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The threat of fire at waste and resource recovery facilities is very serious, and the Victorian Government is committed to reducing this risk. In August 2017, the Interim Waste Management Policy (IWMP) (Victorian Government Gazette) was implemented placing requirements on sites that store combustible and recyclable waste materials (CRWM*). Compliance with the policy is mandatory and requires that CRWM is managed and stored in a manner that reduces risk to human health and the environment from fire.
To support compliance with the policy, Management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials - guideline (publication 1667) has been developed by EPA, Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) in consultation with a wide range of government and waste industry representatives.
The guideline was amended in November 2017 to include information on risk management. This is a helpful guide for small to medium sized businesses to assist with introducing risk management into the workplace.
The interim policy will expire in August 2018 and the government will examine options for ongoing legislative arrangements.
* CRWM includes paper, cardboard, wood, plastic, rubber, textile, organic material, refuse derived fuel, specified electronic waste, metals, and other combustible material which is considered waste.
A number of fires at resource recovery facilities have highlighted poor industry practices for storing and managing combustible recyclable and waste material (CRWM).
The IWMP (the policy) has been declared following the significant Coolaroo recycling facility fire in mid-July. Fires such as those at recycling facilities pose significant risks to the community and environment. The IWMP is needed to ensure that stockpiles of CRWM are appropriately managed to reduce risks of future stockpile fires, and the associated risks to human and environmental health. These include generation of hazardous air pollutants (including smoke), oil, run-off and leachate that affect the air, soil and waterways.
The policy requires facilities that receive CRWM to manage their operations to prevent risks to human health and the environment from fire.
The IWMP and the fire services guidelines came into effect on 29 August 2017 (the date of the special gazette) and will remain in place for a period of 12 months.
The IWMP will apply to operators of any site receiving CRWM.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and EPA are examining longer-term policy responses to the issue of stockpiling.
Following delivery of the IWMP and short-term goals by the taskforce, the government will consider longer-term policy and regulatory directions needed to reduce risks and ensure that Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system remains robust and effective.
The policy requires operators to take reasonable steps to prevent risks associated with fire at their premises. To meet this requirement, operators should conduct a risk assessment and implement necessary controls.
Whether additional actions are required will depend on existing fire risk management at each site, but could include improved work procedures, maintenance and training to minimise ignition, changing the volumes and the way waste material is stored, and improving firefighting capabilities.
EPA, MFB and CFA have published a guideline – Management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials (publication 1667) – to support industry in meeting their obligations. This guideline provides advice on how CRWM can be managed and stored to minimise fire risks.
The taskforce and the state’s seven waste and resource recovery groups (WRRGs) will work with operators of waste and resource recovery facilities to ensure that their stockpiles are managed appropriately, and ensure that there is sufficient capacity to deal with Victoria’s waste production.
Sites must maintain any stockpiles according to the dimensions stipulated in the guidelines or alternative dimensions that reduce risk to an equivalent or better level.
Councils will work with the EPA taskforce to ensure local planning and building regulations are being met by operators of waste and resource recovery facilities.
There will be no impact to householders who recycle through kerbside recycling.
The goal is to have all resource recovery facilities effectively managing fire risks. The EPA and Fire Services Taskforce will determine which sites represent the highest risk to human health and community from fire, and work with these sites to ensure compliance.
EPA, CFA, MFB and local government will be inspecting CRWM sites and will take remedial action through their respective regulatory tools where required. Non-compliance with the policy is an offence under the Environment Protection Act 1970 and EPA may apply sanctions (enforcement) in accordance with the Compliance and Enforcement Policy.
Fire services, local government, and WorkSafe can also take action under their respective legislation.
The IWMP will apply to operators of any site receiving combustible recyclable waste material. However, the Taskforce is adopting a risk based approach to inspections and compliance and enforcement, targeting its efforts at the sites that pose the highest risks.
Lower risk sites are still expected to conduct a risk assessment and assess their practices and controls. The guidance assists in this process and is expected to be amended over time to reflect feedback from stakeholders and intelligence gathered by the Taskforce to ensure it is relevant, targeted and proportionate.
Under section 18B(1) of the Environment Protection Act 1970, the Minister may certify that there are special reasons as a result of which a waste management policy should be declared without delay.
This means that the policy can take effect without the public consultation and impact assessment process otherwise associated with development of new statutory policies.
The IWMP, however, can only remain in force for a period of not more than 12 months, during which time comprehensive policy analysis and public consultation can occur to develop a long-term solution to the risks posed.
EPA consulted with key industry stakeholders including industry peak bodies and a variety of operators of waste and resource recovery facilities.
Government stakeholders involved included: Country Fire Authority, Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Municipal Association of Victoria, Worksafe, DELWP, and waste and resource recovery groups.
The EPA and DELWP will commence development of longer-term statutory instruments to regulate CRWM. EPA and DELWP will be consulting with key stakeholders during this time, along with conducting the appropriate impact analysis, in accordance with Environment Protection Act 1970 requirements.
Page last updated on 19 Dec 2017