The state government is examining whether waste-to-energy facilities will adversely affect people’s health and recycling habits before evaluating proposals for facilities in Perth and the Pilbara.
Four proposals have been lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority for new plants using gasification and anaerobic digestion technology to convert both non-hazardous municipal waste and low-level hazardous waste, such as tyres, to energy.
But the government has launched a review, led by the EPA and Waste Authority, to scrutinise facilities overseas to help decide if the proposals should go ahead.
While proponents have heralded the technology, EPA chairman Paul Vogel said there were concerns about the health impacts of emissions and also how such facilities could change community behaviour.
“It’s a concern people have that we’ll just generate more waste and put it in these facilities and do away with all the years of investment in terms of packaging and recycling … that’s certainly not the intent,” Mr Vogel said.
He said the best waste-to-energy facilities he had seen also included recycling at the front end.
A specialist consultant would carry out a review of both regulatory frameworks and the specifics of already-established facilities in Europe, the US and Japan.
Perth-based New Energy Corporation has lodged applications for two plants; one expected to cost about $180 million to be built in Port Hedland, and another, costing about $150 million, in Rockingham.
New Energy general manager Jason Pugh said the company was already operating plants overseas with the technology it wanted to introduce to WA.
It was aiming to have environmental sign-off on the Port Hedland plant by November.
“Our view is that waste to energy is very much needed if we are going to achieve our targets of directing waste away from landfill,” Mr Pugh said.
“We really encourage recycling and composting but there’s still going to be a residual amount of waste going to landfill, and that’s where we think waste to energy is the best answer.”
Phoenix Energy has also lodged an application to build a plant costing $300 million to $400 million in Kwinana while the Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council is evaluating using the technology as part of its resource recovery centre planned for the Red Hill Waste Management Facility.
Mr Vogel said the review would be completed in a matter of months to enable environment minister Bill Marmion to make the final decision on whether the proposals should proceed.