The Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 includes a new approach to environmental issues, focusing on preventing waste and pollution impacts rather than managing those impacts after they have occurred.

Read more about the preventative focus below.

The cornerstone of the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 is the general environmental duty (GED). The GED will focus Victorian businesses, industry and the community on preventing harm. This will require duty holders to take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or otherwise reduce risks of harm to human health and the environment from pollution and waste.

‘Reasonably practicable’ will be assessed having regard to the likelihood of the risk of harm, the degree of possible harm, the state of knowledge, suitability and cost of ways to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm.

Unlike similar laws in other states and territories, a breach of the GED could lead to criminal or civil penalties.

The GED aligns with the way many businesses and industries already manage risk. This concept is familiar to businesses through the well-established model provided by Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety laws, which are also centred around a general duty to take reasonably practicable measures to minimise the risk of harm.

EPA will provide education, support and guidance to organisations and individuals to help in their compliance with the GED. Compliance Codes will provide guidance on how to comply with the GED, and will be developed by EPA in partnership with industry, technical experts and community representatives.

With this change in environment protection laws, Victorians will be less likely to be impacted by environmental disasters, pollution and waste.

Under the current Environment Protection Act 1970 (the current EP Act), the only ongoing control EPA can impose on a high-risk activity is an EPA licence. The new laws introduce a new three-tiered permissions framework allowing proportionate controls to be applied based on the nature of the risks. The tiers consist of:

  • Licences, to apply customised conditions to manage those complex activities that need the highest level of regulatory control to manage their significant risks to human health and the environment.
  • Permits, which will have largely standardised assessment processes and are suited to medium-high risk activities with low complexity.
  • Registrations, which will be automatically granted and are suited to organisations posing significant risks but where simpler controls exist which can be standardised across a sector.

Licences will continue to be required to construct certain plant or equipment, or in the development and modification of specified high-risk processes or systems (development licences). They will also continue to be required for research, development and demonstration activities (pilot project licences).

Licences will be subject to regular reviews (around every five years) and will no longer be granted indefinitely.

The Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 will modernise the current waste management framework.

The legislation introduces a new framework to reduce hazards from waste, while supporting waste material reuse, recovery and resource efficiency. It also establishes strong penalties for waste dumping and littering.

The new general environmental duty will require waste producers to identify and implement reasonably practicable means to minimise the risks associated with the management of wastes.

The application of landfill levies (renamed waste levies) will continue. All waste levies will be subject to annual indexation.

The one-size-fits-all prescribed industrial waste system under the current Environment Protection Act 1970 will be replaced by a new system of ‘priority wastes’.

Tailored controls will be introduced for specific hazardous industrial wastes, and specified municipal and industrial wastes that have resource recovery, recycling and reuse potential. These will become priority wastes. These controls include:

  • Classification of the priority waste;
  • Containing the priority waste to prevent its escape and isolating it to ensure resource recovery remains practicable;
  • Providing information about the composition and hazards of the priority waste during its collection, consignment, transfer or transportation; and
  • Recording and providing transaction details to allow tracking of that waste.

To better manage risks from wastes, persons managing priority waste will also be required to take all reasonable steps to identify and consider alternatives to waste disposal, including  waste avoidance, reuse and recycling.

The legislation requires persons involved in the management of industrial waste to ensure the waste is not illegally dumped. This means that:

  • those who deposit industrial waste must only do so at a lawful place;
  • receivers of industrial waste must be authorised to do so; and
  • generators of industrial waste must take reasonable steps to ensure the waste will be transported to a lawful place.

The legislation introduces increased penalties, and provisions and offences that are easier to administer and enforce. New volume-based litter offences, available to local government and Litter Enforcement Officers, will ensure that penalties are commensurate to the impact and volume of the waste. Additionally, a new dangerous littering offence will apply to persons who litter certain dangerous items (e.g. glass and syringes).

A new tool, Site Management Orders, will allow the establishment of long-term controls to ensure the safe ongoing management of sites that would otherwise pose ongoing risks to the community and environment.

This new regulatory control allows more effective ongoing regulation of the risks associated with sites such as closed landfills and contaminated environments and will be registered on the title of the land.