The transformation of Stawell’s toxic rubber stockpile, one of Australia’s largest and most dangerous, should be used to drive change nationally, a leading tyre recycler says.
Tyrecycle in conjunction with Environment Protection Authority Victory (EPA) spent the last two months removing 9,500 tonnes of tyres which had been stockpiled at Stawell over many years.
The town was then officially cleared of its greatest environmental and economic threat on October 10 when EPA announced all tyres had been removed from the site.
Tyrecycle chief executive Jim Fairweather, who heads the oldest and largest tyre recycler in the country, said there was an important lesson to learn from the Stawell Tyre Yard – more urgent action on stockpiles across the country.
“I sincerely hope the success of the project will spur action on other dangerous legacy stockpiles across the country,” he said.
“It’s a great example of what can happen when government, the authorities and industry work together in support of better community outcomes.”
Victoria is also home to another challenging stockpile site at Numurkah, but other Australian states are also facing the same issues.
Up to 20,000 tonnes of tyres are laying dormant at the South Hedland landfill in Western Australia, as well as a huge stockpile at Longford in Tasmania.
“Longford houses one of the biggest stockpiles in the country and as we head into the warmer months, the risk these mountains of waste create grow exponentially,” Mr Fairweather said.
“Regulations are critical, but actions speak loudest in terms of directly addressing and discouraging rogue operators who are prepared to put the community at risk.”
Up to 381 truckloads of tyre waste were removed from the Stawell Tyre Yard, peaking at 529 tonnes of end-of-life tyres removed on a single day.
The first loads left the site on August 10, with the transformation of the site taking just over two months in total, including 49 days onsite.
“That follows more than a decade of significant and unacceptable fire, environmental and human health risk,” Mr Fairweather said.
“The local community has been so forthcoming in their thanks for making them feel so much safer heading into the warmer months and on the eve of the fire season.”
More than two thirds of the tyres were transported to Tyrecycle’s EPA-licensed processing facility in Melbourne where they were cleaned, sorted, shredded and recycled.
Mr Fairweather said the recycled material would be used in a range of road, sporting and building products, with the majority being converted to tyre-derived fuel (TDF).
“The extremely high calorific value of TDF, and its significantly lower volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2) when compared with coal, makes it an attractive alternative fuel on an international scale,” he said.
More than 30 per cent of the stockpile was unable to be processed and had to go to landfill due to contamination from mud and dirt.
EPA’s action to remove the tyres was seen as a “last resort” and it will now seek to recover costs from current and/or previous owners and occupiers of the tyre yard.
EPA chief executive Nial Finegan said the major government body will use its legal powers to recover about $5 million, the cost of the clean-up.
“For 10 years, various owners of the stockpile were given every opportunity to comply with legal and regulatory obligations but failed to take material steps to properly manage the site’s risks to the community,” he said.
EPA seized control of the tyre yard in August, shortly after the site's owner, Used Tyre Recycling Corporation, had 'gifted' the property to a mysterious company registered in Panama, which then tried and failed to get a Supreme Court injunction against the EPA.
A lawyer for the company told the court it only became aware of fire prevention notices only shortly before EPA took control of the tyre yard.
The lawyer said the company needed more time to implement measures to reduce the risk of a toxic blaze.
But Justice Karin Emerton found there was "overwhelming evidence" in favour of the EPA. The ruling allowed for the hazardous tyres to be cleared before the next fire danger season.