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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Recyclers confident about performance in face of crisis

Although it is early days for COVID-19, some organisations have already identified the potential for new business and innovation over the next six months. The finding comes against a broader backdrop of concern about public policy settings for recycling, a breaking report commissioned by Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has shown.

ACOR, which represents the $15 billion strong resource recovery industry, commissioned Prime Creative Media to undertake a measure of industry confidence of Australia’s recycling sector.

From January to March 2020, Prime Creative Media surveyed more than 500 respondents working in municipal waste (MSW), commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste. This included an updated survey conducted in the past two weeks.

The research reports found that, while almost half of all organisations across MSW, C&I and C&D streams are positive about their organisation’s own performance and prospects, more than a third of industry respondents across all streams are not positive about public policy and government settings for resource recovery.

Respondents ranked issues most important to them and the top three issues across organisations working in MSW, C&D and C&I.

Keys issues highlighted by respondents were a need for greater reinvestment of State-based waste disposal levy funding into activities in resource recovery; grants/loans for resource recovery especially infrastructure and technology; and pro-active purchasing of recycled content products by the public sector.

In ACOR’s second follow-up – COVID-19 Industry Pulse Check – 41 per cent of just under 100 participants indicated they were somewhat impacted by COVID-19, 35 per cent very impacted and 16 per cent unsure of the impact.

Several respondents indicated they would like clarifications on what the meaning of waste as an essential service is. Respondents called for waste levy relief by pausing waste levy increases over the next six months to 12 months.

Businesses are also somewhat confident about identifying new business opportunities over the next three to six months, with 35 per cent indicating some level of positivity.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that with the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of unprocessed materials, re-investment into the sector is critical now more than ever.

“It’s hoped that governments take the findings of these reports under consideration as part of the ongoing response to COVID-19 and more broadly.

The overall picture is one of an industry that believes in its own capability, and was planning significant capital investments, but that is not as confident about the policies, regulations and government frameworks under which it operates. The latter are key to industry development,” Shmigel said.

“If we want to optimise recycling’s environmental and economic benefits, including during COVID19 when we really need those hi-viz jobs, we need to better line up industry interests and their social outcomes and public policy.

Implementation of the National Waste Policy with all stakeholders around one table is an opportunity in that way. It’s time for an era of better partnership, including around infrastructure, procurement, planning, and economic signals like waste disposal levies,” he added.

You can read the full results of the survey here.

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Australians throw away $8.9 billion in food annually

The Rabobank Food Waste Report shows Australians are wasting a collective $8.9 billion on food waste, a seven per cent reduction from $9.6 billion in 2017.

The report shows more than a third of all food produced globally is never consumed as it is either spoiled in transit or thrown out by consumers.

This results in one third of the world’s agricultural land being used to produce food that is subsequently not eaten.

Rabobank Australia Head of Client Experience Glenn Wealands said while the report shows changing attitudes towards food waste, the $890 waste bill per household illustrates more needs to be done.

“While is it pleasing that Australian consumers are wasting less food compared to 12 months ago, there is clearly much to do to raise awareness about food production and waste – while improving the finances of all Australians,” Mr Wealands said.

The report shows food delivery services are having a negative effect on food waste, with those who use food delivery services wasting 6.8 per cent more food than those who don’t.

According to Mr Wealands, the main culprit is food going off before it can be finished at 75 per cent, while 45 per cent of Australian’s are simply buying too much at the grocery store.

Mr Wealands said despite this, many Australians are actively embracing better habits at home including 50 per cent who use a shopping list when buying groceries, 38 per cent who eat leftovers, 36 per cent who plan meals in advance and 30 per cent who freeze food.

“As our population increases we will struggle to feed additional mouths. If we don’t curb our waste, we could run out by 2050,” Mr Wealands said.

While the reduction in food waste is a global responsibility, we all – as individual consumers – can play a significant role in sustaining this planet for generations to come.”

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Planet Ark and HP release sustainability report

A new study from electronics manufacturer HP and Planet Ark has found 90 per cent of Australian consumers and businesses are concerned about environmental sustainability, with more than 70 per cent willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.

The HP Australia Environmental Sustainability Study 2018 was commissioned to discover the perceptions, value and behaviours of Australians toward environmental sustainability.

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It surveyed more than 1000 people aged 27 to 53 and more than 600 businesses ranging from one to four employees to 51 to 500.

According to the study, most consumers and businesses see marine plastic pollution, landfill waste and the impact on the natural environment as the three leading environmental sustainability concerns.

The study also found a lack of awareness about e-waste, reporting that half of Australian consumers and 44 per cent of businesses do not recycle printer ink and toner cartriages.

HP South Pacific Interim Managing Director Paul Gracey said Australians are starting to recognise the impact of their day to day behaviours.

“Through this research collaboration we aim to help Australian consumers uncover new ways to help the planet, while putting a spotlight on the need for businesses and brands to take meaningful action towards becoming more environmentally sustainable – both for the health of the planet and to future-proof their business,” Mr Gracey said.

Planet Ark Recycling Programs Manager Ryan Collins said it is no longer enough for companies to have environmentally sustainable practices and should encourage these behaviours in others.

“Today’s consumers have good intentions but look to brands to help them to make positive changes towards protecting the environment in their day to day. At Planet Ark, our focus is on enabling companies to be part of the solution and we’re proud to be working alongside HP to better educate Australian consumers and businesses,” Mr Collins said.

For more information on the report, click here.

Industry input sought for VWMA economic report

Victorian waste and recycling companies are being called on to contribute to an industry report on the economic and social contributions the sector provides.

The report, commissioned by the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA), aims to provide specific metrics the waste and recycling industry generates for local, regional and national communities.

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It will also aim to help improve communication between the industry, government and community to help build confidence and trust in the sector.

The VWMA aims to highlight the importance the environmental and health benefits of the sector to the community as well as the economic contributions from jobs and investment.

Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions Economist Nick Behrens is working with VWMA to complete the project, which is similar to work carried out in Queensland and currently in the Northern Territory.

A survey is currently open until 14 September to gather data to create anonymous, aggregated high level industry statistics which will be drawn upon to prepare various positions, communications and policy formation in the future.

The survey also includes questions about insurance to, general questions about government guidance and accessing government support.

VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said it is important for the waste sector to come together and start to shape its own story for the government.

“An important element in that story involves the contribution made to the Victorian economy,” Mr Smith said.

“Most industry sectors publish their own data sets and reports into economic contribution and employee numbers to communicate and express their importance to local and state government and to the community. It is important our industry does the same.

“With an election this year and a new four year-term state government elected, this report will be a useful resource for our sector in advocating for industry support, regional development and regulatory and insurance challenges into the future.”

To complete the survey, click here. Results are anticipated to be released in the first week of October 2018.

Bingo Industries release FY18 half yearly report

Bingo Industries has announced its half year results for the 2018 financial year, reporting strong net revenue growth of 43 per cent.

The company’s net revenue has increased to $142.4 million compared to this time last year, which according to its1H FY18 half-year results, reflects business momentum and increased market share.

The acquisition of National Recycling Group and Patons Lane Recycling Centre, announced in December, 2017, are noted as performance highlights in its half-year results.

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CEO of Bingo Daniel Tartak said he was pleased to deliver another strong result.

“We have successfully executed several acquisitions in accordance with the strategy outlined at the time of our listing. These acquisitions have facilitated our entry and expansion in Victoria and consolidated our position in New South Wales, ahead of schedule.

“We have grown our network capacity by 70 per cent since listing in May 2017 to 1.7 million tonnes per annum and remain on track to double our footprint by 2020, to meet growing demand for recycling,” he said.

“This demand is underpinned by population growth, major infrastructure programs in Sydney and Melbourne, growing waste volumes together with diminishing landfill capacity. Meanwhile, we remain firmly committed to delivering a recycling recovery rate across the network in excess of 75 per cent, the highest in the industry.”

Broken down by segment, revenue in its collections sector increased by 29.1 per cent to $78.5 million and pro forma earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) increased by 18.9 per cent to $18 million, primary driven by increased market share in the NSW building and demolition and commercial and industrial waste streams.

The number of collection vehicles was boosted from 173 to 253 over the year, after taking into account the fleet acquired with the acquisitions in the first half.

Its post-collections revenue went up by 53.4 per cent to $81.8 million and pro forma EBITDA increased by 53.2 per cent to $24 million as Bingo saw further market share in NSW.

In terms of the outlook, the results note the positive business momentum has continued into the second half of financial year 2018. The company concluded it remains on track to deliver its recently upgraded FY 18 pro forma earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation guidance of approximately $93 million. Completed acquisitions are expected to contribute more materially in the second half of FY18.

“Our work in hand with and pipeline provides strong revenue visibility and we remain confident of achieving our upgraded earnings guidance for the year. Our focus is now firmly on bedding down our recent acquisitions to deliver our targeted synergies and leverage the scale advantage we have across our markets,” Mr Tartak said.

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