By LOIS MASKIELL
Melbourne residents are putting in extra effort to ensure their waste is being recycled, following the closure of a major recycling company in late July.
The closure of SKM Recycling on July 25, which had been processing more than half of Victoria’s recyclables, left 30 councils including Darebin in Melbourne’s inner north without a provider to recycle its kerbside waste.
Moreland resident Lisa O’Halloran, whose council was not serviced by SKM, has teamed up with residents of Darebin to prevent further unnecessary waste going to landfill.
“If every Moreland person made a conscious decision not to use their whole bin and partnered with someone in the neighbouring municipality, then a lot of recyclables wouldn’t end up in landfill,'' Ms O’Halloran said.
The 33 year-old property development manager created the group Northern Suburbs Curbside Recycling Rescue group on Facebook so residents of unaffected councils could share their bins with residents of Darebin.
Ms O’Halloran said an increasing number of people from the group, which has grown to more than 600 members, have begun a regular buddy system.
SKM Recycling stopped operating when its creditors sued the company for unpaid debts worth more than $5 million.
Landowners of SKM’s facilities discovered tonnes of waste stored across their warehouses where SKM had stockpiled it following China’s refusal to accept Australia’s recyclable waste in 2017.
“No one really realised we didn’t have closed loop recycling in Australia,” Ms O’Halloran said.
The group's Facebook page includes a map of available bins as well as tips on alternative solutions such as taking rubbish to the Resource Recovery Centre (Tip) in Reservoir, which accepts household amounts of recyclables.
For Darebin resident Kate Coghlan, also a member of the group, driving her recyclables to Reservoir Tip was “pretty simple”.
“I took it to the Recovery Centre and separated all my recyclables and it was quite easy to do. I just got a ticket and went through to put it into the individual bins myself,” Ms Coghlan said.
The 45 year-old aged care consultant said she doubted if everyone was aware of the situation, despite the council having communicated the issue to residents.
“I’ve certainly seen most of my neighbours have put all their bins out still and I’m not sure whether they know or not,” Ms Coghlan said.
Driving to the tip might be easy for some, but for Darebin resident and small business owner Johanna Villani, finding time to recycle in a busy schedule was difficult.
“It means I have to store everything on my front porch, so it’s a bit of a hassle,” Ms Villani said.
“Especially now I work six days a week so it’s taking time that I would normally be spending with my family,” she said.
Ms Villani has driven her recyclables to the Resource Recovery Centre and used her mother’s bin which is located in a council contracted with the state’s second largest recycling provider, VISY.
“The State Government have just recently said that they’re going to pull SKM out of the pile of rubbish they’re in…but I can’t see how that is a long-term effective solution,” Ms Villani said.
Ms Villani said Darebin Council should be more vocal about the measures they are taking to solve the situation. “I know it’s a State Government issue, but I think the Council needs to make it loud and clear what they are doing. I mean what are they doing?” Mrs Villani said.
The Mayor of Darebin, Susan Rennie launched a Change.org petition which now has almost reached 3000 signatures. The petition calls for action from the Victorian Government to solve the waste crisis.
“We were really concerned that we are not seeing the kind of decisive action at a state government level that is required,” Cr Rennie said.
“This is not a problem that any council can solve by itself,” she said.
The petition demands the Andrews Government use the $500 million collected from ratepayers through its landfill levy to fix the issue.
The government announced on August 12 a package of $11.3 million to overhaul the state’s recycling system, with $6.6 million allocated to help the 30 affected councils.
Cr Rennie said the recycling package was not at all satisfactory and Darebin Council would prefer to have a long-term solution to the system rather than financial assistance.
Since 2017, SKM Recycling has faced ongoing bans from the Environment Protection Authority due to non-compliant practices at its Coolaroo and Laverton North sites.
The first fire at the Coolaroo facility in July 2017 burnt for 11 days and caused residents to evacuate the area due to toxic fumes.
“I think that we knew for some time that their business model was problematic and that they were struggling,” Cr Rennie said.
“We had a contract. We can’t breach a contract just because we are concerned about how someone is operating. If they are delivering on the contract then we are legally bound to continue with that contract,” she said.
Cr Rennie said she would like a container deposit scheme established which would require beverage suppliers to fund refunds for returned drink containers. Currently every state and territory has, or is in the process of introducing, a similar scheme.
On Thursday 5 September, Darebin City Council announced it had secured a contract with the recycling provider VISY after weeks of confidential negotiations.