As highlighted in the consultation phase of developing the National Waste Policy, Australians are more aware than ever of how vulnerable our country is to climate change and to water scarcity. Sustainability has become an important feature of the policy landscape. At the same time, the role of waste management in sustainability is more understood - not only for the role of environmental protection from disposal, but in managing the anthropogenic flow of materials through the economy.
Waste management behaviours and policy have been driven in the past in Australia largely by intuition. There has been a general sense that resources are valuable and that waste has hidden costs. This has helped to drive community pressure for improved waste management and helped to entrench the waste hierarchy as a guiding principle for waste management. More recently, local and international studies have reinforced this message providing environmental and socioeconomic information about the net benefits of recycling and the impact of management options.
Government decision-makers are also increasingly accountable for decision-making in relation to the provision of waste management infrastructure. Accordingly, technology assessment procedures have needed to be robust and more transparent in order to meet expectations and address probity issues.
Of increasing importance is the need to assess proposals in the context of ecological sustainable development, where the relative impacts of proposals are assessed using an agreed set of economic, environmental and social criteria. For most waste treatment technologies, a fourth set of criteria that address technical aspects is also important. The technical performance can vary significantly between technologies and can determine the success or failure of a project.
The new National Waste Policy has a stated intention to reflect these changes in policy, community understanding and the natural environment, and to contribute to broader sustainability outcomes.
All spheres of government in Australia are aware of the need for more informed decision making and the new national waste policy is seeking to provide a strategic framework, based on rigorous assessment, to pave the way to a more considered approach to waste decision making and provide solid foundation for future waste management investment choices.