Barry Marx is a 20 year veteran of the recycling business. Marx Metal and Demolition is well known in the Ararat area of western Victoria and when it comes to scrap and recycle metal, Barry reckons he knows what he’s talking about.

So, when officers from Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s (EPA) South West Region dropped by earlier this year as part of the Fire Prevention Program (FPP), he was not a fan of what he was told needed to happen.

“EPA’s FPP takes a zero- tolerance approach to any risk that is not controlled or any non-compliance that we detect,” said EPA South West Regional Manager Carolyn Francis.

“At Marx Metal we found stockpiled combustible waste that needed to be reduced in size and spread out to bring the site into compliance.”

While Barry admits he wasn’t thrilled about what he heard, nor did he think it was necessary at the time, his thinking has changed in recent weeks.

“I was told to split the piles (of materials) and there was a legal requirement to put in place a fire and safety risk management plan,” said Barry.

“I didn’t think it was needed but it’s a legal requirement so we did it and when the EPA came back to check a few months back they were happy with what we’d done. Then I got a call (9 Oct) from an employee that one of the piles had started smoking and was on fire. 

“An excavator pulled the pile apart while I called the fire brigade and when they turned up, the hot spots were exposed so they could more easily reach them to put them out.

“The fire never spread to other piles or threatened the sheds and that wouldn’t have been the case if we hadn’t done what the EPA required.”

The pile, which contained old corrugated iron, cars, household appliances, lawn mowers and power tools which may have had lithium batteries, burned for about 25 minutes.

Barry says he was amazed to find galvanised tin, wiring, enamels and paint had all combusted adding to the fire’s intensity.

“I never thought I would see a scrap heap burn but now I’ve seen it.”

Carolyn Francis says EPA is not just about inspecting, enforcing and fining, a key role is to provide industry with information that will help it become compliant.

“And that’s what we’ve done here. The site needed better management, but Barry and his team took our advice on board and because he did, the fire, when it hit, was not as severe as it otherwise might have been and that’s the lesson for everyone in the industry.” 

So far under the FPP, EPA has conducted 490 inspections assessing 276 sites and issuing 20 Penalty Infringement Notices.

 From 1 July, 2021, EPA has been operating under the new Environment Protection Act 2017. Central to the new laws is an Australian first, the establishment of a general environmental duty (GED) that is criminally enforceable. This requires people conducting activities that pose risks to human health and the environment from pollution and waste to understand those risks and take reasonable steps to eliminate or minimise them. The new laws allow for significantly greater penalties for non-compliance.

Members of the public can help EPA to reduce fire risk by reporting waste and resource recovery sites that don’t comply with the regulations.  If you see tightly packed, large or rapidly growing stockpiles at a recycling site near you, call EPAs 24 hour pollution hotline, on 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842).


Reviewed 28 October 2021