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.
On this page, you can find out more about:
Taskforce aims and achievements
The Taskforce is auditing 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 have been identified, with those facilities considered high risk made a priority.
The Taskforce also aims to improve industry awareness of reducing and managing fire risks from stockpiled combustible materials and support best practice.
Chaired by EPA, the Taskforce comprises:
- the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB)
- Country Fire Authority (CFA)
- Emergency Management Victoria (EMV)
- WorkSafe Victoria
- the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).
The Taskforce is undertaking joint inspections to ensure that combustible recyclable and waste materials (CRWM) are stored and managed appropriately, and taking action when required. Inspections are focusing 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.
As at 15 October 2018:
- over 800 sites have been identified.
- more than 700 sites have been assessed against a range of criteria to prioritise those requiring more urgent attention.
- over 200 sites requiring urgent attention were identified and have either been visited or will receive more urgent attention.
- 345 sites have evidence of stockpiles.
- 358 on-site inspections across 128 sites have been carried out.
- 84 remedial notices and 14 sanctions have been issued.
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 has identified that the resource recovery sector is generally poorly prepared and ill-equipped when it comes to managing fire risks at their facilities. Issues have been 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.
EPA continues to hold duty holders to account. Where remedial notices or actions are required, follow up inspections will be carried out.
The Taskforce and its established the interagency working group (which includes WorkSafe, Sustainability Victoria, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group and Local Government Victoria) will continue to work closely together to identify, audit, and regulate sites through to June 2018.
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) 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 is leading, 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, the supporting impact assessment, and the existing 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.
Managing combustible recyclable and waste materials in Victoria: Response to comments and all written submissions can be accessed on Engage Victoria. The response to comments summarises the issues, concerns and comments raised during the consultation. It provides the government's response to those comments, including how feedback has been considered in the final design of the waste management policy.
An updated guideline will be released later this year. Until then, the current Management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials - guideline (publication 1667) is to be used for practical guidance on how to comply with the policy.
Once the updated guidelines has been released our aim is to work with the industry to test its application in supporting compliance with the policy, and to identify the need for additional support materials.
How can I help?
The Taskforce 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.
When reporting, you can help our staff by informing us that your report is to help the Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce.