The EPA has banned two major Melbourne recycling plants from receiving materials, forcing a number of councils to divert kerbside recycling to landfill.
Following an EPA inspection that allegedly identified a number of stockpile issues, recycler SKM Services has been banned from accepting recyclable waste materials at its Coolaroo and Laverton North sites. Those two sites, together with a third, account for 50% of Victoria’s kerbside recycling.
EPA Chief Executive Cathy Wilkinson said the large plastic stockpiles at the facilities posed a real fire risk to local communities.
"EPA has determined that SKM has not taken reasonable steps to manage and store combustible recyclable waste materials at these facilities in a manner that minimises the risks of harm to human health and the environment from fire,” Wilkinson said.
"These waste stockpiles could pose a significant risk and challenge for firefighting agencies if ignited. Fire water run off could also enter waterways and have long-lasting impacts on the environment due to the toxic contaminants.
"Given the Waste Management Policy has been in place for almost 18 months, SKM, and the recycling industry as a whole, has had ample time to meet the requirements of the policy to ensure the safety of local communities.”
The Coolaroo plant was the site of a major blaze in 2017 which burned for 11 days, leading to the evacuation of more than 100 homes.
'No other option'
At least four councils have confirmed
they will temporarily divert recyclable waste to landfill, including Brimbank City Council.
"This is disappointing to both council and the community. No-one wants recyclable material to go to landfill, but our priority must be to protect the health and safety of the community," Director of Infrastructure and City Services Neil Whiteside told ABC News.
"There is currently no other viable recycling processing option available during this short-term disruption."
Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) chief executive Gayle Sloan told ABC News
that SKM's non-compliance has been caused, in part, by the drop in demand for recycled materials, which has led to stockpiles building up.
"The next stage in the supply chain is that we have manufacturing facilities purchase that [recycled product] to put back into packaging content," Sloan said.
"We haven't been able to grow our re-manufacturing industry because there is no certainty anyone is going to buy that recycled material back and put it back into the supply chain."
In a statement, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) called for consideration to be given to greater state government oversight of the recycling industry, and said it was disappointing councils only received a few hours’ notice of the closure.
Cr Mary Lalios partially blamed the situation on “more than a decade of underinvestment of landfill levy revenue by successive state governments”.
“More than half a billion dollars is held in the Sustainability Fund, and we urge the state to prioritise its reinvestment into waste and resource recovery initiatives that can help to stabilise the industry,” she said.
SKM will not be able to accept new material until EPA has confirmed that the sites are compliant.Mike Ritchie, Director of MRA Consulting with 25 years' experience working in the waste and local government sectors, will be speaking about the recycling industry challenges at IPWEA's International Public Works Conference in Hobart, 25–29 August, 2019. Visit the conference website now.