A pile of waste burning at a Bio-Recycle dump site at Swanbank in 2013. Photo: Contributed
A pile of waste burning at a Bio-Recycle dump site at Swanbank in 2013. Photo: Contributed

‘Simply brazen’ waste company over limit by 320,000 tonnes

A COMPANY operating at Ipswich blatantly ignored regulations on the volume of waste it was allowed to accept and made millions of dollars in the process, a court has heard.

After pleading guilty to two offences of dumping excess waste into old mine sites at Swanbank, Bio-Recycle Australia now faces the prospect of a massive fine.

Ipswich Magistrates Court heard the company earned $7 million in revenue when exceeding its limits, in a case prosecuted by the Department of Environment and Science.

The department sought a $100,000 fine as penalty.

Company directors listed as Michael Paul Borg, John Anthony Borg, and Neil James Schembri are based at Vineyard in western Sydney and did not attend the sentence hearing.

Magistrate David Shepherd asked why no corporate defendant was in attendance at court.

Bio-Recycle Australia Pty Ltd, through its defence barrister Michael Woodford, pleaded guilty to two charges of carrying out an environmentally relevant activity without authority between 2017 and 2019.

The offences were committed in breach of the Environmental Protection Act.

Department of Environment prosecutor Deborah Holliday tended the agreed written facts, saying the company, under the same directors, had a prior conviction in 2002 and was fined $61,895.

In the matters before the court she said Bio-Recycle had an Environmental Authority to dispose of 100,000 tonnes annually at Swanbank but in the relevant period exceeded this by disposing of more than 474,000 tonnes, exceeding the threshold by more than 274,000 tonnes.

The excess that occurred in the second departmental charge brought the total excess amount to 326,137 tonnes.

Mr Shepherd said that on June 28, 2017 the company lodged a change of use application with Ipswich City Council to facilitate the disposal of more than 200,000 tonne, saying: "Should I draw the inference and it was then well aware it would go over".

"Do you say that by the overall conduct it was their intention to do so regardless of outcome?" Mr Shepherd said.

"Yes, their intention was to exceed the limitation of their existing authority," Ms Holliday said.

Ms Holliday said the inference was the company had contracts, it had the landfill, and it was a commercial decision.

Mr Shepherd said the application was refused by Ipswich City Council in January 2018, and the company's notice of appeal was dismissed.

The company had sought permission to dump waste in excess of 450,000 tonne.

Ms Holliday said the company was required to keep records of the tonnage received and the revenue received was more than $7.4 million.

She acknowledged that with this apparent commercial motivation the offence takes on even greater significance.

"The maximum penalty is a fine of $2 million and the gain to the company was in excess of $7 million," Mr Shepherd said.

Ms Holliday said the difficulty in deciding penalty was that no environmental harm had been caused.

Mr Shepherd said if there had been environmental harm then a different charge could have been brought before the court.

Mr Woodford said the company accepted it had done the wrong thing.

"They were optimistic, looking at a crystal ball and thinking that everything would be okay," he said.

He said the waste went into the former mine sites and was not creating any hills above ground level.

Mr Shepherd, however, said the company was utterly in disregard of the statutory requirements.

"One possible view is the conduct was simply brazen in that we are going through the process to keep up good corporate citizenship but it doesn't really matter as we are going to do it," Mr Shepherd said.

Mr Shepherd said the matter was one of significant public interest, and he would take into account all written submissions on penalty.

With agreement from all parties he adjourned sentence for two weeks.