Planning for Post-Disaster Waste: Prepare

These case studies show to avoid further risks regarding post-disaster waste.

Natural Disaster Waste for Local Governments in NSW                

Natural hazards such as bushfire, storm and flood have the capacity to create significant quantities of waste. The type of waste generated (e.g. vegetation, household items, hazardous substances etc.) is dependent on the nature of the natural hazard event (e.g. rain, damaging winds, etc.), and waste may be burnt or sodden. There is an expectation from the community that Council will extend its standard waste collection activity to the management of waste generated by natural disaster events and this can quickly overwhelm Council’s existing waste infrastructure and resources.

Without prior thought and preparation, there is the potential for local governments to create further risks through poor waste management decisions made in the heat of emergency operations. This may result in other assets becoming unusable. As an example, there is a risk that without a pre-planned strategy, waste generated from a natural disaster may be dumped on sporting ovals, football pitches and other large open spaces. In some circumstances, this could result in these assets being unusable for a period of time. If assets become contaminated by hazardous waste or asbestos, then they may be unusable for up many years whilst clean up and remediation works are undertaken.
Recent events across Australia have also highlighted the need to have pre-planned waste management strategies in place.

Tathra and Districts Bushfire (2018)

This is a photo of a bushfire in Tathra.

Above: The Tathra bushfires cost $11 million to clean up.

Bushfires burned during the 18th and 19th of March across an area of 2,500 acres of residential areas, farmland and forest reserves. A total of 69 houses and 30 caravans and cabins were destroyed, and 39 houses were damaged. This event generated 20,000 tonnes of waste, with 6,000 tonnes of waste contaminated with asbestos. The event resulted in $11 million clean-up and disposal costs.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie (2017)
This is a photo of broken furniture and house materials on a car caused by Cyclone Debbie.
Above: About 20,000 people were evacuated during Cyclone Debbie.

Severe Tropical Cyclone (STC) Debbie was a large and powerful category 4 system that made landfall near Airlie Beach on 28 March. Ex-TC Debbie continued south, causing significant damage flooding in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. Approximately 20,000 people were evacuated from the Lismore and Murwillumbah areas, with 20,000 tonnes of bulky household waste generated. Overall costs for clean-up in the Northern Rivers approximated $200 million.

NSW Council Response

Several councils in NSW are developing plans around disaster waste. The Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils is developing a Guide for the Management of Natural Disaster Waste. This guide considers:

  • Establishment of temporary waste facilities
  • Equipment and resources required
  • Traffic management
  • Waste prevention via community engagement strategies
  • Waste processing
  • Recycling
  • Roles and responsibilities
This is a photo of a bulldozer moving landfill.Above: A bulldozer moves landfill.

When available the guide will include checklists and other tools and resources to assist local governments with undertaking emergency waste operations. 

This is a picture of the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils' logo