Asbestos finds highlight need for consistent policy: AORA


The peak body for Australia’s organics recycling industry says recent asbestos finds highlight the need for consistent policy.

The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has long advocated for consistent policy and regulatory settings that promote the delivery of clean, source-separated organic feedstock without plastics, chemicals and other contaminants, to organics recycling facilities.

National Executive Officer, John McKew, says hazardous materials and contaminants from all feedstock streams are one of the most significant threats to the future success of recycling and the circular economy.

“We are alarmed with the growing number of sites affected and the impact this is having on the industry as a whole and confidence in recycled organics products,” John says. “AORA promotes quality assurance as a whole of value chain responsibility – from feedstock receival, processing, transportation though to application of materials for end use. Through this approach, potential risk to human health and the environment is minimised and quality products prevail.

“Those carrying out resource recovery activities across Australia are particularly concerned about the increased level of risk that they now face in relation to the presence of potentially invisible asbestos in their input materials, which is an issue over which they often have minimal control.”

Traces of asbestos in mulch were found in dozens of sites across New South Wales healthcare facilities, hospitals, and public spaces in January 2024. The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has been investigating the discovery with the support of the NSW Asbestos Taskforce.

In Victoria, asbestos was found in mulch at parks and reserves in March and April. After more than 30 inspections, EPA Victoria said that less than half a shopping bag of suspect materials was found, removed and sent for testing.

It was believed some of the asbestos fragments found may have already been present on site or could have been illegally dumped.

In early March, the environmental watchdog carried out proactive inspections at 59 commercial mulch producers that use recycled timbers and found no asbestos contamination in mulch at any of these premises.

John says AORA understands the concerns about the incidents, but it was important to note that the Australian Organics Recycling Industry does not use, or add, asbestos in the mulch production process. And while producers will not knowingly accept asbestos-contaminated feedstock, detection of asbestos within feedstock is difficult.

At a Victorian Waste Management Association seminar in March, environmental lawyer Stefan Fiedler described it as “like looking for a black sock in a tub of black socks”. He said vigilant processes are vital as the nation’s targets to divert organics from landfill, and a transition to a circular economy, results in more construction and demolition waste in organics processing.

John says the Australian Organics Recycling Industry has been manufacturing and supplying quality products in large volumes for decades and remains committed to producing high-quality and high-performing compost and mulch products  that are safe for application to land and to human health.

Maintaining product quality and regulatory compliance are key to protecting the livelihood of the recycling organics industry.

“AORA supports all efforts by regulators to eliminate the risk of asbestos within all feedstock streams that are destined for recovery and any compliance action being taken against organisations that are shown to do the wrong thing, across the supply chain,” he says.

Illegally dumping asbestos now carries a multi-million dollar fine under new laws passed by the New South Wales Government in November 2023. 

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