Page 4661 - Week 12 - Thursday, 1 November 2018

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Government—waste to energy policy

MS ORR: My question is to the Minister for City Services. Minister, why is the ACT government considering a waste to energy policy?

MR STEEL: I thank Ms Orr for her question. The ACT government is committed to improving the ACT’s waste management methods and performance. The ACT needs to look at new and innovative ways to manage waste if we are to reach our commitment of 90 per cent waste recovery by 2025 and a carbon neutral waste sector. These commitments were outlined in the ACT’s waste management strategy: Towards a Sustainable Canberra 2011 to 2025. The development of a waste to energy policy was one of the 18 recommendations from the waste feasibility study road map released in May 2018.

There is currently no national policy on waste to energy. Different states are currently exploring how to respond to the range of technologies emerging in this space. There are clearly positives in terms of diverting waste from landfill, especially where this means additional recycling takes place. However, the community rightly will have some concerns about the technology involved. That is why we are seeking the community’s involvement in developing this policy. A waste to energy policy will provide certainty to the community and to industry about what technologies will be supported by the Canberra community.

MS ORR: What are the methods of converting waste to energy?

MR STEEL: Thank you for the supplementary. Converting waste to energy is the process where energy and resources are extracted from waste. Waste to energy utilises many different kinds of technology and can be a potential method to extract value from our waste while diverting waste from landfill and reducing greenhouse emissions at the same time. Not all waste to energy involves any burning, or even heating. There are several methods of converting waste to energy, including but not limited to anaerobic digestion, landfill gas capture, gasification and combustion.

For example, anaerobic digestion is essentially an advanced form of composting. As the name suggests, this is a process that occurs in the absence of oxygen. When waste breaks down, it creates a digester that can be used as a soil conditioner or a fertiliser, and producing a biogas which can also be utilised as fuel.

In response to whether this has been done in the ACT, some waste to energy technologies are currently being utilised. Members may be aware of the current landfill gas capture plant at Mugga landfill, which produces around three megawatts of electricity every year, powering thousands of homes across the ACT while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste to energy utilises different types of technologies and is already being used in other Australian and international jurisdictions, taking into account a clear understanding of the health and environmental impacts.

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