Large mining tyres have been buried on-site at six open-cut coalmines in north-west New South Wales, without the appropriate licence conditions, according to environmental authorities.
- An EPA investigation that began last year has found six mines in north-west NSW buried tyres without a licence to do so
- Each of the mines has been issued an official caution
- Locals and the recycling industry say a harsher penalty would be more of a deterrent
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has concluded an investigation into the practice, after it received a report in 2020 that this had occured at one mine in the Namoi region.
Its director of regulatory operations, Steven Budgen, said the EPA had found “instances of tyres being buried without necessary licence conditions at various times between 2014 and 2020”.
“While no environmental harm was found to have occurred, the EPA issued official cautions to all six of the open-cut coalmines we investigated,” Mr Budgen said.
The investigation followed an application earlier this year by Whitehaven Coal (WHC) to bury tyres onsite at its Tarrawonga and Werris Creek mines, which the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) approved.
WHC currently operates two other mines in the Gunnedah Basin, at Maules Creek and Narrabri, while Idemitsu also runs one at Boggabri.
Planning system under fire
The finding has further frustrated local residents, who have argued the method of disposal poses a risk to the surrounding environment and to their water source.
Maules Creek resident and CWA branch president Libby Laird said the EPA’s conclusion was a relief, after the community had alerted the authority to the practice.
But, she said, she would have liked to have seen a harsher penalty.
Ms Laird said the DPIE’s approval of Whitehaven’s applications earlier this year, prior to the conclusion of this investigation, indicated a flaw in the New South Wales planning system.
“It doesn’t work for the community and it doesn’t work for the environment, but it does work for the mining companies,” she said.
Industry ‘looking at’ options
WHC declined to provide further comment but, in a statement to the ABC earlier this year, it had said the on-site disposal of tyres was permissible in New South Wales in selected circumstances.
“Tyre stewardship is an area [the] industry is looking at more closely in a sustainability context,” a spokesperson said.
Harsher penalty deserved
Australian Tyre Recyclers’ Association executive officer Robert Kelman criticised the EPA for not handing the mines a harsher penalty.
“If recycling rather than dumping these used mining tyres made the mining company a profit, they’d do it.”