Victorian councils forced to landfill recyclable waste

More than 20 councils in two states have been locked out of their materials recovery facilities as of 5pm, Monday, February 18.

Port Phillip Council was one council to express its disappointment over its need to divert recyclable materials to landfill for two days this week as it responds to an EPA order issued to a major recycling company in Melbourne.

In a statement on February 15, Port Phillip Council said it has been advised by the company it expects to reopen its plants and accept recyclables collected from its residents and businesses by Wednesday 20 February.

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“Council, and our community, are passionate about sustainability so we explored every possible avenue to avoid resorting to landfill, even temporarily,” the statement read.

“Unfortunately, due to a range of factors including logistics, the risk of odour and litter from full recycling bins spilling out on streets, and later being swept into the bay, we have decided to use landfill for recyclable collections before reverting as soon as possible to the normal weekly recycling collection service.”

The City of Whittlesea in a statement said it was disappointed with the outcome and that on Monday, all recycling bins collected will go to landfill. The council offered residents the choice to hold on until the next collection in a fortnight when collections should be open.

Hume City Council in a statement also said it was frustrated with having to take its recycling to landfill for the time being.

“Hume City Council was one of 20 Victorian Councils given less than 24 hours to act. We were faced with the tough decision to either go to landfill or stop the collection service. There was simply no other choice. We cannot stockpile it until an alternative solution is found because, given the quantity, it is simply not safe to do so,”  the statement on its website read.

Glen Eira was one council to arrange an alternative recycling processing facility to accept its recyclables.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio told Fairfax Media councils had an opportunity to overhaul their recycling contracts to include “contingency plans” and help boost competition among processing businesses.

“Recycling contracts need to provide greater certainty and consistent services to our communities, not getting the best commodity prices for the recycled material,” she said.

Ms D’Ambrosio said the state government invested $37 million in 2018 to develop a “more efficient and resilient recycling system”.

The Municipal Association of Victoria called for consideration to be given for greater state government oversight of the recycling industry.

Cr Mary Lalios said it was disappointing that councils only found out that two major materials recovery facilities servicing significant areas of Melbourne were going to shut down just hours before it happened.

“We understand the need to ensure community safety due to stockpiling, however a lack of leadership and investment by both federal and state governments over many years has left our recycling industry in a volatile position,” she said.

“Victorian councils have contracts in place with third party collectors or recyclers who pick up recycling from kerbside bins and transport the material to private recycling facilities.”

She said that as a last resort, some contractors may need to consider landfill as a short-term solution until other arrangements are in place.

“This is a frustrating situation that, at least in part, is due to more than a decade of underinvestment of landfill levy revenue by successive state governments. The scale of this latest challenge demonstrates the need for stronger state action,” she said.

“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.

The company issued with the EPA order currently receives 50 per cent of Victoria’s kerbside recycling across three facilities, two of which have received shutdown notices by the EPA.

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said there is simply no excuse for the lack of action on recycled material. She noted its been more than 12 months since National Sword commenced and government and industry are well aware of the impacts.

“China’s policy is but the tip of the iceberg. Industry has long known that Australia required processing and reprocessing infrastructure as well as long‐term solutions to avoid lurching from crisis to crisis. And industry has been advocating for these solutions, including long‐term strategic planning and market development agencies, as an example,” she said.

WMRR urged ministers and the heads of EPA to adopt a five-point plan which includes an industry development fund for remanufacturing to enable the circular economy, national standards for regulation and products, mandated procurement of recycled content goods content, tax reform on recycled content goods and mandated product stewardship schemes for priority materials.

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