NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton accused of failing to tackle waste crisis

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The report said the inquiry had highlighted the “many, pressing issues facing the waste industry in New South Wales”.

These included concerns about an increase in illegal dumping, including the “insidious crime” of dumping contaminated waste such as asbestos.

The committee was also alarmed by the large and growing amounts of NSW waste being transported to Queensland. It heard criminal elements were targeting the waste industry and NSW Environment Protection Authority was failing to effectively regulate the industry.

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton has been criticised by Australia's peak waste body.

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton has been criticised by Australia’s peak waste body.Credit:Steven Siewert

The NSW government said it would on Monday launch its draft circular economy policy, which Ms Upton said was the “beginning of a better way for NSW to manage our waste and resources”.

A circular economy is one in which items are kept for as long as possible through repair, reuse and recycling rather than being thrown away.

Ms Upton said having a circular economy would provide a better operating environment for the recycling industry and would encourage innovation and create jobs.

“The NSW government has provided unprecedented investment to support recycling through its $802 million Waste Less Recycle More initiative – the largest waste and recycling funding program in Australia,” Ms Upton said.

Ms Sloan said she welcomed the announcement of NSW moving towards a circular economy. However she said this was yet another consultation, and there was no mention of financial investment to support it.

She said she was particularly alarmed about a lack of infrastructure planning given the million tonnes of rubbish NSW dumps in Queensland would be impacted when Queensland introduces a waste levy next year.

“It is unclear if NSW can absorb these additional tonnes,” Ms Sloan said.

She said NSW lagged behind other states such as Victoria and SA that had continued to invest and innovate with industry to divert waste from landfill and create more jobs and greater investment. Queensland was also stepping up with $100 million being committed to industry.

In a letter to the NSW upper house committee, to be sent this week, Ms Sloan and Waste Management Association of Australia president Garth Lamb said the NSW government’s response offered “little (if any) constructive feedback to the extensive work” done by the committee.

They call for:

  • Greater funding from the NSW waste levy (the highest in the nation) to waste treatment facilities to provide incentives to divert rubbish from landfill
  • Completion of the stalled waste and resource recovery infrastructure strategy
  • Creating a body such as Sustainability Victoria which promotes environmental sustainability in the use of resources
  • Investigating providing the EPA with more powers to crackdown on illegal operators

“The NSW government needs to decide if it will follow in the footsteps of its counterparts – Queensland, WA, Victoria and SA  … or if it will continue to procrastinate and avoid making decisions, failing to provide leadership at a time when NSW most needs it,” the letter says.

The Waste Management Association of Australia also said energy from waste definitely had a role to play in waste management and the government should work with industry to explain this role.

The NSW upper house committee said in its report it supported energy from waste in some circumstances but did not support The Next Generation’s proposal for a plant at Eastern Creek in Sydney.

The controversial proposed incinerator has since been rejected by an independent panel.

Jewel Topsfield is the national correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, based in Melbourne. She was previously the Indonesia correspondent. She has won multiple awards, including a Walkley for international journalism and the Lowy Institute Media Award.

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