NWRIC calls on VIC Premier to intervene in Alex Fraser decision

The National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is calling on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to intervene in the City of Kingston’s decision to deny the extension of Alex Fraser’s Clarinda recycling facility.

Earlier this year, Alex Fraser called on Kingston City Council to extend its operating permit for its glass and construction and demolition recycling site, as one million tonnes of recyclables risks going to landfill. Kingston Council rejected the extension earlier this month.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the Clarinda facility is a site of state significance.

“It’s capacity to recycle up to one million tonnes of construction materials represents approximately 25 per cent of Melbourne’s recycled material each year,” Ms Read said.

“To lose this site will have significant ramifications for resource recovery in Victoria and the population of Melbourne.”

According to an NWRIC statement, the City of Kingston decision contrasts with Sustainability Victoria’s Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan, which identifies the Alex Fraser site as one of Melbourne’s key resource recovery hubs.

“This illustrates another major weakness in the Victorian Government’s ability to manage waste and recycling, where clearly they have failed to integrate their infrastructure planning with local and state government planning regulations,” the statement reads.

The statement suggests that if Victorian’s want best practise recycling, it’s important that significant recovery hubs are protected and not overridden by local decisions.

“Moving these sites is not a simple matter, there are significant impacts not just on the recycler and its commercial operations, but on the whole of Victoria’s economy, employment and the environment,” the statement reads.

“If the Victorian government is serious about getting recycling back on track in Victoria, the premier needs to step up and mediate a more realistic solution for the future of the Alex Fraser Clarinda site as a matter of urgency.”

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Tasmanian council ceases kerbside recycling

A Tasmanian council will cease kerbside recycling operations from 2020, as part of an overhaul of the region’s waste management strategy.

According to West Coast Council General Manager David Midson, there is limited uptake of recycling bins in the area, with an average 10 per cent of households using the service.

“Recycling collected is often so contaminated that council must expend significant funds to have it sorted and cleaned or allow it to be sent to landfill,” Mr Midson said.

“To resolve these issues in 2020-2021, council aims to move away from kerbside collection and instead provide central separated recycling bins where residents will be able to dispose of recyclables free of charge.”

Other changes to council’s waste management strategy include proactively monitoring illegal dumping and trialling green waste collection at transfer stations for 12 months.

“Currently, green waste deposited at the transfer stations is highly contaminated, resulting in significant council expenditure,” Mr Midson said.

“If this continues, council will move green waste collection to the landfill only, and assess the potential for green waste collection bins.”

Additionally, waste transfer stations will only accept limited categories of waste including domestic waste, oil and green waste from 2020.

Items such as asbestos, tyres, car bodies, concrete, rock rubble and soil will only be accepted at landfill.

Mr Midson said waste management on the West Coast cannot continue as business as usual.

“Current practices do not meet our environmental obligations, our obligations to provide a safe workplace, or the expectations of the community,” Mr Midson said.

“If we continue down the current path, the cost of waste management to ratepayers will increase dramatically.”

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NWRIC discusses export ban with Minister Ley

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has asked Environment Minister Sussan Ley to bring the ban on whole bale tyre exports forward to July 2020, in parallel with glass.

According to an NWRIC statement, the potential harm to humans and the environment by exporting whole baled tyres is significant, with ample capacity to process the material into value added products domestically.

NWRIC members made the request at their quarterly meeting in Canberra this week, which Ms Ley attended to discuss export ban execution and the implications of the proposed timetable.

At the meeting, council members indicated their support for the intent of the ban, and welcomed the strong leadership of the Federal Government, according to an NWRIC statement.

In reference to mixed plastics, NWRIC advised Ms Ley that more time is required for industry to purchase equipment and scale processing capacity. The council also argued for the need to fast track local plastic demand through packaging.

Additionally, NWRIC called the export ban on baled paper and cardboard “illogical,” given local demand is limited and strong existing markets exist overseas.

“This also applies to the export of single resin polymer plastics, such as clean bales of PET and HDPE. The vast majority of this resource is going to legitimate licensed overseas manufacturers,” the statement reads.

How to build local demand for recovered materials for packaging, products and infrastructure was another topic of conversation.

“The minister emphasised the government’s commitment to increase the uptake of recovered materials by changing their procurement practices,” the statement reads.

“She also stressed that businesses must step up too, especially the packaging industry, manufacturers and retailers, by ramping up the use of recycled materials. This program is especially needed in plastic packaging and products.”

NWRIC also argued that for the ban to be successful, new obligations must extend beyond the waste and resource recovery sector, to include organisations importing products to Australia.

“A circular economy requires all parts of the supply chain participate. This also includes consumers who must buy recycled, along with households plus businesses sorting recycling better,” the statement reads.

“Importantly, the minister acknowledged that Australia is a net importer of plastics and paper, so this needs to be considered in implementing the export ban.”

NWRIC members also requested Ms Ley consider banning the export of whole crushed car bodies, white good and waste motor oils.

“All of these products, when exported unprocessed, are causing serious harm to human health and the environment in locations across Asia,” the statement reads.

In addition to the export ban, Ms Ley and NWRIC members discussed the challenges of diverting organics from landfill, and the need for nationally consistent landfill levies.

According to the statement, NWRIC told Ms Ley that there needs to be greater transparency and investment of levies back into developing recovered materials markets, community education, compliance activities, research and data collection. NWRIC members also highlighted the importance of state investment being matched by the Commonwealth.

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NSW awards $1M to community recycling centres

Six NSW councils have received funding to develop recycling facilities for problem household waste such as oils, paints and gas bottles.

Planning and Environment Department Circular Economy Executive Director Sanjay Sridher said $1.125 million would go towards developing the new community recycling centres and permanent drop-off facilities.

“Community recycling centres are designed to capture those tricky items that can’t go in the bin – things like motor oils, car batteries, even old fluoro lightbulbs,” Mr Sridher said.

“These kinds of items have materials in them that can’t be processed through our kerbside systems, but through community recycling centres, most of these problem wastes can be reused or recycled.”

Awarded local government areas include Blue Mountains City Council, Camden Council, Parkes Shire Council, City of Parramatta Council, City of Ryde Council and Wollondilly Shire Council.

According to Mr Sridher, more than 7.5 million kilograms of problem waste has been collected since the program began, including four million kilograms of paint, one million kilogram of gas cylinders and 247,000 kilograms of batteries.

To date, over 100 community recycling centres have been funded in NSW and 92 are currently in operation.

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Researchers develop polyester extraction and reuse method

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have developed a treatment to extract and reuse polyester from polyester/wool mix fabrics.

Through extraction and reuse, the researchers hope to divert some of the 92 million tonnes of textiles sent to landfill each year.

QUT Institute for Future Environments faculty Robert Speight and Laura Navone found that a commercial enzyme dissolves wool fibres from polyester and wool mix fabrics, without damaging the polyester strands.

“Recycled polyester is a valuable tradable commodity,” Prof Speight said.

“The polyester extracted from fabric can be made into polyester chips and turned into anything from yarn for new textiles to playground equipment.”

Prof Speight said the value of recycled polyester has gone up significantly in recent years, and gives clothing manufacturers a marketing advantage when able to claim recycled material.

“Adidas, for example, has committed to using only recycled plastic by 2024, which includes polyester – contributing to the demand for recycled polyester,” he said.

Prof Speight said the next phase was to partner with recycling companies to scale and commercialise the process.

QUT Co-researcher Associate Professor Alice Payne said Australians send 500,000 tonnes of textiles to landfill every year.

“Australians discard an estimated $140 million worth of clothes each year, with an average lifetime of three months for each item,” Prof Payne said.

According to Prof Payne, polyester is incorporated in much of the 80-150 billion items of clothing made each year.

“Separating and reusing polyester is part of the drive to prevent waste in the fashion industry,” she said.

“Other ways to prevent waste is to use clothing longer, buy second hand rather than new, and circulate, lend, borrow, repair, upcycle or resell no longer wanted clothing.”

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APCO announces new Board Directors

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has appointed its Board of Directors for 2020, welcoming industry leaders from across the waste and recycling, packaging and sustainability sectors.

The new Board Directors were officially appointed at APCO’s Annual General Meeting in Melbourne.

According to an APCO statement, Veolia Projects Director Lee Smith will serve as Industry Association Director for a term of three years.

“Also joining the board in the role of Brand Owner Director is Chris Foley, Head of Energy and Environment for Kmart Group for a period of two years,” the statement reads.

“Chris will be replacing long standing board member Renata Lopes.”

Additionally, Reece Group Packaging Manager Jason Goode has returned to the role of Brand Owner Director for a term of three years.

APCO Board Chair Sam Andersen said the covenant was excited to welcome a wealth and diversity of industry experience to the APCO Board.

“This has been a remarkable year of growth and progress for APCO, and we look forward to an even more productive year in 2020 with the support and guidance of the new Board Directors,” Mr Andersen said.

“I’d also like to formally thank our outgoing board directors, David and Renata, who both brought invaluable contributions to our board and generously shared their vast knowledge and experience for the benefit of our members.”

The full 2020 Board includes Sam Andersen, Andrew Petersen, Keith Chessell, Lee Smith, Jacky Nordsvan, Anne Astin, Trent Bartlett, Jason Goode and Chris Foley.

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VIC tables waste inquiry report

An inquiry into the Victorian waste management and resource recovery system has suggested an over-reliance on one company to provide recycling services left the state vulnerable to market collapse.

According to the inquiry, the closure of SKM Recycling left more than 30 Victorian councils without a recycling provider and highlighted the dangers of industry consolidation.

Within this context, the inquiry found that the Victorian Government failed to undertake sufficient oversight of the state’s recycling and waste management system.

Following a seven-month investigation, the Victorian Legislative Council’s Environment and Planning Committee tabled its report on the inquiry on 27 November.

The report lists 33 findings and 46 recommendations, including introducing a container deposit scheme, growing waste to energy capacity and promoting uniform recycling practices across the state.

In reference to container deposit schemes, the committee suggests a Victorian scheme could supplement improved kerbside services and reduce municipal contamination rates.

The report recommends that the state government conduct a cost-benefit analysis, and notes estimates show a scheme could increase the state’s budget net position by $551.5 million over the period 2019-20 to 2029-30.

The Victorian Government should also provide funding and support for all Victorian councils to introduce a seperate bin for municipal glass recycling, the committee suggests.

According to the report, the administration of the state’s Sustainability Fund has been the subject of significant criticism.

In response, the committee recommends that the Victorian Government make it clear what the fund is for, who can access it, how they can access it and how fund outcomes are measured.

“In both its submission and in evidence given in public hearings, the Municipal Association of Victoria indicated that it believes the government needs to use the Sustainability Fund more extensively in supporting local government to address waste management and recycling issues,” the report reads.

“In light of the concerns raised by councils about the accessibility of the Sustainability Fund, the committee recommends the Sustainability Fund be audited to ensure that the fund is accessible and demonstrates which programs have achieved against their specified legislative objectives and been allocated accordingly.”

The committee also recommends that the state’s landfill levy be adjusted to the extent that financial incentives to transport waste from other jurisdictions for landfilling is removed.

Furthermore, the committee suggests that the state government work with the Federal Government and relevant stakeholders to harmonise the levy nationally.

The committee recommends the Victorian Government also work with the Commonwealth to introduce the Australian Packaging Covenant as a mandatory product stewardship scheme, and develop recycled material import requirements for packaging.

Additionally, the committee suggests government introduce recycled content requirements for state and local government procurement, and an obligation for agencies to publicly report on compliance with these requirements.

Other concerns include high rates of industrial and chemical waste stockpiling, inadequate market capacity to process stockpiled material and limited statewide education.

Committee Chair Cesar Melhem said he believes the report will make a significant contribution to the development of better recycling and waste management practices in Victoria.

“The state government should be commended for the actions taken since the recycling crisis become apparent, both in terms of the financial assistance it has provided to local councils and industry players, and in the support it provided to SKM and the role it played in facilitating the sale of the company,” Mr Melhem said.

“These actions will assist the industry in Victoria to set new directions for the industry. We are seeing the recycling rate in Victoria, already the highest percentage in Australia, improve to 69 per cent.”

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$30M stockpile clean-up continues

Thousands of cubic metres of material will leave a waste stockpile in Geelong this week, as the EPA begins removing truckloads of contaminated soil.

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

In a statement at the time, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the process could take several years, with the state government providing $30 million for clean-up and fire prevention measures.

According to Ms D’Ambrosio, the stockpile contains an estimated 320,000 cubic meters of waste including timber, concrete, brick, plaster, glass and ceramics.

EPA South West Region Manager Carolyn Francis said the contaminated soil will be removed in a closely monitored operation over the next four weeks.

“The soil contains a variety of contaminants including metals, plastics and some asbestos, so the removal operation has been carefully planned,” Ms Francis said.

“The soil will be kept damp during loading to prevent any problems with dust, then sealed in plastic on site for safe transport in covered trucks to a licensed landfill in Melbourne, and will be tracked to their destination by EPA’s electronic Waste Transport Certificate system.”

Ms Francis said the EPA will run additional asbestos fibre air quality monitoring at the site during soil removal, which will be managed by an independent occupational hygienist.

“The removal of this hazard will clear some of the land around the edges of the property and remove a potential source of dust from the site,” Ms Francis said.

The site’s land will likely be sold to recover costs following the cleanup, according to the EPA’s website.

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ACOR calls for battery product stewardship

Handheld batteries are a major fire risk in established recycling facilities and immediate action is needed to remove them from the general recycling stream, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel is calling on environment ministers to establish a national battery product stewardship and recycling scheme, with robust manufacturer participation.

“As a result of the digital age, battery consumption is going up by about 300 per cent per year and millions of post-consumer batteries are ending up where they don’t belong, which causes not only environmental harm but increasingly fires and occupational health and safety risks,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Analysis by ACOR shows that a national battery recycling scheme would cost less than one per cent of a typical battery’s retail price, and that seems a very small contribution for manufacturers to make to ensure better environmental and safety outcomes.”

According to Mr Shmigel, only three per cent of batteries are recycled in Australia, compared to 70 per cent in Europe, which has long-established, government-mandated schemes.

Mr Shmigel added that many batteries end up in household kerbside recycling bins as a result of “wishcycling.”

“Batteries that wrongly end up in our industry’s established materials recovery facilities for packaging or scrap metal recycling operations are known to explode as a result of heat and pressure from normal operations,” Mr Shmigel said.

“We are now consistently experiencing the operational and cost impacts, and should not wait to see somebody hurt.”

Outside selected retailer initiatives, Mr Shmigel said there is no alternative, comprehensive or accessible way for Australians to present used batteries for recycling.

“What we have in Australia is not recovery but malarkey. For nearly a decade, there’s been chain-dragging from major battery manufacturers and governments on setting up national programs, where all consumers can easily recycle their used batteries, just as they can their computers, TVs and mobile phones,” Mr Shmigel said.

Mr Shmigel said battery recycling solutions were put forward by industry and NGOs at the last two Meetings of Environment Ministers, however no substantive decisions were made.

“In the meantime, insurance premiums in our industry are known to have increased by five-fold per year in some cases due to increased fire risk,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Because we have very limited to no control of batteries coming into our facilities, that’s a totally inappropriate cost shift when producers are not taking appropriate responsibility.”

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Kingston City Council denies extension of Clarinda site

Alex Fraser Group is calling on Premier Daniel Andrews to intervene following a decision by Kingston City Council to deny an application to extend the life of its recycling operations.

Earlier this year, Alex Fraser called on Kingston City Council to extend its operating permit for its glass and construction and demolition recycling site as one million tonnes of recyclables risks going to landfill.

This week, Kingston Council voted to reject an application by Alex Fraser to extend its operations.

Alex Fraser’s permit ends in 2023 and the company had applied to the council for permission to stay until 2038.

Situated in the Melbourne’s south-east near Clayton, the 22-hectare facility recycles up to one million tonnes of waste each year and turns it into VicRoads approved, high quality, sustainable construction materials. It is a key component of the company’s network of sites surrounding Melbourne.

The site is set to increase its recycling by 200 million bottles per year, including glass from Kingston kerbside collections.

“If the Victorian Government allows the Clarinda Recycling Facility to be shut down by Kingston City Council, it will be disastrous for the state’s recycling capacity, and for Victoria’s infrastructure program,” Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy said.

Mr Murphy said kerbside recycling will be further disrupted, with recyclable glass at risk of being stockpiled or landfill.

“This decision by Kingston City Council will also cut off the supply of construction materials urgently needed for Victoria’s ‘Big Build’ – driving up costs, increasing trucks on south-eastern roads and blowing out construction timelines of major projects. A major metropolitan quarry would need to be established to counter the material shortfall.”

At the beginning of September, Kingston Mayor Georgina Oxley said the council received an application at the beginning of September which seeks to extend operations at the Alex Fraser site in Kingston’s green wedge.

“In 2015, Kingston Council welcomed protections for Kingston’s green wedge that were introduced by the Victorian Planning Minister that would ensure existing waste operations would cease at the end of their current permits and that no new operations would be allowed,” Ms Oxley said.

“Council wrote to the Planning Minister in April 2015 calling on the government to help Alex Fraser find an alternative site to ensure its long-term success while ensuring the end of waste-related activities in the green wedge. Invest Victoria has been working with Alex Fraser to identify suitable alternative sites.

“Council strongly supports the recycling sector and has a range of successful recycling business operating outside the green wedge within its industrial zoned areas.”

Mr Murphy said it is appalling that Kingston City Council voted on this application without any consideration of Victoria’s environment, resource recovery or waste policies. He added there was also no consideration of the state’s recycling crisis and resource shortage, or the site’s impeccable history.

Alex Fraser also put forward a Community Benefits Package, giving the Kingston community ownership of 22 hectares of land, along with $7.5 million for local sports and recreation facilities – which was ignored by council.

“While some councillors clearly understood the broader impacts, and voted to support this extension, this council decision smacks of hypocrisy. Kingston City Council claims it is committed to the environment, however this outcome undermines the community’s recycling effort, and will increase carbon emissions.”

He said Kingston City Council has shown it does not care about the impact their decision will have on the local community or state of Victoria.

“The Victorian Government needs to intervene now and ensure this critical facility continues,” Mr Murphy said.

Alex Fraser now has the option of appealing the council’s decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal or to refer it to the planning minister.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Government said the government recognises the important contribution Alex Fraser makes to the recycling sector but also the concerns of local residents.

“The planning minister will consider any formal request for assistance on its merits if and when it’s received,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Kingston Mayor Georgina Oxley said that in approving Planning Scheme Amendment C143 in 2015, the Victorian Planning Minister explicitly recognised that waste transfer and recycling facilities were not suitable for green wedge areas. She added this meant an outlaw of any new operators while allowing existing operators until the end of their permit to move on.

“Council recognises that Alex Fraser can play a strong role in Victoria’s recycling crisis, but Kingston’s green wedge is simply the wrong place for an industrial waste facility as the area transitions to our long-held vision for a Chain of Parks,” said Cr Oxley.

“The company has known for four years they would need to find a new location, and the Victorian Government has been working with them to find alternatives. They still have another four years to find a suitable site that will ensure both the company’s long-term success and an end to waste-related activities in the green wedge.”

Victorian Waste Management Association CEO Peter Anderson described the decision as socially irresponsible.

“We stand in lock-step with Alex Fraser Group’s calls for Premier Andrews and Minister D’Ambrosio to intervene on a decision that will only worsen Victoria’s recycling crisis, not to mention impact jobs and undermine what little confidence is left in the sector,” Mr Anderson said.

“When you think of the flow on effects of this decision in terms of additional truck movements to transport waste to landfill and sand from far-reaching quarries it’s hard to think of a more environmentally irresponsible decision.”

“At a time when councils are waxing lyrical about climate emergencies, we have with the City of Kingston a council that has squibbed an opportunity to reduce emissions, reduce waste sent to landfill and recycle millions of tonnes of waste, and instead put their own interest ahead of the environment.”

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