$30M stockpile clean-up continues

Thousands of cubic metres of material will leave a waste stockpile in Geelong this week, as the EPA begins removing truckloads of contaminated soil.

The Victorian EPA used powers granted under the Environment Protection Act 1970 to take over management at the stockpile in April, after the previous operator let recycling waste grow to dangerous levels.

In a statement at the time, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the process could take several years, with the state government providing $30 million for clean-up and fire prevention measures.

According to Ms D’Ambrosio, the stockpile contains an estimated 320,000 cubic meters of waste including timber, concrete, brick, plaster, glass and ceramics.

EPA South West Region Manager Carolyn Francis said the contaminated soil will be removed in a closely monitored operation over the next four weeks.

“The soil contains a variety of contaminants including metals, plastics and some asbestos, so the removal operation has been carefully planned,” Ms Francis said.

“The soil will be kept damp during loading to prevent any problems with dust, then sealed in plastic on site for safe transport in covered trucks to a licensed landfill in Melbourne, and will be tracked to their destination by EPA’s electronic Waste Transport Certificate system.”

Ms Francis said the EPA will run additional asbestos fibre air quality monitoring at the site during soil removal, which will be managed by an independent occupational hygienist.

“The removal of this hazard will clear some of the land around the edges of the property and remove a potential source of dust from the site,” Ms Francis said.

The site’s land will likely be sold to recover costs following the cleanup, according to the EPA’s website.

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Is Victoria ready for a CDS?

With Victoria the only state yet to commit to a container deposit scheme, Waste Management Review speaks with industry stakeholders about scheme potential.

In the absence of an overarching waste policy, Victoria’s waste management and resource recovery sector lacks market certainty and centralised oversight.

As such, an inconsistent approach to waste management created an environment that may have been more attractive to rogue operators.

Challenges arise when bulk processing and limited end markets exist in the same region, as evident in Victoria’s recent spate of non-compliant stockpiles.

Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA)  Executive Officer, says current procurement practices encouraged a concentration of processing capacities, and this inherently concentrated risk.

Mark adds that the recent SKM Recycling shut down highlights the risks inherent in any system that doesn’t seek to secure end markets for materials and appropriate protocols for any shocks to the system.

“A series of events related to how contracts are written, commodity pricing and how businesses establish themselves brought us to where we are now. It’s not something that happened overnight,” Mark says.

“I believe our current resource recovery issues present an opportunity to change the way government and the private sector operate which must see the private sector as a partner with the government in delivering messages and engaging with the public.”

Mark adds that the introduction of a Victorian container deposit scheme (CDS) could serve as a catalyst for tackling our current recycling issues, but can’t be done in isolation or on its own.

When the Tasmanian Government earlier this year announced it would introduce a CDS by 2023, Victoria became the only state or territory without a scheme forthcoming or in place.

At VWMA’s August State Conference, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio told delegates that the state government had no current plans to develop a CDS. That was, despite demonstrated success in other states. Ms D’Ambrosio recently told the 7:30 report that government is closely watching other states’ CDS closely, a statement she reiterates regularly.

Seeking to offer up potential solutions to Victoria’s recycling and waste management issues, the VWMA hosted a CDS discussion and knowledge transfer event in October. At the event, delegates analysed schemes and results from other states. Mark says the information will be compiled and presented to delegates attending, which included a number of vocal local governments and other associations, such as the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).

The MAV is similarly active, launching its Rescue Our Recycling action plan earlier this year. The plan identifies five actions each tier of government should take to help achieve a sustainable recycling system, with a CDS nominated as a key action for the Victorian Government.

The MAV’s submission to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management, lodged May 2019, likewise urged the state government to introduce a scheme.

Coral Ross, MAV President, says she is hopeful the parliamentary committee will recommend a scheme be introduced.   

“Container deposit schemes are celebrated for their strong record of success in increasing recovery of beverage containers, reducing waste to landfill, delivering community, environmental and economic
benefits and decreasing litter,” the submission reads.

“In light of trials and studies underway, consideration should also be given to how a separate kerbside collection for glass may complement or supplant a CDS. Either way, it is imperative that the principles of product stewardship and extended producer responsibility apply.”

CRUSHED GLASS

Contamination from crushed glass in the general recycling stream is a central driver for CDS implementation. Another solution however, introducing a fourth kerbside glass bin, is also gaining traction, albeit only in preliminary trialling stages.

The City of Yarra in Melbourne’s inner east launched a kerbside glass collection trial across 1300 households in April, following a successful FOGO collection trial in 2018.

In September, Chris Leivers, Yarra City Council City Works and Assets Director, told Waste Management Review the trial has been successful so far, with a notable decrease in contamination observed.

He added that Yarra will look to expand the service throughout the city upon the trial’s completion.

While Coral applauds the success of individual council trials, she cautions against assuming state-wide implementation would be straightforward and doable.

“There is significant diversity across councils and regions in terms of the recycling services councils offer. Proximity to materials recovery facilities, community willingness and ability to pay, and budget and resource constraints are all relevant considerations,” she says.

“Also, the Yarra and Macedon trials are small scale, so we can’t yet know how the service would work on a state-wide level.”

Another issue, Coral says, is whether or not councils can find a processor to take the material.

“In the case of Moyne Shire Council and their intention to roll-out separate glass collection municipality-wide, we understand that having a ready local end market for that material was key to the council making that decision.” she says.

“Not all councils may be able to achieve that, plus, there’s a real question about Victoria’s infrastructure and beneficiation capacity if 79 councils all start collecting glass separately.”

For these reasons, Coral says the local government sector strongly supports the introduction of a CDS as an immediate state-wide priority. She also notes that she doesn’t consider CDS to be the silver bullet that will fix everything but rather a key component of a suite of reforms needed to improve recycling outcomes.

“We have to remember that removing glass from the general stream not only reduces the contamination of paper and plastic, but enables better quality glass recovery,” she says.

“Ideally we want to see glass bottles and jars remanufactured into glass bottles and jars. Achieving a clean stream of material is key to that.”

Mark has similar infrastructure capacity concerns and issues with a ready market for materials, highlighting the amenity impacts of glass collection in high density areas. He adds that the rise of multi-unit dwellings also needs to be considered when analysing the efficacy of a fourth kerbside bin.

Mark says that waste operators already face bin collection challenges including traffic congestion, level of street access and bin placement – added to that could be a fourth collection round with noisy material.

“How is that going to impact residents? And what will resident pushback look like once those collections start? It’s a concerning proposition for many VWMA members but may also be a broader traffic challenge as well.”

IMPLEMENTATION

A recent Total Environment Centre report shows that 84 per cent of Victorians support the idea of a CDS. However, the state government refuses to heed introduction calls.

According to Mark, a CDS would require systematic changes to how parts of government operate, which may explain their hesitation.

“There hasn’t been a consistent line from the state government on what Victoria’s future recycling program will look like,” he says.

“I think that’s a problem, because we end up tinkering on a lot of little activities instead of looking towards a big fundamental shift and that shift has to take into consideration the direction the other states are taking and the region.”

Many states, including New South Wales and the Northern Territory, position their CDS as a litter management initiative.

Mark say that results from other jurisdictions and globally has seen CDS work as an effective platform to educate and engage with the public on waste, litter and recycling issues.

“The minister has said multiple times that a CDS won’t adequately address current challenges, and yes it wont fix everything, but there’s never going to be a silver bullet,” he says.

“It’s about identifying key challenges for the state, and then chipping away at problems that has support from all the revevant partners in the sector”

Another issue, Mark says, is minimal investment in public waste education from the state government.

“New South Wales has had ongoing public programs to engage the public on recycling and waste for years, while Victoria hasn’t had a state wide program or investment in this space for over 10 years,” he says.

“The state government could utilise a very small component of the Sustainability Fund to finance similar programs here.”

In addition to education, Mark says the state government would need to incentivise end markets for recycled materials that would see greater business uptake of recycled materials but also educating the public to seek out products made with recycled materials.

“If we look at the wider waste situation, the private sector invests $815 million each year, while the state government invests very little, with the bulk of the funds allocated going to infrastructure projects. The private sector have repeatedly spoken about the appetite to invest if they know there is market certainty. For me, this poses a question over the role state governments should play in market intervention,” he says.

“While introducing a CDS will undoubtably require additional costs at the start, what we’ve seen in other states, especially New South Wales, is that the state government only have to make minimal investment for set up and roll-out.”

Mark says government and industry also need to expand their focus beyond the immediate horizon and be conscious of future challenges and the future direction of the region.

“We don’t want to set up a system that in two or three years becomes obsolete, or actually becomes some sort of barrier for embracing a national push on product stewardship, because Victoria decided to introduce a CDS [for example] that is in complete contrast with the rest of the country and region,” he says.

While Coral says a national scheme would be ideal, she believes Victoria needs to start addressing its current challenges now.

“A federal scheme in line with product stewardship was on the table a few years ago but didn’t go anywhere, and now we’ve seen each state roll-out, or commit to rolling out CDS, so it would be a grave mistake for Victoria to sit back and wait for a national CDS,” she says.

“You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

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Victoria’s single-use plastic ban begins

Single-use plastic shopping bags have been banned across Victoria, under new legislation introduced to parliament in June.

The ban, which commenced November 1, applies to bags with a thickness of 35 microns or less, including bags made from degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the ban follows extensive community consultation on tackling plastic pollution, with 96 per cent in favour of the ban.

“The plastic bag ban is part of a suite of government measures designed to reduce the impact of plastic pollution, reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and strengthen Victoria’s recycling industry,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“To support the community in moving to reusable bags, Sustainability Victoria is running a Better Bag Habits campaign – helping Victorian households to remember their phone, wallet, keys and bag before leaving home.”

According to Ms D’Ambrosio, the EPA is also is working with retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers to support them in understanding their obligations, as well as monitoring industry performance.

“The government engaged the National Retail Association to conduct over 180 tours of shopping centres and precincts throughout Victoria to assist retailers transitioning away from banned bags,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

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Community conference called on Laverton North WtE plant

The Victorian EPA will host a community conference on Recovered Energy Australia’s proposed waste to energy plant in Laverton North.

In June 2019, Recovered Energy Australia submitted a final works approval application to the EPA, as required under section 19B(c) of the Environment Protection Act 1970.

According to an EPA statement, the application proposed developing a waste-to-energy facility with the capacity to process 200,000 tonnes of source separated residual municipal solid waste each year.

“The proposal utilises a modular system of vertical rotary thermal gasifiers, and is classified under legislation as an A08 (waste to energy) and K01 (power station) scheduled premises,” the statement reads.

“Following a public consultation period, EPA received more than 30 submissions on the plan, which proposes to deliver approximately 15 mega watts of electricity to the grid.”

Submissions range from positive, such as support for gasification and renewable power, and negative, such as concerns over waste to energy’s inability to address waste reduction and littering.

“The purpose and agenda of the conference is to enable the EPA to listen to, and better understand, the views and concerns of the community and stakeholders,” the statement reads.

“The community conference, and the independent chair’s report, will form part of EPA’s assessment of the proposal.”

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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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VWMA to host forum on EPA changes

The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) is holding an industry forum to grow the waste sector’s understanding of new environmental protection legislation.

VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said new environmental regulations, starting 1 July 2020, will greatly impact industry sectors throughout Victoria.

“July 2020 will see the biggest overhaul of Victoria’s environmental laws and regulations, which will have substantive impacts to the waste and recycling sector including logistics, reprocessors and the organics and composting industry,” Mr Smith said.

“The new regime adopts a preventive and duties-based approach to environmental protection, and imposes new frameworks and principles that will change the way waste management companies are regulated.”

The EPA’s new Environment Protection Amendment Act is focused on preventing waste and pollution risk, rather than managing harm after it has occurred and is modelled on occupational health and safety legislation.

Some of the most significant changes include a general environmental duty, which requires all Victorians undertaking an activity with risks of harm to the environment and human health to identify and implement reasonably practical means to eliminate or minimise these risks.

This covers risks from waste management activities from generation through to disposal.

Under the new legislation, licences will also be subject to regular reviews and a risk-based environmental audit regime introduced.

According to Mr Smith, it’s important businesses make themselves aware of these changes, and aligning with an association is a great way to stay on top of what is going on.

“The VWMA participates in a number of references groups related to the new act and has been communicating for the last 12 months to our members about some of the incoming changes,” Mr Smith said.

“Now it’s the people on the ground, the people that deliver waste and recycling services daily to make sure they understand what’s coming and prepare accordingly or voice their concerns now. ”

Mr Smith said the VWMA, in partnership with Russell Kennedy Lawyers and Equilibrium Consulting, is inviting anyone working in the waste and recycling industry to take part in the forum, which will also include opportunities to engage with experts across the sectors.

“Substantial changes are ahead for Victoria and we have crafted a program that will unpack the essential elements of the new Environment Protection Act and the areas of regulation,” Mr Smith said.

“We encourage everyone to come along to these sessions with laptops and other relevant devices, as sessions will include opportunities to summarise and submit feedback via government’s engage platform website.”

Mr Smith said attendees will receive all relevant information in one place and also also hear from legal firms and consultants, who will present multiple perspectives on how the new changes will impact businesses.

Russell Kennedy Lawyers Principal Stefan Fiedler said the state government’s legislative reform mandate originates from protecting human health from pollution and waste.

“The reform must facilitate, support and protect investment, by industry, state government and local government by creating certainty to achieve this objective,” Mr Fiedler said.

“A balanced and proportionate regulatory response is required recognising the contribution by legitimate operators forming the foundation of Victoria’s waste and resource recovery sector.”

According to Mr Smith, the VWMA will capture and consolidate industry concerns and feedback, which it will incorporate into an industry submission on the upcoming changes.

The forum will run 23 October at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, as part of Waste Expo Australia.

For information click here.

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VIC commits $1.6M to recycling research projects

The Victorian Government, through Sustainability Victoria’s Research, Development and Demonstration grants program, has allocated $1.6 million to projects that develop products sourced from recycled glass, plastic, paper and e-waste.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the grants program supports innovative research to develop and test new uses and technologies for materials recovered from household and commercial recycling.

Projects include testing roads and railway line noise walls made of recycled plastic, establishing a method to extract zinc and zinc oxide powders from spent alkaline batteries and investigating new blends of foamed bitumen using recycled glass.

Ms D’Ambrosio said research institutions will contribute a further $3.4 million to the projects.

“Institutions including the University of Melbourne and Deakin University will work to drive procurement of large volumes of recycled products into the commercial market,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Sustainability Victoria Interim CEO Carl Muller said research findings from the funded projects will inform industry of the opportunities to use recovered materials in manufacturing and infrastructure.

“The environmental benefits of using recycled content products and materials are clear, including reducing the need for resources, reducing production of high energy products such as concrete and curbing greenhouse gas emissions from production,” Mr Muller said.

“It’s all part of Victoria’s growing circular economy – we need proven recycled content products and markets for those products to make recycling viable. This will build confidence and market demand.”

Projects include: 

Australian Road Research Board: $200,000, trialling high proportions of recycled crushed glass in asphalt on local roads within Brimbank City Council.

The University of Melbourne: $200,000, developing a precast structural concrete wall using waste glass fines and waste paper cellulose fibres.

Deakin University: $195,00, investigating an alternative to the current physical and mechanical recycling methods of polyethylene.

Victoria University: $195,000, developing new blends of trench backfill material specifically for use in and around sewer and manhole structures.

Swinburne University: $192,950, evaluating the use of glass, plastics and crushed concrete in railway substructure including the capping layer and sub ballast.

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VIC compost facility seeks expansion

The Victorian EPA is assessing a works approval application for an expansion and upgrade of the Camperdown Compost Company’s Gnotuk facility.

Under the proposal, the existing Blind Creek Rd compost facility would be expanded to receive up to 36,300 tonnes a year of solid and liquid wastes – a 13,138 tonne increase on the sites current 23,162 tonne capacity.

If approved, the site will add additional waste categories including commercial food waste, tannery and wool scouring wastes, category C soils and stormwater contaminated with oil or hydrocarbons.

According to an EPA statement, the site will convert waste into up to 15,000 tonnes of pasteurised compost material a year, using upgraded forced aeration technology.

The EPA’s assessment is being jointly carried out with a Planning Permit application to Shire of Corangamite.

The Gnotuk facility is an EPA licensed site.

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Chemical and paint drop-off centres open in SA

The South Australian Government has opened new chemical and paint drop-off centres in Campbelltown, Heathfield, North Plympton and Edinburgh North.

Environment Minister David Speirs said the state government contributed more than $1 million to the centres, with local partners set to operate the facilities.

“Until now, householders could only access a depot at Dry Creek, which only opened on the first Tuesday morning of each month for three hours,” Mr Speirs said.

“The new facilities make it significantly easier for South Australian households to safely dispose of these chemicals, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this free service.”

According to Mr Speirs, many people don’t realise the damage that can be caused when chemicals and paint are handled or disposed of incorrectly.

“Apart from the threat to our waterways and surrounding environments if flushed into our sewerage and drain systems, storing unused hazardous chemicals at home or in the garden shed can be potentially lethal if not handled properly,” Mr Speirs said.

“They can be particularly dangerous to young children who cannot yet read warning labels.”

Mr Speirs said it was important to note that some items and substances would not be accepted, such as ammunition, asbestos, tyres, fertiliser and pharmaceuticals.

“Residents are reminded to keep chemicals in their original containers where possible, and ensure they are clearly labelled and well-sealed,” Mr Speirs said.

“It is also best to place open or leaking containers in a plastic rubbish bin or bucket, and transport them in the boot of the car or a trailer making it safer for the driver and to also assist in worker safety at the depots.”

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Comment sought for VIC EPA regulations and standards

The Victorian EPA is calling for public consultation on their revised environmental regulations and standards, which apply from July 2020.

According to EPA Executive Director Tim Eaton, the new regulations and standards are part of the Victorian Government’s modernisation of the EPA, through the recently passed Environment Protection Act.

“The new act and regulations will give the EPA more power to prevent pollution and hold polluters to account,” Mr Eaton said.

“Where the new act lays out the increased powers and responsibilities, the regulations and standards fill in the details and create certainty for duty holders to meet their obligations.”

Mr Eaton said the draft regulations outline obligations in relation to environment protection, pollution incidents, contaminated land and waste.

“As an example, the new act allows the EPA to require duty holders to be licensed, permitted or registered,” Mr Eaton said.

“The regulations then provide the detail of what activities will require a licence, permit or registration.”

The EPA and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will review all public submissions, before releasing a public report that includes submission responses and final regulations and standards.

“We want to hear from community groups, industry, small business operators, anyone with an existing EPA licence, environmental lobby groups or any other member of the public or industry with an interest in the environment protection laws,” Mr Eaton said.

“Have your say on proposed regulations and standards that relate to waste, permissions and licences, water, noise, air and contaminated land.”

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