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In July 2017, a fire started at a Coolaroo recycling plant that took a full 20 days to extinguish. With some people forced to evacuate – or in 16 cases, seek medical attention – this fire highlighted that stockpiled combustible materials must be properly managed to reduce the risk of fires at these types of sites.

To address this issue, the Victorian Government established the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce to inspect resource recovery facilities across the state and tackle stockpiles that might pose a fire risk that can lead to harm to human health and environment.

Taskforce aims and achievements

The Taskforce audit recycling facilities across Victoria to identify stockpiling of materials that pose a fire risk to ensure environment protection and community safety. Facilities storing combustible wastes were identified, with those facilities considered high risk made a priority.

The Taskforce also aimed to improve industry awareness of reducing and managing fire risks from stockpiled combustible materials and support best practice.

Chaired by EPA, the Taskforce comprised:

  • Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV)
  • Country Fire Authority (CFA)
  • Emergency Management Victoria (EMV)
  • WorkSafe Victoria
  • the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).

The Taskforce undertook joint inspections to ensure that combustible recyclable and waste materials (CRWM) are stored and managed appropriately, and took action when required. Inspections focused on fire prevention and management practices, particularly:

  • fire risk assessment
  • fire management planning
  • physical controls such as fire hydrants and sprinklers
  • separation distances between stockpiles to minimise fire spreading.

Since July 2017 until completion on September 2020, the Taskforce conducted 993 inspections at 231 sites of very high interest that require ongoing monitoring and engagement, issuing 1328 notices and 65 sanctions. These sites presented the greatest risk to human health and the environment.

An interim report was delivered to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change in December 2017.

While some operators are at best practice, the audit program identified that the resource recovery sector was generally poorly prepared and ill-equipped when it comes to managing fire risks at their facilities. Issues were identified at most inspected sites, ranging from minor housekeeping matters to major failings in the management of the stockpiled materials and are now subject to regulatory action.

In light of this and as a result of this and broader Government work, the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning released, in 2018, the Recycling Industry Strategic Plan. The purpose is to set out the pathway to a safe, resilient and efficient recycling system in Victoria, where kerbside recycling services continue to be provided to households.

This Strategic Plan was later complemented by the publication of the Recycling Victoria policy in 2020. This is - Victoria’s circular economy policy and action plan to overhaul our recycling system. This policy represents the Victorian Government’s action plan to reform our waste and recycling system over the next decade.

EPA continues to hold duty holders to account throughout the implementation of a Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate that will continue to work closely together with other government partners to identify, audit, and regulate sites. 

The criteria

When prioritising the identified recycling sites the Taskforce looked at a range of factors that included:

  • proximity to population centres
  • current stockpile levels
  • ongoing volumes of materials being accepted
  • capacity to continue accepting waste
  • existing fire management practices.

The Taskforce used this information against an overarching objective of protecting human and environmental health.

Waste management policy and guidance

While planning, building, OHS and fire prevention requirements already apply, the Victorian Government established the Waste Management Policy (Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials) (WMP) (PDF) to improve safety standards at Victorian waste and resource recovery facilities. The policy requires facility operators who store combustible recyclable and waste materials (CRWM) to manage the materials in a manner that minimises risks of harm to human health and the environment from fire. Non-compliance with the policy may lead to sanctions under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

To support industry to comply with the interim WMP, the Taskforce developed the Management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials - guideline (publication 1667) that provides practical advice on how to improve management of combustible materials. The guideline provides advice on:

  • conducting risk assessments
  • controls that should be in place
  • management plan requirements
  • storage requirements to prevent fire.

EPA led, in collaboration with the other Taskforce agencies, a review of the guideline in 2018.

The Waste Management Policy (Combustible Recyclable and Waste Materials) replaced the interim Waste Management Policy (Resource Recovery Facilities) when it expired on 28 August 2018. The WMP ensures that fire risks at these sites continue to be managed to minimise risks of harm to human health and the environment.

Consultation on the draft policy, supporting impact assessment, and guidelines closed on 1 August 2018. DELWP and EPA conducted various engagement and communication activities to ensure all stakeholders understood the proposed policy, and had an opportunity to provide comment.

An updated Management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials - guideline (publication 1667) was released in October 2018.

How you can help

EPA needs help from business and community members to identify more facilities that may pose a fire risk. Facilities that store combustible material can become a fire risk in a very short time. It is important for the Victorian community to report operations they are concerned about or facilities that have recently accumulated significant volumes of waste.

Reporting options

When reporting, you can help our staff by informing us that your report is to help the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce.

More information

Coolaroo fire response media release

Interim Waste Management Policy (Resource Recovery Facilities) (PDF) (Victorian Government Gazette)

Management and storage of combustible waste materials

Fire prevention: combustible recyclable and waste materials fact sheet (publication 1759)

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This page was copied from EPA's old website. It was last updated on 10 February 2020.

Reviewed 18 November 2020