An international study conducted by the Waste Authority and the Environmental Protection Authority has found Waste to Energy plants can be introduced in Western Australia in an environmentally acceptable manner, but these state-of-the-art plants must meet internationally recognised standards for best practice, with community consultation essential. The report
In joint advice to the Minister for Environment, the review found a cautious approach to the introduction of waste to energy plants would provide another option in the long term solution to waste management in WA, without unacceptable environmental consequences.
“The EPA and Waste Authority are confident that, subject to appropriate regulation, along with the matching of suitable technologies to types of waste input and appropriate plant scale, waste to energy plants employing best practice can be operated with acceptable impacts to our community,” EPA Chairman Paul Vogel and Waste Authority Chairman Marcus Geisler said.
“Nevertheless, engagement with the community through the full planning, design, environmental approvals and commissioning process for waste to energy plants is essential to build community confidence in these technologies.”
Waste to Energy is the process of converting waste products into a form of energy such as heat, steam or synthetic gas, which can then be used directly or further converted into products such as electricity or synthetic fuels.
Mr Geisler said waste generation in WA was a growing challenge, with the Perth and Peel regions generating more than 5.23 million tonnes in 2011/2012.
“The current waste and recycling infrastructure in WA is not sufficient to meet the population’s needs in the medium and long term,” he said.
“By 2019/2020, Perth and Peel is expected to produce more than 6.1 million tonnes of waste. “More than 9.7 million tonnes per year could be generated when the population of Perth and Peel reaches 3.5 million.”
The advice includes a technical review conducted by international experts WSP Environment and Energy Ltd of waste to energy plants around the world, including those in Europe, the USA, Japan and Australia.
Dr Vogel said the review found that overall, the international waste to energy plants studied performed well within emissions limits at levels acceptable to the community.
“The distinction between modern state-of-the-art plants and older incinerators is significant and an important factor in the recommendations of this advice,” the study found.
“Western Australia should be focussed on ensuring application of best practice for any waste to energy proposals and continually improving the standards of this industry as further knowledge is gained.”
The advice makes 21 recommendations based on six key principles:
- Only proven technology components should be accepted for commercially operating waste to energy plants
- The expected waste input should be the main consideration for the technology and processes selected
- Proposals must demonstrate best practice that, at a minimum, meet the European Union’s Waste Incineration Directive standards for emissions at all times
- The waste sourced as input must target genuine residual waste that cannot feasibly be reused or recycled
- Continuous emissions monitoring must occur where feasible, and non-continuous emissions monitoring must be required for all other emissions of concern
- Residual by-products must be properly treated and disposed of to an appropriate landfill, except where it is demonstrated that they can be safely used elsewhere with acceptable impacts to the environment or human health.
Dr Vogel said the EPA’s strategic advice also recommended proposals for developing waste to energy plants address the full waste to energy cycle, from accepting and handling waste to disposing of by-products, as part of the EPA’s environmental impact assessment.
Other recommendations include emissions monitoring, regulatory controls on the type of waste that can be treated and that plants must not process hazardous waste.
Plants must also be sited in appropriate industrial zones with adequate buffer distances to sensitive receptors.
The report, An Investigation into the Performance (Environmental and Health) of Waste to Energy Technologies Internationally has been compiled by WSP Environmental and is available below in four parts.
The Minister for Environment, the Hon. Albert Jacob announced final environmental approval has been granted for New Energy’s Boodarie Waste-to-Energy and Materials Recovery facility, near Port Hedland.
Details of the Waste Authority's position statement can be located here.