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Victorian EPA Review Hazardous Waste

At an industry briefing last week, Victorian EPA boss John Merritt discussed the review that industry had been expecting, coming just two months after a scathing appraisal of the agency by Victoria's Auditor-General. Since the finidings of the report were released in June, prescribed waste contractors have seen an increase in inspections said Veolia Environmental Services’ Matt Stanelos.

“We’ve seen an increased follow up on paperwork,” said Stanelos, “and a bigger presence from the EPA in general.”

He said any changes to the existing system, arising from the findings of the Auditor-General’s review would result in “some goal post shifting” which has the potential to breed uncertainty until the review is complete.

The review proposed by Merritt appears to be targeting the compliance and enforcement systems of the EPA. It will commence with an internal communication and consultation process over the next six months before engaging with the industry.

“We are very keen to engage in the review process,” said Stanelos, “It’s really about bolstering their [EPA’s] information systems and fostering their compliance activities based on what that information makes available to them.”

With a sizeable investment in the management of prescribed waste including 60+ vehicle permits and capability to transport over 40 million litres of non-flammable, hazardous PIW (prescribed industrial waste) liquids and solids each year, Veolia wants to maintain its “good working relationship” with the EPA.

Under Veolia’s sustainability covenant with the EPA, dating back to 2007, the company has a commitment to resource efficiency through diversion of PIW from landfill, up to 35,000 tonnes over five years.

Stanelos said that prescribed waste generation is on the decline. “Customers, with the help of PIW contractors and the EPA, are getting smarter in terms of reducing waste, recycling and dewatering of liquid waste volume at their sites.

“We are seeing lower volumes in liquid waste streams but with a higher level of solids…so, more high-value, low-volume waste.”

He said there are a number of waste treatment technologies currently being developed that could present a “technological step change” and affect the way the market works.

Veolia is examining a technology to extract hydrocarbons and water from its prescribed waste, thereby reducing the principal hazard going into landfill. It expects to make an announcement about it before the end of the year.

It’s been a year since the EPA rewrote the Prescribed Waste Regulations and updated guidelines for industrial waste. Since then, the agency has had a change of leadership, bringing with it a greater focus on regulation and compliance. The EPA has also undergone a restructure which has changed the position of waste within the organisation.

“There used to be a waste management unit within the EPA,” said Stanelos, “which drove a broader policy position from the EPA on waste and that has been disbanded and spread across departments.”

Stanelos believes this has the potential to result in a disjointed approach to dealing with prescribed waste from the EPA.

In response, Laura-lee Innes from the EPA, told attendees of last week’s briefing that a plan to bring together a team to address waste policy action was currently being considered by the organisation.

One of the criticisms from the Auditor-General’s report was that EPA’s management practices were “concerning”.

“While the EPA has an enforcement policy, it lacks sufficient detail to achieve effective enforcement. It does not include guidance on appropriate penalties and graduated enforcement responses, consequently increasing the risk that inappropriate enforcement action will occur,” the report said.

Stanelos also raised a number of other questions for the EPA.

“EPA statistics show a decrease in PIW landfill gate volumes. Are decreasing landfill gate receipts a true reduction in the levels of prescribed waste or are there other places the volume is going…where exactly is that volume going and is it to the best environmental outcome?” he asked.

“There’s a whole range of possible gaps in the paperwork system…at present the EPA only receive information on PIW that is transported and processed or disposed on EPA certificate, waste that is diverted to reuse or a non-PIW facility may fall out of the loop.

“We welcome the review and look forward to seeing some potential gaps close, particularly as new technologies arrive and provide new options for PIW management and particularly diversion from landfill.”

Source: Inside Waste Weekly

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