Kerbside recycling to be sent to landfill as waste crisis unfolds

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Two other councils, Casey and Glen Eira, also confirmed that recyclables would be sent to landfill early in the week. 

Casey mayor Amanda Stapledon said waste for recycling from her municipality was taken to SKM’s Hallam site for recycling and then transferred to the now closed plant at Laverton.

But she said SKM advised the council that the Hallam site would be closed until Wednesday.

“As a result, Casey will divert recycle material to landfill on Monday and Tuesday. This is only a temporary measure to relieve pressure and allow SKM to properly clear the site,” she said.

“Residents should continue to separate recyclable material and council will resume delivering recyclables to the facility as soon as it is back online.”

On Sunday, Hume City Council mayor Carly Moore said it was likely that recyclable material would be sent to landfill but a final decision had not been made.

Port Phillip mayor Dick Gross said SKM Services had advised the council it planned to resume recycling operations at affected plants by Wednesday.

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Cr Gross said the likelihood of strong odours and risk of litter from overflowing recycling bins ending up in Port Phillip Bay prompted the council to use landfill before reverting to normal recycling collection as soon as possible.

“Council and our community are passionate about sustainability so we explored every possible avenue to avoid resorting to landfill even temporarily,” Cr Gross said.

SKM Services has contracts with multiple councils in Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Recycling plants are now stockpiling after China refused to accept exported waste. Credit:Jennifer Soo

Councils will get further briefings this week about whether recycling operations will resume at SKM.

The Age has attempted to contact the company for comment.

Municipal Association of Victoria president Mary Lalios said she expected more councils would send some recyclable waste to landfill this week.

“I think it’s extremely likely but it has to be a last resort,” she said.

Cr Lalios said even short closures of the SKM sites could have far-reaching effects if recyclable material ended up in landfill.

“Even if it’s just two or three days, that’s environmental damage.”

She called on the state government to do more to help prevent similar crises from unfolding in future.

The EPA notices follow a fire at the Coolaroo site in 2017 that burned for 11 days, and sent clouds of smoke across Melbourne, forcing residents from their homes.

Another fire broke out at the company’s South Geelong plant last year.

Cr Moore said it was “unfortunate that we are in this position”.

“We will continue to collect our residents’ recycling as usual and we encourage all residents to continue to recycle,” she said.

Cr Moore said there was “still uncertainty about recycling this week”.

Cardinia Shire mayor Graeme Moore said his council would do everything possible to avoid sending recyclable waste to landfill, but conceded it might be the only option this week.

“That would be pretty devastating to our community,” he said.

A City of Melbourne spokeswoman said the council was working to find “viable long-term solutions” for its municipal kerbside recycling.

“The City of Melbourne is doing everything it can to prevent kerbside recycling from being put into landfill and is encouraging residents to continue recycling as normal,” she said.

Victoria’s recycling sector was thrown into chaos after China stopped accepting low-grade exported waste.

Victorian Waste Management Association chief executive Peter Anderson said governments should offer incentives to businesses to create products from recycled material, including plastics, which would help prevent stockpiling.

“We need to be able to create markets to support recycling,” he said.

Mr Anderson said the situation had become urgent because there was already waste piling up at SKM sites that would never be recycled.

“There’s no market for it,” he said.

Many councils have called on the state government to use its Sustainability Fund, which has hundreds of millions of dollars, to help create a solution to the recycling crisis.

Benjamin is a state political reporter

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