Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch has endorsed a package of work led by Waste Recycling Industry Association Queensland (WRIQ) to tackle high-risk stockpiling activities.
The package aims to reduce impacts to communities, develop an industry code of practice and improve resource recovery outcomes for Queensland.
Enoch made the endorsement at WRIQ’s August Business Lunch, where she addressed industry perceptions of the state’s environmental regulator and highlighted the very real challenges the industry is currently tackling regarding fire risk.
Enoch explained that the state government is committed to a sustainable waste reduction and recycling industry for Queensland.
“The waste industry supports more than 12,000 jobs throughout Queensland, and without their vital services, our communities would struggle to function,” she said.
“The partnership between the Department of Environment and Science and WRIQ to educate businesses about fire management and risks associated with stockpiling combustible waste, is a positive way government and industry are working together to support businesses and keep communities safe.
“Queensland’s continued health response means we are delivering our plan for economic recovery, and through supporting industries like waste and resource recovery, we can ensure our communities are more resilient than ever.”
A recent spate of fires across Australian waste and resource recovery sites has highlighted the challenges faced by many operators managing post-consumer materials including recyclables.
While the issue has spurred proactive responses from government and the private sector, WRIQ CEO Mark Smith said significant media attention has resulted in public scrutiny and further work needs to be done.
“Fires happen. But most of these are managed by the operator and we do not hear about them. But our sector is not judged or regulated by what is going well or when we have succeeded. We are judged and regulated by what has gone wrong. As such, we need to step up and tackle these issues collectively,” he said.
“This initiative is not about superseding waste and recycling businesses current practices but demonstrating our industry’s commitment to addressing the concerns of the government and the community. This package of work will engage with local councils, landlords and waste generators.”
Significant fires have cost Australian state governments, private business and local councils over a billion dollars in recent years, and can have significant impacts on communities and emergency respondents.
“Stockpiling is a necessary activity that’s required when we collect the waste and recycling that the community and businesses across Queensland are generating. The activity is part of our waste management system,” Smith said.
“We must remember that most operators invest time, people and other resources to reduce and eliminate fire risk.”
Smith added that government’s message was clear at the event: community and environment first, compliance and enforcement efforts against dangerous stockpiling will continue to be a major priority and good operators should be recognised.
“This is good news for the sector in Queensland and it’s great to see the leadership Minister Enoch is demonstrating by responding to business feedback and the commitment of supporting industry led approaches to compliment traditional regulation to reduce illegal activity and high-risk stockpiling activity,” he said.
“This isn’t about catching out good operators, but identifying those business that pose the biggest risks to our sector and those that are engaging in high-risk stockpiling activities”
In parallel, WRIQ will be supported to increase compliance understanding through a package of work to build the capability, capacity and awareness of all stakeholders to identify, reduce or eliminate fire risk.
“Waste generators don’t take enough responsibility for the waste they generate. With the incoming COAG waste export ban we will need to drive greater responsibility in supply chains,” Smith said.
“We need to see more support for the good operators making the right investments to manage fire risk and managing waste safely, and not fund cheaper operators who may be engaged in high-risk activity.”
At the WRIQ event, Enoch also outlined the Department of Environment and Science’s Annual Compliance Plan and her intention to support the establishment of an Industry Code of Practice, with an initial focus on transfer stations.
“WRIQ congratulates the government’s commitment on this package, which will build business confidence, increase safety outcomes and increase employment opportunities in Queensland’s multibillion-dollar waste and resource recovery sector,” Smith said.
Work on stockpiling training will commence immediately and groundwork on the code of practice will be started by WRIQ concurrently.