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Kingston council’s resistance to extend life of recycling facility “extremely problematic”

The Kingston City Council’s decision to reject an application by Alex Fraser Group to extend the life of its recycling operations at Clarinda, has the group concerned that Victoria’s kerbside recycling will suffer even further.

It has been labelled an “extremely problematic decision” by Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan, with “disastrous” implications for Victoria according to Alex Fraser Group managing director Peter Murphy.

The state of Victoria has already been challenged by various factors, including the closure of several SKM recycling facilities in mid-2019 where more than 30 councils had to find alternative locations for recyclable material. Now, the Alex Fraser Group is concerned that by having its application to extend the life of its recycling facility denied, a further one million tonnes of recyclable material could end up in landfill.

The council’s decision was made on November 25. In a statement released on the following Friday, the council explained that it rejected the application on the basis that it did not meet the assessment criteria – including that it altered the condition of the existing planning permit, which specified that Alex Fraser could operate at that location for a maximum of 15 years.

Alex Fraser Group submitted two applications:

  1. A Secondary Consent application which allows an organisation or individual to get written consent or make minor changes to plans directly to Council, without the need to notify the local residents and businesses. A Secondary Consent amendment does not require the plans to be advertised and prevents both objections and appeal rights at VCAT.
  2. A formal amendment under the Planning and Environment Act; this application requires the council to notify local residents and businesses, which has occurred in this instance and to date has received 880 objections to the application, the council indicated.

The council will consider Alex Fraser’s second and formal application at its Planning Committee Meeting on December 11.

Alex Fraser Group is urging the state government to intervene and recyclingMurphy said that if the Victorian government allows the Clarinda Recycling Facility to be shut down by Kingston City Council, “it will be disastrous for the state’s recycling capacity, and for Victoria’s infrastructure program”.

The Clarinda Recycling Facility recycles up to a one million tonnes of recyclables into sustainable construction materials every year. It is set to increase its recycling by 200 million bottles per year, including glass from Kingston kerbside collections.

Murphy explained that if the facility is shut down, kerbside recycling will be further disrupted, recyclable glass will be stockpiled or landfilled and construction in the state will be affected.

“This decision by Kingston City Council will also cut off the supply of construction materials urgently needed for Victoria’s ‘Big Build’ – driving up costs, increasing trucks on south-eastern roads, and blowing out construction timelines of major projects. A major metropolitan quarry would need to be established to counter the material shortfall.”

Alex Fraser also put forward a Community Benefits Package, giving the Kingston community ownership of 22 hectares of land, along with $7.5 million for local sports and recreation facilities – which the group stated was ignored by the council.

“While some councillors clearly understood the broader impacts, and voted to support the extension, this council decision smacks of hypocrisy. Kingston City Council claims that it is committed to the environment, however this outcome undermines the community’s recycling effort, and will increase carbon emissions,” Murphy said.

Sloan said, “this is an extremely problematic decision at a time when Victoria and Australia have so many current challenges with glass, not to mention the impending export ban.

“This facility is successfully operating and using significant volumes of glass in civil infrastructure and it is vital in the repurposing of glass from yellow bins. This is a necessary and beneficial process as we consume way more than we can, at present, for bottle-to-bottle remanufacturing as there is only demand for 350,000 tonnes nationally.

“The council needs to realise the facility’s role in remanufacturing at a time when the state needs greater infrastructure development and secure markets, which this facility has, not to mention the local jobs it creates. Successful remanufacturing  facilities like this with proven markets are vital to Victoria getting through its current recycling challenges and they should be encouraged and supported,” Sloan said.

While Kingston mayor Georgina Oxley acknowledged that Alex Fraser can play a strong role in Victoria’s recycling crisis, she explained that Kingston residents feel they have put up with the waste industry located on their doorstep in the Kingston Green Wedge for too long.

“Alex Fraser has known for four years they would need to find a new location, and the Victorian government has been working with them to find alternatives. They still have another four years to find a suitable site that will ensure both the company’s long-term success and an end to waste-related activities in the Green Wedge,” Oxley said.

Alex Fraser’s permit currently ends in December 2023. The group applied to council for permission to stay until 2038.

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is in support of calling on Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, to intervene in the City of Kingston’s decision.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the Clarinda recycling facility is of state significance.

“It’s capacity to recycle up to one million tonnes of construction materials represents approximately 25 per cent of Melbourne’s recycled material each year. To lose this site will have significant ramifications for resource recovery in Victoria and the population of Melbourne.”

A statement from NWRIC explained that the situation illustrated another major weakness in the Victorian government’s ability to manage waste and recycling, where “clearly they have failed to integrate their infrastructure planning with local and state government planning regulations”.

If Victorians want best practice recycling it is important that state significant resource recovery hubs identified in state plans are protected and not simply overridden by local decisions, NWRIC’s statement continued.

Murphy added that the Kingston City Council’s decision showed that it does not care about the impact it would have on the local community or the state.

“Jobs, millions of tonnes of recycling, and Victoria’s ‘Big Build’ is at stake. The Victorian Government needs to intervene now, and ensure this critical recycling facility continues,” Murphy said.