EEG secures tougher conditions for waste burner

EEG challenged EPA approval for AP’s industrial garbage incinerator

MEDIA RELEASE
4 June 2019

Environment East Gippsland has legally negotiated stricter conditions to the Environment Protection Authority’s approval of Australian Paper’s proposed Maryvale Mill waste incinerator.

Waste incinerator smoke stack pollution remains a serious concern, despite assurances.

“Although we still believe the proposal is a huge step backwards as a solution to deal with domestic and industrial rubbish, we are pleased that the EPA and Australian Paper have agreed to improved conditions on the design and operation of what could be Australia’s largest waste incinerator”, said Jill Redwood from Environment East Gippsland.

EEG agreed to withdraw its appeal after Australian Paper and the EPA agreed to amend the approval to respond to the group’s concerns. New conditions negotiated by EEG include:
• A new condition to make it explicit that the incinerator is only to be used to burn non-hazardous commercial
waste.
• Amendments to ensure that the incinerator is designed to allow for ease of upgrades to achieve stricter emission limits in the future.
• Installation of continuous Emission Monitoring of Mercury as soon as that technology is recognised as a Best Available Technique by the European Commission.
• The monitoring of some of the most toxic and harmful pollutants, Volatile Organic Compounds (dioxins and furans), will be upgraded from 3 monthly to semi-continuous sampling.
• Loads of rubbish will now be required to be diverted out of the incineration stream if they contain ‘more than negligible amounts of recyclable material’, rather than the previous threshold of ‘mainly recyclable material’.

Another new condition incorporated into the EPA Works Approval confirms that Victoria’s native forests or plantations will not be burnt in the Incinerator, with wood waste limited to a maximum of 1% of the feedstock.

“We thank the lawyers at Environment Justice Australia for their excellent work on this extremely complex and technical challenge. The strengthened conditions should ensure that the community has better access to information about the incinerator’s emissions and should better protect both the community and environment.”

“The government recently pledged $34 million in its May budget to strengthen the recycling sector and is currently developing a circular economy action plan due to be finished by 2020. Yet this incinerator would be in direct competition for the rubbish that should be recycled” said Jill Redwood. “We are hoping that this incinerator will prove economically unviable as the Victorian community gets behind the more sustainable circular economy. This focuses on reducing, reusing and recycling, rather than incineration.”

Environment Justice Australia filed the proceedings late last year.

According to EJA lawyer Nick Witherow, “The settlement shows the importance of community groups scrutinising proposals and taking action to strengthen conditions on projects that can threaten a region’s health and well-being.”

Tighter conditions argued by EEG and our EJA lawyers have improved pollution controls and accountability on the proponents of the massive waste incinerator.

More details

  • The incinerator is a backward solution to the mountains of waste society creates, but our VCAT appeal was the only avenue available to challenge it.  
  • If it was to be built in Camberwell or Doncaster the outcry would be deafening.
  • Latrobe valley is already considered a toxic dead loss anyway.
  • AP claims it will only add 0.1% of pollution to the valley’s already poor quality air. But that was calculated with very creative arithmetic.
  • AP and its incinerator partner Suez, can ask the EPA to have the conditions changed in the future.
  • AP also has a history of breaching its environmental conditions and EPA has a history of doing almost nothing to enforce it (see below).
  • Toxins will not magically disappear but will be emitted into the air and concentrated into flu stack ash and bottom ash in a more concentrated form (25-30% of the original rubbish volume).
  • Currently AP has no idea how to deal with the thousands of tonnes of extremely toxic ash from the waste.
  • AP claims they could sell it as road base. But this would easily leach into drains and waterways.  
  • AP won’t separate toxic items and recyclables as the waste comes in. They would rely on the public to separate their rubbish.
  • Smoke detectors, fluro globes, batteries and contaminated commercial waste could all go into the burner, as there would be no checking.

The good news:

  • As Victorian councils push to have a decent local recycling industry, AP could find it difficult to secure 25 year contracts with councils for their garbage.
  • The government is currently developing a circular economy action plan, due to be finished by 2020.
  • Garbage burners are being defunded and decommissioned in many European countries.
  • A giant garbage burner is an expensive and dirty solution to a rubbish problem. A recycling hub in the Latrobe Valley could create far more secure jobs minus the added toxins as waste and air emissions.
  • Any decision to alter the Works Approval conditions can be reviewed under various Acts. 
  • The ongoing operations of AP can also be monitored and any contraventions make AP liable for major penalties/fines.

Australian Paper’s own reporting raises questions about its ability to manage pollution 

“Australian Paper has consistently demonstrated an inability to comply with existing licence conditions for its paper mill.    

There are currently 18 licence conditions on the paper mill at Maryvale. Of those 18 conditions, Australian Paper has failed to achieve compliance with 11 of them for at least three of the last five years.   

The last time Australian Paper achieved compliance with 18 out of 18 licence conditions was 2013. 

The licence breaches variously include consistent failures to comply with toxic air pollution limits, contaminated surface water discharges, offensive odours and contamination of soil and groundwater. “

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