At the end of February, the east coast took a beating with unprecedented rainfall that led to flooding in many areas of Queensland and New South Wales. It was as La Niña passed its peak – we hope – that the Board met on 15 March 2022. And high on the agenda were the impacts of natural disasters.
The Board heard about the advocacy work WMRR has been doing in both states to develop and communicate guidance related to the management of storm and flood generated waste, particularly as these events have also significantly impacted WARR operations, including landfills and transfer stations. While Queensland listened and engaged quickly with industry collectively, responding to industry’s concerns and advice on how to approach the challenges and the management of the disaster waste material, the Board heard that NSW did not take quite the same approach initially, with floods and heavy rainfall exacerbating challenges being experienced in metropolitan Sydney that commenced in November last year following a rainfall event, and then with COVID-related issues at the start of the year.
NSW currently generates more than 22 million tonnes of waste per annum when operating at business as usual (BAU). With at least one (1) major landfill being temporarily unavailable via rail, metro transfer stations running at capacity, and the lack of landfills in the northern region of the state, this event has again brought to the fore the inadequacy of strategic infrastructure planning in NSW, impaired by the absence of a strategic approach towards material management and the waste management hierarchy in the state. While NSW does a Guide to Future Infrastructure Needs, this is at best selective in the materials it identifies and fails to look at disaster events, which are, unfortunately, becoming all too common. In the short-term, WMRR is continuing to engage with the NSW EPA and government on solutions to alleviate the current pressures, including extending operational hours at sites.
The recent rain and flooding events have also reiterated the significant need for all jurisdictions to strategically plan for disaster waste management in the leading manner that South Australia has, so that at the very minimum, business as usual can continue when these events occur. It was noted that having an energy from waste (EfW) facility in South East Queensland (SEQ) and Sydney would have been helpful at this time, and in times of disaster, given the pressures on existing landfills under BAU, as well as the sheer volume of materials to be receipted; current best estimates in SEQ forecast a year’s worth of waste will be received in a month. So, in the longer term, WMRR will advocate for, and work with jurisdictions on robust and strategic disaster waste management plans as well as improved coordination and responses, and we will continue to call for infrastructure plans that focus not just on BAU, but also respect the waste management hierarchy.
EfW was a key discussion at the Board meeting, which was timely given the highly anticipated 2022 EfW conference – “The role of EfW in delivering a net zero future” – was held on 16 and 17 March in Melbourne. Close to 180 people had registered for the conference, which included an official opening by The Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, and day two (2) opening presentation by The Hon. Tim Wilson MP, Assistant Minister to the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction.
On the policy front, WMRR's energy from waste working groups in NSW and Queensland have been providing significant feedback on the recently released NSW EfW amendment regulation, which was open for consultation till Sunday, 20 March 2022, and the Queensland EfW guideline.
The Board was also provided an update on 2022 membership renewals and not only was it pleasing to see a sustained year-on-year increase in membership numbers, it speaks to the work that WMRR is doing that the diversity of our members continues to grow. If you have not renewed, please do so by emailing [email protected], as members receive a host of valuable and exclusive benefits, including participation in our state-based working groups, and access to member-only WMRR resources.
On the Friday just before the Board meeting, Board directors and State Branch Committee presidents gathered online for the first of WMRR’s two (2) facilitated planning sessions, designed to review and refresh the Association’s strategic business plan. It was a productive day, with attendees deep diving into WMRR’s current advocacy areas and guiding principles, discussing the key changes required to ensure they remain future-fit for the next five (5) years. WMRR will now review and refine the facilitator’s notes in preparation for the actions that Branch presidents will need to undertake with their Branch Committees ahead of the second session at the end of April.
Last, but certainly not least, the WMRR Board is undergoing a process of renewal in 2022 and you may have seen our communications about nominating for one (1) or more of the available roles – elected vice president, elected director, and nominated director. WMRR is looking for directors who have a broad set of skills and experience in order to bring to the table insight and knowledge of the breadth and depth of WARR activities, and we would encourage all active current WMRR members to consider nominating for a director position. Further information can be found here; nominations close at 5pm AEST Friday, 22 April 2022.
As any individual elected or appointed to the Board is entitled to serve in a specific role for no more than two (2) consecutive terms, a number of directors will not be eligible to nominate. On behalf of our essential industry, WMRR sincerely thanks Dr Georgina Davis, Kim Glassborow, Mike Ritchie, and Tim Youe for their input and commitment over their two (2) terms to both the association and sector. Their passion and dedication are truly appreciated, and we will no doubt work with you across WMRR’s other activities and initiatives.