EPA ditches new rules for asbestos risk

·2-min read

NSW's environmental watchdog has ditched new safety regulations after finding worrying levels of asbestos in landscaping products made from building waste.

Back in 2019, more than half of the 16 NSW facilities churning out such products were found to have unacceptably high levels of asbestos.

The material, called recovered fines, is the residue left at the bottom of skip bins used to collect building and demolition waste.

In NSW, some waste companies repurpose it as a soil or sand substitute in landscaping products used for residential and other developments.

Legally, it should be free of asbestos but compliance checks by the NSW Environment Protection Authority three years ago showed it often wasn't.

The authority deemed the situation an unacceptable risk to human and environmental health and began a time-consuming process to develop new regulations, including six months of industry consultation.

This week, it announced it would not proceed with those new regulations, which would have required record keeping and set out sampling and testing requirements for asbestos and other contaminants before public use was allowed.

The EPA now says it will focus on educating industry players about the need to exclude contaminants like asbestos from skip bins.

It has also promised better monitoring and ongoing efforts to force the industry to do the right thing under existing rules.

"If companies do the wrong thing they will be held to account," the EPA has said in a statement.

The Australian Council of Recycling welcomed the EPA's change of heart, saying the dumped regulations would have been difficult to implement, prohibitively costly and would have unnecessarily diverted recoverable materials to landfill.

NSW Small Business Minister Eleni Petinos said the change of heart was a win for small skip bin operators who would have faced dramatically higher costs on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The absolute last thing small skip bin operators needed was another giant business cost imposed on them," she said in a statement.

"I welcome this decision by the EPA to listen to the feedback from industry and acknowledge the tremendous financial burden this change would have posed to affected small businesses," she said.

The NSW health department says it has not been involved in the issue.

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