Those involved in waste facilities in NSW should examine the NSW EPA's proposed minimum standards for scrap metal facilities, regardless of whether they currently operate under an EPA licence.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has released its Consultation Paper: Proposal for Minimum Environmental Standards in the Scrap Metal Industry. The EPA's objective is to ensure that, irrespective of the size of a scrap metal facility and whether or not it requires an Environment Protection Licence (EPL), there will be legislated environmental standards that will apply across the industry.

The proposed standards are the latest initiative in the move to reform the scrap metal industry. Previous reforms have been aimed at regulating criminal activity within the sector.

Why are minimum environmental standards necessary?

The Consultation Paper states that the proposed standards are in response to the scrap metal industry's historically poor environmental track record, which has led to instances of soil and groundwater contamination, water pollution, air pollution and odour issues, noise and vibration pollution and high fire risk. The proposed standards aim to address these issues and the significant environmental and human risks they pose.

The proposed standards will apply to any site that stores, stockpiles, collects, dismantles, or processes scrap metal from end-of-life vehicles, white goods or other sources. End-of-life vehicles and white goods are said to pose the greatest environmental threat because they contain pollutants such as oils, grease, fuel, solvent, batteries, hydrocarbons, metals, heavy metals and polychrorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

How will the new standards be imposed?

Currently, the environmental impacts of industrial activities, such as scrap metal facilities, are generally managed by the EPA through its powers under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW). This includes requiring EPLs for many waste facilities, often with strict conditions, as well as the issuing of orders and penalties for pollution events.

The Consultation Paper acknowledges that not all scrap metal facilities need an EPL. The proposed minimum environmental standards will not change this but they do aim to create a level playing field for all waste facilities.

The standards will be incorporated into environment protection legislation and seek to shift the regulatory focus from issuing fines and clean-up notices to preventing environmental harm in the first place.

What are the proposed minimum standards?

The Consultation Paper proposes eight minimum standards:

Or bunds must be constructed and operated in a way that achieves the same environmental outcome.

  1. All end-of-life vehicles, white goods, and other scrap metal must be stored and dismantled or processed on hardstands under covered areas with appropriate drainage infrastructure;
  2. Clean and dirty water systems and areas must be separated (including bunding to separate them), and all dirty water is to be contained and treated on site;
  3. Liquids, spills and chemicals must be handled, stored and disposed of appropriately;
  4. Battery handling and storage areas are to be bunded, covered and on a hardstand;
  5. End-of-life vehicles, white goods and other scrap metal sent to a hammermill and/or shredder or for other processing either on site or off site must be free of other waste (including waste tyres);
  6. No burning of waste ‒ for example, mattresses or any other waste that contains metals must not be burnt to make metal more readily accessible;
  7. Transporting, tipping, handling, processing and storing scrap metal at facilities must be carried out in a controlled and competent manner so noise and vibrations are minimised; and
  8. Bunds must have:
    1. walls and floors constructed of impervious materials;
    2. sufficient capacity to contain 110% of the volume of the tank they surround;
    3. floors graded to a collection sump; and
    4. no drain valve incorporated in the bund structure.

What are the consequences of non-compliance?

Scrap metal facilities that fail to comply with the minimum environmental standards may be subject to regulatory action. It is likely that failure to comply with the standards will be a breach of the POEO Act.

The EPA has the power to impose fines, issue clean-up notices or prosecute individuals and corporations for breaches of the POEO Act. Local councils may also have powers to enforce compliance and deal with breaches.

What this means for you

Submissions on the Consultation Paper may be made until 18 September 2017.

Scrap metal facilities should closely monitor the development of the proposed minimum standards to ensure compliance when the standards are formalised.

The EPA will allow a grace period following legislation of the changes so that facilities can make both practical and procedural improvements and come into compliance with the standards.