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Waste Management Review explores the Victorian EPA’s amended policy for combustible recyclable and waste materials and a training partnership to support it.
The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) is partnering with Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) to develop a training package that seeks to equip operators with information and tools to better manage fire risks.
The training course will be delivered by VWMA as part of its industry training program to be modelled on the Management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials – guideline.
The training will equip operators with information and tools to understand the fire hazards associated with their activities and take steps to reduce risk. It will include the management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials in a manner that protects the environment and human health from the risk of fire.
EPA sees the partnership with VWMA as an important way of ensuring ongoing implementation of the management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials – guideline and will be seeking to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach.
VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith highlighted that last year’s VWMA State Conference saw a commitment from the association to work with insurance sector and legal firms, consultants and government to tackle rising insurance costs and the risk of fire at sites.
“This announcement today lays the foundation for us to move forward. Members can expect further information about additional services we will be rolling out at our state conference on 30/31 July,” Mr Smith said.
“Figures from DELWP reveal more than 100 recycling facility fires have happened in the last 10 years, with the largest costing Victorian Government over $110 million. We want to reduce instances of fires and work with insurance companies to show that the sector is making inroads to lift standards.
“Participating in this training will demonstrate a waste and resource recovery operator’s willingness and commitment to identify and manage risk. It will also support business lower their risk profiles, which will increasingly be expected if the sector wants to remain insurable.”
EPA CEO Cathy Wilkinson said that through extensive engagement with industry and local government, EPA has developed practical guidelines on how to comply with the Victorian Government’s Waste Management Policy (Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials).
The VWMA and EPA recognise the need to promote better practice through a shared commitment to drive industry leadership in the preventative management of combustible recyclable and waste materials. The VWMA aims to support its members and the waste and resource recovery sector to reduce the frequency, scale and severity of fires at waste and resource recovery facilities.
In a statement, the VWMA noted that the Victorian waste and resource recovery sector provides over 23,000 direct and indirect jobs across over 1200 businesses and is an essential community service supporting all the waste management needs of every Victorian business and household.
Currently, the sector is responding to changes in the regulatory environment around fire risk and management following new government policy introduced after several major fires.
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Waste Management Review looks at the emergency planning provisions in place to prevent stockpiling following a recent EPA notice in Melbourne.
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An inspection of a major Melbourne recycling company by EPA Victoria officers in March has determined the company has met the conditions of the notice served on them and is now able to resume accepting recyclable waste materials at its Laverton North site.
The Coolaroo site remains non-compliant and will not be able to accept recycling waste until compliance has been confirmed by the EPA.
On 15 February 2019 EPA alleged the company was not in compliance with the Victorian Waste Management Policy(Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials) and issued them with a remedial notice which required them to cease accepting recyclable waste materials at their Laverton North and Coolaroo sites.
EPA CEO Dr Cathy Wilkinson said that in the event of a fire at either site, large amounts of plastic materials could likely generate significant community impacts from smoke and that the recycling industry had had ample time to become compliant with the policy.
The Melbourne company requested the inspection following improvements at their Laverton North site’s outdoor storage which has seen a reduction in stockpiled waste and increased separation distances as required by the policy.
“The closure of the sites was a decision taken to protect the community from the risk of a major fire. EPA will not allow a repeat of the 2017 Coolaroo fire,” Dr Wilkinson said.
“The company has demonstrated that it has met the conditions outlined in our notices and is again compliant. However, EPA will continue to inspect the Laverton site to ensure it remains compliant with the outdoor storage requirements.
“The community expectation is that the company will now maintain compliance and be able to provide a valuable service to Victorians. The message should be clear, EPA is vigilant. Safety and security cannot allowed to be compromised.”
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A major recycling company in Melbourne has been issued with notices from EPA Victoria requiring it to stop accepting recyclable waste materials at sites in Maffra Street, Coolaroo and Gilbertson Road, Laverton North sites after allegedly failing to meet meet the requirements of the Victorian Waste Management Policy.
The notices raise significant questions about the emergency planning provisions in place to deal with such events, with the Victorian Waste Management Association concerned about the standards in place.
EPA officers recently inspected both sites and saw large stockpiles of combustible recyclable waste materials from kerbside collections stored without appropriate separation distances between stockpiles, buildings or the premises boundary.
EPA CEO Dr Wilkinson said the waste stockpiles could pose a significant risk and challenge for firefighting agencies if ignited.
“Fire water run off could also enter waterways and have long-lasting impacts on the environment due to the toxic contaminants,” Dr Wilkinson said.
She said that EPA has determined that these stockpiles are in breach of the Waste Management Policy that has been in place since August 2017 following a major fire at the site.
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She said that EPA also determined that the company had not taken reasonable steps to manage and store combustible recyclable waste materials at these facilities in a manner that minimises the risks of harm to human health and the environment from fire.
Dr Wilkinson said that given the Waste Management Policy has been in place for almost 18 months, the company, and the recycling industry as a whole, has had ample time to meet the requirements of the policy to ensure the safety of local communities.
The Victorian Waste Management Association in a statement said it supports EPA action against high-risk, non-compliant operators, but further government action is needed and ongoing conversation with industry are essential.
“Recent announcements and action by the EPA on the level of risk and potential consequences of stockpiled post-consumer recyclables at the company is welcomed by the VWMA, which has been raising member concern on these issues for several months,” the statement read.
“The EPA has a clear role in the management of sites stockpiling combustible materials and have demonstrated this with the notices issued to the company.”
The VWMA said that what is of concern but has not yet been addressed, is the contingency plan should the sector, and ultimately Victoria, not see the issues resolved promptly.
“In the short term it is likely that we will see recyclables ending up in landfill and affected parties seeking alternative facilities to accept materials. Existing contracts may provide provisions for temporary arrangements,” the VWMA said.
“The sector also needs confidence that other key facilities do not price-gouge or exploit the situation.”
In the medium to long term, the VWMA is seeking answers to questions about the following:
- why stockpiling is continuing across Victoria when there are mechanisms in place via government, such as behaviour change programs, and procurement standards that could see market drivers introduced to manage our growing post-consumer stockpiles.
- the role of the Victorian government in the continued provision of collection services to households and business during unavoidable interruptions to the processing of our waste.
- what systems and processes are in place to ensure the current scenario is not exploited by facilities still accepting recyclables for storage or processing.
VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said that stockpiling is a legitimate activity as part of the collection and processing of our waste and the bulk of businesses do this compliantly.
“The VWMA supports strong action by the EPA for continued non-compliance that threatens public and environmental health and undermines the waste and resource recovery system,” he said.
“More than 18 months on from the ramifications of the August 2017 fire, we find ourselves in a familiar setting and questions should be answered about what action is happening to stimulate markets to reduce stockpiling across Victoria.”
The VWMA will be keeping its members updated on the activities related to the cease order over the coming days.
Recycling facility operators that store combustible recyclable waste materials are required to manage materials in a manner that minimises risks of harm to human health and the environment from fire.
Issues with stockpiles at the company’s sites identified by EPA officers include: size of stockpiles, configuration of stockpiles, lack of access, separation distances of stockpiles from boundaries, buildings and other stockpiles and potential sources of ignition.
The issuing of the notices requires the company to stop accepting further material until such time as EPA has confirmed that the sites have been returned to compliance.
EPA will formally launch an investigation into the company in relation to these matters which may lead to penalties under the Environment Protection Act 1970.
EPA is nearing the completion of its investigation into the 2017 Coolaroo fire and is likely to have more comment on this in the coming weeks.
Following a major fire at a recycling plant in July 2017, the Victorian Government established the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce, which is headed up by EPA, to inspect recycling facilities across the state and tackle stockpiles that pose a fire risk that can cause harm to human health and environment.
Since the taskforce was set up, there have been 47 inspections of the Coolaroo site to ensure recycling operations comply with the Waste Management Policy. Fourteen inspections have occurred at the Laverton site.
These inspections have resulted in EPA issuing the Coolaroo site with 12 notices. Some of these notices related to clean up of the site following the 2017 fire. Further notices relating to stormwater issues and stockpile configuration have also been issued.
There have also been eight notices issued to the Laverton site. These relate to stockpile issues, stormwater issues and a requirement for a fire risk assessment to be undertaken.
EPA holds duty holders to account in the recycling sector. Since its inception, the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce has conducted 466 inspections at 155 sites across Victoria that have resulted in 144 remedial notices and 23 sanctions issued. Where remedial notices or actions are required, follow up inspections will be carried out to ensure compliance.
Pictured: Stock image.