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2 years to get an approval – tell him he’s dreaming!

Everyone working in waste and recycling knows that getting a planning approval for a waste facility is a long and excruciating process, especially in NSW. Mike Ritchie looks at why this is the case and puts forward 3 ideas for NSW to get its mojo back.

By Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting Group

Everyone working in waste and recycling knows that getting a planning approval for a waste facility is a long and excruciating process. NSW is the worst. No-one wants a waste facility next door so all applications are opposed by someone. It is not a question of whether there will be objections, but how many.

The average approval time for waste facilities in NSW is 1.7 years. 3 years is not uncommon for larger waste infrastructure such as MRF’s, Composting facilities, Transfer Stations and Processing facilities. (Of course some never get approved).

Energy from Waste and Landfills are harder still. It took almost 10 years to get the Woodlawn landfill approved. Even then the Transfer Station at Clyde (to move waste from Sydney metro) required its own special Act of Parliament. And that was for one of Sydney’s (only two) main putrescible landfills.

Processing facilities, transfer stations, landfills etc are essential infrastructure. Imagine if the bins from your work and home could not be collected because there was nowhere to take it. The economy would collapse. Waste is no different from power or water in that regard.

And yet there is still no strategic planning for waste assets in NSW. All applications are proponent initiated and there is no overarching needs assessment to guide investment.

With Federal and State Governments now moving to ban the export of recyclates over the next 2 years, there is an immediate additional need for processing sites for over 1.2 million tonnes of recyclate across Australia.

A piece of work recently completed by MRA for ACOR suggested that just to achieve the NSW state targets by 2022 (MSW, C&I and C&D diversion from landfill) there would need to be an additional 30 plants built in western Sydney. This would involve over $2b in investment and employ over 4,000 people.

With those numbers in mind you would think the State Government would be jumping at the chance to facilitate investment and approvals of recycling infrastructure. But alas, no.

While the excellent Waste Less Recycle More grants scheme offered by the NSW Government entices proponents to look at NSW, some of their enthusiasm is tempered by the thought of an extended approval process.

Victoria has:

Victoria takes investment in kit seriously.

So how does NSW get its mojo back?

Here are Mike’s priorities, kept to 3 for simplicity:

  1. Develop an Infrastructure Plan – what kit do we need and where?
  2. Amend the Infrastructure SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) to identify preferred industrial land for waste/recycling infrastructure. (I suggest the words “For the General Industry Zone IN1, the area covered by additional cross-hatching is a preferred area for waste/recycling infrastructure. Consent authorities should prioritise waste/recycling infrastructure and limit incompatible encroachment on existing facilities, in these areas”.)
  3. Prioritise ‘Waste Less Recycle More’ grants to get it built.

Simple. It will generate investment and jobs.

The Planning and Environment Ministers could easily get it done in 6 months.

MRA specialises in environmental assessments for waste, resource recovery and organics processing facilities. To talk to us about planning related inquiries, please contact Esther Hughes on 0427 139 702 or

This article has been published by the following media outlets:

Inside Waste, 6 April 2020


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