Waste companies are saving millions of dollars by dumping tens of thousands of tonnes of rubbish from New South Wales and even Victoria in Queensland, a Four Corners investigation has found.
“The joke is, in the waste industry, that Queensland is the dumping capital of Australia,” Four Corners reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna said.
“Send your stuff to Queensland: it’s dirt cheap, and no one cares.”
In NSW, the government charges companies $138 a tonne to dispose their waste. In Queensland, it costs nothing.
“The Queensland government, under the Newman government, disposed of the waste levy. Cut it completely. So it cost zero, to dump in Queensland,” Ms Meldrum-Hanna said.
On Monday, the Queensland Premier ruled out a change any time soon.
Airing on ABC at 8.30pm on Monday, the Four Corners investigation found a flourishing transport and logistics industry had sprung up to support the movement of waste interstate.
“We know there’s heaps of waste coming from NSW going to Queensland but there’s also waste that’s coming from Victoria we’ve discovered,” she said.
“Now, we’re not just talking about a few, 10,000 tonnes, we’re not even talking about half a million tonnes.
“The industry estimate now is that it’s over 1 million tonnes of waste being sent from states into Queensland and being dumped into these old mine sites.”
The dump sites are in Ipswich, west of Brisbane. Ms Meldrum-Hanna said locals were concerned about the smell and sheer amount of waste being dumped at a number of sites in the area.
“They’re sick of it, and they’re desperate for the regulator and the government to stop this – they don’t want to be the dumping capital of Australia.”
On Monday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said while the state did not want NSW to dump its waste in Queensland, there would be no waste levy.
“We have ruled out a waste levy but I’m quite sure that at the end of the day, Queenslanders don’t want to see NSW dumping their waste in Queensland.”
The environmental impact was also an issue: Ms Meldrum-Hanna said because of the lack of monitoring hazardous liquids, asbestos and tonnes of building and construction waste was being dumped in Ipswich.
“I think if the community, once they know what’s happening and how much is going over, I’d be surprised if people didn’t care.”
When investigating recycling, Ms Meldrum-Hanna said they found glass had such little value it was either being stockpiled; or worse, in some regional councils, being sent to landfill.
“Glass has almost zero value at best; no one wants it,” she said.
“So it’s being stockpiled in these bags and sent interstate in the hope that it could one day be remanufactured, or in regional areas it’s just being dropped into hole in the ground.”
One recycling company, Polytrade, opened its warehouse doors to the Four Corners team, and Ms Meldrum-Hanna said what she saw would shock viewers.
“They’ve had to come up with this solution that’s costing them millions each year. They’ll send half (the glass) overseas to Asia, where we’re promised it’s being recycled,” she said.
“The other half they bag up in giant big white plastic bags and then put that into containers, and that’s sent over to Victoria in trucks where it’s stored in these massive warehouses … and I honestly couldn’t believe the scale of it.”
At every turn in their investigation into the waste industry, Ms Meldrum-Hanna said they found dysfunction.
“As a consumer myself, just as a human being, I was left quite dismayed at the end of putting the story together, about the problems that are in the waste industry.”
She said the industry had a responsibility to clean up its act, but the regulators had also left a lot to be desired in how they had handled the problems so far.
“Certainly the industry is calling for Queensland to introduce a levy, to lift it from zero. That will stop that interstate movement of waste,” she said.
“States need to come together, and they need to bang their heads together and find a way to tackle this because the movement of waste interstate is flourishing and it is getting more and more organised, and more and more sophisticated, and the longer that goes on the harder it’s going to be to break that up.”
The Four Corners investigation Trashed airs on Monday, August 7 at 8.30pm on ABC and iview.