$30M Victorian stockpile clean-up begins

The first truck loads of construction and demolition waste are being removed from a waste stockpile in Lara, Geelong, after the Victorian Government took control of site management in May.

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.

“Poor site management practices by the previous operator let the recycling waste grow to dangerous levels, resulting in an unacceptable fire risk to the local community, the environment and emergency services,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“There is absolutely no excuse for the reckless behaviour of the people who left this mess for us to deal with, and we will have no hesitation pursuing them to cover the cost of the clean-up.”

According to Ms D’Ambrosio, the site contains an estimated 320,000 cubic metres of predominantly construction and demolition waste, including materials such as timber, concrete, bricks, plaster, glass and ceramics.

“The first stage will be the processing and removal of a 27,000 cubic metre stockpile of timber, weighing an estimated 3500 tonnes,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“The City of Greater Geelong will project manage the works on behalf of the EPA and government, including managing interim fire risk measures by maintaining 24/7 security, secure fencing and maintenance of firefighting equipment.”

Ms D’Ambrosio said the EPA is pursuing previous site occupiers, owners, company directors and any other relevant parties to recover the costs of the fire prevention measures and clean up.

“Since August 2017, the EPA has had additional powers to support Victoria’s fire services and issue remedial notices to facilities not properly managing potential fire risks,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“These powers will be strengthened further under the new Environment Protection Act which will come into effect on 1 July 2020, to prevent situations like this in the future.”

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VWMA urges ongoing recycling

The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) is urging Victorians to continue recycling despite temporary interruptions to the state’s waste and recycling network.

Despite recent challenges, VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said the sector collectively delivers an efficient waste collection service to all Victorians.

“The private sector supports 23,000 Victorian jobs and invests over $800 million into waste and recycling services and infrastructure annually,” Mr Smith says.

“We have the potential to create sustainable solutions out of this current crisis. I hope we capitalise on it.”

Mr Smith said the current approach to waste management and recycling had evolved over decades.

“Current procurement practices have encouraged a concentration of processing capabilities across large operators and sites focused on volume processing, which has traditionally been a lower cost option,” Mr Smith said.

“A series of events over the last 18-20 months has demonstrated the inherent risks of the state’s waste and recycling network when we drive low cost options.”

Over the next procurement period, VWMA strongly recommends government procurement and tendering address ongoing issues and challenges.

“For Victoria and Australia to successfully manage our future waste needs, we must invest appropriately in the people, systems, processes and education to drive sustainable change, with the private sector as a partner for local and state government,” Mr Smith said.

According to Mr Smith, the state will see materials traditionally destined for recycling end up in landfill as the system transitions.

“We may need to accept that this temporary interruption could last a few weeks, as our waste and recycling system adjusts and adapts to this most recent challenge. Temporary interruptions shouldn’t discourage people doing the right thing and disposing of their waste in the right bin,” Mr Smith said.

“I also encourage impacted members or industry to attend our conference next week. The State Conference is about Victorian issues and opportunities – this is a critical time for the industry. Come along.”

Mr Smith added that the average Australian generates roughly 2.7 tonnes of waste a year — equivalent to the weight of a Toyota HiAce.

“By global standards that’s high and is not sustainable,” Mr Smith said.

“People can support the current challenges we are having by reviewing their own habits and behaviours, including buying things made locally from recycled material.”

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