Fix state’s unprecedented recycling mess now, councils urge government


While Visy continues to accept recycling, PolyTrade – which works for around 10 of the state’s councils – is also at risk of being shut down by the Environment Protection Authority.

The EPA closed SKM due to concerns its recycling stockpile at storage centres in Laverton North and Coolaroo were a fire risk. The authority has now demanded PolyTrade also show why its facility in Hallam is not a similar risk. It has until the end of the month to fix the problem.

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio.

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio.Credit:AAP

On Thursday, the body representing Victoria’s 79 councils released its Rescue our Recycling Action Plan.

The Municipal Association of Victoria, tired of seeing councils blamed by the Andrews government for the issue, wants Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to provide funding relief to cover the extra costs incurred from sending waste to landfill.

They want the state government to fund a short-term fix for councils from the state’s Sustainability Fund, which has more than $500 million derived from landfill levies charged to councils.

Thousands of tonnes of recyclables have now been dumped in landfill at a hefty cost to affected councils.

The association has also demanded the government:

  • Commit to introducing a container deposit scheme in Victoria – something Labor has long opposed.
  • Require all consumer packaging sold in Australia display recycling labelling to improve community understanding of what is recyclable.
  • Establish greater state oversight of the recycling industry to improve transparency in delivering an essential community service.
  • start spending money from the Sustainability Fund investment on recycling sorting and processing infrastructure, plus market research and development to drive demand for recycled products

Ms D’Ambrosio has this week told parliament about a third of the 32 councils affected by SKM’s ban had found alternative processors.

Port Phillip Council had sent 400 tonnes of recycled waste to landfill at a cost of $52,000 as of last week. Since the SKM closures, Hume Council has redirected 91,200 recycling bins to landfill. And Darebin mayor Susan Rennie said her council had sent more 750 tonnes of recyclables to landfill costing tens of thousands of dollars extra.

Waste that could have been recycled gushes out of an SKM facility in Melbourne's west.

Waste that could have been recycled gushes out of an SKM facility in Melbourne’s west.

Victoria’s recycling sector was plunged into chaos last year after China’s National Sword policy saw it stop accepting low-grade imported recycling waste. Attempts made last year by the Andrews government to repair the industry failed.

The Greens are also pushing for a container deposit scheme much like the cash-for-cans program popular in the 1980s but later scrapped.

Coral Ross, a Boroondara councillor who took over the presidency of the MAV this week, said China’s policy change last year “exposed the vulnerability of our recycling industry” The current crisis was, she said “primarily due to Australia’s unsustainable levels of waste generation and market failure”.

“We need to … reduce the amount of waste generated, strengthen our capacity for onshore processing and create new markets for recycled material.”

Clay Lucas is a senior reporter for The Age. Clay has worked at The Age since 2005, covering urban affairs, transport, state politics, local government and workplace relations for The Age and Sunday Age.

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