Six bins? Infrastructure Victoria’s interim waste report

Waste Management Review speaks with Infrastructure Victoria about its recent waste report and potential recycling solutions for the state.

When the Meeting of Environment Ministers agreed to ban waste exports from 1 July 2020, the Victorian Government called for an urgent national funding plan.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio requested that the Federal Government provide infrastructure investment to ensure the “fast approaching ban” did not result in stockpiling.   

Given the current status of Victoria’s untouched half-billion-dollar Sustainability Fund, some industry observers questioned the appropriateness of Ms D’Ambrosio’s request.

That said, in light of the state’s resource recovery challenges, the environment minister’s concerns were not unfounded.

Stockpile anxiety is particularly pertinent to Victoria, with DELWP figures revealing more than 100 recycling facility fires occurred in the state over the past 10 years. The largest fire cost Victoria over $110 million.

The collapse of SKM Recycling is another factor, with the state’s infrastructure capacity called into question after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling.

Within this context of “crisis”, the state government asked Infrastructure Victoria (IV) to examine the sector through an infrastructure lens. The task: provide advice to government on how to best support changes to resource recovery in the state.

Following extensive community and industry consultation, IV released an evidence base report in October 2019. Final advice will be provided to government in April 2020.

Despite the report’s 36 pages, mainstream media almost universally ran with one “recommendation” following its release: introducing a six-bin kerbside system.

Victorian Government Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien even told ABC radio that despite liking many of IV’s suggestions, “six bins sounds a bit novel”.

According to Elissa McNamara, IV Resource Recovery & Recycling Advice Project Director, however, IV never suggested six bins.

What IV did highlight, she says, was a link between high-performing resource recovery jurisdictions and greater household separation.

“To be clear, this report doesn’t make any recommendations. We will be making recommendations in April.

“What we have put out is potential actions and early findings for government.”

COMMINGLED MESSAGES

The Victorian Government’s stated waste policy objectives include reducing waste to landfill and minimising the impact of waste disposal on human health and the environment.

Evidence from reports commissioned by IV, however, show waste sector outcomes are falling short of these objectives.

Identified problems include steadily increasing waste generation rates, inefficient recycling data, reliance on exports, waste stockpiling and illegal dumping.

Market concentration is another problem, Elissa says, with the closure of SKM Recycling highlighting an overreliance on one company to manage Victoria’s waste.

“In Victoria, SKM had roughly 50 per cent of the kerbside commingled market, and their business model was based on exporting and minimal importing. As a result, investment in reprocessing or selling to local markets in a way that adds value was quite limited,” Elissa says.

To arrive at these and other conclusions, IV examined resource recovery approaches in other jurisdictions, and investigated potential market design solutions, infrastructure gaps and new pathways for recyclable material.

“We conducted interjurisdictional scans to assess what our neighbours are doing, importantly South Australia and NSW, but also looked at high-performing jurisdictions overseas,” Elissa says.

High-performing jurisdictions include Wales, South Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

“There were some common lessons for Victoria underpinned by one clear theme: a proactive government,” the report reads.

In all five cases, IV identified long-term commitment, coordination and collaboration, mandatory measures from government, complementary interventions across the value chain and a range of evolving policies.

In addition to interjurisdictional scans, Elissa says IV undertook extensive market analysis.

IV engaged the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Market Design to assess incentives influencing each market transaction.

This included the effect of regulatory settings and the role of price signals and applied market design principals.

The Centre for Market Design suggests that in the “decentralised waste economy”, major decisions and transaction points are spread across the waste lifecycle.

“In the context of the Victorian waste sector, observed outcomes are determined by the interplay between the legislative and regulatory environment, on the one hand, and the decentralised, self-interested decisions of producers, consumers and processors of waste, on the other hand,” the report reads.

“In decentralised economic systems, such as the waste economy, alignment problems are common because the motivation of businesses and households does not necessarily accord with those of government.”

BEYOND THE BIN

IV is considering the types of intervention that may be needed, Elissa says, and is conscious that further government and industry collaboration is required.

“Consideration of waste infrastructure investment needs to be undertaken in the context of policy settings across the waste chain that drive behaviour change and support the development of end markets for recycled materials,” the report reads.

Among a number of potential actions, IV suggests that initiatives to disincentivise the use of virgin materials have the potential to create stronger recyclate end markets.

“Government procurement at all levels, whether that’s Commonwealth, state or local, can choose to use their procurement power to look not just at the absolute bottom line in terms of cost, but also social and environmental outcomes,” Elissa says.

She adds that it’s the choice of individual governments to decide to what extent they want to use procurement to achieve environmental outcomes, noting other mechanisms are available.

“Governments could look at other levers like taxes or a ban on virgin material, but because of trade, any mechanism like that would need to be considered by the most appropriate level of government,” Elissa says.

She says that while Victoria could tax or ban virgin material, the state government would need to consider trade implications.

“It’s also about considering whether or not the environmental and social externalities associated with virgin material extraction are being appropriately priced relative to recycled material,” she says.

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Cleanaway restores service at former SKM facilities

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.”

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Degraded SKM waste to be re-located in SA

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.

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It’s time for glass out: Australian Paper Recovery

Victoria’s challenging commodities markets has inspired a rethink of traditional processing from commercial and industrial recycler Australian Paper Recovery.

As Victoria deals with the fallout of SKM, numerous solutions to the state’s ailing recycling market are being proposed, including additional bins for difficult waste streams.

Earlier this year, the City of Yarra announced plans to trial a fourth kerbside glass bin in 1300 households.

In making the decision, the council acknowledged that there less landfill space in future and this will place additional pressure on the waste and recycling industry.

Months later, other councils, such as Macedon Ranges Shire followed suit.

The City of Yarra’s move towards a fourth kerbside glass bin collection service is part of a bigger push towards cleaning up Victoria’s recycling crisis.

The Victorian Government is working in partnership with local government and the waste industry on a major overhaul of kerbside collection, with expressions of interest to be released in 2021.

It comes as KordaMentha secured a $10 million loan from the Victorian Government to help clean up SKM waste stockpile sites and resume waste processing.

Darren Thorpe, Australian Paper Recovery’s Managing Director, says the situation should serve as a wake-up call that the current system is broken and needs to be repaired.

“In the past it’s just been about quantity, with a let’s produce as many tonnes as we can per hour attitude, but now it’s all going to be about quality as we transition to a sustainable circular economy,” Darren says.

Australian Paper Recovery (APR) has collected waste paper, plastic and cardboard since 2002, but it’s recent market trends that are prompting a new approach to its traditional role as a commercial and industrial (C&I) processor.

APR has, over time, become an important resource for the C&I sector. It has handled more than two million tonnes of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste and processed it into new materials for domestic and international markets.

Darren’s extensive background in paper recovery helped propel the business forward, while also learning extensively along the way.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Darren’s career began in October 1984 at the Smorgon’s Paper Mill, following in the footsteps of his father and uncles. It was there that Darren made his start as an accounts payable clerk, learning the intricacies and nuances involved with fibre collection and recovery.

He then worked his way up to Regional Sales Manager, before the business expanded into rural Victoria in the mid 80s. But despite a streak of successes, the mill was unfortunately sold in September 1989, and the corrugating plant sold to Visy in partnership with Amcor.

Following this, Darren went onto work for Southern Waste Paper – now part of Visy, where he remained for 12-and-a-half years before starting APR in 2002.

Over the years, Darren turned his attention towards the C&I sector, with the paper manufacturing sector evolving throughout the mid 90s and early 2000s.

“Back in the 90s, there were seven paper mills in Victoria and now there’s four, so it makes a massive difference to fibre recycling. That is why the export market presented such a viable opportunity as there was no use for it here in Victoria,” he says.

“The closure of the Broadfield and Fairfield Mills also created an opportunity to send product overseas.”

The present state of the industry led Darren towards the overseas markets, working for Visy in WA. The same path inspired Darren to establish his own business in 2002, moving to Springvale, in Melbourne to start APR.

“For the first 18 months, we were just trading paper overseas because that’s what the market demanded,” Darren says.

In 2005, APR moved to Dandenong and started another operation at Laverton.

More than 17 years on, the company now has five facilities in Victoria, including its materials recovery facility (MRF) in Truganina, a C&I processing site at Dandenong and secure destruction and shredding facility in Fairfield.

Its network ensures it can partner with major organisations such as Australian Paper to deliver fibre for processing at Australian Paper’s Maryvale facility.

APR established a purpose-built facility in 2013 in Dandenong South at Thomas Murrell Crescent to allow it to service the market effectively.

Extensive planning went into improving on-site logistics, with a traffic management plan ensuring smooth vehicle movements.

“We needed to get vehicles in and out of the facilities in an efficient and safe manner, so we built a purpose-built facility in Dandenong in 2013 and designed it so we could get vehicles in and out in a timely manner,” he says.

Darren says that due to the ease of use of the facility, APR tripled its volumes. Working with major retail and hospitality outlets, APR covered the broader market segment.

But when China’s National Sword policy was announced in 2017, and a glut of materials was released into the market, APR began to reconsider its strategy and look at entering the municipal solid recycling space.

“We moved into the domestic space because of National Sword as we were dealing with regional MRFs who had a problem getting rid of mixed paper because the quality that they were making wasn’t meeting export or local quality specifications,” Darren says.

“So that’s when we went to Sustainability Victoria with a proposal in late 2017 which they supported. We were fortunate enough to get a grant of $475,000 to build our value-add fibre sorting facility.”

The proposal led to a new MRF at Truganina, which processes up to 39,000 tonnes of kerbside recyclables per annum.

The MRF sees materials run along a conveyor belt with contaminants removed, before running over several ballistic separators to pull out any fibre. Containers are then dropped down to conveyors to extract metal such as steel. Manual sorters take off milk, detergents and soft drink bottles.

As the MRF was continually refined, APR envisioned a plan to partner with other regional MRFs and value-add their fibre products.

But new opportunities soon emerged as the City of Yarra embarked on a single-stream glass recycling program.

GOING GLASS OUT

APR took a “glass out” approach and started to partner with the City of Yarra, with other metropolitan councils soon following suit.

“If you put all the commodities together in a single stream recycling program you have a lot of contamination due to the fact that broken glass is mixed in with other products,” Darren says.

“Once you separate glass, it’s a very valuable and recoverable resources that can be utilised in a circular economy through the likes of O&I and others such as aggregate companies such as Alex Fraser, Sunshine Groupe and Fulton Hogan.

“But when it’s contaminated with other products, it’s too hard for them to use, so by moving to a separate glass collection we are able to produce a much cleaner and valuable resource.”

He adds that glass is the biggest source of contamination in kerbside bins besides fibre, polymers, aluminium and steel. “We’ve made it quite clear to the councils that we will only receive material that has glass out.”

Taking its “glass out” strategy a step further, APR in September agreed on a new partnership with the City of Ballarat. From 30 September, the council will ask its residents to take their glass to several free drop-off sites around the municipality using containers provided by council or their own.

City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh in a statement said that for many years, Ballarat shipped its recycled material overseas for processing, which was no longer an option.

With quality now being a key priority, Darren says APR has continued to partner with a number of local manufacturers, including Huhtamaki and Norske Skog for fibre. Norske Skog is one of the world’s largest suppliers of newsprint while Huhtamaki produces consumer packaged goods such as egg, paperboard and plastic packaging.

Darren says that wherever possible, products are repurposed into their original form in a circular motion such as cleaning products or soft drinks. In other cases, waste streams like milk bottles are repurposed as plastic pellets. He says the main priority is adding as much value as possible and keeping products out of landfill.

“Vicfam Plastics is a company we’re working with to make the plastic pellets and they’ve been greater partners with us in other commodities in our business.”

Darren says APR aims to be as diligent as possible in ensuring material is contaminant-free and is in the process of auditing materials that come in from both councils and the C&I space.

Overall, Darren is excited about the future possibilities for APR and predicts the company’s current plans will only lead to further growth for the company.

“Our facility is the way of the future. The commodities that we’ll generate out of the sorting facility will provide end users with a quality product,” he says.

“All indications are that our MRF will be at capacity by Christmas and, as such, we’ll be looking to build a new facility taking on board the learnings from this facility.”

However, APR will only enter the market when a need presents itself, as its focus is quality, not quantity.

Its next stage is to build a receivable area with an additional 1200-square-metre facility planned in four to five months time at a cost of around $1.3 million.

While ensuring its operations are economically viable is the number one priority, Darren hopes APR can make a vital contribution to the sector at a critical juncture.

“We’ve shown the initiative to go out there and do something different because no-one wants to keep doing the same thing and have a broken system. We need to make some changes even when it’s difficult,” Darren says.

He says that the challenges going forward will be getting the message out to the community to stop ‘wishcycling’.

“Education, commitment and understanding by residents will certainly be a major influence in the way we view recycling in the future. Developing more local production opportunities and government procurement policy for recycled products will also be part of the now ‘broken system’ we are trying to fix,” Darren says.

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VIC tables waste inquiry report

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.”

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Cleanaway acquires SKM Recycling for $66 million

Cleanaway Waste Management has acquired the assets of SKM Recycling for approximately $66 million.

The acquisition follows a public sale process by KordaMentha, who were appointed receivers and managers of SKM by Cleanaway, after the company acquired SKM’s senior secured debt.

Cleanaway CEO and Managing Director Vik Bansal said significant progress had been made clearing waste stockpiles, repairing plants and equipment and bringing SKM sites to required safety, environmental and operational standards.

“I would like to acknowledge and thank the Victorian Government who helped expedite the clearing of waste stockpiles and the return of operations at the Laverton North site, through the loan provided to the receivers,” Mr Bansal said.

“We expect to gradually restore operations in Victoria over the coming months, to provide councils with a quality, sustainable solution for their recycling.”

Pursuant to the acquisition, Cleanaway will obtain the properties, plant, equipment and other assets of SKM, subject to customary completion adjustments.

The acquisition will provide Cleanaway with a network of five recycling sites, including three material recovery facilities and a transfer station in Victoria and a material recovery facility in Tasmania.

One of the Victorian facilities, in Laverton North Victoria, includes an advanced plastic sorting facility that separates plastics into individual polymer grades for sale or input into pelletising facilities.

According to an ASX statement, the acquisition also includes two properties in South Australia, which are not currently expected to form part of future operations and may be sold.

“Cleanaway is expected to offer employment to the majority of SKM’s full time staff,” the statement reads.

Completion of the acquisition is expected to occur by the end of October, with sale proceeds applied to repay Cleanaway’s senior secured debt, accrued interest and costs associated with the receivership.

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Extinguishing risk: EPA Victoria

Waste Management Review explores the Victorian EPA’s amended policy for combustible recyclable and waste materials and a training partnership to support it.

A recent spate of waste fires has highlighted the questionable storage and management practices of some Victorian resource recovery facilities.

While the issue spurred proactive responses from government and the private sector, significant media attention has resulted in public scrutiny.

Figures from Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning reveal more than 100 recycling facility fires occurred in Victoria over the last 10 years, with the largest costing the Victorian Government over $110 million.

In 2017, a Coolaroo facility fire burned for 20 days before it was extinguished, causing significant human health and environmental problems. This resulted in community evacuations, with facility staff and the public also requiring medical treatment.

Following the fire, the Victorian Government established a Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce. The group was tasked with inspecting resource recovery facilities across the state to tackle stockpiles that might pose a fire risk. Since July 2017, the taskforce has conducted 628 inspections at 169 sites, issuing 186 notices and 35 sanctions.

The extremity of the Coolaroo fire reaffirmed the importance of proper material storage and prompted the Victorian Government to revise its Waste Management Policy for Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials in 2018.

Organisations such as SKM Services have been issued with notices in line with the policy in mid-2019 to stop accepting combustible waste until compliance was achieved.

Danny Childs, EPA Resource Recovery Audit Taskforce Manager, says the waste and recycling industry is going through a period of momentous change.

“EPA’s message is clear: community and environment first. Compliance and enforcement efforts against waste crime and illegal industrial and chemical waste stockpiling will continue to be a major priority,” Danny says.

“In parallel, EPA has ramped up its work with industry to increase compliance understanding and risks that must be managed.”

Waste Management Review explores the amended Waste Management Policy and a training partnership with the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA).

At the VWMA 2019 State Conference, Miranda Tolmer, EPA Victoria Industry Guidance Unit Manager, discussed the combustible waste policy, its supplementary guideline report and steps towards compliance.

The EPA Waste Management Policy for Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials was designed to enforce stringent safety standards in an attempt to address the rogue operators adversely affecting the sector’s reputation. Additionally, as with all EPA policies, it is based on the authority’s broader duty to protect human health and the environment.

Noncompliance can result in sanctions under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

Following the policy amendment, the EPA released a complementary set of compliance guidelines in October 2018.

Miranda said the guidelines, developed in consultation with the Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade, aim to support compliance and educate operators on their legal responsibilities.

The guidelines stress the significance of understanding fire hazards associated with waste storage and management activities, while also outlining steps to reduce risk.

During her presentation, Miranda named five key risk assessment concepts including previous occurrence, frequency, changes in operational conditions, changes in environmental conditions and behaviour.

Accompanying each concept are guiding questions operators can ask themselves in order to assess their facilities risk potential.   

Besides previous occurrence for example, the guideline report asks – has a fire occurred in your industry, and if so, what were the consequences?

“Assessing incidents or near misses provides an understanding of the context in which the incident occurs,” the report reads.

According to the guideline report, assessing this question provides a good indication of how to prevent the issue in the future.

“It is also important to not just consider your site, but think about all occurrences across industry,” the report reads.

The guideline lists a number of operator responsibilities to achieve compliance including ensuring new buildings and refurbishments meets requirements of local planning and building authorities, signing off on essential safety measures and actively involving employees in site safety.

Site managers must also respond to all fire prevention notices and comply with relevant Victorian occupational health and safety legislation. The policy applies to all waste and resource recovery facilities regardless of size, with only licensed waste tyre storage premises and licensed landfills excluded.

Additionally, the policy states that operators are responsible for minimising harm caused by fires irrespective of how they start. If a fire starts on nearby bushland and travels to a facility for example, operators are still liable for managing resulting harm potential.

EPA guidelines suggest operators develop a risk register, where they can document a hazard and potential causes, before examining the likelihood and consequences for the business itself and wider community.

“Identifying hazards and assessing risk is an ongoing exercise. Risk assessment involves developing an appreciation of the scale of potential consequences, and the relative likelihood of those consequences should an event occur,” the report reads.

“Understanding the consequence and likelihood of a hazard can support and inform the selection, development and application of controls.”

Miranda highlighted the hierarchy of controls as a useful prioritisation framework for the identification and selection of control measures.

The hierarchy prioritises eliminating the hazard, followed by substituting the hazard and engineering controls. If those mechanisms aren’t effective, the hierarchy outlines administering controls through training and protective equipment.

Miranda said risk analysis must also be accompanied by an assessment of the practicality and feasibility of each control option. She added that the primary consideration for applying controls should always be the practicality of implementation.

“Risk controls should be adopted in line with a cautious approach that considers the site’s capacity, inventory, location and proximity to sensitive land uses,” Miranda said.

Specific risk prevention measures include activity separation, such as separating drop off, processing and storage areas to prevent contamination and hot loads entering combustible spaces.

Furthermore, early detection devices such as thermal probes to monitor storage temperature, video smoke detection and flame detection, regular inspections, routine equipment servicing and adequate waste supply are encouraged.

“Whether additional actions are required depends on existing fire risk management at each site, but could include improved work procedures, maintenance and training to minimise ignition, changing the volumes and way waste material is stored and improving firefighting capabilities,” Miranda said.

WORKSHOPPING THE ISSUE

To educate industry on the amended policy, the EPA held five Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials Guideline implementation workshops in the first half of 2019. The workshops involved discussions with recycling and landfill operators on steps to take to reduce the risk of fire.

Sessions took participants through a virtual facility tour, identifying various risks and controls that needed to be identified, and remedial actions operators could take.

Members of the Country Fire Authority also provided advice on fire management and emergency preparedness.

Matt Peake, EPA Executive Officer Resource Recovery Gippsland, says the Gippsland workshop was a great opportunity for the growing region. Gippsland’s population is projected to increase by 25 per cent by 2030, bringing higher levels of waste generation with it.

“Our [Waste and Resource Recovery] implementation plan has identified that to meet the needs of our community, we need to assist industry and local government to continuously improve the performance of waste and resource recovery infrastructure and services in the region,” Matt says.

“Understanding how to comply with new regulation is critical in ensuring community expectations are being meet, and that these essential services are reliable.”

During her conference presentation, Miranda said the amended waste policy is less prescriptive than the original.

She added that the new policy has a greater focus on working with industry to provide flexible options and individualised solutions.

That said, VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith says the guidelines are somewhat ambiguous, with differing expectations and interpretations resulting in non-compliance. He adds that operators are often unaware of their level of compliance.

Mark says this uncertainty can lead to situations where well-intentioned operators are punished, when the focus should be on those operators that intentionally circumnavigate the system.

Since then, the EPA has partnered with VWMA to develop a training program to assist guideline implementation and alleviate industry confusion.

Mark says the program is modelled off the guidelines, with a focus on tangible action rather than broad concepts.

“VWMA wants to ensure industry understands the guidelines so we can all work together to mitigate fire risk,” Mark says.

“It’s all about transferring awareness into action to support a thriving industry sector.”

Mark says the program is designed to support policy compliance, while also holding organisations like the EPA to account in the delivery of prescribed outcomes.

“We need the policy to work with and around industry so we can achieve the best environmental outcomes without compromising individual business needs,” Mark says.

The risk-based training program will help participants identify, quantity and develop plans and processes to manage risk.

Mark says to achieve this, operators must both understand inherent risks and document them.

“The whole process needs to be transparent and open, government and the private sector must come together to address this problem,” Mark says.

“VWMA and the 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 material.”

Mark says participating in the training program will demonstrate a waste and resource recovery operator’s willingness and commitment to identify and manage risk.

“We aim to support members and the waste and resource recovery sector to reduce the frequency, scale and severity of fires at waste and resource recovery facilities,” he says.

Mark says the program is being developed through stakeholder consultation and is expected to commence in September.

Looking forward, Danny says the EPA’s regulatory powers will be strengthened from 1 July 2020, following implementation of the new Environment Protection Act.

The reform represents the most significant change to Victoria’s environmental regulatory regime since the introduction of the Environment Protection Act 1970.

The new legislation is focused on preventing risks, rather than managing harm after it has occurred, and is modelled on occupational health and safety legislation.

Danny says the changes will modernise the EPA’s inspection and inquiry powers and introduce strong regulatory duties across the whole waste supply chain, from generators and transporters to receivers of waste.

Changes include significant increases in maximum fines and penalties, such as potential jail time for repeat illegal dumping offences and stronger fit and proper person requirements.

Danny says strengthened proper person requirements mean undesirable operators can be prevented from holding a permission and/or be excluded from undertaking specified activities.   

“Preventing environmental harm is at the core of this act and in an Australian first, the act will introduce a general preventative environmental duty that is criminally enforceable,” Danny says.

One of the most significant changes to the act is the general environmental duty.

“The general duty will require people conducting activities that pose risks to human health and the environment to fully understand risks and take reasonable steps to eliminate or minimise them,” Danny says.

This article was published in the September edition of Waste Management Review. 

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Cleanaway acquires SKM debt

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.

According to a Cleanaway statement, the debt is secured against all assets of SKM, with the exception of its Glass Recovery Services business.

“This includes the property, plant and equipment that form part of a network of five recycling sites, including three material recovery facilities and a transfer station in Victoria and a material recovery facility in Tasmania,” the statement reads.

“The site in Laverton Victoria includes an advanced plastic sorting facility, which separates plastics from material recovery facilities into clean, individual polymer grades for sale or input into a pelletising facility.”

Following the debt acquisition, Cleanaway appointed Mark Korda and Bryan Webster of KordaMentha receivers and managers for the entire SKM Recycling group, excluding its Glass Recovery Services entities.

“KordaMentha will immediately implement a three-point plan, with the aim to get the business back to capacity to help ease Victoria’s waste crisis,” the statement reads.

“The rescue and restructure package may include a sale of all or part of the assets. If a sale process is undertaken by the receivers, Cleanaway intends to participate in the process, and will undertake a thorough due diligence review of the business.”

Cleanaway CEO and Managing Director Vik Bansal said the acquisition would allow Cleanaway to work with the receivers to examine viable options for SKM.

“If a sale process is undertaken, and if we are successful in purchasing any assets, we will return the assets to a sustainable footing,” Mr Bansal said.

“It will also present us with an opportunity to add to our network of prized infrastructure assets as part of our Footprint 2025 strategy.”

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$10M loan for SKM clean-up

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.

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VIC allocates $11M to recycling relief

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.”

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