Waste Management Review speaks with Infrastructure Victoria about its recent waste report and potential recycling solutions for the state.
Cleanaway has restored operations at several closed waste processing facilities, following the successful acquisition of SKM Recycling Group’s assets.
According to a Cleanaway statement, facilities in Coolaroo, Hallam, Geelong and the Laverton North Material Recovery Facility (MRF) are now fully operational.
“The network of facilities, now known as Victoria Resource Recovery, were acquired by Cleanaway in October 2019 from the SKM Recycling Group, whose closure in July 2019 greatly affected the reputation of recycling in Victoria,” the statement reads.
“Councils and households who trusted that their recycling efforts were being managed correctly were understandably disappointed when recycling had to be sent to landfill.”
Cleanaway CEO and Managing Director Vik Bansal said around-the-clock efforts to clear waste stockpiles and rehabilitate Victoria’s waste processing facilities have restored recycling services to the state in record time.
“It was not acceptable to us that after years of conscientiously sorting their recyclables, Victorians be told that their recycling must be put on hold for an extended period,” he said.
“Our teams worked tirelessly to bring these facilities back to the required environmental and operational standards in an extremely short period of time, without compromise to safety or quality.”
According to Mr Bansal, the sites were overworked and lacking in maintenance for a significant period, requiring weeks of operational and logistical clean up efforts.
“Stockpiled waste was removed from sites, machinery and conveyor belts were replaced and optical sorting systems were recalibrated,” he said.
“In line with our compliance standards, all sites have had extensive works undertaken to fire control and stormwater systems.”
Commingled recyclables stored by SKM Recycling in South Australia have become too degraded to be recycled with currently available technology, according to an independent waste expert.
South Australian Environment Minister David Speirs said the material will be moved to a landfill cell at Inkerman and recovered if appropriate technology and infrastructure becomes available.
“SKM was made insolvent in July 2019, leaving more than 10,000 tonnes of commingled and PET materials at Wingfield and Lonsdale,” Mr Speirs said.
“All avenues to recycle the materials were explored but unfortunately there were no other viable options in the immediate future.”
Mr Speirs said leaving the material stored at the Wingfield and Lonsdale sites is unacceptable, as it will continue to deteriorate.
“Inkerman landfill has the capacity to receive and store the material in a separate part of the existing landfill cell until such time the infrastructure is available in South Australia to process the materials,” he said.
According to Mr Speirs, re-location requires an exemption under the Environment Protection (Waste to Resources) Policy 2010.
“South Australia is a nation leader when it comes to recycling and resource recovery, and I hope to see future innovation in this sector that will allow these materials to reprocessed,” he said.
Victoria’s challenging commodities markets has inspired a rethink of traditional processing from commercial and industrial recycler Australian Paper Recovery.
An inquiry into the Victorian waste management and resource recovery system has suggested an over-reliance on one company to provide recycling services left the state vulnerable to market collapse.
According to the inquiry, the closure of SKM Recycling left more than 30 Victorian councils without a recycling provider and highlighted the dangers of industry consolidation.
Within this context, the inquiry found that the Victorian Government failed to undertake sufficient oversight of the state’s recycling and waste management system.
Following a seven-month investigation, the Victorian Legislative Council’s Environment and Planning Committee tabled its report on the inquiry on 27 November.
The report lists 33 findings and 46 recommendations, including introducing a container deposit scheme, growing waste to energy capacity and promoting uniform recycling practices across the state.
In reference to container deposit schemes, the committee suggests a Victorian scheme could supplement improved kerbside services and reduce municipal contamination rates.
The report recommends that the state government conduct a cost-benefit analysis, and notes estimates show a scheme could increase the state’s budget net position by $551.5 million over the period 2019-20 to 2029-30.
The Victorian Government should also provide funding and support for all Victorian councils to introduce a seperate bin for municipal glass recycling, the committee suggests.
According to the report, the administration of the state’s Sustainability Fund has been the subject of significant criticism.
In response, the committee recommends that the Victorian Government make it clear what the fund is for, who can access it, how they can access it and how fund outcomes are measured.
“In both its submission and in evidence given in public hearings, the Municipal Association of Victoria indicated that it believes the government needs to use the Sustainability Fund more extensively in supporting local government to address waste management and recycling issues,” the report reads.
“In light of the concerns raised by councils about the accessibility of the Sustainability Fund, the committee recommends the Sustainability Fund be audited to ensure that the fund is accessible and demonstrates which programs have achieved against their specified legislative objectives and been allocated accordingly.”
The committee also recommends that the state’s landfill levy be adjusted to the extent that financial incentives to transport waste from other jurisdictions for landfilling is removed.
Furthermore, the committee suggests that the state government work with the Federal Government and relevant stakeholders to harmonise the levy nationally.
The committee recommends the Victorian Government also work with the Commonwealth to introduce the Australian Packaging Covenant as a mandatory product stewardship scheme, and develop recycled material import requirements for packaging.
Additionally, the committee suggests government introduce recycled content requirements for state and local government procurement, and an obligation for agencies to publicly report on compliance with these requirements.
Other concerns include high rates of industrial and chemical waste stockpiling, inadequate market capacity to process stockpiled material and limited statewide education.
Committee Chair Cesar Melhem said he believes the report will make a significant contribution to the development of better recycling and waste management practices in Victoria.
“The state government should be commended for the actions taken since the recycling crisis become apparent, both in terms of the financial assistance it has provided to local councils and industry players, and in the support it provided to SKM and the role it played in facilitating the sale of the company,” Mr Melhem said.
“These actions will assist the industry in Victoria to set new directions for the industry. We are seeing the recycling rate in Victoria, already the highest percentage in Australia, improve to 69 per cent.”
Cleanaway Waste Management has acquired the assets of SKM Recycling for approximately $66 million.
Waste Management Review explores the Victorian EPA’s amended policy for combustible recyclable and waste materials and a training partnership to support it.
Cleanaway Waste Management has acquired the senior secured debt in the SKM Recycling Group from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the largest lender to SKM, for approximately $60 million.
KordaMentha has secured a $10 million loan from the Victorian Government to help clean-up SKM sites and resume waste processing.
KordaMentha were appointed SKM Recycling’s receiver and manager earlier in August, following reports the company owed $100 million to multiple stakeholders.
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the loan would help clear waste stockpiles and fund the essential maintenance work required to get SKM’s plants back up and running, while meeting strict environmental and safety standards.
“The Laverton site will be the first to return to operation, with stockpile clearing to begin within the week, and some processing expected to start within five weeks,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“This loan is the fastest way of getting recyclable materials sent to processing sites instead of landfill.”
Ms D’Ambrosio said the state government is also in the process of overhauling kerbside recycling.
“The state government is working in partnership with local government and industry on a major overhaul of kerbside collection, which will seek innovative and cost-effective designs that could include additional household bins to reduce waste contamination,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“Negotiating new kerbside collection services across councils will send a strong signal to industry, trigger a change to community behaviour and reduce waste and contamination.”
Ms D’Ambrosio said following consultation, an EOI will be released to design the new kerbside collection service, expected to start in 2021.
The announcement comes on top of a $6.6 million financial relief package to councils directly affected by the closure of SKM, which includes a rebate to cover the cost of the landfill levy.
The Victorian Government will tackle ongoing waste management issues with $11.3 million in immediate financial relief to councils and infrastructure investment.
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said SKM Recycling were significantly undercutting the prices of other recycling providers, and since they stopped accepting waste, many councils are paying double what they were for recycling services.
“To alleviate this financial pressure, the state government will deliver a $6.6 million package to the 33 affected councils over the next four months, providing a rebate that will cover the additional costs they are incurring to deal with their recyclable waste,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“The state government also stands ready to work with the receiver of SKM Corporate, and any prospective buyer to remove the stockpiles at SKM-managed sites and offsite storage of material.”
Ms D’Ambrosio said it had become clear that the quality of Australia’s recyclable material is compromised due to its high rate of contamination.
“To that end, the state government will also work with councils and industry stakeholders on a major overhaul of kerbside collection to improve the quality of recyclables being collected by councils,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
Council’s hoping to receive assistance will have to provide evidence that alternatives to landfill are being sought, agree to participate in collaborative procurement and provide information on current contractural rates and conditions.
The government has also announced new grants worth $4.7 million, to support projects that will improve the quality of recycled materials through better sorting and processing.
“At the most recent Council of Australian Governments meeting, the Prime Minister acknowledged that recyclable waste is a national issue, as well as an opportunity to rebuild a domestic recycling sector that can provide products to local markets,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“To achieve this, targets will also be considered to drive investment in end uses, such as glass for road base and railway sleepers made from plastics.”