What is a waste stockpile?
Stockpiling of waste is the accumulation of one or more materials by a waste producer or a waste business. Waste is stockpiled for several reasons. Temporary storage of waste can occur as a normal part of resource recovery operations, for example, waiting until enough material is accumulated to treat or dispose of it efficiently. Waste intended for reuse or recycling might be stored while commodity prices are low, until the value of the recovered materials rises. Some stockpiles are simply an inappropriate waste disposal.
Recent changes to international recycling markets have created challenges for Victoria’s recycling industry, leading to increased risk of stockpiling of recyclable waste. The government is taking action to support Victoria’s recycling industry in adapting to these challenges, and to ensure the security of municipal recycling.
Poorly managed stockpiles, or stockpiles of dangerous wastes, can be a fire and pollution hazard with risks to community safety, amenity and environmental health. Stockpiles can also distort Victoria's resource recovery markets, for example by undermining recycling businesses.
How are stockpiles managed in Victoria?
The Victorian Government has regulatory tools to limit potentially hazardous stockpiles and manage the risks posed by existing stockpiles.
Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) regulates the risk of fire impacts on human health and the environment posed by the management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste material at resource recovery facilities .
After the July 2017 fire at a major recycling facility in Coolaroo, an interim Waste Management Policy (Resource Recovery Facilities) was established to give EPA powers to require sites that store combustible recyclable and waste materials to minimise their fire risk.
The interim policy will expire on 28 August 2018, and the Victorian Government is developing an ongoing Waste Management Policy (Combustible Recyclable and Waste Material) to replace it so that EPA can keep regulating these sites to minimise the risk of fire.
EPA also leads the Victorian Government Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce , established in the wake of the July 2017 fire, to improve safety standards at resource recovery facilities. The multi-agency taskforce has inspected over 100 facilities across the state, focussing on improving fire prevention and management practices.
EPA can impose material storage limits though works approvals and licence conditions for sites managing prescribed industrial waste (hazardous waste). The EPA can also seek financial assurance for storage of certain materials, to ensure the site can be cleaned-up if required.
For existing stockpiles that pose a risk to the environment and human health, the EPA can issue notices that require the removal or better management of a waste stockpile. These notices include Pollution Abatement Notices that require stockpile owners to prevent further environmental damage, and Clean Up Notices that require the removal of waste.
The Victorian Government's broader waste and resource recovery program integrates infrastructure planning, education and market development for recovered resources, to address some of the underlying supply and demand issues that lead to waste stockpiles.
The Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Plan provides a framework to maximise the diversion of materials from landfills for viable recovery and minimise community, environment and public health impacts of waste management systems.
The Victorian Market Development Strategy for Recovered Resources guides programs that build the quality, reputation and demand for products made from recycled content, pulling materials out of stockpiles and landfills. For example, Sustainability Victoria worked with VicRoads to amend specifications and develop the business case to increase the amount of recycled concrete, crushed brick and glass fines used in road construction. Sustainability Victoria is now investigating opportunities to use more recycled tyres in road construction and is leading the development of a national market development strategy for used tyres.
The Victorian Government also works with the Commonwealth Government on a range of product stewardship initiatives that place responsibilities on producers to reduce the impact of products, throughout their lifecycle, on the environment and on human health and safety.
Other measures, such as Fire Prevention Notices from the Country Fire Authority, Metropolitan Fire Brigade or local governments, require landholders to take steps to protect life and property from the threat of fire. Since August 2017, waste tyre premises below the licensing threshold are also obliged to minimise their fire risk through the interim Waste Management Policy (Resource Recovery Facilities).
How will stockpiles be managed in the future?
The independent inquiry into the EPA identified illegal dumping and stockpiling of hazardous and non-hazardous waste as key reform priorities. As part of its response to this inquiry, the Andrews Labor Government will modernise and reform Victoria's environmental protection framework to better to manage the impacts of pollution and waste (Recommendation 5.1). The government will also look at where other states have had success in reducing stockpiling through amending collection and rebate mechanisms (Recommendation 21.2). The government is committed to a waste and resource recovery system that works for Victorians — to reduce risks to human health and the environment, improve resource efficiency, and reduce waste to landfill.