NSW EPA takes a close look at handlers of used tyres.

NSW EPA takes a close look at handlers of used tyres. Photo: Peter Rae

A crackdown on NSW tyre retailers found half the outlets inspected were unaware of their responsibility to ensure used tyres were handled by legal operators.

The state's Environment Protection Authority inspected 258 tyre retailers in the Sydney, Illawarra, Hunter Valley and Coffs Harbour regions in December as part of a campaign to curb illegal stockpiling and dumping of tyres, and to reduce the risk of toxic blazes.

Only about two-thirds of the retailers were found to be sending tyres to a “reputable facility”, despite the risk of fines and other penalties for offences, the EPA said.

Stawell tyre dump

Bushfires came within a couple of kms of a massive tyre dump near Stawell in western Victoria. Photo: GDT

“Anyone involved in handling of waste tyres can be found guilty of an offence when waste tyres are transported to a place that cannot lawfully be used as a waste facility,” Environment Minister Robyn Parker said.

Retailers in NSW are required to keep documents on the transporter used to dispose of used tyres, where the tyres are processed or disposed, and to ensure the waste facility holds appropriate licences.

During the inspections, the EPA issued 11 notices to tyre retailers to reveal more information on how they handle discarded tyres. One tyre transporter was found to be telling retailers waste tyres were being taken to sites no longer in operation, an EPA spokeswoman said. Seven sites also face further investigation.

The EPA will next inspect the remaining 20 per cent of retailers yet to be visited in the four regions. It also plans to focus on waste tyre transporters as the campaign extends into 2014.

The equivalent of about 48 million tyres are discarded in Australia annually, with many of them ending up in landfills, dumped or exported.

The federal government this week launched a voluntary tyre stewardship to raise the share of recycling. Most of the companies so far signed up to the scheme, though, are also identified by the Boomerang Alliance, an environmental group, as relatively lax in their oversight of how used tyres are handled.

Victorian view

Victoria's EPA, meanwhile, will issue a number of notices after a joint operation with the Country Fire Authority and the Metropolitan Fire Bridge found sites where stored or dumped tyres posed severe fire risk and environmental harm.

"The site’s operators are required under EPA (pollution abatement notices) to put controls in place to mitigate risks and keep EPA advised of these required works," a spokeswoman for Victoria's EPA said.

Victoria does not yet have limits on tyre storage, but may follow NSW's approach. The O'Farrell government requires licences for companies holding the equivalent of 5000 passenger tyres, or about 50 tonnes, and is consulting with industry on cutting that amount to 500 tyres.

Victoria EPA "is currently formulating its regulatory response for inappropriate stockpiling of end-of-life tyres," a spokeswoman said.

A major tyre dump near Stawell in western Victoria is also a focus of clean-up efforts. Recycler GDT is one of a number of companies interested in the stockpile, which may total the equivalent of nine million tyres or more.

The urgency to reduce the stockpile was underscored this past week, when bushfires from the nearby Black Range came within a couple of kilometres of the massive dump, according to an official with the Northern Grampians Shire.