SPEAKING ON A BILL | WASTE AND RECYCLING MANAGEMENT

Mr Melhem: I also rise to speak on the motion moved by Dr Cumming. I moved a similar motion back in 2014 along with a petition with 11 000 signatures of residents of Caroline Springs, Deer Park, Burnside, Ravenhall and the surrounding area. It came out of the issue that organic waste and food waste was causing methane generation at the Ravenhall tip, which was at the time operated by Boral. Since then it has been operated by Cleanaway. I have to give Cleanaway a bit of credit—they have done a better job of containing the methane spill and the odour around the place, which I think is because of that contribution last time and the residents. It has been a big issue. I know that actually. I do not live far from the place and I can relate to that. I can recall that when Boral put in an application to extend their operation for a further 35 years I had not known the tip actually existed. I just assumed the smell was coming from people with new houses getting built and putting blood and bone on their gardens, but that was not the case. It was the methane seeping out. The odour was awful. People do not have to put up with this in the 21st century—not in Melbourne. That is why I will be supporting the motion. The government is supporting the motion.

I think it is important in the 21st century that we do not send this sort of waste to landfill. I personally will continue my advocacy in this place and any other forum to make sure that we get to a stage where we are able to come up with solutions. I will tackle some of the solutions the government have already implemented in the last few years and the plan going forward to address that. But definitely I accept and agree that food waste and municipal waste which generates methane, or even single plastic bags, should not finish up in landfill. You have got the odour, you have got the methane and you have got plastic bags floating all over the place. You only have to drive past a few of those landfills to see the mess. I think we are all in agreement that we need to work towards eliminating this and getting to a stage where we can actually ban this sort of waste going to landfill. I will personally continue to advocate for that.

The government has not been sitting idle for the last four years in relation to that issue. There is a fair recognition that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, and councils around Victoria have been grappling with that issue for the last few years and trying to find a solution. A number of solutions have already been put in place by various councils with the assistance of the state government over the years, in particular looking at organic waste composting. A number of projects have already been put in place, and the government has put in some money to encourage local government and the private sector to do something in that space—for example, $2.5 million for the Victorian organic resource recovery strategy. We provided funding to support the rollout of kerbside food organics and garden organics (FOGO) collections across the City of Greater Geelong, the City of Greater Bendigo and the City of Ballarat. That program involves a new kerbside organic service for more than 74 000 households across those local council areas.

There are various other projects. For example, $1 million was given to the kerbside food organics and garden organics collection service. That program was to support a new food and garden organic collection at the cities of Wodonga, Bendigo and Shepparton. There are more and more of these facilities opening all over the place, including in Wodonga and also in the south-eastern suburbs. Of the 79 councils—and I think Dr Cumming talked about this—22 offer the FOGO collection service, which mixes the red bin with the green bin. There may be different coloured bins in other councils. Your organic garden waste and your kitchen waste are basically mixed into one. As I said, there have been a lot of projects around the state.

About 400 000 tonnes have been converted to create fertilisers which can be used in food production in farming areas. That is great, but then we are talking about over 4 million tonnes of waste in the state of Victoria. We have still got a fair way to go, so what do we do with the rest of it? I do not think we will be able to just convert all that into organic waste and turn it into fertiliser. We need to come up with some other options other than just sending it to landfill. That is why recycling is very important. That is why education is the key. In one of the areas that I am responsible for—as are various members of this house—the Environment and Planning Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, is looking at this very issue in relation to recycling and waste management Victoria. In fact we have a hearing tonight at which we will hear from the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. That is one of the options we are looking at.

The government also made an announcement a couple of weeks ago and asked Infrastructure Victoria to put a strategy in place to start implementing some policies around recycling and waste in general, because we need to now start talking about finding a solution. The government last week asked the Essential Services Commission to treat recycling in particular but also waste in general as an essential service, so we have a bit more control and take this issue seriously. Apart from the bad smell and the old method of sending organic waste to landfill, we know the China National Sword policy had some sort of impact. Let us face the facts. Victoria can be credited with being one of the best waste recyclers in the world. I think we do a pretty good job. We do a very good job in how we deal with our waste and recycling in general. We do it at the front end, where we have got the three bins, and we were able to export most of our waste to China and Asia and they actually dealt with it and converted it to various other products. The current ban has caused a problem. We had the stockpiling of recycling in Victoria, and hence we had the SKM fire and various other fires, and now the question is what we do with the recyclable waste that we cannot export to other countries to deal with. On the other hand, that is something we have not been exporting. I do not think we can export food waste—commercial food waste and municipal food waste—because I do not think anyone will buy it; it is a bit more difficult. But we can find solutions to turn that into a useful product instead of sending it to landfill.

Turning that into a fertilising product is one way. The other way is doing what a company in the Yarra Valley is doing, and that is turning that product from waste to energy. They use various technologies, such as the digestion technology, which is basically putting it into a processing plant, introducing some sort of bacteria into the waste and then that generates steam and electricity. That is in the Yarra Valley and is working really well. There are some other smaller operations around the state, but they are on a much smaller scale. The question here is then how, as a state government, as a local council, we can provide the leadership and the opportunities for industry to invest. Going back to last year, I was commissioned by Minister D’Ambrosio to actually look at that particular issue, and I produced a report for the minister in relation to waste. One of the main focuses of that was waste to energy and how we can deal with that issue. That is a real option. I was very pleased with one of the things that came up when we did community consultation, particularly around the Ravenhall area where the tip is, and in Wyndham where there is another tip, when we asked people, ‘Do you mind, for example, paying a bit of extra money to make sure that does not end up in landfill, if we come up with alternative solutions?’. I was not really surprised, but the answer was that, yes, people are happy to pay extra if we are actually able to show them and demonstrate we are doing something useful with that waste instead of just basically dumping it in a landfill.

One of the areas we tested for was waste to energy, and there was significant support for that. The issue with waste to energy, for example, was that using other methods like turning organic waste to fertiliser was going to be far more expensive than the levy which you now pay to dispose of that waste into landfill. Now the industry has taken a different approach. In fact it is very competitive now. You do not have to double the price of converting that waste to a useful product, whether it is waste to energy or whether it is fertiliser. It is actually a very competitive price, and in fact most operators are saying, ‘We can do it for the same price. The only thing we need is some direction from the state in relation to what is our policy medium to long term, so we have some certainty’. Councils would need some direction. One of the areas is they would need a long-term contract, because with this sort of contract you need somewhere between 15 and 20 years to make that viable. I am pleased that one of the companies looking at doing something similar to that is called Recovered Energy Australia. They have got their approval from the City of Wyndham to start construction for a plant in Laverton, which will be able to deal with about 200 000 tonnes a year of that specific product, and we know Australian Paper is looking at a big plant at their operation in Gippsland with around 650 000 tonnes. Again that could take care of the municipal waste and food waste in the south-eastern suburbs, and I did make a contribution on this issue a few weeks ago. In fact they turned up to one of the hearings, and I wanted to congratulate them on that approach, because what I did not want to have in five years time, with the current landfill facility contract finishing up in the eastern suburbs, was the rubbish or waste finishing up in my electorate, at Ravenhall. That is something I do not want. So I am wishing Australian Paper well to make sure that they stay on the other side of town. So there are a lot of things happening in that space. The government is investing a lot of money in converting current waste to a useful product. I think the current wording being used for that is the ‘circular economy’. That is very important, and I know Minister D’Ambrosio is getting a lot of people working to make sure there is a solution put in place.

There is a major policy to be announced in the next 12 months for implementation in 2020 to basically address the issue of recycling in general to make sure we overcome the current ban, where China basically will not accept our recycled waste, and we will be able to use that waste here. Last week I was at the launch of a new recycling plant by Alex Fraser in Laverton. That is hopefully going to resolve or fix our problem with recycled glass. They will be able to reuse 150 000 tonnes of recycled glass, converting that to a road product, which equates to about a billion bottles a year. That is exciting. As part of the review the government will obviously be looking at procurement policy, because I think that is very important. We need to lead from the front. We need to be able to demand in our major contracts that construction companies use recycled products. The other thing that is being talked about is stewardship of product, where companies are being made to take responsibility for their own product and whatever packaging they use. At the end, when the consumer is finished with that product, they should be able to track that and have some process in place so that product can be disposed of.

So that is another area that is being looked at. In my limited time, in light of the list of speakers speaking on that issue, I do not want to take too much time, but if I can go back in relation to that specific motion about organic waste, I think it is very important that we have support from all sides of politics, whether opposition, crossbenchers or government. It is time now to find a solution going forward, and I am sure that Minister D’Ambrosio is working very hard in that space to make sure we find that solution. We know the trigger for that goes back to 2014 and the uproar in the community in relation to the Ravenhall tip—the stinky tip, I call it. Whether it is in relation to the China Sword policy about recycling or whether it is the recent fires in Footscray and Campbellfield, they are all triggers for us to act, for us to actually put in a medium to long-term policy to have one fix so we do not have to revisit that issue again. I have got full confidence that the Andrews Labor government and Minister D’Ambrosio in particular will put the right solution in place. We are tracking in the right direction. I am looking forward to the passing of this motion, and hopefully we will be able to report at the Environment and Planning Committee with some recommendations that hopefully the government will adopt and we will find a long-term solution for this problem that we should be able to fix. With these words, I commend the motion to the house.