Environment Legislation Amendment (Circular Economy and Other Matters) Bill 2023

Second reading

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:50): I am pleased to rise to discuss the Environment Legislation Amendment (Circular Economy and Other Matters) Bill 2023. It has been most interesting to listen to the debate so far. It is a bill that encompasses a number of aspects, and certainly my colleagues Mr David Davis, Mrs McArthur and indeed in a very good contribution Ms Gaelle Broad thoroughly investigated and interrogated the container deposit scheme, as have members of the government. I will not at this particular point in the day delve back into those issues – I think they have been well canvassed – other than to say that I certainly was part of the 2019 waste and resource recovery inquiry of the Environment and Planning Committee and had the opportunity to go to New South Wales and look at their container deposit scheme, noting very positively that all schemes usually have teething troubles. New South Wales was not exempt from that, but one of the key factors in that container deposit scheme – the positive, the benefit, the outcome – was a reduction in waste, in rubbish, working its way into the state’s water systems, rivers and streams and then out into the ocean. So it was really good to see that come to fruition.

I know the current government implemented the container deposit scheme starting in November, this month, and it has had more than its fair share of teething troubles. As I have said, Mr Davis has canvassed that, so I will move on to a specific area of interest of mine, and that is to talk about the circular economy and the importance of using Victoria’s resources in the best possible way to indeed avoid the byproducts of manufacturing, industry and human life in the first place if we can and be smarter, and not just use up these resources but see how we can reduce them. I know every schoolchild in Victoria has probably had those lessons in their classes about how to reduce the amount of products that we use, re-use and recycle.

Also, that recycling component is very, very important. You only have to go to your local transfer station – for me, I live in South Gippsland – to see the evolution. Once upon a time it was a bit of a dump-all. Now we see that there are highly organised transfer stations taking not only cardboard and paper but batteries, glass and metal for recycling and green waste of course – that is a regular trip, and particularly at this time of the year you take your green waste there. There is also – I know the South Gippsland shire does it very well – e-waste recycling. It is always good to plug them and the work they do in recycling all of our modern-day society products. We should continue to do that.

Of course there is always the balance of the cost of taking your recyclables to the tip versus those people who in the end just cannot seem to afford to do that and dump it. There needs to be that tension and that balance between being able to provide the service and still having the majority of the population taking that service up and being prepared to pay for that. Also, the whole idea of custodianship and through manufacturing being able to recycle goods – these are all very much the modern way that we need to be.

The landfill issue is of course, in the hierarchy of waste and recycling, the last option in that hierarchy which sane, sensible and modern societies should be focused on. We do not want landfill. We need to remove that as much as possible. We see certainly in Europe, where there is energy-from-waste technology – that is the way I prefer to say it, ‘energy from waste’ – incredibly good outcomes and diminished percentages of landfill through that whole recycle scheme. I note – and this was in the report that the 2019 committee came up with – that certainly some of the top 10 European countries have reduced their municipal waste that cannot be recycled any further down to at least 10 per cent. On average what is happening in these top 10 countries across Europe is we are seeing landfill being down to 3 per cent. Just imagine that – 3 per cent of waste going to landfill. In some of those countries you are seeing 46 per cent in energy-from-waste facilities and 51 per cent recycling and composting that green waste as well. Now, that is what we should be aspiring to. What we see by comparison in Victoria at the moment is 0 per cent of that municipal red bin waste that cannot be further recycled going to energy-from-waste facilities. We also see that recycling and composting is around 40 per cent, yet still we are looking at upwards of 60 per cent going to landfill. I am sure I have made my point there.


Also on the issues around landfill, we know that there is methane production from landfill. If that landfill is highly evolved, you can trap that methane and use it in production. The idea ultimately, though, is not to have that methane produced in the first place, and that is where you can get that percentage right down. We also know that on the eastern side of the city we have got Hampton Park landfill reaching its capacity in the next few years, and that is going to be a solid waste management crisis, an issue that we need to address.


Also, as part of this whole discussion indeed on those European countries, I have heard members of the Greens et cetera have the discussion around incineration. It is not like the 1950s, when Mum and Dad had the incinerator in the backyard and would burn all the rubbish and that was the done thing. These are highly evolved, highly state-of-the-art closed-circuit incinerators, where you get thermal energy, you can have steam and then you can also produce electricity. And going back to these modern European energy-from-waste facilities, they are safe, they are clean and they do meet those most stringent standards.


Indeed the very important part that I would like to get to today is talking about the Opal facility in Maryvale, on the outskirts of Morwell, which has been working towards this basically almost since I have come in, so it would be almost eight years. They have been planning, they have taken it through various stages and they have got green lights all the way, and I am here to support that energy-from-waste facility. At its peak, if it comes to fruition, we are looking at diverting 325,000 tonnes of waste from landfill annually certainly through that really highly evolved system. We also know that the Opal plant – Australian Paper, as it has been called in the past – has been a key business that has been a massive employer over more than 80 years in the Latrobe Valley. We know that the government has shut down the native timber industry and that has constrained supply around white paper. It is very sad. I have got a box of Reflex that was part of that recycled Reflex paper, and I should keep it for posterity because we are no longer going to make white paper in Australia or Victoria. But one of the key things is that it is still a massive employer, because through changing society we are using more and more and more specialised cardboard and packaging that is still needing to come from trees and more often than ever from the plantation industry.


They still need energy. Certainly Australian Paper is a very high user of natural gas. If they can get the energy-from-waste program up and running, it will mean a reduction in that usage of natural gas, which has to be good for everyone because it is back into the market, and it is also reducing those carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA – there has been a stringent process in terms of the works approval for Australian Paper’s project, and it does meet the highest standards. I just want to reassure people of that. These are the facts on the ground. It has been approved.


The other thing that we often hear pushback from people around is the remnants, the residual. The residual ends up being about 4 per cent. Taking in all those 325,000 tonnes a year, you end up with 4 per cent which is residual. At the end of that residual there has been amazing recovery of the materials, of metals as well, and that can be recycled and re-used. Also, the end residual can be an inert substance – I have seen it, a grainy sort of inert substance – that can be used in road base to create a far more durable road base. And if there is something that our roads need in Victoria, it is durability, because they are in a sad and woeful state.


Speaking about some of the conditions under which this would operate, Australian Paper’s facility can reduce up to 543,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions with this state-of-the-art system, or the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road. It also can create upwards of 1000 jobs during construction and 900 jobs ongoing. This is very good news for an area that is having diminishing returns in terms of industry and the shutting down of coal-fired power stations and the closure of the native timber industry and therefore mills. We need jobs in the region, and this has to be seen as a win–win–win. In terms of population growth, Victoria is going to continue to grow. Even if we can re-use and recycle to the nth degree, there will still be landfill that is non-recyclable. This is one way to go.


A couple of points on this before I finish. Under part 5 of the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Act 2021 there is going to be this cost recovery. There are concerns in there – those recurring fees – and we have heard discussion today about the regulator’s enforcement and cost recovery. There is no quantum at the moment – it is all going to be set out in regulations. I have had conversations in relation to this. What does that mean? It is unclear as to the fee that will be charged. If the fee begins now when the licence is approved and yet the facility takes two or three years to finish construction and get up and off the ground, is this government wanting to disincentivise this very workable and positive part of the circular economy? That is a question I have for the government. There needs to be some clarity about what that cost recovery fee would look like.


Given that there are only going to be a handful of operating energy-from-waste licence holders – perhaps six or more, but less than 10 in the next 10 years – this could well be a very significant impost. I do not want that to be a barrier or disincentive, and we do not want this to be code for ‘Let’s fleece the companies’. There needs to be a sensible approach. We also have certain concerns around balance in the support from councils to make it fair and reasonable so that the agreements – the contracts – can still be in the positive to enable these facilities to occur.


I do feel that Recycling Victoria seems to be a duplication of the EPA. With some of those functions, to my mind, there seems to be a doubling up. We do not want more bureaucracy; we need it to be streamlined. I also note that often the Greens like quoting the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Indeed one of their recent reports speaks to:


Incineration and industrial co-combustion for waste-to-energy provide significant renewable energy benefits and fossil fuel offsets.


I was quoting the IPCC as a positive for energy from waste. There are some certain questions that I have raised – the minister might like to address those – on fee structures as part of that regular enforcement. But certainly I take a not-oppose position for this bill.