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Report on Victoria’s waste management system found key agencies failed to manage the sector

A report on Victoria’s waste management system has been released and found that several key agencies in the state have failed to effectively manage the sector, which is what led to “significant amounts of recyclables ending up in landfill and increased stockpiling posing unacceptable risks to public health and the environment”.

Auditor-General Andrew Greaves said in his Recovering and Reprocessing Resources from Waste report, which was recently tables in parliament, that a significant amount of waste Victorians send to landfill could be recycled or reprocessed, but state agencies are responding to the issue in an “ad hoc” and “reactive” way.

The report specifically took aim at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) for failing to fulfil its leadership role to ensure the state is operating under an overarching waste policy.

The report said that China foreshadowed major restrictions on imported waste in its 2013 “green fence policy”, but the Environment Department failed to anticipate the impact on Victoria’s recycling system.

“Without clear state-level plans for how to manage recyclables in this new environment, stockpiles will likely continue to grow and pose unnecessary risks, and waste to landfills will continue to rise,” the report found.

“Without such a policy since 2014, Victorian waste management agencies have been operating in an uncertain environment and are unable to effectively prioritise their limited time and resources.

“Given our reliance on exporting to China, DELWP could have more proactively monitored earlier developments in China to better anticipate potential impacts and minimise the adverse consequences.”

Another key agency the report took aim at was the state EPA, which according to Greaves failed to properly regulate the waste industry. The report says this is what has led to an increase in the dangerous stockpiling of combustible recyclable and waste materials.

“The EPA intervened only at the point of crisis. The extent of waste stockpiling across Victoria shows that they are not isolated instances of poor waste regulation – it has become a large-scale and systemic state-wide problem,” the report found.

Greaves made several recommendations for the Victorian government and associated agencies, which included:

  • Creation of a state-wide waste policy;
  • Reviewing and updating waste strategies;
  • Clarifying the role of government agencies;
  • Increased enforcement of stockpiling regulations;
  • Developing key infrastructure;
  • Improving the quality and reliability of waste data; and
  • Developing strategies to reduce reliance on international markets.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio welcomed the report, saying it would help to reduce landfill and strengthen oversight of the waste sector, though rejected suggestions the government had not spent enough on the recycling system.