4 January 2023

Thousands of tonnes of recycling to be transported interstate after fire at Hume processing facility

| James Coleman
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The burnt out recycling centre

The burnt waste at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) will go to landfill. Photo: ESA.

As of Monday (2 January), 860 tonnes of recycling from 246 trucks had built up near the site of what remains of Canberra’s biggest recycling plant, awaiting a journey interstate.

Emergency services were called to a fire at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Hume on the night of Boxing Day, 26 December. The blaze took three days to extinguish, by which time it had gutted the shed and destroyed “the state-of-the-art systems and equipment” used to sort through 60,000 tonnes of waste from Canberra’s yellow-topped bins every year.

Minister for City Services Chris Steel said it appeared the Hume facility and its discovery hub education centre were “a total write-off”.

“The destruction of this facility is a significant setback for recycling in the ACT but also for six councils in NSW which send their material here to be processed,” he said.

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Fire investigators from the Emergency Services Agency (ESA), as well as the Australian Federal Police (AFP), remain on-site to determine the cause, but a spokesperson for the ACT Government says “it is possible a definitive cause … may not be established”.

In the meantime, Canberra residents are advised to keep putting their bins out as usual.

“Co-mingled residential recycling material is being stockpiled at the Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre,” the spokesperson said.

The Snowy Monaro Regional Council, for one, was informed there would be no change to the shire’s waste collection.

“It’s situation normal here,” Chief Communications Officer Gina Woodward said.

“We’re sending on all our recyclable materials as normal and they’re forwarding on from there for sorting. There will be no change until advised otherwise.”

The ACT Government is continuing to work with the recycling contractor Re.Group on “alternative arrangements”. In the short to medium term, this will involve transporting recyclables by truck to the company’s other processing locations in Sydney and Adelaide.

Re.Group CEO Chris Rosser said they are looking at “various processing alternatives”, either managed directly by the company or outsourced to another. While investigations are ongoing, staff are not allowed to enter the building, but “damage appears significant”.

“The extent of the damage, and the remedial action to be taken, will be the subject of the various inspections over the next few weeks,” Mr Rosser said.

“This will determine the most appropriate route forward.”

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The ACT Government had plans to build a new MRF next to the existing one to ensure the Territory’s self-sufficient recycling power stays ahead of population growth. This was to be assisted by $10.5 million committed by the previous federal Coalition government.

The plant was scheduled to open in late 2024 but Mr Steel flagged the project is to be fast-tracked.

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Tom Worthington10:31 am 05 Jan 23

In there a need for tougher fire standards for recycling centers? Should the amount of material which can be kept on site be reduced? Should there be requirements for firewalls between stockpiles, more fire detectors, and sprinklers?

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