DISTRICT recycling services are functioning effectively, according to Gannawarra Shire Council contractor, Veolia, despite problems confronting the industry which have seen many Victorian councils start sending their recycling to landfill.

District recycling services are operating efficiently.

District recycling services are operating efficiently.

While the situation for the industry was "a bit of a mess", which had been brewing for 12 to 18 months, the region was currently relatively unaffected, Veolia's north-west region manager Stephen Elliott said. 

"We're quite lucky. We're still processing and selling most of what we sort. We haven't had any disruption to the councils we service," he said.

In addition to Gannawarra, Veolia has the kerbside rubbish and recycling contracts for Loddon, Swan Hill, Campaspe councils in the north-west, neighbouring Murray River Council in New South Wales, as well as Mt Alexander and others further south.

A problem the company is currently experiencing, however, is a high level of contamination, according to Mr Elliott, who said he recently stood on the floor of the recycling plant and saw pillows, clothes and vacuum cleaners come through the sorting machine.

"Up to 30 per cent of material we collect is sent to landfill after processing at the MRF [Multi re-use facility] due to contamination in the recycling bins." 

He attributed the problem to residents mistakenly believing the contents of their recycling bins were going to landfill because of media coverage of the recycling crisis.

In January last year, China tightened its standards for imported recyclable materials, effectively banning the import of more than 20 types of recycled material - a move which impacted Western countries around the world and threw the recycling industry in Australia into crisis. 

Data from 2017 show that an estimated 3.5 per cent of Australian recycled content overall was previously being sent to China which included a high proportion of content in the categories of paper - around 29 per cent - and plastics - approximately 36 per cent.

The collapse in the Chinese market for this material and a worldwide drop in demand for it has led to some recycling companies stockpiling the material. 

Last month the Environment Protection Authority shut down two Melbourne facilities belonging to recycling company SKM due to fire risks arising from accumulated paper and plastic at the plants.

A fire in 2017 at the company's Coolaroo facility, in Melbourne's north, burned for 11 days and caused the evacuation of over 100 houses.

SKM is the recycling contractor for around half of Victoria's councils and the closure has forced many of them, including Mildura Rural City and Buloke councils, to start sending their collected recyclables directly to landfill.

Australia's peak waste management agency, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Australia, says the nation urgently needs processing and reprocessing infrastructure to be built and long-term strategic planning and market development undertaken.

The agency has described the crisis as "a clear example of market failure" and is calling for urgent, co-ordinated action from governments and environment protection authorities. 

In contrast, all materials gathered by Veolia in the north-western council areas are being appropriately reprocessed, Mr Elliott said.

His family founded Cohuna-based local waste management company Ellwaste, which was purchased in 2017 by Veolia, which provides operational solutions across water, waste and energy in various parts of the world.

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