Councils in Vic spent $89 million responding to the dumping of illegal waste in 2019/20, with ratepayers left to foot the clean-up bill. Only a handful of these waste crime perpetrators were punished or prosecuted … despite the fact that this is what ratepayers want, according to lobby group Keep Victoria Beautiful.
While there has been a dramatic uptick in construction, household, clothing and green waste discarded in parklands, on nature strips and on council property, the biggest growth has been in the dumping of asbestos contaminated soil.
Typically the profile of an offender is a commercial operator (construction businesses, civil engineering operators or rogue rubbish removalist) looking to offload waste on the cheap or a member of the public who is transient by nature and constantly on the move.
Although crime waste is widespread across Vic, the growth corridors of Melbourne’s north and north-west – where significant construction and property development is underway – are key problem areas.
These were among the stand-out results of the ‘Annual Illegal Waste Survey 2019-20’.
Conducted by leading environmental group, Keep Victoria Beautiful (KVB), the key intent of this landmark research was to determine the scale and impact of illegal waste across Vic and establish reliable data in order to improve state government policy.
Authorised officers from 53 of Vic’s 79 councils were interviewed for the survey.
KVB enforcement training manager, Travis Finlayson, believes the figures are conservative given that only councils were interviewed for survey (not all landowners) and given that waste crime picked up momentum during COVID with the closure of landfills and transfer stations to the general public, waste investigations being compromised and the explosion of people getting rid of unwanted items during lockdown.
The problem was further accelerated with an increase in the landfill levy in July (from $65.90 to $105.95 per tonne) which has resulted in commercial dumping reaching ‘epidemic’ proportions.
“We’re now seeing dumping activity extending into regional Vic where ‘crazy’ volumes of waste are being abandoned in national parks and forests, putting our environment, waterways and wildlife at enormous risk.
“In fact, what is even more alarming is how ‘brazen’ offending has become. It’s no longer happens under cover of darkness but in broad daylight for all to see. People do it because they know they can get away with it!”
Asked what the key barriers are to managing our burgeoning problem, respondents to the Annual Illegal Waste Survey say it is the sheer scale of dumping coupled with inadequate enforcement.
“Typically councils have an average of five staff working in enforcement but their time is divided across all areas of enforcement. Collectively these officers spend little more than 1.2 days per week managing illegal waste.
“However the average council is expected to monitor, manage and respond to around 11 incidents and call-outs each and every day!”
Also contributing to the enforcement problem is the fact that many councils don’t have the right policies, procedures and frameworks to enable their officers to do their jobs appropriately.
“What this means is that despite Councils being a joint regulator under the Environment Protection Act 2017 and despite officers having the powers to investigate and prosecute illegal dumping, the majority don’t know how to respond appropriately, particularly when it comes to difficult investigations.
“Neither do they have the confidence or courage to engage or prosecute offenders.”
Asked what can be done to fix the problem, survey respondents say there is an urgent need for the State Government and the EPA to truly throw their support behind councils, rather than cutting them loose and leaving them to manage the waste crime problem alone.
“We would like the State Government and EPA to develop and fund state-wide anti-litter education campaigns, encourage the sharing of intelligence between councils, finance officer training and create more effective enforcement procedures and processes.
“Currently much of this activity is being done on an ad hoc basis, with councils expected to manage these processes themselves … something regional and smaller councils can ill afford to do.”
Finlayson said improving council officers’ ability to investigate and prosecute illegal dumping is a logical quick fix,” said Finlayson. “As Vic’s only dedicated provider of illegal waste investigation and prosecution training for authorised officers in Vic, Keep Victoria Beautiful’s Litter Enforcement Officer Network (LEON)* is extremely well placed to rapidly train up officers across the state.
“We already have the runs on the board. Since getting underway little less than two years, LEON has put officers from as many as 15 councils through its training.
“However to be truly effective in reducing our $89 million waste crime response and remediation bill, it is vital that training be extended to all 79 councils. For just $270,000, the State Government can ensure another 460 new officers are trained up. This is a drop in the ocean when you think of the powerful impact it would have.”