Landfill levy waived for bushfire victims

Landfill levies have been waived for residents in bushfire affected areas across Victoria, following an announcement from state Premier Daniel Andrews.

“As Victorians begin returning to their homes and land following the recent bushfires, the state government will make sure people can dispose of their bushfire waste without paying the landfill levy,” Mr Andrews said.

“This is practical and immediate support for people who are undertaking the heartbreaking task of cleaning up their homes and properties.”

According to Mr Andrews, bushfire waste includes debris from homes, businesses, sheds, stock, fencing and equipment that has been damaged.

“The levy waiver will also make it easier for people to dispose of dead livestock,” he said.

The Victorian EPA will work with landfill operators and councils in fire-affected areas to apply for the exemption.

“If residents or business owners have any questions or concerns about bushfire waste clean up and disposal, they can contact EPA for further information,” Mr Andrews said.

The exemption follows similar measures in NSW, with the state government waiving the levy in bushfire natural disaster areas in November 2019.

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said thousands of people across NSW are reeling from the effects of the November bushfires, which are still burning.

“We know that the effects of these bushfires will be felt for months, and even years to come, and we hope that this streamlined waste process can provide a little relief for those coping with the effects of these horrible bushfires,” he said.

The NSW exemption will apply until 29 February 2020.

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VIC EPA extends battery plant consultation period

The Victorian EPA has extended its consultation period for a battery recycling plant works approval, due to a high level of local interest.

The consultation period has been extended to 52 days, with two extra information sessions held in January.

The development proposal, received from Chunxing Corporation, seeks to recycle the material into 28,000 tonnes of refined lead each year.

The proposal estimates 98 per cent of the lead, plastic and electrolyte (sulfuric acid) in batteries will be recycled.

According to the Chunxing Corporation application, Australia generates roughly 150,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries a year, most of which is sent to four existing facilities.

The application highlights that of the four facilities, only one conducts secondary lead smelting to produce lead product.

“We believe such incomplete ‘recycling’ is unsustainable, and vulnerable to overseas demand and policy changes, similar to the export of kerbside recycling, which collapsed after China introduced its China National Sword Policy,” the application reads.

“We also see this low penetration of ‘full recycling’ in the market as an opportunity.”

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City of Yarra phases out single-use plastic

The City of Yarra is phasing out the sale of single-use plastic bottles and straws at all leisure facilities across the inner Melbourne municipality.

Following a July 2019 council resolution, Yarra City Council announced leisure centres would be the first council-run facilities to eliminate single-use bottles and straws, with other facilities set to follow.

According to a Yarra City Council statement, the phase out begun 1 January 2020, with staff now working with current suppliers to source plastic free product alternatives.

“By removing plastic bottles from our Yarra Leisure facilities, we expect to eliminate the consumption of approximately 17,000 plastic bottles each year,” the statement reads.

“This figure is based on our annual plastic bottle consumption across our facilities during 2018/19.”

Former Yarra Mayor Danae Bosler said going plastic-free is an important step in the council’s long-term ambition to become a zero waste city.

“Single-use plastics have a terrible impact on our environment, particularly our waterways, and our community expects us to take real action on this issue,” she said.

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VIC EPA to assess battery recycling plant proposal

The Victorian EPA is assessing a works approval application for a battery recycling plant with the capacity to process 50,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries each year.

The development proposal, received from Chunxing Corporation, seeks to recycle the material into 28,000 tonnes of refined lead each year.

The proposal estimates 98 per cent of the lead, plastic and electrolyte (sulfuric acid) in batteries will be recycled.

According to the Chunxing Corporation application, Australia generates roughly 150,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries a year, most of which is sent to four existing facilities.

The application highlights that of the four facilities, only one conducts secondary lead smelting to produce lead product.

“We believe such incomplete ‘recycling’ is unsustainable, and vulnerable to overseas demand and policy changes, similar to the export of kerbside recycling, which collapsed after China introduced its China National Sword Policy,” the application reads.

“We also see this low penetration of ‘full recycling’ in the market as an opportunity.”

Chunxing Corporation intends to engage in ‘full recycling’ to produce lead ingot, a valuable commodity that is returned back to battery manufacturers.

“They plan to secure significant market volumes of used lead acid batteries that are currently partially processed and sent for export, and believe the extra market capacity our plant will provide will lead to the federal Department of the Environment an Energy rejecting some export permits in favour of in-country full recycling options,” the application reads.

Chunxing Corporation’s proposed plant will use a six step process including physical separation, waste acid processing for value added fertiliser, smelting and desulfurisation.

The EPA will assess the proposal against all relevant environmental policies and guidelines and consider any potential environmental and human health impacts that could result from the proposed development, including, but not limited to, air emissions, noise and residual waste management.

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Kingston City Councils denies second Alex Fraser application

Kingston City Council has denied a second application by Alex Fraser Group to extend the life of its Clarinda recycling facility, despite clear implications for resource recovery in Victoria.

The Clarinda Recycling Facility has the capacity to recycle up to one million tonnes every year, turning recyclables into sustainable construction materials.

In 2020, it will increase its recycling by 200 million bottles per year, including glass from Kingston kerbside collections.

Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy said Kingston City Council’s decision is at odds with Victoria’s Recycling Industry Strategic Plan, which aims to stabilise the recycling industry and provide access to markets.

“It also goes against everything the state government is doing to secure reliable supply of construction material for the Big Build,” he said.

Mr Murphy said the issue impacts multiple state policies, and called for a coordinated response from the state government.

“If Clarinda Recycling Facility is shut down, it will have consequences on Victoria’s recycling, and the supply of material to the state’s infrastructure projects, increasing costs to taxpayers,” Mr Murphy said.

According to Mr Murphy, Kingston City Council refused to consider Alex Fraser’s Community Benefits Package, which gave the Kingston community ownership of the 22 hectares of land, as well as $7.5 million for sports and recreation facilities.

“In addition to the obvious statewide implications of this decision, Kingston City Council has denied its local residents a significant expansion to the ‘Chain of Parks’,” he said.

“At a time where there’s so much talk about the recycling crisis, it’s important to remember that Victoria has long led the way in using recycled materials to build its infrastructure. This site is an outstanding example of the circular economy in action, and the state government must intervene to retain this recycling capacity.”

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VIC EPA increases occupation of glass recycling facility

The Victoria EPA has increased its occupation of a glass recycling facility in Coolaroo, after stepping in to remove stockpile hotspots in October.

The action comes after a spot fire demonstrated that an industrial waste stockpile was not being appropriately managed to protect community and environment.

According to an EPA statement, recent stockpile monitoring has detected an increase in temperatures across areas that remain a concern to the EPA.

Since 25 October, the EPA has removed over 1100 truckloads of waste from the site, representing 10 per cent of the contaminated waste where hotspots are occurring.

“Works to remove hotspots and contaminated glass will continue for some months, with an estimated volume of 50,000 cubic metres of waste to remove,” the statement reads.

EPA Taskforce Manager Danny Childs said the EPA would continue to use all regulatory powers available to ensure hotspots are removed from the site as soon as possible.

“EPA will continue to undertake this work to reduce the risk to local communities and the environment,” Mr Childs said.

A regulatory oversight group consisting of EPA, MFB, WorkSafe and Hume City Council will continue a coordinated, multi-agency approach to drive compliance across the site.

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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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VIC councils receive $16.5M e-waste infrastructure funding

The Victorian Government has awarded 76 councils a share of $16.5 million to improve the state’s e-waste infrastructure.

Funding will go towards upgrading more than 130 e-waste collection and storage sites and help local councils to safely store and collect increasing amounts of e-waste.

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The funding aims to assist councils prepare for the state’s ban on e-waste which will come into effect in July 2019.

The upgrades aim to ensure 98 per cent of Victorians in metropolitan areas are within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point and 98 per cent of regional Victorians are within a 30-minute drive from a disposal point.

Councils will receive discarded electronics which will then be stripped of components for reprocessing or sold on the second-hand goods market.

Applications will also open in November for a share of $790,000 to deliver local education campaigns, with councils able to apply for up to $10,000 in funding.

E-waste is defined as anything with a plug or a battery that has reached the end of its useful life, including phones, computers, white goods, televisions and air conditioners.

The amount of e-waste generated in Victoria is projected to increase from 109,000 tonnes in 2015 to 256,000 tonnes in 2035.

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the funding will ensure the state has one of the best e-waste collection infrastructure networks in Australia.

“We’re delivering on our promise to maximise recycling and minimise the damage e-waste has on our environment,” she said.

Community comments called for Australian Paper WtE facility

EPA Victoria has called for further community consultation on Australian Paper’s proposal to develop a large-scale waste to energy facility.

The company has provided the EPA with a health impact assessment to support its application to develop the facility within the boundaries of its site in Maryvale, Latrobe Valley.

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The proposed plant would generate both steam and electricity which can be directly in the paper mill or exported to the grid. It would replace two gas-fired boilers and would produce around 30 megawatts of electricity and 150 tonnes of steam per hour.

The EPA’s assessment of the applications will consider issues such as best practice technology, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, waste fuel composition, compliance with waste hierarchy, potential risks to human health and the environment from air, noise, disposal of fly ash, wastewater treatment and operational contingencies.

It follows a community public meeting held earlier in July, which found there was significant support for the proposals, with many submitters commenting the technology is already operating safely overseas, there are environmental benefits of less waste going to landfill and economic benefits of local job creation.

EPA Development Assessments Director Tim Faragher said the works approval application was originally open for public comment in June and EPA received 115 submissions.

“EPA also ran a community conference in July to hear concerns from those that made submissions. This further consultation period allows interested community members to make further comments on the new information that Australian Paper has submitted,” Mr Faragher said.

When making a final determination, the EPA will also consider all public submissions and the outcomes of the community conference.

Reusable bag campaign launches ahead of VIC plastic bag ban

The Victorian Government has launched a campaign to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags ahead of the state’s 2019 ban on lightweight, single-use plastic bags.

The Better Bag Habits campaign urges Victorians to remember their bag, wallet, keys and phone when leaving the house. The campaign will run on social media and radio.

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Some tips the campaign will encourage will be to store reusable bags in the car, at home, work to ensure customers are always ready to shop. It also encourages the use of foldable bags that can easily fit into a pocket, handbag or backpack.

Research commissioned by Sustainability Victoria found around three quarters of Victorians already carry reusable bags when food shopping.

Younger Victorians and those on higher incomes have been the slowest to say no to single-use bags, particularly when shopping for non-food items.

The ban on single-use plastic bags will come apply to shopping bags less than 35 microns tick after community consultation found a 96 per cent of the 8000 submissions were for the ban.

The state government is also working with other states and territories to phase out thick plastic bags to further reduce plastic pollution.

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said Victorians are already saying no to plastic bags, but this campaign will encourage it to become a habit.

“We’re stopping plastic pollution and ensuring Victorians are ready to live without single-use, lightweight plastic bags.”

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