Cleaning up a legacy stockpile

Tyrecycle’s Jim Fairweather explains the strategic planning required to clean up one of Australia’s largest tyre stockpiles in regional Victoria.

One of Australia’s largest tyre stockpiles, located within metres of homes and businesses in Victoria, was this year cleaned up by the Victorian Government.

The government at the end of last year appointed Tyrecycle, one of the country’s most experienced tyre recyclers, for the clean-up operation, with the site now deemed safe.

Over 44 operational days, Tyrecycle removed a 5200 tonne stockpile, equivalent to 500,000 tyres, at Numurkah near Shepparton, which posed an extreme fire, health and safety risk to local residents. The total transformation of the site saw 334 truckloads of tyre waste removed over this period.

The company worked closely with Moira Shire Council along with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), which used its powers to enter the site late last year under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

The EPA introduced tighter controls for waste tyre storage in 2015, prompting a significant reduction in the number of known stockpiles across Victoria, with Numurkah being one of the legacy sites.

The Environment Protection Act 1970 requires scheduled premises to be licensed, with requirements for onsite firefighting resources, limits on the size of the piles and minimum distances between and around them. Stockpiles of more than 40 tonnes or 5000 equivalent passenger car units of waste tyres are scheduled premises under the regulations.

EPA CEO Dr Cathy Wilkinson said the site was an unacceptable fire, environmental and human health risk.

Tyrecycle began work on cleaning up the site in December 2018 under the control and guidance of the EPA and Moira Shire Council.

Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says that the company was transporting 125 tonnes of end-of-life tyres per day from Numurkah to Tyrecycle’s EPA-licensed processing facility in Melbourne at Somerton, where they were cleaned, sorted and shredded for recycling.

“Tyrecycle ramped up its Melbourne facility to a 24/7 operation for the project and doubled its processing capability to remove the huge amount of waste tyres in the most efficient and time effective way,” Jim says.

“We increased our staffing levels to handle the waste, with most of each delivery being processed within 24 hours.”

According to the CFA and EPA, the consequences of a fire at the Numurkah site would have been catastrophic to the local community with air quality impacted and the contamination of soil, groundwater and surface waters.

“It was a great outcome for the local residents, to help them feel safe again after a decade of uncertainty. It was made possible due to the collaborative efforts between the Victorian Government, authorities and industry – working together,” Jim says.

The EPA conducted site inspections at Tyrecycle’s Somerton facility during the transportation and processing phase of the waste tyres from Numurkah.

Jim says that Tyrecycle is proudly the only EPA-licensed collector and recycler of tyres in Victoria and all environmental regulations were met during the project.

“Our planning procedures are thorough, including specific transportation schedules for the collection and arrival of waste.”

He says that the conditions were extremely challenging and strategic planning is required to begin a clean-up operation especially of this magnitude.

“Firefighting equipment is always onsite. However, when temperatures went to 40 degrees or if there was a total fire ban, all work ceased as the searing weather conditions resulted in an unsafe working environment.

“Fire safety preparation is paramount during a clean-up, as well as heightened security and effective management of any wildlife and vermin on site. With careful planning and protocols, we were pleased to deliver an incident-free project.”

The majority of the shredded and recycled waste tyres were converted into tyre-derived fuel (TDF), helping companies reduce their environmental footprint across South-East Asia.

“TDF is an attractive alternative fuel on an international scale. The extremely high calorific value of the product has significantly lower volumes of greenhouse gases when compared with coal,” Jim says.

The recycled tyre waste from the Numurkah site is also being used for a variety of products across the construction, manufacturing and automotive industries, including crumbed rubber for road surfacing, athletics tracks and brake pads.

Tyrecycle also worked with the EPA in Victoria in 2017 to remove another dangerous and large tyre stockpile on the outskirts of Stawell.

During a clean-up operation lasting just over two months, 9500 tonnes of tyres which had been stockpiled for many years were removed, with more than two-thirds of the tyres transported to Tyrecycle’s Melbourne facility for processing and recycling.

Related stories:

EPA Victoria removes ban

EPA Victoria has withdrawn its official notice banning recycler SKM Services from accepting recyclables at its Laverton North facility.

The facility, which processes large amounts of household recyclables collected by local councils, can now resume accepting waste.

The notice requiring SKM to cease accepting new waste was issued on 10 July, after an EPA inspection found the site failed to meet the requirements of the Victorian Waste Management Policy.

Following an Inspection by EPA this week, the notice was revoked. Inspectors from WorkSafe and the Wyndham City Council were also present to follow up on remedial action.

According to an EPA media statement, SKM’s recycling facilities can expect regular monitoring to continue and EPA will not hesitate to take further remedial action.

Victorian Government commits $30 million to stockpile clean up

The Victorian Government has announced it will provide $30 million in initial funding to maintain fire prevention measures and assist clean up at a waste stockpile in Lara north of Geelong.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said clean up processes could take several years, as the stockpile contains an estimated 320,000 cubic meters of waste including timber, concrete, brick, plaster, glass and ceramics.

The Victorian EPA used powers granted under the Environment Protection Act 1970 to take over management at the stockpile after the previous operator let recycling waste grow to dangerous levels.

According to Ms D’Ambrosio, action from the EPA will ensure fire prevention can continue in the short term, ahead of a full clean up.

“Poor site management practices by the previous operator has resulted in an unacceptable risk to the local community, the environment and emergency services in the event of a fire at the site,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“The occupier and owner of the site have gone into liquidation, and the funding available to the liquidators to maintain security and fire prevention measures on site ends today (30 April 2019).”

Ms D’Ambrosio said the EPA would rigorously pursue the previous site occupiers, owners, company directors and any other relevant parties to recover the costs of the fire prevention measures and clean up.

“We will be pursuing the private operators involved for every cent of the clean up cost. They created this mess, it’s only right they pay for it to be fixed.”

Member for Lara John Eren said the site has been cause for local concern for some time.

“It’s excellent news for the whole community to know that the EPA will now take control of the clean up, it’s time to get on with fixing the problem once and for all.”

Since August 2017 the Victorian EPA has possesed additional powers to support fire services and issue remedial notices to facilities not properly managing potential fire risks.

Ms D’Ambrosio said powers will be further strengthened under the new Environment Protection Act which comes into effect on 1 July 2020.

The City of Greater Geelong will project manage the works on behalf of the EPA and state government.

Related stories: 

Australians believe recyclables going to landfill: research

Most Australians across all states and demographics believe the recyclables they put into their council bins are ending up in landfill, according to new research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The series of surveys has also found that 49 per cent of people believe that green and eco-friendly efforts will not have an effect in their lifetime, with 63.8 per cent of those older than 65 seeing no benefits being realised.

Related stories:

Key findings also report that 72.4 per cent of people would recycle more of the material if it was reliably recycled.

Confusion also surround which level of government is responsible for residential waste and recycling services, with some people thinking industry instead of government is responsible for waste management.

UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Director Veena Sahajwalla said rising stockpiles and increasing use of landfill, in the absence of a coordinated government solution to a waste problem, had not been lost on consumers.

“Each council is fending for themselves right across Australia and while the meeting of federal and state environment ministers earlier this year made an important announcement about a new National Waste Policy stating that by 2025 all packaging will be re-usable, compostable or recyclable, we don’t have to wait another seven years for this decision to come into effect,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“It is clear on this issue that people want action, and they want governments to invest and do something now.

“A number of councils and private business are interested in our technology but unless there are incentives in place, Australia will be slow to capitalise on the potential to lead the world in reforming our waste into something valuable and reusable.”

UNSW’s SMaRT Centre launched a demonstration e-waste microfactory in April, which is able to recover the components of discarded electronic items for use in high value products.

UNSW is also finalising a second demonstration microfactory, which converts glass, plastics and other waste materials into engineered stone products, which look and perform as well as marble and granite.

“Rather than export our rubbish overseas and to do more landfill for waste, the microfactory technology has the potential for us to export valuable materials and newly manufactured products instead,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“Through the microfactory technology, we can enhance our economy and be part of the global supply chain by supplying more valuable materials around the world and stimulating manufacturing innovation in Australia.”