Company denies 'waste laundering' allegation

Mark Solomons

Cleanaway, Australia's biggest waste business, has revealed it classifies the thousands of tonnes of material arriving at its New Chum landfill in Ipswich from the company's recycling plant in south Brisbane as local waste, even though the bulk of it originates interstate, prompting accusations it is "laundering" waste to hide its origin. The Herald revealed this week that thousands of tonnes of construction and demolition waste arriving from NSW at recycling facilities in south-east Queensland is reloaded onto local trucks and taken to landfill without processing. Confronted with surveillance evidence collected by the Herald, Cleanaway admitted less than 5 percent of the waste it received at Willawong was recycled ASX-listed Cleanaway said when reporting to the state government it counted the material received from its Willawong recycling facility as having originated in Queensland. "It's coming from Queensland as far as New Chum is concerned, because Willawong doesn't receive waste just from interstate," a Cleanaway spokesman said.

Jim Dodrill, president of local environment group Ipswich Residents Against Toxic Environments, which campaigns against the expansion of waste facilities in the area, said it was "totally dishonest" of Cleanaway to classify waste in this way. "It's like money laundering- it's waste laundering," he said. "lt's a feeble and deliberate attempt to hide where it's really coming from." According to a confidential Environment Department report on Cleanaway tabled in the Queensland Parliament last year, the company told the department it received just more than 130,000 tonnes of interstate waste at New Chum in the past financial year-more than three times the amount received the previous year. But the figure is likely to be much higher. Cleanaway would not reveal details of the amount of waste handled by its facilities, but the Herald observed at least 1000 tonnes of waste being delivered to its Willawong recycling plant by interstate trucks on a single day in December, and a steady convoy of local trucks talcing iton to New Chum.

Other recycling facilities in south-east Queensland also send waste for burial at NewChum. Ipswich City Council's Ipswich First website states that the New Chum dump receives about 200,000 tonnes of waste of all types annually. But a senior industry executive who worked at the facility for several years said the real figure was at least five times this amount. Cleanaway, which last year won a I0-year, $330 million contract to process waste for Brisbane City Council, told a community meeting this month it had started looking into ways to expand the footprint and height of the New Chum dump in order to extend its life. Residents h ave objected to the smell, dust and traffic created by the growing archipelago of dumps in former coal mine voids. The danger from rising interstate truck traffic was highlighted this month when a B-double carrying construction waste from NSW to a recycling facility operated by BMI Group rolled at a roundabout in Acacia Ridge in south Brisbane, spilling rubbish across the road.

Queenslanders generate more waste per person than any other state, at more than three tonnes a year, and the state has one of the country's lowest rates of recycling. The Cleanaway spokesman said the company was "trying to do more recycling and resource recovery", and that the introduction of new or upgraded machinery at Willawong over the next three months would "quadruple" the recovery rate. The spokesman denied the Willawong site was receiving "large" quantities of interstate waste. "You've got to look at what's 'large quantities'," he said "There's at least a million tonnes a year that comes out ofNSW to Queensland. We take a very small portion of that. It might be a thousand tonnes on one day [at Willawong], but it's not a thousand tonnes every day." The spokesman said Cleanaway was responsible for the material once it was tipped off and was paying local transport companies to take the waste to its New Chum landfill.

The Queensland Environment Department report noted the jump in interstate waste volumes arriving at New Chum corresponded with NSW no longer enforcing rules limiting the transport of metropolitan waste no more than 150 kilometres from its source, known as the "proximity principle". The NSW government last year indicated it wan ted to repeal the laws and asked for industry in put, but had set no timetable for the introduction of new laws. Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association ofNSW executive director Tony Khoury said if waste was simply being moved through recycling facilities without being processed, "it's a rort". "If this is, in fact, true, then both the NSW and Queensland regulators should hang their heads in shame." He said authorities and their investigators needed to cooperate across state borders, and new regulations were required to ensure "recycling doesn't just mean pulling out one piece of paper from the waste". Ipswich City Council said that "of course council would be concerned" if any business was "providing false information to the community in relation to recycling". The NSW Environmental Protection Agency said it was "working closely with its interstate counterparts to develop a national approach to waste regulation". 

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