In January 2019, Recovered Energy Australia’s proposal for an enormous waste-to-energy plant in Laverton, Victoria was approved by the Victorian EPA. The EPA’s approval came despite much community opposition, limited conditions in place to monitor and control pollution, and no assurances that recyclable waste would not be burnt. 

In February 2020, Zero Waste Victoria launched case with the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to ensure that if this waste-to-energy facility went ahead, it was under strict conditions and not at the expense of community and environmental health. 

In June 2020, Zero Waste Victoria settled its legal challenge after Recovered Energy Australia and the EPA agreed to a set of stricter conditions that secured better air quality, waste management, monitoring and reporting for the Laverton and surrounding communities. 

New conditions negotiated by Zero Waste Victoria that improve health and environmental protection include: 

  1. Continuous Emissions Monitoring of volatile organic carbon. 
  2. Monitoring of an increased range of pollutants, including condensable particulate matter.
  3. Publication of Continuous Emissions Monitoring data in real time and publication of periodic monitoring data on an approved project website. 
  4. Ensuring the pollution control equipment is able to be upgraded to reduce emissions of toxic furans and dioxins to the maximum extent achievable.
  5. Requirement for the project to meet the lower end of the European emission limits. 

New conditions negotiated by Zero Waste Victoria that encourage reuse and recycling include: 

  1. A requirement for ‘waste arising’ contracts to be preferred, to avoid locking councils into contractual obligations to supply fixed amounts of waste and dis-incentivize recycling.
  2. Ensuring that the facility is designed to accommodate future material recovery including steel, e-waste, recyclables and other hazardous materials. 
  3. Restricting the amount of waste products from the project that can be disposed of to landfill to 3% of feedstock by weight, thereby requiring the reuse of the gasifier slag which accounts for almost 18% of the feedstock by weight and which would otherwise end up in landfill. 

An Important win for community and environmental justice  

The strengthened conditions are an important win for environmental justice, at a time when an increasing number of waste-to-energy facilities are being proposed in communities that are already disproportionately affected by pollution.

The strengthened conditions are also important in Victoria’s transition to a circular economy. The negotiated amendments better reflect the Victorian Government’s policy position on waste to energy facilities, which is only supportive of such facilities where they:  

  • meet best-practice environment protection requirements including air pollution controls 
  • reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and do not displace reuse or recycling 
  • do not inhibit innovation in reuse or recycling of materials 
  • meet best-practice energy efficiency standards 
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to the waste and energy services they displace 
  • have sustainable business models that create jobs and economic development
  • work well with local communities in which they operate (Recycling Victoria, 36)

Zero Waste Victoria’s legal challenge to the EPA’s approval resulted in improvements to almost all of the above, thereby enhancing environmental protections and encouraging reuse and recycling of materials. 

“This settlement shows the import role that community groups have to strengthen approval conditions and ensure the best possible outcomes for community health and the environment” said Nick Witherow, Principal Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia. 

You can read about the case in the media here.