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Former SKM facilities in Victoria reopened by Cleanaway

Cleanaway has reopened several waste processing facilities in Victoria after they were closed under the ownership of SKM Recycling.

The closure of the facilities in Victoria in July 2019, resulted in dozens of councils having no option but to send recyclable material to landfill.

SKM Recycling was initially issued notices by the Victorian EPA as it was not complying with requirements set under the Victorian Waste Management Policy. In July, the company stopped receiving recyclables from 33 councils. It was then placed into receivership in August after it was announced the company owed $100m, with $60m of that owed to Cleanaway Waste Management.

In October, Cleanaway acquired five of the sites, including three material recovery facilities (MRFs) and a transfer station in Victoria; and a MRF in Tasmania.

In a statement on January 28, Cleanaway announced that it had cleared waste stockpiles and rehabilitated waste processing facilities in Victoria – restoring recycling services to the state.

Facilities in Coolaroo, Hallam, Geelong and the Laverton North MRF are now fully operational.

Cleanaway CEO and managing director Vik Bansal said it was not acceptable that after years of conscientiously sorting their recyclables, Victorians were told that their recycling must be put on hold for an extended period.

“Our teams worked tirelessly to bring these facilities back to the required environmental and operational standards in an extremely short period of time without compromise to safety or quality.

“We are working closely with our council customers to restore the trust in recycling, while we continue to optimise our operations to support a sustainable recycling business.” Bansal said.

The sites were overworked and lacking in maintenance for a significant period, requiring weeks of operational and logistical clean-up efforts, Cleanaway reported.

Stockpiled waste was removed from sites, machinery and conveyor belts were replaced, and optical sorting systems were recalibrated.

Moving forward, one of the issues Cleanaway has identified is contamination within recycling streams, which can affect the quality of materials received at the facilities and damage machinery.

About 20-23 per cent of non-recyclable material is received at Cleanaway’s MRFs from commingled recycling collections.

It’s estimated that an additional 10 per cent of recyclable material is lost due to contamination in processing.

Research conducted by Sustainability Victoria suggested that in 2016–17, contamination levels in the state averaged 6.5 per cent – up from 5.6 per cent in 2015–16. The kerbside contamination rate for 2017–18 increased by 3.9 per cent, but Sustainability Victoria put this down to a change in the method used for calculation. This brought the contamination rate up to 10.4 per cent.

A Victorian Local Government Annual Waste Services Report 2017–18 report released by Sustainability Victoria in 2019, stated that the increase was the result of an improved calculation method in 2017–18, rather than a change in Victorians’ recycling behaviour.

But, Victorians recycling habits do play a role in the contamination rates as people are placing items in the wrong bins. Bansal said that moving forward, Cleanaway is working with residents and council customers to minimise contamination and improve the quality of recyclables collected.

“To further incentivise recycling, our new contract with Geelong Region Alliance includes a discount for councils with low levels of contamination and a commitment to work with councils to find viable local solutions for recyclables,” Bansal explained.

Cleanaway will be supporting councils with a range of educational material to help manage any uncertainty over bin inclusions including flyers, videos and social media.

Sustainability Victoria is also helping councils with funding towards improving kerbside collection systems.

Announced in November 2019, Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Maribyrnong City Council, Surf Coast Shire Council, Warrnambool City Council and Yarra City Council received a share of $1.25m.

Both Warrnambool City Council and Yarra City Council will use the grants to separate glass from the kerbside commingle recycling bin as glass can break and contaminate plastics and paper – making these harder to recycle.