Something smelly in the air 

EEG vs a waste incinerator

Unsorted rubbish would all be burnt including many highly toxic items.

Since December 2018, EEG has been working with the lawyers at Environment Justice Australia to challenge the EPA over their approval of a giant rubbish incinerator being built in the Latrobe Valley.  It would require a guaranteed supply of 650,000 tonnes of unsorted domestic and industrial waste to incinerate each year for the next 25-30 years. Through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), we are appealing the EPA works approval that was granted to Nippon’s Reflex pulp and paper mill last year.

We believe the EPA did not properly consider various impacts including how the highly toxic ash and water would be handled and disposed of, the unacceptable air pollution generated and that the proposal is at odds with the State Environment Protection Policy (SEPP).

For quite a few years now, Australian Paper (AP), the 100% Japanese-owned (Nippon) woodchip and paper mill, has not been financially viable. It has relied heavily on both government subsidies and an ancient agreement dating back to 1936. This legislated agreement promised the mill access to extremely cheap logs for decades. Called the Wood Pulp Agreement it was extended in 1996 until 2030 (Forests Wood Pulp Agreement Act) and still allows relentless over-logging of Mountain and Alpine Ash from the Central Highlands. Both the forests and the wildlife that depends on these forests are IUCN listed as critically endangered.

That is the potted history of the mill.

The Nippon paper mill that produces Reflex paper, both destroys public forests and pollutes the community’s air.

There have been rumors that Nippon wants to sell its Maryvale mill as it is an uneconomic business.  One of the major expenses is the increasing power/gas costs and competition from imported papers.  This situation coincided with a major waste problem that landed with the Victorian government when China refused to accept our rubbish. 

Other players in this mix include the CFMEU. The mill employs many unionised workers. Suez is another player. It is a global corporation in the waste incinerator business and as other countries are ditching their incineration industries, Suez is looking for new gullible governments.

Now – enter Daniel Andrews, who needs to find an easy solution to the mounting rubbish problem and avoid another Hazelwood style jobs-loss political headache.

Other than the AP workers, most in the Latrobe Valley are fed up with the pollution they are forced to endure and are not inclined to believe the reassurances of ‘state of the art’ pollution control, careful management and so on.  They also do not want to be the repository for Melbourne’s rubbish.  The proposal for waste incinerators in the ACT and west of Sydney have both failed due to mounting community outrage and resistance.  

The Suez/AP $600 million incinerator plan has a few more barriers ahead of it yet. Now let’s add into the mix, that 2/3rds of Victoria’s councils are demanding the government urgently acts to help establish a Victorian recycling industry.  The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has written a 5 point action plan which focuses squarely on reducing and recycling waste.  We’d assume most councils would prefer this direction than the expensive alternative of signing a 25 year contract to truck their waste out to Maryvale for incineration when the circular waste economy is just around the corner.

If Nippon wants to reduce its energy bills it could consider investing in a large scale solar farm onsite. If Premier Andrews wants to solve the ever increasing rubbish problem from the ever increasing population, EEG would prefer he assists the establishment of waste recycling industries. If plastics and organic waste could be recycled that would remove a significant amount of the overall rubbish. If unnecessary packaging was reduced and a ban on single-use plastics along with a container deposit scheme – there would be no need for a hugely expensive, unpopular incinerator that simply concentrates toxins into water, air and ash. 

To justify the building of such a massive incinerator and guarantee a financial return on the outlay, it could in fact encourage large amounts of waste to be created for decades to come.

The VCAT preliminary Compulsory Conference is scheduled for May 22nd.

More information on the many problems of waste incinerators can be found on the National Toxics Network website here and here.

EEG’s dot point submission against the proposal can be found here.

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