Below is a list of the main environmental issues covered by the Act. Each topic is briefly described with links to other sections of the website and EPA publications to help you understand the topics more.
Pollution of air, land and water
A large portion of the Act is directed at controlling pollution and ensuring Victoria has clean air, land and water. Pollution is not specifically defined in the Act but, in summary, pollution involves a change in the environment which makes air, land or water any of the following:
- noxious, poisonous or offensive to humans
- harmful or potentially harmful to humans, animals or plants
- detrimental to any beneficial use.
Beneficial uses are uses and values of the environment that communities want to protect, such as human health and wellbeing, local amenity and aesthetic enjoyment. Beneficial uses are specified in State environment protection policies.
Any person who causes or permits air pollution (including odour pollution), land pollution or water pollution commits an offence. The Act imposes significant maximum penalties for pollution offences. In certain circumstances if the pollution is intentional, reckless or negligent the normal maximum penalty may be increased and may result in a term of imprisonment.
EPA uses its powers, such as directions and notices, to control and rectify pollution or to prevent it occurring.
More information on identifying and reporting pollution.
Waste is broadly defined in the Act. In general terms it is any material or substance that is of no further use and has been discarded. If not properly managed, waste can cause pollution and adverse impacts on the environment.
The Act gives EPA a key role in regulating waste through issuing:
- works approvals and licences for industrial and waste management activities that have the potential for significant environmental impact, including landfills
- licences to businesses who receive or treat waste
- permits for the transport of prescribed industrial waste.
Some of the Act’s powers to regulate waste are given to other government bodies. For example, the Act creates a septic tank permitting system which is managed by local councils. It also creates the Metropolitan Waste Management Group (covering metropolitan Melbourne) and the Regional Waste Management Groups (covering regional areas), which work with local councils to plan and coordinate waste management facilities and services in their respective areas.
People who discharge waste to the air, water or land must comply with the provisions of the Act and, where applicable, works approvals and licences. A number of specific offences apply to industrial waste, which is potentially harmful waste or waste arising from commercial, industrial or trade activities or laboratories. For example, industrial waste cannot be dumped or deposited on a site that is not licensed to receive such waste. The penalty for non-compliance with this industrial waste offence is higher than standard penalties under the Act, reflecting the increased environmental risk associated with the activity.
Management and transport of prescribed industrial waste (the more hazardous types of waste) is controlled under the Act and the Environment Protection (Industrial Waste Resource) Regulations 2009. A person conducting any business that includes transport of prescribed waste on a highway must have a permit for each vehicle used to transport the waste. This requirement extends not only to private individuals and businesses but also municipal councils and waste management groups.
Responsibility is put on the waste producer, transporter and receiver to ensure that a waste transport certificate accompanies each load of prescribed industrial waste, that appropriate records are kept regarding the identification and movement of the waste and that the receiving premises are licensed to receive the type of waste being transported.
Prescribed industrial waste producers are required to assess processes which produce the waste to establish whether means of avoidance or reduction are available. If technology and facilities are practically accessible to avoid or reduce the waste production, these must be used. If avoidance or reduction is not practically accessible, the operator must consider availability of reuse or recycling, then treatment or reprocessing, implementing the option highest in the waste hierarchy.
In relation to landfills, the Act provides for levies to be paid in relation to each tonne of waste deposited at a landfill. One of the key purposes of the landfill levy is to provide additional and ongoing funding to support efforts by government, industry and the community to reduce waste. Landfill levies create an incentive for waste generators to investigate ways to reduce the amount of waste they generate and dispose of to landfill. Calculating the landfill levy and recycling rebates (publication 332) describes the methods that landfills subject to the levy must use to calculate landfill levy payments on a quarterly basis.
More information on waste.
The Act regulates the deposit of litter and the distribution of materials that may become litter.
There are a number of littering offences in the Act, including depositing litter, failing to comply with a litter abatement notice and setting fire to a receptacle for litter. The Act provides for some defences, such as when the deposit was accidental and everything reasonably possible has been done to retrieve the litter.
When litter is deposited from a vehicle, the Act deems the owner, driver and authorised users of the vehicle to be guilty. EPA’s policy is to issue an infringement notice to the vehicle’s registered owner. If the registered owner isn’t responsible for the littering because someone else was driving their vehicle, the owner can provide EPA with a statutory declaration stating who was responsible.
Littering is treated more seriously if it is intentional. A higher penalty applies for intentional littering and includes a possible penalty of one month in prison.
There are also offences for material that may become litter, which include:
- delivering unsolicited documents in any place other than a mailbox, newspaper receptacle or under a door,
- placing leaflets on vehicles
- posting bills without consent.
On-the-spot fines can be given to anyone in breach of littering provisions. A litter abatement notice or direction to remove litter or disorderly object can also be given.
In addition to EPA, other bodies have authority to enforce littering provisions under the Act, including local councils and Victoria Police. Litter enforcement officers have the power to gain entry to premises, require person to provide their name and address or require a person believed to be involved in littering to provide details of others involved; for example, the source of material that may become litter.
EPA has a public litter reporting service, which enables members of the public to report people who throw litter from a Victorian-registered motor vehicle. As a result of this service, more than 20,000 people are reported to EPA every year.
EPA develops policies, Regulations and guidelines to prevent and control noise, and then partners with other agencies to provide advice on the best ways to implement them.
Principle noise provisions under the Act control:
- emission of unreasonable noise from residential premises
- noise from entertainment venues
- motor vehicles and motor boats capable of emitting noise above prescribed limits
- equipment and vehicles which do not comply with prescribed noise emission standards
- equipment and vehicles which require noise-reduction devices or specific labelling.
A person who emits or causes objectionable noise is guilty of an offence. Acceptable conditions for emitting noise are set out in Regulations and State environment protection policies. There are a number of factors which affect the acceptable noise level, including time of day, source and location. The prohibited times for residential noise can be found here.
EPA investigates noise from major industries such as EPA-licensed sites and manufacturing facilities.
Local authorities and police also have authority to enforce noise provisions under the Act. For example, police have powers to deal with noise complaints from entertainment venues such as pubs, clubs and reception centres. After midnight, officers can issue a direction to abate the noise, if appropriate. Failing to comply can result in a large fine.
More information on noise, noise guidelines, noise-related legislation.
The Act sets out specific offences for air and noise emissions from vehicles. Acceptable vehicle emission levels and test methods are specified in the Environment Protection (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2003.
Notices can be served on a vehicle owner requiring them to either take their car to an EPA-approved testing station or obtain a certificate of compliance. A notice may prohibit use of the vehicle (after a period of at least 30 days) until compliance has been confirmed.
It is an offence to contravene a notice or to sell a vehicle before a certificate of compliance is received by the EPA.
More information on motor vehicle, notices and approved vehicle testers.
The Act contains a process for controlling the use of hazardous chemicals. Notifiable chemical orders can declare a chemical to be a notifiable chemical and either totally prevent or create conditions relating to the storage, handling, use or supply of that chemical. Contravention of the requirements set out in a notifiable chemical order is a serious offence.
There are notifiable chemical orders in place for chlorine compounds, arsenic, PCBs and organotin anti-fouling paint.
More information on notifiable chemical orders.
An environmental audit is an assessment of the nature and extent of harm (or risk of harm) to the environment posed by an industrial process or activity, waste, substance or noise.
The Act provides for the statutory appointment of environmental auditors and their responsibilities to ensure high-quality, rigorous environmental audits are conducted by appropriately qualified professionals. Appointed environmental auditors may be engaged by anyone from private or public sectors to provide independent, objective environmental advice.
EPA manages the environmental audit system through:
- a rigorous process to appoint auditors
- a statutory basis requiring the appropriate conduct of auditors, with suspension or revocation of appointment if breached
- significant financial and custodial penalties for providing false or misleading information
- requiring auditors to undertake audits only within their field of expertise and that of their expert support team
- regular review of their work.
More information on environmental auditing.