Inadequate monitoring and tracking of VIC chemical waste

Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has been advised to improve its systems and process relating to chemical waste management, following its failure to properly monitor dangerous chemicals and sites across the state.

An audit was commissioned by the EPA board in the wake of the largest illegal chemical waste dumping operation in the state’s history, and the subsequent discovery of illegally stockpiled chemical waste in several sites across northern and western Melbourne.

The audit conducted by Ernst and Young (EY) covers the EPA’s management of 14 chemical waste sites between January 2016 and April 2019.

The review was prompted after more than six million litres of chemical waste were discovered at the warehouses as part of targeted inspections related to 2018’s West Footscray toxic warehouse fire. 

“The past practices revealed by this report will be unacceptable to Victorians, and they are unacceptable to me,” EPA chief executive Dr Cathy Wilkinson said.

“For that, EPA apologises to Victorians.”

She said the challenges facing EPA have evolved rapidly in recent years, 

“Combating growing waste crime will require new technologies, intelligence capability and specialist surveillance experts,” Wilkinson said.

“We are working more closely than ever before with Victoria Police and WorkSafe to protect the community from pollution and waste.”

The EY report found during the audit period, the EPA had inadequate record keeping and a failure to properly monitor the transport of hazardous waste.

EY stated in the report that the audit identified gaps in EPA’s governance practices supporting effective oversight of incident prioritisation decisions, lack of clearly defined standards and expectations for retaining key pollution report documents, and opportunities to enhance the use of intelligence sources across the organisation.

Key findings included inconsistent approach to the documentation of pollution reports within Integrated Business Information System, inadequate monitoring and poor quality of pollution reports, incident reporting and performance.

“Public intelligence data and information was not effectively used to inform the proactive identification of emerging issues or behaviours that may result in future noncompliance or risks to community safety,” the report found.

The review also found that during the audit period, there was inadequate monitoring, reporting and trend analysis of Waste Transport Certificate data needed to identify trends and areas of key risks associated with chemical waste storage.

The report found that these certificates were not monitored, resulting in EPA staff not having full knowledge of risks.

Another finding said the EPA operated in “strong silos”, with limited ability to combat illegal storage of waste or address pollution problems important to community safety.

The Victorian Government recently invested $71.4 million to safely manage high-risk and hazardous wastes including a Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate within EPA.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the state government had given record funding to the EPA to strengthen its operations.

“It is my expectation that the EPA works tirelessly to protect the environment and keeps Victorians safe from pollution. This is what the community deserves,” she said.

EY auditors made a number of recommendations following its findings, including system control enhancement recommendations.

“Management also needs to introduce formalised auditing processes over response decision making,” the report states. 

“Between now and the legislative go-live, we recommend that management conducts an assessment of other waste sites to review the decision making and outcomes of high priority pollution reports and whether a follow up inspection of the sites is required.”

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Landfill levy set to double under Recycling Victoria strategy

Victoria’s landfill levy is set to almost double, with the release of the state’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria. 

According to Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the increase – $65.90 to $125.90 over three years – will help support recycling reforms and provide a stronger incentive to invest in new waste technologies.

“Victoria’s landfill levy is significantly lower than our neighbouring states, meaning Victoria is too often used as a dumping ground for waste coming from New South Wales and South Australia,” she said.

“The change reflects an agreement reached by state and territory treasurers to work towards the harmonisation of landfill levies, and will provide a strong incentive to reduce and recycle waste.”

The 10-year plan, Recycling Victoria, outlines a more than $300 million package of reforms, including a statewide four-bin kerbside system, container deposit scheme, nearly $100 million to support resource recovery infrastructure and recognising waste as an essential service.

“This is the largest package of recycling reforms and investment in Victoria’s history. It will revolutionise household recycling, drive business innovation and create jobs of the future. Most importantly, it will give Victorians a truly circular economy and recycling system they can rely on,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Furthermore, Recycling Victoria allocates $71.4 million to tackle waste crime, with more resources to stop illegal dumping and stockpiling and deal with high-risk sites and substances.

Ms D’Ambrosio said a dedicated Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate will be established within the EPA, which will work closely with WorkSafe Victoria, emergency service agencies, councils and other regulators to improve information sharing and coordination.

“For too long, waste crime has undermined Victoria’s recycling sector with dangerous and illegal stockpiling. Our investment will help to clean up the industry and make it fairer for businesses that do the right thing,” she said.

Recycling Victoria also sets new goals for improved resource recovery including a landfill diversion target of 80 per cent. Additional targets include cutting total waste generation by 15 per cent per capita by 2030 and ensuring every Victorian household has access to FOGO services or local composing by 2025.

“These targets will create investment certainty for businesses, while promoting jobs and growth in the industry,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“The government will also provide $14.6 million to support local projects that boost recycling, reduce littering and take advantage of economic opportunities to reduce waste, particularly in regional communities.”

Sustainability Victoria welcomed the release in a media statement, calling Recycling Victoria a bold and transformative 10-year plan to shift the state to a circular economy that wastes less and recycles more.

“We are proud to have played a significant role in developing the policy and our work to transform the recycling sector is already underway, with the launch of $39.5 million in grants from the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to boost recycling capacity in Victoria,” the statement reads.

“Reducing waste and creating a strong recycling system is a shared responsibility. We look forward to partnering with businesses, governments and individuals to move the state towards a circular economy that is built on innovation.”

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VIC offers $2M in grants to improve e-waste infrastructure

The Victorian Government is offering $2 million in grants for local councils and industry to improve e-waste infrastructure across the state.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the funding will work to strengthen Victoria’s collection, storage and reprocessing of electronic goods.

According to Ms D’Ambrosio, the new round of funding will focus on building e-waste reprocessing capability and capacity, while continuing to ensure the collection of e-waste is conducted to the highest standard.

“The state government introduced a ban on e-waste to landfill in July 2019 to pave the way for electronic items to be safely disposed of and reduce the harm these items have on the environment and human health,” she said.

“We’re supporting local councils and industry to keep potentially toxic e-waste out of landfill. This funding will allow e-waste to be reprocessed locally into valuable products – boosting jobs, supporting local businesses and helping divert more waste from landfill.”

Sustainability Victoria CEO Claire Ferres said the latest round of funding is a part of the state government’s $16.5 million investment to strengthen the e-waste sector and raise public awareness about how to dispose of e-waste correctly.

“With e-waste growing three times faster than standard municipal waste, it is vital we build a strong Victorian e-waste sector that our community trusts to deliver safe and secure management of e-waste,” she said.

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Sustainability Victoria opens Chairperson EOI’s

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio is seeking expressions of interest for the role of Sustainability Victoria Chairperson.

According to a Sustainability Victoria statement, the appointment will be for a term not exceeding five years, as determined by the minister.

“Sustainability Victoria is established under the Sustainability Victoria Act 2005 to facilitate and promote environmental sustainability in the use of resources. The chairperson leads the board in providing strategic direction to, and ensuring the good governance of, Sustainability Victoria,” the statement reads.

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VIC EPA seeks new chairperson

The Victorian EPA is seeking a new chairperson after Cheryl Batagol announced she would not pursue a term extension in June.

Environment Minister Lily D’ambrosio is now seeking expression of interest for chairperson and EPA Governing Board appointments.

These appointments are expected to commence from 1 July 2020 for a term not exceeding five years, as determined by the minister.

Ms Batagol said it had been a pleasure and privilege to serve as EPA chairperson for more than 10 years.

“I have been privileged to lead the board through a significant period of transition, and I have every confidence EPA is well positioned to deliver on the Victorian Government’s response to the EPA Inquiry and continue on a path of continuous improvement,” Ms Batagol said.

“EPA will be entering an exciting new era with the commencement of Victoria’s new, world-leading environment laws on 1 July, and it is fitting a new chairperson oversee the next chapter.”

Ms Batagol thanked EPA Cheif Executive Cathy Wilkinson and the executive team for their commitment to service.

“Being the inaugural chairperson of EPA’s statutory Governing Board, which was established on 1 July 2018, has been an absolute honour – and I would like to thank my esteemed colleagues for their support and commitment to EPA and its once-in-a-generation reforms,” Ms Batagol said.

“Prior to this, I was a standalone chair and then chairperson of EPA’s Interim Advisory Board. Having a full statutory board has brought stronger governance and greater diversity, which we are now seeing the benefits of.”

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Waste talks

Last year’s Waste Expo Australia saw a record number of delegates converge on the Melbourne Exhibition Centre to examine new opportunities in a changing sector.

At last year’s Waste Expo Australia, Pete Shmigel, Australian Council of Recycling, opened his presentation with a question: when you think about the waste and resource recovery industry over the last 12 months, would you give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down?

Audience reactions were mixed, with one delegate calling the system a mess, and another applauding the sector’s ability to acknowledge its problems and move forward. For an industry in a state of flux, this lack of consensus should come as no surprise.

But Mr Shmigel was positive, highlighting rising construction and demolition (C&D) and commercial and industrial (C&I) recovery rates.

“What kind of animal would I use to describe recycling? I’d say a bear, and what’s a bear? It’s surprisingly fast, it grows really fast and it sleeps for about half the year,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Amazingly fast growth in C&D and C&I, and then we look at kerbside recycling and it’s asleep.”

A solution for kerbside’s slumber, Mr Shmigel said, is further funding and harmonisation across jurisdictions.

According to Mr Shmigel, the Australian Council of Recycling recently conducted an analysis across 110 councils in NSW, finding 3824 collection and recycling process variations.

“There’s an argument for standardising the types of packaging that goes in, and there’s an argument for standardising the types of systems councils themselves run,” Mr Shmigel said.

“If Canada can do it, why can’t Australia?”

Supporting a stronger kerbside system was the focus of multiple Waste Expo Australia presentations, with over 100 speakers and 120 exhibitors navigating opportunities in the changing market.

According to Event Director Cory McCarrick, 2019 saw record attendance, with early reports indicating a 33 per cent increase from 2018.

“We are thrilled with the large increase in visitation at last year’s Waste Expo Australia, with a number of people travelling from interstate for the event,” Mr McCarrick said.

“Waste Expo Australia has truly cemented itself as the must-attend event for the waste management and resource recovery sector.”

The two-day event was opened with a keynote from Victorian Energy Environment & Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, who outlined actions her department is taking to improve the state’s resource recovery system.

“Our country is facing some major challenges in the waste and resource recovery sector and that, of course, includes restrictions on the export of recyclable materials,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“It has also made us think differently about how we manage our waste domestically, and it’s been a bit of a wake-up call to many of us, because we know that we can do better.”

Ms D’Ambrosio highlighted the state’s forthcoming circular economy strategy and waste infrastructure investments, including a $500,000 grant to Advanced Circular Polymer for Australia’s largest plastics recycling plant.

“We are committed to strengthening and growing the waste and resource recovery sector as we transition to an economy with less waste and better reuse and recycling,” the minister said.

“My commitment to all of you as industry players is to be available and to listen and work with you as we manage the transition the community expects us to undertake.”

Policy drivers that would help Ms D’Ambrosio’s plan to strengthen the sector were then addressed by Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. Ms Read highlighted the importance of market development, landfill levies, product stewardship, environmental regulation, product bans, standards and education.

In reference to product stewardship, Ms Read highlighted the success of the used oil recycling scheme, the National Television and Computer Recycling scheme and state-run container deposit schemes (CDS).

The topic of CDS was further discussed at the Victorian Waste Management Association’s (VWMA) post day one discussion dinner, with presentations from Peter Bruce, Whenceforth Consulting, and David Cocks, MRA Consulting.

Mr Bruce, who recently served as Exchange for Change CEO, presented state-by-state CDS comparisons. He specifically highlighted variations between who owns the collected material, how cashflow is managed and how different schemes designs facilitate convenience.

While attendees appeared largely in favour of a Victorian CDS, questions were raised over long-term efficacy, material recovery facility liability and kerbside glass collection as a CDS substitute.

Peter Murphy, Alex Fraser, also addressed the importance of glass separation.

On the C&D stage, Mr Murphy discussed innovative recycling approaches and the consequence of increased recycled content in pavements and roads.

Following the presentation, Mr Murphy faced a steady stream of questions, highlighting
an understanding of the central role sustainable infrastructure will play in the transition towards a circular economy.

George Hatzimanolis, Repurpose It, expressed similar sentiments, with a presentation on the company’s approach to C&D transformation via best practice technology.

“The principles of our business are based on the concept of industrial ecology, taking a product at the end of a lifecycle and converting it into a product that begins a new lifecycle,” he said.

Mr Hatzimanolis went on to discuss the importance of urban recycling facilities located close to generation points and Repurpose It’s C&D washing process.

The contrast between urban and rural capabilities and needs was further discussed in a session chaired by Mark Smith, VWMA.

With presentations from Matt Genever, Sustainability Victoria, Isabel Axio, Just Waste Consulting, and Joe Agostino, Yarra City Council, the discussion emphasised the multifaceted nature of resource recovery, with distinctions made between what is appropriate in city centres and what works in the regions.

Ms Axio explained how to adapt urban concepts to regional landscapes, and suggested challenges such as low populations and transport costs were enabling characteristics rather than barriers.

Mr Genever then broadened the scope, focusing on what Sustainability Victoria has learnt over the past seven years.

He specifically stressed the importance of closing the market development, sustainable procurement and new infrastructure loop.

Similar arguments were made at day two’s Towards a Circular Economy Partnership Panel, chaired by Toli Papadopoulos from Prime Creative Media.

During the panel, Sebastian Chapman, DELWP, highlighted the importance of data, and said while the department doesn’t fully understand the flow of material in the Victorian economy, it is working to improve.

Pushing the point, Cameron McKenzie, ASPIRE, referenced the axiom that data is more valuable than oil. Without data, he said, waste cannot be sustainably managed.

While each panellist presented different perspectives, the consensus was clear: for a circular economy to thrive, action needs to extend beyond waste to reuse, repair and sharing economies.    

As the expo wrapped up its final day, delegates discussed waste-derived products, destructive distillation and optical sorting.

The extensive and varied nature of the Waste Expo Australia program was perhaps best expressed by Steven Sergi, South Australian EPA: if anyone still thinks waste management involves simply putting material in a hole, they’re behind the eight ball.

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WtE facility to inject green gas into VIC network

In a Victorian first, a waste-to-energy facility in Creswick will explore how to inject clear, filtered green gas into the state’s gas network.

Operating since July, the facility will continue its current testing phase through to early 2020.

According to Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the $1.65 million Hepburn Shire Waste to Energy System will save $280,000 each year by diverting 2000 tonnes of organic waste from landfill.

“The state government invested $650,000 in the facility from the New Energy Jobs Fund, with Hepburn Shire Council delivering the remaining funding,” she said.

“The project is aiming to scale-up production to reduce waste shire-wide, with potential for the system to then be replicated across other Victorian councils.”

Ms D’Ambrosio said the facility transforms organic waste from a local RACV resort into energy, compost and waste water for street planting and dust mitigation.

“A biodigester that turns organic waste into valuable products in Creswick is helping to remove waste from the environment while creating opportunities for new jobs and businesses,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“Projects like these create opportunities for new products and jobs across regional Victoria and mean less waste ends up in landfill.”

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Macedon Ranges to introduce kerbside food collection

Macedon Ranges Shire Council is expanding its kerbside collection to include food organics, after receiving $182,000 in funding from the state government.

According to Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the project, worth over $460,000, has the potential to divert an estimated 4864 tonnes of organic material from landfill and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8241 tonnes.

“This will support Macedon Ranges Shire Council to better divert food and organic waste from landfill, including providing infrastructure to residents such as kitchen caddies, liners and kerbside bins,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“It’s crucial we continue to support projects like these across regional Victoria – they boost jobs, divert more waste from landfill and reduce emissions.”

Managed by statutory authority Sustainability Victoria, the funding comes from the state government’s $26 million Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund, which aims to support infrastructure investment to improve collection and reprocessing.

Previous recipients include the City of Greater Geelong to develop laneway recycling for retail and hospitality outlets, Advanced Circular Polymers to assist the development of Australia’s largest plastic recycling facility and Ararat Rural City Council to consolidate three existing rural facilities.

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