Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Waste "management" in the Shire of Mornington.

Arthurs Seat Tip
I went to the packed information meeting about the proposed tip on Arthurs Seat on the weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Surely the Mornington Council which proudly advertises that it’s "COMMITTED TO A SUSTAINABLE PENINSULA" wouldn’t be interested in any proposal to turn the disused quarry site, which is embraced by the Arthurs Seat State Park, into a non recycle, non reuse dump and run landfill for other councils? How wrong I was.

The speakers were professional and clearly very knowledgeable. They'd put in hours of time into their presentations, working out how to best explain the proposal. And it's far, far worse than I'd expected. 
Night view from Arthurs Seat over Dromana and Safety Beach
Arthurs Seat is a smallish hill (305 metres above sea level) on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It's a major tourist attraction with beautiful sweeping views across Port Phillip Bay. To the north is Melbourne and to the south are The Heads - a very narrow channel between two headlands, leading into Bass Strait. Arthurs Seat was named by Acting Lieutenant John Murray who saw it from aboard the sailing ship the Lady Nelson in 1802 way back when the area was first being explored by the English. 

Mornington Peninsula is now described as Melbourne's playground because of the wonderful scenery, glorious beaches, great natural spas, golf courses with stunning views, excellent wines, good surf, fishing, state and national parks, boating and food, all relatively close to the capital city. 

The Arthurs Seat State Park, which flanks the proposed tip site, is valuable not only for its koalas, wallabies, goannas and bandicoots but supports a wide range birdlife which help maintain the areas health and biodiversity. More than 25 species of plants are either rare or uncommon on the Peninsula, and four are listed as threatened. 

The State Park gives a glimpse into what the region was like before white settlers came and found the land was good for market gardens, farming, vineyards, spas and a multitude of fabulous tourist ventures. 

Arthurs Seat is the backdrop for the bayside towns of Rosebud, Dromana and McCrae. Near the proposed tip location are two primary schools, organic farms and Diggers Seeds - a much loved and highly regarded source of heirloom and organic seeds and plants. This partially sets the scene for the sense of betrayal locals feel that the Mornington Shire Council would even consider this location as a viable option for a tip.

Westernport Bay RAMSAR Wetlands
But it’s even more offensive than that. Ten years ago, the entire Mornington Peninsula including the Westernport region was nominated for, and proudly wears the mantle of being a proclaimed UNESCO biosphere reserve.

This means that the area is considered to be a living laboratory where people co-operate to develop better ways to manage the earth’s resources to meet human needs,while conserving natural processes and biodiversity. Conservation and sustainable development underpin the entire concept, however participation is entirely voluntary. There has been wide community support for the biosphere reserve and responsible stewardship is encouraged across the entire area.

Zero Waste
Interestingly Peninsula Waste Management (PWM) highlights responsible recycling in the header of their web site, yet at the meeting, it was noted that there will be no facility for recycling at all at the proposed tip, and all waste, including green waste will be dumped in together. 

Unlike the current tip at Rye where recycling is encouraged, locals will be unable to take trailer loads of green waste to be mulched, or goods to be sorted for resale.  

The Shire website states “MPS has a significant opportunity to play a leading role in promoting sound waste management practices, high levels of recycling services and innovative waste education and leadership within the waste sector.” Elsewhere the term “best practice” is used.

Maybe I've got the wrong end of the green wedge, but this proposal hardly reflects the name chosen for the Mornington Peninsula Regional Waste Management Group - Peninsula Zero Waste! Dumping unsorted waste, including asbestos, into a hole in the ground which is set below the water table, lined with plastic and with pipes and pumps to continually remove the water and liquid that will collect doesn't appear to be best practice, responsible stewardship, environmentally wise or sustainable. 

However, let’s continue.

How the liner works
The liner for this kind of tip can be problematic too. It sounds neat for a small domestic fish pond, but the requirement here is massive. Basically the liner, or membrane, is placed at the base of the hole and up the very steep sides to separate the waste from the surrounding ground and to prevent the toxic sludge entering the waterways (the mind boggles at how they do this). Pipes are laid out to pump out the wet stuff. (more here)

The wet substance is called leachate and it’s pumped to storage tanks where it’ll be transported off site daily in 15 (?) tankers. It’s not nice stuff.

The waste is dumped on top of the membrane. It gets heavy ... they estimate 70 – 100 trucks per day will lumber in and out dumping loads of unsorted waste - surely I got that figure wrong, that's an enormous number. The waste gets rained on adding even more weight; assorted chemicals, solvents, paints etc wash around and out of those containers that were thrown “away”. They mix together and create new and interesting potions which get pumped out. 

Unlike the pond or swimming pool at home which can be emptied with some difficulty, then repaired, this membrane cannot be repaired. If it becomes worn, if there are abrasions, holes or leaks of any kind, it's impossible to remove what's been dumped on top and patch the liner. 

The pipes which have been meticulously laid to collect the water and wet debris are likewise unable to be repaired, unclogged or cleaned. Would you use the word "never" when discussing the possibility of a leakage into creeks and waterways? 
Melbourne across the bay from Mornington
What gets tipped and who does the tipping
I heard at the meeting that it’s estimated that 70% of the landfill to be dumped will come from outside the Shire of Mornington. It’ll include, but not be limited to “solid inert waste, usually generated by industry, such as packaging and building materials”. It sounds inocuous enough stated like that, and of course we can be confident that no unscrupulous, or lazy people would sneak in the odd toxic by-product from their chemical factory over in Dandenong can’t we? Of course it'll all be sorted before it gets dumped!

Then of course we have the standard nasties included in household waste.  Unfortunately, not everyone composts their organic refuse which will mix in with discarded pongy “disposable nappies”, and bottles containing household cleaning chemicals such as bleach and ammonia.

Known toxins in discarded containers of common garden fertilisers and insecticides will be added to this complex slurry. (Please, for the health of our soil, insects and bees, go organic!) Some materials will decompose relatively quickly, others including the convenient disposable nappies can take up to 500 years, and polystyrene can reportedly take over a million years to decompose.

We can do so much better. From the Shire website: “The Shire contrator managing the Rye Waste Disposal Centre, and the Shire’s other waste transfer stations, is required to meet stringent waste diversion targets. Waste is sorted and markets have been developed to avoid taking much of this waste to landfill. In the last year 58% of hard waste was diverted from landfill. This is significantly ahead of the diversion rates being achieved anywhere in Victoria.” The proposed site won't have this service.  

Waste transfer stations work and locals have embraced them, sorting trailer loads of household rubbish into various on-site areas for reuse. I understand that a waste processing plant is likely to be developed in Hallam which is within a reasonable distance. Yet, this proposal is to allow garbage from that area to be dumped here trusting that it'll be pre-filtered and sorted. No doubt it's cheaper to dump than sort and process. But it's not responsible.

Unpleasant odours?
The smells, gasses and dusts from this delectable mix will of course be well contained even on hot, humid or windy mid summer days. How do I know? We’ve been assured by PWM the smells won’t travel! They'll stay within the boundary of the site and not set our noses twitching with displeasure. These well behaved smells will know how to act and have no doubt read and understood this requirement. 

And in 20 or 30 years when the quarry is filled to the brim with some decidedly unpleasant refuse, (remember, a significant proportion having been sourced from outside the Shire) it’ll all be covered with a metre or so of soil and be nearly transformed back to the original appearance! Yaay. No noxious fumes, no gasses, no leaching, no awkward, unfixable dribbles from aged liner or pipes. No problems!

As for the local wildlife, the creatures which live nearby in the state park. I’m sure they’ll be fine with a bit less habitat, it’s not as if they owned it anyway. It’s possible the koalas won’t even notice the removal of some manna gums, their preferred food source. 

As for the known fire hazards in a tip of this nature, and especially as it's embraced on two sides by an iconic State Park, with a school nearby – it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Leachate – the not so nice byproduct
One of the issues which was discussed in some detail is the possible leaching of the byproducts of the tipped waste into the surrounding land and water table, and eventually into Sheepwash Creek and Port Phillip Bay.

Comfortingly, according to PWM, “The principal components of leachate are nitrogen species such as ammonia and salts, like table salt. … The Toxicity of landfill leachate is comparable to that of water draining from a septic tank.” That's reassuring.

However, according to Wikipedia, leachate is a liquid that contains harmful substances which are likely to become putrid. I mentioned some of the nasties that get dumped domestically; then there's waste from chicken processing plants, farms and various manufacturing businesses.  This leachate is clearly not going to be equivalent to regular table salts!

More from Wikipedia: “All membranes are porous to some limited extent so that over time low volumes of leachate will cross the membrane.” I’m partially reassured that “they should never have a measurable adverse impact on the quality of the receiving groundwater.” But unsettled by “A more significant risk may be the failure or abandonment of the leachate collection system. Such systems are prone to internal failure as landfills suffer large internal movements as waste decomposes unevely and thus buckles and distorts pipes.”

Distressingly, the more I read about leachate, the more it sounds like something you wouldn’t want entering Port Phillip Bay or in trucks trundling past a local primary school umpteen times per day. 

The PWM literature states that  “there will never be a leachate discharge to any creek.”

“Never”. Wow, that's supremely confident. I'd be much more reassured by a statement along the lines of "in the unlikely event of a leak, we have x, y and z process in place to respond immediately and without hesitation." At least then I'd know they'd thought about how to respond. Never alerts me to the fact that a response hasn't even been considered.

A trait I've noticed with some sectors involved with dangerous substances or toxic byproducts, (such as with fracking, oil pipelines and nuclear waste,) is the ability of those involved to downplay concerns and over-estimate their competence, the state of their equipment and ability to respond to any incident promptly and effectively. Unfortunately the path of overconfidence is well worn and the years or decades of suffering by those living nearby is minimised and forgotten as the next "unexpected" disaster unfolds.  

At this stage I begin to wonder if there could be any adverse effect from an earth tremor associated with Selwyn Fault. This wasn't mentioned at the meeting, so perhaps not.

The Peninsula expects increased severe weather events including extremely heavy rains associated with climate change. The risk of increased flooding is anticipated. Will the pumps designed for current  “highest recorded flows” be up to the challenge of future inundations? 

Under what circumstances could the pumps fail? Never? 

If there is any overflow or leak, the leachate will find its way into Sheepwash Creek and from there into Port Phillip Bay to be absorbed by the shellfish being farmed locally. As for the businesses close by which have worked hard to gain their organic certification – I guess they’ll be considered an inconvenient offsite irritant when they complain that airborne dust (which didn't quite manage to get tucked in at night) carrying tiny fibres and toxins from the waste are affecting their livelihoods.

Further information including how to write a submission to the EPA, and place an objection to council and local MP is at http://savearthursseat.com/

What a shame it's not a council election year. It'd be great to hear from individual councillors what they really value and mean by: 
"COMMITTED TO A  SUSTAINABLE PENINSULA" or perhaps they'll change that statement?
Reduce consumption, repurpose articles, recycle whenever possible.

If you haven't seen the Story of stuff it's well worth watching. 

Further information: 

Biosphere http://www.biosphere.org.au/documents/nomination/zones.pdf


posted by Sue Travers


Jan Gyngell said...

Fabulous article, best I've read so far re the tip, I also attended the meeting and listened with growing horror at what I was hearing, can't imagine the tip ever being approved but I never imagined that the Australian Government would ever allow cracking either.


Jan Gyngell said...

I meant fracking not cracking of course....

Sue Travers said...

thanks Jan. I was horrified and still am. It's disgusting, I hope it isn't approved, it'd be bad for not only the current generation but for hundreds of years into the future.
lol, understood what you meant. It's BAD. Fracking only benefits the companies, no one else. They know it can poison water and can lead to earthquakes. sheer madness. We desperately need to diversify - it'll lead to jobs growth and be great for confidence.