Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has fined SKM Services Pty Ltd over $16,000 for breaching the requirements of statutory notices at its Coolaroo and Laverton North sites in January 2019.
EPA Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce Manager Danny Childs said the company was issued notices that required it to modify the configuration of its combustible recyclable and waste material stockpiles.
“The company didn’t do this within required timeframes, which meant it failed to comply with the Victorian Waste Management Policy and resulted in EPA issuing further notices that meant the company had to cease accepting any further waste at either site until compliance was reached,” Mr Childs said.
Mr Childs said inspections at both Coolaroo and Laverton North sites on 8 January had revealed both sites were non-compliant with the Waste Management Policy.
“Stockpiles of waste material were stored in baled and loose stockpiles of combustible recyclable and waste material without appropriate separation distances between stockpiles, buildings, or the premises boundary. This would have posed a significant challenge for fire authorities if ignited and would have spread rapidly,” Mr Childs said.
“On 11 January 2019 EPA issued and served a notice on both premises that required the company to bring both sites into compliance with the Waste Management Policy.
“EPA again inspected the sites in early February, which is when the company was served notices that required it to cease accepting waste at both Coolaroo and Laverton North sites.”
The Laverton North site reached compliance on 12 March and the Coolaroo site on 21 March.
Mr Childs said SKM is well aware of its obligations to comply with the Waste Management Policy.
“For SKM to not comply with a notice issued by EPA shows disrespect to the law, the community and our environment. Not controlling and managing combustible material has been proven in the past to have a significant impact on surrounding communities, the environment and on emergency management resources in the event of a fire,” he said.
In July 2017, a fire occurred at SKM’s Coolaroo site that took several days to bring under control and resulted in a significant pollution event which EPA alleges had the potential to be harmful to humans and the environment.
EPA can confirm that SKM Services Pty Ltd and its director have been charged with relevant offences under the Environment Protection Act 1970.
This matter is now before the courts
From 1 July 2020, EPA will have a new Environment Protection Act that will strengthen EPA’s regulatory powers relating to waste in several ways including:
Modernising EPA’s inspection and inquiry powers and the introduction of strong regulatory duties across the whole waste chain from generators to transporters to receivers of waste;
Significant increases in maximum fines and penalties, including potential jail time for repeat illegal waste dumping offences; and
Stronger fit and proper person requirements and prohibited person provisions means undesirable operators can be prevented from holding a permission and/or be excluded from undertaking specified activities.
The new Act will also give EPA a range of new measures to actively prevent pollution to improve Victoria’s environment, health and wellbeing. Preventing environmental harm is at the core of this Act.
In an Australian first, the Act will introduce a general preventative environmental duty that is criminally enforceable.
The general duty will require people conducting activities that pose risks to human health and the environment from pollution and waste to understand those risks and take reasonable steps to eliminate or minimise them.
This is a major change in the way EPA protects the environment – it requires businesses to be proactive in identifying and implementing practicable risk management measures to reduce the impacts of pollution and waste. It also empowers EPA to support businesses to prevent harm, rather than being solely reliant upon remedial measures after environmental damage has occurred.
To better reflect the seriousness of environmental offences, the Act will also substantially increase maximum penalties.
For corporations that breach the law, the most serious offence would attract maximum penalties of 20,000 penalty units ($3.2 million), doubling from 10,000 penalty units ($1.6 million) in the current Act.
For individuals breaching the law, there will be a substantial increase in the maximum penalty from 2,500 penalty units ($0.4 million) to 4,000 penalty units ($0.6 million).
For corporations that conduct illegal dumping, penalties will double to 10,000 penalty units ($1.6 million), up from 5,000 penalty units ($0.8 million) in the current Act.