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Policy bans burning waste for energy recovery

The ACT Government has ruled out thermal treatment of waste – including incineration – in the ACT, according to a new policy.

The ACT Waste-to-Energy Policy 2020-25 was released publicly in March with the policy acknowledging that waste reduction, reuse and recycling of materials will take precedence over energy recovery applications.

The policy states: “New facilities, proposing thermal treatment of waste, by means of incineration, gasification, pyrolysis or variations of these for energy recovery, chemical transformation, volume reduction or destruction will not be permitted in the ACT.”

ACT Minister for Recycling and Waste Reduction, Chris Steel, said there are a number of factors which contributed to the decision to prohibit new facilities from conducting thermal treatment of waste (incineration, gasification and pyrolysis) in the ACT.

“Although thermal waste treatment plants have been operating internationally for several decades, there is still great concern and uncertainty around the operation of these facilities and their long-term impact on health and the environment,” Mr Steel said.

“Based on the consultation we undertook on the policy across a wide cross section of the community, we do not believe that thermal waste-to-energy technologies have a social licence in the ACT at this time (with some limited exceptions such as treatment of sewerage biosolids and landfill gas capture).”

Mr Steel said other than prohibiting all new forms of thermal treatment of waste, the policy does not place further restrictions on operators and will not inhibit waste management in the ACT.

In addition, the policy does not include a mandatory review period. The Government will continue to monitor waste management practice and may review as appropriate.

ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury welcomed the decision to rule out thermal treatment and incineration of waste in the ACT. 

“The Greens have long held the view that there are cleaner, greener and more efficient ways of managing our waste than burning it. The last thing we need are the toxic emissions or greenhouse gases from burning waste in Canberra,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“Burning residual waste is no better than burning dirty fossil fuels and does not allow us to achieve the maximum economic and environmental benefit from those resources. 

“The new ACT Government policy starts to lay the foundations for this, by ruling out thermal treatment of waste, but still allowing cool technologies for organic waste treatment, such as anaerobic digestion.”

According to the policy paper, anaerobic digestion has the added benefit of producing a compost-like digestate which can be applied to land as a soil additive.

There are currently no significant anaerobic digestion activities in the ACT with the ACT Government to actively investigate opportunities for the ACT.

In addition to anaerobic digestion, the production of refuse derived fuel (RDF) will be permitted. Landfill gas capture and electricity generation will also continue as best practice management of the ACT’s landfills. Where waste-to-energy activities are permitted in the ACT, only residual waste will be eligible as a fuel.

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