Waste crime costing VIC councils millions each year
Did you know that councils in Victoria had spent an eye-watering $89 million responding to the dumping of illegal waste in 2019/20, with ratepayers left to foot the hefty clean-up bill?
Worse still, only a handful of these waste crime perpetrators were punished or prosecuted, even though this is what ratepayers dearly want.
While there has been a dramatic uptick in construction, household, clothing and green waste discarded in parklands, on nature strips and on council property, the biggest growth has been in the dumping of asbestos contaminated soil.
Although crime waste is widespread across Victoria, the growth corridors of Melbourne’s north and north-west – where significant construction and property development is underway – are key problem areas. These were among the stand-out results of the ‘Annual Illegal Waste Survey 2019-20’.
Conducted by leading environmental group, Keep Victoria Beautiful (KVB), the key intent of this landmark research was to determine the scale and impact of illegal waste across Victoria and establish reliable data to improve State Government policy.
Authorised officers from 53 of Victoria’s 79 councils were interviewed for the survey.
It is believed the figures are conservative, as only councils were interviewed for the survey (not all landowners) and waste crime increasing during COVID. The problem was further accelerated with an increase in the landfill levy in July (from $65.90 to $105.95 per tonne), which has resulted in commercial dumping reaching ‘epidemic’ proportions.
We are now seeing dumping activity extending into regional Victoria where extremely high volumes of waste are being abandoned in national parks and forests, putting our environment, waterways and wildlife at enormous risk.
What is even more alarming is how brazen offending has become. It no longer happens under cover of darkness but in broad daylight for all to see. People do it because they know they can get away with it!
Asked what the key barriers are to managing our burgeoning problem, respondents to the Annual Illegal Waste Survey say it is the sheer scale of dumping coupled with inadequate enforcement.
Typically, councils have an average of five staff working in enforcement, but their time is divided across all areas of enforcement. Collectively, these officers spend little more than 1.2 days per week managing illegal waste. The average council, however, is expected to monitor, manage and respond to approximately 11 incidents and call-outs each day!
Many councils lacking the right policies, procedures and frameworks to enable their officers to do their jobs appropriately is also contributing to the enforcement problem.
This means that, despite Councils being a joint regulator under the Environment Protection Act 2017 and officers having the powers to investigate and prosecute illegal dumping, the majority don’t know how to respond appropriately, particularly when it comes to difficult investigations.
Neither do they have the confidence or courage to engage or prosecute offenders.
Asked what can be done to fix the problem, survey respondents identified an urgent need for the State Government and the EPA to truly throw their support behind councils, rather than cutting them loose and leaving them to manage the waste crime problem alone.
They would like the State Government and EPA to develop and fund state-wide anti-litter education campaigns, encourage the sharing of intelligence between councils, finance officer training and create more effective enforcement procedures and processes.
Currently, much of this activity is being done on an ad hoc basis, with councils expected to manage these processes themselves – something regional and smaller councils can ill afford to do.
KVB says improving council officers’ ability to investigate and prosecute illegal dumping is a logical quick fix.
As Victoria’s only dedicated provider of illegal waste investigation and prosecution training for authorised officers in the State, KVB’s Litter Enforcement Officer Network (LEON)* is extremely well placed to rapidly train up officers across the State.
LEON already has the runs on the board. Since getting underway little less than two years, it has put officers from as many as 15 councils through its training.
To be truly effective in reducing our $89 million waste crime response and remediation bill, however, it is vital that training be extended to all 79 councils. For just $270,000, the State Government can ensure another 460 new officers are trained up.
This is a drop in the ocean when you think of the powerful impact it would have!