Despite more than a decade of community opposition in WA to waste to energy incinerators, the WA EPA released their Report and recommendations of the Environmental Protection Authority and the Waste Authority, Environmental and health performance of waste to energy technologies, Advice of the Environmental Protection Authority to the Minister for Environment under Section 16(e) of the Environmental Protection Act 1986, Report 1468, April 2013.
This report was based on the work of UK consultants, WSP environmental who investigated the health and environmental impacts of Waste to energy incinerators around the world concluding that there was little evidence of health impacts related to newer more modern plants.
Eastern metro region
In 2000 the Eastern Metropolitan Region began a process to establish a Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) in the Perth Hills, home to the Darling Scarp and effectively the lungs of the city.
Some 17 years later this RRF is still not established. With EPA approval for two technologies based on their concept rather than an exact technology – ie Anaerobic Digestion and Gasification – the community after nearly 2 decades, still has no resource recovery facility while the regions waste continues to be landfilled in a location that is leaching groundwater contamination into the neighbouring National Park.
In addition the EMRC have approval for a wood waste to energy biomass pyrolysis plant. The location of this facility is close to many residents, schools and other major pollution sources, such as the states brickworks industry, 2 major airports and state highways. Community opposition has been fierce but has not moved the EMRC or state government. Although approved, the plant is yet to be built.
Southern metro region
In September 2015 the WA EPA approved the Kwinana Waste to Energy Project. The project is to build and operate a Mass Combustion waste to energy technology, with the help of International mass combustion incinerator heavy weights -Covanta Energy – who have now established an office in WA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The $400 million plant will create 32 MW of electricity per year from 400 000 tonnes per year of residual waste. The plant will also take C&D and C&I waste streams also.
Just a couple of kilometres away in neighbouring suburb of Rockingham, the WA EPA and Environment Minister approved the New Energy Waste to Energy Gasification plant. This project received $50 million in loans from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to help establish the project. However, recently in response to the company’s inability to secure sufficient and appropriate feed-stocks, New Energy have resubmitted their approved project to the EPA for amendment, to change the technology from Gasification to Mass Combustion. We await the outcome of our appeal to the EPA to have the project reassessed in full. It is not known whether New Energy will be required to pay back the CEFC loan for the project it is no longer pursuing.
These two projects represent a significant additional threat to the health and amenity of the South Metro region due to both projects being located so close to each other. This region already suffers the disproportionate impacts of industrial pollution where the state’s major heavy industries are located including chemical manufacturing and metal smelting. The location is also close to the pristine Shoalwater Islands Marine park, Seal and Penguin Islands – a sanctuary for Little Penguins.
In May 2103 the WA EPA and Environment Minister approved the Boodarie Waste-to-Energy and Materials Recovery Facility, Port Hedland. The Gasification incinerator can take up to 225 000 tonnes of waste which includes permission for MSW, C&D, C&I, Green waste, Tyres and conveyor belts, Waste oils, Oily water and Solvents. The incinerator project is located in the states prime mining, and extractive industrial area to the north of Perth where average temperatures of more than 42C are reached often and the region is subject to seasonal cyclones and flooding. The risk of hazardous and toxic industrial and mining wastes entering the plant, is a significant and real cause for concern given the difficulty of regulatory compliance monitoring in such a remote location and the known toxic air pollutants associated with the combustion of hazardous and toxic mining wastes.
Given that New Energy have applied for a change of technology for their East Rockingham project, it is unclear why the company would pursue that same unproven Gasification technology at this remote industrial location in the far northwest of WA.
Indian Ocean Territories
The Indian Ocean territories are governed by the Australian government with a service agreement for the regulation of industrial projects through the Western Australian Department of Environment and Regulation.
The Cocos Keeling Islands and Christmas islands have both recently been granted approval for incinerators through amendments to existing industrial licences.
Scandalously, these incinerators have not been afforded any Environmental Impact Assessment process normally required for any classified prescribed premises in WA or also as a requirement under the EPA report 1468 – Guidelines for the approval of waste to energy incinerators.
While the incinerators for the CKI include a bio-medical waste and a MSW incinerator, the WA DER has issued a licence for the facility which does not include any reference to required APC equipment, air emissions limits for public health protection nor monitoring for dioxins or furans.
Similarly at Christmas Island, a hazardous waste incinerator has been granted also through a licence amendment for an existing operation for Phosphate Resources Ltd, Christmas Island. There are also no air emissions limits for public health protection.
Yet in 2009 the Australian Government commissioned the report – Climate Change Risk Assessment for the Australian Indian Ocean Territories, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island, Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.
This investigation concluded that:
- The IOT are vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change; however the magnitude of exposure, sensitivity, vulnerability and risk associated with these changes is much greater for CKI.
- Buildings and infrastructure in both Territories are considered to be sensitive to the effects of climate change. Almost all the buildings and infrastructure on CKI are sited along the coast, and are potentially exposed to sea level rise and inundation (even in relatively small events). In addition, with the exception of the airport on CI, almost all of the major transport infrastructure (jetties, wharfs and boat ramps) are potentially at risk from sea level rise and storm surge
It is difficult to understand how the WA DER could allow the establishment of such high risk, polluting industrial projects in one of the most remote and climate vulnerable locations in the world.
We are deeply concerned that these remote islands could become hazardous waste incineration hotspots. Recently plastic marine debris was openly burned with the oversight of the WA DER. It certainly begs the question as to whether the WA DER has the expertise and leadership to provide the necessary regulation of the waste incineration industry in Australia and within the Indian Ocean Territories.
While the WA government practices double standards in relation to the assessment and regulation of the waste incineration industry, they also continue to ignore the major policy changes currently taking place in the EU where member states are being urged to place a moratorium on new incinerators and phase out old incinerators in response to the recognition that waste incinerators undermine more effective waste management and the recycling industry. They also continue to ignore the international failure of the claimed ‘new, innovative waste to energy incinerator technologies’ that they are approving.