of the sites.  Regulatory action was taken regarding eight breaches of the Standards and licence conditions.

Next steps

Inspections will continue at construction and demolition waste recycling facilities to assess compliance with the Standards and licence conditions, with regulatory action taken when necessary.

A compliance campaign at development sites will educate the construction industry about lawful waste transport and disposal practises and investigate possible waste offences.

Monitored and evaluated our progress. Reported on our completed work, committed funding and progress.

Social research

We conducted two pieces of social research to improve our understanding of community behaviour regarding safe asbestos management and to provide a baseline for tracking trends in knowledge, attitudes and behaviour.

Part 1 focusses on household renovations and maintenance. It provides guidance on how to increase safe and lawful asbestos handling and removal in home maintenance and renovation settings.

Part 2 focusses on asbestos waste disposal. It provides guidance on how to increase safe and lawful asbestos disposal and sets a baseline of key measures in relation to asbestos waste.

Next steps

Used social research findings to inform a statewide awareness campaign targeting do-it-yourself renovators and tradespeople. 

Add to the resources available on www.asbestos.nsw.gov.au as the primary source of comprehensive, understandable and reliable information about asbestos in NSW.

Utilisation of RIDonline

Gathered data through RIDonline to track our progress and enable proactive regulation.

Managed RIDonline to enable councils and government agencies to record illegal dumping incidents, track investigations and receive notifications of reports.

Used RIDonline data as part of our evidence base to better target illegal dumping prevention programs. 

Used RIDonline data to identify and target high-incidence locations for key initiatives, including the $100,650 grant to Illawarra Shoalhaven Joint Organisation to deliver the Illawarra DIY asbestos removal project.

Analysed available datasets (local government annual surveys and RIDonline) to determine that waste from the construction industry, including waste containing asbestos, has been increasing in line with trends in construction and development activity, particularly around the fringes of Sydney.

Next steps

Develop the next NSW Illegal Dumping Strategy in 2022.

Use multiple lines of evidence to evaluate programs and policy in addition to illegal dumping data via RIDonline 

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