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Inside South Australia’s first disaster waste study

Contributing author Kat Heinrich explains South Australia’s first of its kind statewide disaster waste management study.

Australia is sadly no stranger to bushfires, floods and severe storms. Each year these natural disasters sweep through and devastate our communities.

Without contingency planning, volumes of disaster debris can impede disaster response and recovery activities and overwhelm a community’s waste and recycling infrastructure.

Experience from around the globe demonstrates that developing a well thought-out Disaster Waste Management Plan can greatly improve outcomes by:

  • Speeding up and reducing costs of recovery,

  • Providing local employment following the disaster,

  • Building capacity within individuals and organisations, and

  • Delivering recycled products to rebuild homes and infrastructure in affected communities.

So what's involved in disaster waste management planning? What can we learn from management of debris at past events such as the Sichuan Earthquake in China, Yolanda Typhoon in Philippines, Great East Japan Tsunami and the Christchurch Earthquake in New Zealand?

South Australian Disaster Waste Management Study

This month Green Industries SA released a study on Disaster Waste Management in South Australia.

The study is the first of its kind in Australia and was undertaken by a consortium of local and international waste specialists led by Rawtec in collaboration with Resilient Organisations, Resources and Waste Advisory, and Mike Haywood SRS.

It draws upon the past experience of the authors, taking into account learnings from management of disaster debris following past events in South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, China, Japan, New Zealand, Lebanon, St Lucia and the US.

It provides information and a framework to guide the future development of a Disaster Waste Management Plan, including:

  • Waste profiles for flood, severe storm, earthquake and bushfire, including identification of waste nature, streams and potential issues/challenges (Chapter 2);

  • Estimation of potential debris types and volumes that may be generated in SA for select disaster scenarios (Chapter 2);

  • Identification of potential skills, administration and equipment needed for disaster waste management, and explored the opportunity for developing pre-approved panels of suppliers (Chapter 3);

  • Identification of considerations for the establishment of temporary debris storage sites (Chapter 4);

  • Identification of disposal/recycling facilities in SA that could potentially manage disaster waste, including their locations, waste streams accepted and capacities (Chapter 4); and

  • Review of the regulatory framework for disaster waste management, and identified potential ambiguities and/or inadequacies in policies and regulations (Chapter 5).

The study identifies the need for the development of a support plan that integrates responsibilities for disaster waste management into the state emergency management framework.

Kat Heinrich is a specialist waste management consultant with Rawtec in South Australia and the Chair of the WMAA South Australian Young Professional Group.