Alleged failure by recycler SKM Services Pty Ltd to meet the requirements of the Victorian Waste Management Policy has seen Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) issue the company notices that require it to stop accepting recyclable waste materials at its Maffra Street, Coolaroo and Gilbertson Road, Laverton North sites.
EPA CEO Dr Wilkinson said that in the event of a fire at either site, large amounts of plastic materials could likely generate significant community impacts from smoke.
"These waste stockpiles could pose a significant risk and challenge for firefighting agencies if ignited. Fire water run off could also enter waterways and have long-lasting impacts on the environment due to the toxic contaminants," Dr Wilkinson said.
Dr Wilkinson said EPA officers recently inspected both sites and observed large stockpiles of combustible recyclable waste materials from kerb-side collections stored without appropriate separation distances between stockpiles, buildings or the premises boundary.
"EPA has determined that these stockpiles are in breach of the Waste Management Policy that has been in place since August 2017 following a major fire at the Coolaroo site. As the regulator, EPA’s view is that SKM has fallen short of meeting the requirements of the policy, which is completely unacceptable and poses a real risk to local communities," Dr Wilkinson said.
"EPA has also determined that SKM has not taken reasonable steps to manage and store combustible recyclable waste materials at these facilities in a manner that minimises the risks of harm to human health and the environment from fire.
"Given the Waste Management Policy has been in place for almost 18 months, SKM, and the recycling industry as a whole, has had ample time to meet the requirements of the policy to ensure the safety of local communities."
Recycling facility operators that store combustible recyclable waste materials are required to manage materials in a manner that minimises risks of harm to human health and the environment from fire.
Issues with stockpiles at SKM’s Coolaroo and Laverton North sites identified by EPA officers include: size of stockpiles, configuration of stockpiles, lack of access, separation distances of stockpiles from boundaries, buildings and other stockpiles and potential sources of ignition.
The issuing of the notices requires SKM to stop accepting further material until such time as EPA has confirmed that the sites have been returned to compliance.
Dr Wilkinson said EPA is acting in the interest of the local community to safeguard human health and the environment.
"Operators must meet their environmental duty to the community and EPA will hold operators to account if they don’t’," Dr Wilkinson said.
EPA will formally launch an investigation into SKM in relation to these matters which may lead to penalties under the Environment Protection Act 1970.
EPA is nearing the completion of its investigation into the 2017 Coolaroo fire and is likely to have more comment on this in the coming weeks.
Following a major fire at the SKM Coolaroo recycling plant in July 2017, the Victorian Government established the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce, which is headed up by EPA, to inspect recycling facilities across the state and tackle stockpiles that pose a fire risk that can cause harm to human health and environment.
Since the taskforce was set up, there have been 47 inspections of the Coolaroo site to ensure recycling operations comply with the Waste Management Policy. Fourteen inspections have occurred at the Laverton site.
These inspections have resulted in EPA issuing the Coolaroo site with 12 notices. Some of these notices related to clean up of the site following the 2017 fire. Further notices relating to stormwater issues and stockpile configuration have also been issued.
There have also been eight notices issued to the Laverton site. These relate to stockpile issues, stormwater issues and a requirement for a fire risk assessment to be undertaken.
EPA holds duty holders to account in the recycling sector. Since its inception, the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce has conducted 466 inspections at 155 sites across Victoria that have resulted in 144 remedial notices and 23 sanctions issued. Where remedial notices or actions are required, follow up inspections will be carried out to ensure compliance.
"The work conducted by the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce has resulted in a reduction in fire frequency and severity at recycling facilities across Victoria lessening the impact of fire on the community and the environment," Dr Wilkinson said.