Sustainability Matters Aug/Sep 2022

Page 38

What does ESG and urban growth mean for waste operators? Alex Zamudio*

How waste management operators are building trust and renewing their social licence to operate as residential areas encroach and the spectre of land conflicts arises.


he world’s megacities are

of external data, from odour diaries and

it is about demonstrating a commitment to

expanding. Urbanisation is

sniff tests to formal air quality monitoring

social and environmental responsibility, and

engulfing city fringes with

systems set up by investigators.

to keeping communities onside.

challenging urban planning

Communities are increasingly impatient

and reduce the time between a problem

People are decentralising, environmental justice laws are passing and landfills are becoming part of the city’s sprawl

occurring and a solution being actioned.

As the nature of work changes, people

decisions made years or

about slow and indecisive responses to

decades ago, and landfill operators are

odour complaints, so it is more important

bearing much of the brunt.

than ever that operators minimise uncertainty

According to the UN, the proportion of the global urban population is expected to rise from 46.6% in 2000 to 58.2% in 2025

Air quality and odour emissions are

are expanding their horizons. Where they

still a challenge for waste management

once lived close to a physical workplace,

operators today despite a wide range of

they can now live much further away from

Impact on urban livability

abatement options. Lack of knowledge on

the city centre where there’s more space.

New arrivals to the city fringes come chas-

when to engage critical controls can lead

As outer-metropolitan perimeters are ex-

ing open spaces and livability, but their

to impacts on nearby communities, which

tended, residential populations are brought

moves are bringing them in closer contact

creates costly investigations and disruptions

into closer proximity to previously isolated

with waste management sites, and this is

from lawsuits and fines. Outside factors

waste and industrial facilities. Once in the

increasingly a cause of community conflict.

such as meteorological conditions play a

middle of nowhere, more landfills now have

Environmental impact from waste man-

part in management approaches, and need

residential premises near their boundaries,

agement sites affects urban livability. It’s

to be modelled with internal data to make

and some will eventually be ringed by new

the reason for a large number of complaints

abatement and control measures effective.

developments. As communities form, they

and 66.4% by 2050.

made to environmental authorities and ‘ill

have high expectations of their neighbours.

will’ in communities, with landfills often

Data-driven approaches pay off

listed as the top source.

Employing environmental modelling capabili-

laws both in the United States and in other

The passing of environmental justice (EJ)

Even one complaint directed at a site

ties and effective odour management best

countries also brings increased oversight

can lead to significant issues for operators;

practice solutions is critical to avoiding

on existing industrial facilities in locations

however, sites with odour issues can gener-

negative attention and fines. But more im-

identified as ‘overburdened communities’.

ate hundreds of complaints a month. These

portantly, at a time of heightened awareness

EJ laws can subject facilities to closures

complaints are often supported by a range

and sensitivity to climate and sustainability,

or even permit denials if they are found to be


This issue is sponsored by — ABB Australia Pty Limited —