Pollution & Waste
Pollution is often the result of human habitation and industry, and can have serious adverse impacts on fragile ecosystems and human health
Pollution can include air, water, and noise pollution, as well as contaminated land and dumped rubbish.
It is important to ensure that pollution is controlled and waste is managed so that our impact on the environment is minimised. Pollution is regulated in NSW by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). Pollution laws are also enforced by local councils and sometimes the NSW Police Force, depending on the type, scale, and seriousness of the pollution. The EPA has produced a useful list of contacts to help people identify which organisation is the responsible authority for different types of pollution and waste:
- Water pollution
- Air pollution
- Noise pollution
- Waste and litter pollution
- Chemical and radiation pollution
For more information about how pollution and waste is regulated, see our Fact Sheet on air, water and noise pollution.
Responding to government proposals
The national, State and local governments regularly invite input from the community on proposed changes to environmental laws.
- To comment on draft legislation, plans and policies regulating pollution, visit the EPA website. The types of things open for public comment can include draft legislation to regulate pollution, and guidelines for the use of pollutants.
- You can comment on pesticide control orders. Notices will appear in the NSW Government Gazette, which is published every Friday at 2pm. Pesticide control orders can be issued by the EPA to protect public health, property, the environment or trade, or to implement a decision or policy of the APVMA. Pesticide control orders cover things such as the use of 1080 baits for rabbits, feral pigs, wild dogs and foxes; endosulfan; aerial spraying; 1080 liquid concentrate; and the use of 1080 in livestock collars.
- You can comment on chemical control orders. Notices will appear in the NSW Government Gazette, which is published every Friday at 2pm. If the EPA is concerned that a particular chemical substance is likely to be accumulated, dumped or abandoned, it can declare that substance to be a 'chemical waste'. The EPA has the power to make a chemical control order over a declared chemical waste at any time. Chemical control orders can be made for chemicals that have been declared as waste and for any other chemicals that are declared as environmentally hazardous. A chemical control order can prohibit the use of a chemical, and can specify how the controlled chemical can be safely handled and disposed of. Chemical control orders are usually made where controls on chemicals are required beyond those available under pollution laws (e.g. discharge limits under pollution licences, or labelling requirements).
- To comment on chemical reviews that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is carrying out, visit the APVMA’s website. Information about current chemical reviews can be found on the website. APVMA has the power to review and vary the conditions of registration of pesticides. It can decide to cancel their registration if new information shows that they will be generally harmful, or harmful if used in particular ways.
Responding to applications
Comments from the community are also invited on things like environment protection licences, which have the potential to impact on the environment.
- To comment on applications for environment protection licences, visit the EPA website. The EPA must consider your comments in deciding whether to grant a licence. This includes any public submissions made under the development assessment process. Certain polluting activities require a licence. The EPA can issue a licence to a person to carry out polluting activities. This can include pollution of water or land by industrial chemicals, such as chemical production and storage activities. The EPA is required to keep a public register of all declared chemical wastes and chemical control orders and all environment protection licences and environmentally hazardous chemical licences. To view the public register, visit the EPA website. For more information about pollution, see our Fact Sheet on air, water and noise pollution.
- To comment on applications to vary environment protection licences, visit the EPA website. You can also comment on existing licences at any time. Licences are required to be reviewed by the EPA or other responsible authority at least every five years. You can write to the EPA and request a statement of reasons explaining why the EPA granted or refused an environment protection licence application. This includes applications for transfers or variations.
- You can comment on applications to use environmentally hazardous chemicals subject to a chemical control order. The EPA may publish applications in the NSW Government Gazette, which is published every Friday at 2pm.
- You can comment on applications to transfer a licence to use environmentally hazardous chemicals subject to a chemical control order. The EPA may publish applications in the NSW Government Gazette, which is published every Friday at 2pm.
Notifications about opportunities to comment on proposals are often required to be published. The NSW Government is required to publish notices for some proposals in a locally circulating newspaper, and sometimes a newspaper that circulates throughout NSW (often The Land). You can keep an eye on the papers to make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity to comment.
Monitoring and enforcement
Both governments and proponents have responsibility for monitoring the impacts of activities that pollute the environment. You can also monitor the impacts of activities on the environment, such as water and air quality testing.
Before reporting suspected breaches of environmental laws you will require evidence. It is also important to remember that the law contains certain exceptions and defences to offences. The most common defence is that a person has a permit or licence to take the action which would otherwise be an offence, such as an environment protection licence (a licence to pollute). If you are unsure about whether an action is an offence or not, call the Environment Line on 131 555.
- Report pollution incidents and offences to the EPA. If you are concerned about a pollution incident, you should first contact the individual or company causing the pollution to request an explanation and ask them to fix the problem. You should also report the pollution incident to the Environment Line on 131 555. Offences include:
- Causing pollution without an environment protection licence.
- Polluting above the amount authorised by an environment protection licence.
- Report suspected contaminated land to the Environment Line on 131 555. You should also report it to the person or company you suspect has caused the contamination.
- Report illegal dumping to the Environment Line on 131 555.
- Report a suspected breach of national Environmental Law to the Australian Environment Department. Examples of breaches include:
- Taking an action that is likely to have a significant impact on a nationally listed threatened species, population or ecological community.
- Taking an action that is likely to have a significant impact on a nationally listed migratory species.
- Report pesticides offences to the Environment Line on 131 555. Offences include:
- Breaching a pesticide control order.
- Using pesticides in a way that injures or damages or is likely to injure or damage a person or their property, or any animal or plant that is not a target of the pesticide.
- Possessing and using unregistered pesticides without a permit. A permit will have conditions that must be complied with. There are two levels of pesticide regulation in Australia. The APVMA is responsible for deciding which pesticides can be registered and the conditions under which they should be used and sold, and State and Territory governments are responsible for ensuring that pesticides are used according to label directions and permits.
- Using pesticides contrary to the label.
- Storing pesticides in a container without an approved label.
- Report chemicals offences to the Environment Line on 131 555. Offences include:
- Breaching a chemical control order.
- Breaching the conditions of an environmentally hazardous chemicals licence.
- Carrying out a prohibited activity such as manufacturing, processing, storing, or distributing a chemical without permission from the EPA.
Under certain environmental laws, any person has the right to bring proceedings in a Court to remedy or restrain a breach. In NSW, this is mainly to the Land and Environment Court. For breaches of national environmental law, it is the Federal Court. See How can I have my say? for more information. You should contact the EDO NSW Environmental Law Line to request some initial legal advice if you would like to take this step.
Shaping environmental laws
Many environmental laws merely set out the framework for protecting the environment and rely on community involvement for proper protection. You can proactively seek to improve environmental laws through these processes.
- Nominate a pesticide for review by the APVMA. You will need to provide research or evidence that the pesticide is harmful to health or the environment. APVMA has the power to review and vary the conditions of registration of pesticides. It can decide to cancel their registration if new information shows that they will be generally harmful, or harmful if used in particular ways.
- Join the NSW Boards and Committees register, which is a list of people interested in serving on NSW Government boards and committees, such as reserve trusts for the protection of certain areas of environmental and heritage significance.
- Contact your local council to speak to them about joining a committee. Many councils have community advisory and consultative committees which may act as a liaison between the council and the community, or advise the council on matters such as the environment, heritage, and building and development.
The national, State and local governments provide continuing opportunities to be involved in the laws designed to protect the environment.
- Visit the Australian Government’s public consultation portal, where a range of proposals that may be relevant to pollution are exhibited for public comment.
- Engage in the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Community Engagement Forum, where a range of environment and heritage initiatives that may be relevant to pollution are discussed.
- Visit the NSW Government’s Have Your Say website, where a range of proposals that may be relevant to pollution are discussed, and exhibited for public comment.
- Visit the EPA’s public consultation webpage, where a range of proposals that may relate to pollution are exhibited for public comment.