Victorian local councils aren’t keeping up with illegal waste dumping and are often cleaning up the mess without penalising perpetrators, a new report finds.
An inaugural report by environmental group Keep Victoria Beautiful has found councils spent at least $89 million responding to illegal dumping in 2019-20, with that figure expected to be even bigger now due to service limitations during the pandemic.
Of authorised officers from 53 of Victoria’s 79 councils, most said they only spent 1.2 days a week managing illegal waste but received around 11 call-outs each day.
KVB enforcement training manager Travis Finlayson told The Mandarin the survey was confirmation that councils were under-resourced.
“What to us is more glaring and damning is the fact that when you are not assigning sufficient resources to consider and apply enforcement tools you see councils conducting a free waste collection,” he said.
“It starts to encourage a culture of ‘I’m not going to get caught, there’s no consequences and it’s going to be cleaned up by somebody else’.”
Construction, household, clothing and green waste discarded in parklands, on nature strips and on council property is rising, but the biggest growth has been in the dumping of asbestos-contaminated soil.
The report finds commercial operators are common offenders, including construction businesses, civil engineering operators or rouge rubbish removalists.
Finlayson said illegal dumping was worse in Melbourne’s growth corridors in the north and western suburbs, where high construction and demolition activity are occurring.
An increase to the landfill levy in July from $65.90 to $105.95 a tonne has accelerated commercial dumping, the report finds, while many councils don’t have the right policies, procedures and frameworks to enable officers to fully address the issue.
Survey respondents said the state government and the Environment Protection Authority had urgent work to do to better support councils in addressing waste crime.
Finlyason said that in the past few years generally there was a “lack of enforcement” and he believed if the EPA had been enforcing penalties, they had not publicised their actions enough to act as a deterrent.
The EPA this month completed a revamp under new legislation that has come with more frontline staff, and Finlyason said he was “confident and optimistic” about what it could achieve in partnership with local government now.
KVB is pushing for the state government to fund statewide anti-litter education campaigns, encourage the sharing of intelligence between councils, finance officer training and create more effective enforcement procedures and processes.
The environmental group has been training council officers about the state’s new Environment Protection Act, which came into effect on July 1, to help them identify offences and the enforcement tools available.
“We don’t want enforcement to be a rude word,” Finlyason said.