From the brick-paved patio outside Kay and Glenn Davies’ home, there is a 360-degree view of farmland with rolling green hills. It’s a picturesque setting. The landscape is stark and crisp against the bright blue sky. The only sound is the songs from distant birds, carried in the breeze, and the rhythmic clicking of cicadas in the garden.
Kay Davies is a mother of two adult sons and has lived with her husband Glenn in their farmhouse in St Ronans, 15 kilometres outside of York, for 44 years. Glenn Davies is a descendant of the first settlers in York, his family arriving in 1836, one year after the town was officially founded. Glenn’s grandfather purchased the family farm for Merino sheep, Black Angus cattle and cropping in 1946, passing it on to Glenn who operates it with the help of his son Jake.
York is the oldest inland town in Western Australia. Famous for its rich heritage, historic buildings, and come spring, magnificent fields of vibrant, yellow, canola flowers dotting the countryside. Tourism drives the local economy.
The 2669-acre farm is surrounded by national forests and conservation areas. The peacefulness of nature is palpable. A complete juxtaposition to the potential development looming 700 metres from the south-western boundary of the farm; a proposed landfill, a clay-lined pit absorbing up to 250,000 tonnes of waste each year, for 28 years. That is equivalent to 700 truckloads, six days a week, travelling east along the Great Southern Highway carrying Perth’s rubbish to this new tip.
“We have done everything in our power to hold them up. We have done everything possible to make it more difficult for them. We will continue to protest it, because we feel that it is the most necessary thing to do.”Kay Davies
11 year uphill battle
This is not the start of the journey for Kay. For more than a decade, she has been trying to stop the landfill application. Now one of the sole remaining appealers, she says she has exercised every possible avenue to block the proposal.
The heavily contested landfill has been through four Joint Development Assessment Panels, three State Administrative Tribunals, and has received a total of 1169 appeal submissions and more than 2000 signatures on various protest petitions.
The proposal was first submitted by SITA in December 2012 under the application name ‘Allawuna Landfill.’ It involves the construction of seven landfill cells, leachate and retention ponds and supporting infrastructure on a 136-hectare landfill development.
Kay fought the proposal by SITA in its early stages, attending all the mediations and hearings until 2016, when SITA relinquished its proposal due to cost constraints.
The victory was short-lived. By 2017, A.M.I. Enterprises purchased the farm and SITA’s proposal, allocating Alkina Holdings Pty Ltd to build the landfill.
Both A.M.I Enterprises and Alkina Holdings are owned by the same man, Sam Mangione, a Perth business executive with interests in waste management. He is also the co-founder and managing director of Instant Waste Management, the operator proposed to run the landfill if the proposal is successful. Instant Waste Management additionally operates Opal Vale Landfill in Toodyay, another regional landfill facility for metro waste.
Sam Mangione was contacted for comment regarding the proposal but did not reply.
In 2019, the proposal was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency which released its environmental approval recommendation in May this year. When giving its approval, the EPA recognised there was significant community concern but stated this was outside the scope of its evaluation.
“It is important that decision-makers across government give full consideration to those issues beyond the scope of the EPA,” EPA Chair Professor Matthew Tonts outlined.
The proposal now sits with the Office of the Appeals Convenor, who after reviewing the appeal submissions, will provide a recommendation to the state’s Minister for Environment, Reece Whitby, who will make the final decision.
Appealing the proposal
For Kay, there are many reasons why Allawuna Farm is not a suitable site for a landfill.
“[The proponents] didn’t do their due diligence. Never. It was stated in court that this location was chosen because it was the cheapest. Not because it’s the best place to put it,” she says.
The 13 Mile Brook runs through the middle of the Allawuna property and drains into the Helena Valley Catchment, which ultimately filters into the Avon and Swan rivers.
The EPA’s assessment of the proposal found the proponent ‘provided sufficient information’ on the geology of the area to give ‘confidence in the suitability’ of the location.
However, Kay is still concerned contamination or leachate from the landfill, once into these waterways, will cause irrevocable damage to drinking water.
“What’s the most important two things to human life?” she poses.
“Food and water. If we don’t look after this land now, when are we? When it’s too late? Because it’ll be too late. Once they start tipping rubbish into the landfill it will be contaminated forever.”
The property is also sandwiched between Mount Observation National Park, the Mundaring Weir water catchment area, the Wandoo National Park, thousands of hectares of conservation areas, and the Wambyn and Saint Ronans nature reserves.
“You have this tiny little area of farming surrounded by national forest and conservation areas. I just think that’s a terrific place to put a landfill, isn’t it?” she sarcastically remarks.
Another appeal consideration is the fire risk associated with operating a landfill.
The Institute of Sustainable Futures released a report regarding the severity of landfill fires in Australia, noting more than 50 per cent of waste sent to landfill is flammable, with 10 per cent being toxic.
Although the EPA found Alkina Holdings’ Management Plan was adequate in alleviating the impact and severity of potential fires, this fire plan document was never provided to the public for review and comment.
SITA’s original proposal included a ‘Fire Management Report’ with one fire fighting unit on site. Given the proposed landfill development is surrounded by bushfire-prone areas, Kay feels this isn’t enough to mediate the risk to her property, and the neighbouring national forest.
“Landfills go up in flames. Being surrounded by all this national forest and sharing a boundary with the property poses a real threat. Fires are a massive concern for me,” Kay says.
“I think back to the fire we had here a couple of years ago. I almost got caught in it and lost my life. We nearly lost both of our houses. One thousand acres went up in flames. It was truly unstoppable.”
Other concerns raised in Kay’s 48-page appeal document include the risk to endangered Carnaby Cockatoo habits, the impact on York’s tourism, the threat of groundwater contamination, road infrastructure, dust and gas emissions, the location of a Ballardong Nyoongar sacred site, all culminating to form one conclusion, according to Kay: the proposal should not be approved.
If not York, then where?
Australia has been working towards reducing its waste for decades. However, it is still producing excessive amounts. The National Waste Report found in 2020-21 Australia generated more than 75 mega tonnes of total waste, had a resource recovery rate of 63 per cent, and a recycling rate of 60 per cent. Findings that had not improved since the last report two years prior.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia is the national peak body for the waste sector.
WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan says it’s clear if Australia continues on its current trajectory, the nation won’t reach the target resource recovery rate by 2030.
Ms Sloan says energy recovery is key.
“Experience from overseas tells us that a missing piece of the puzzle is energy recovery,” she says.
“The reality is that energy recovery is higher up the hierarchy than disposal. It is far better to reuse material to create energy, using less fossil fuels, and not dispose of it creating greenhouse gas.”
“Its proposed incinerators will reduce waste to landfill by 50 per cent.”
Although waste-to-energy is presented as a potential solution to Australia’s mounting waste, Zero Waste Australia’s campaign coordinator Jane Bremmer disagrees
Zero Waste Australia commissioned a report by Eunomia to determine the best solutions to deal with Australia’s residual waste.
Ms Bremmer says the findings of the report indicate, in Australia, landfill with full pretreatment is the best option, outcompeting incineration.
“When we talk about pretreatment before landfill, we’re essentially talking about zero waste systems and a zero-waste policy,” she says.
“This means making sure our residual waste is actually bona-fide residual waste and it’s not compostable, recyclable or reusable resources.”
That’s something she argues Australia doesn’t do well.
“If we were to have zero waste systems and provide full pre-treatment, we’d see our residual waste volumes shrink dramatically.”
Jane argues Australia should be able to separate waste into a residual waste stream of 10 per cent, significantly less than its current 27 per cent. Although she believes that landfills should be the only form of waste disposal in Australia, arguing more needs to be done to facilitate a shift in how Australians view waste management.
“There’s no perfect place for landfill. When you’re dumping your waste in a hole, you are really just hiding it,” she says.
“It’s really a case of the systems that our governments choose to manage our waste.”
“We don’t see waste as an essential service when it is one. It’s been left to local governments to manage who don’t have the expertise, or the resources to do anything much better than landfill or incineration.”
‘Needs-based’ approach to landfill
WA’s Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 outlines the State Government is responsible for developing a ‘needs-based’ approach to new landfill applications and approvals.
Jake Davies, Kay’s son and a senior structural engineer and now a seventh-generation farmer in York, questions how the Allawuna Landfill fits into this framework.
“With Allawuna predating the implementation of these strategies, it kind of slipped through the cracks,” he says. “If we want to meet our targets, to be sustainable, and to reach net zero, then we need to behave in accordance with these strategies.”
He argued in his appeal application WA’s ten current landfills have enough ‘cumulative airspace’ to store the state’s waste before another landfill is needed.
From the cumulative airspace, Jake factored in the 2030 waste reduction strategies and population growth to deduce WA won’t run out of landfill space until 2046.
“Using my engineering background, I wanted to quantitatively show that there isn’t a need for the landfill for 23 years. We still have cumulative airspace until 2046,” he says.
Central Wheatbelt MLA Mia Davies echoes these concerns, questioning what priority a ‘needs-based’ approach ranked in the strategy, given the two new landfill developments in York and Toodyay.
“I remain concerned that no progress has been made to better manage how new landfills and waste management infrastructure is developed across the State as it leaves peri-urban communities like York, Toodyay, and others as a prime target for businesses looking to set up and service city suburbs,” she says.
Ms Davies says the local community has her support as they continue to fight landfill proposals.
Toodyay’s lesson to York
The Opal Vale Landfill in Toodyay, also operated by Instant Waste Management, was proposed in 1999 and is another highly contested regional facility servicing metro waste.
Toodyay Shire President Rosemary Madacsi sees similarities between the York and Toodyay landfills.
“It’s the same operator. It also has very similar community concerns, terrain, water issues, fire issues, and the same agricultural landscape,” she says.
Rosemary is concerned these regional sites are being chosen for the wrong reasons.
“If you drew a radius around Perth, you would see the areas that are geographically optimal locations to maximise significant financial benefit for operators.”
Like York, Toodyay fought the Opal Vale landfill application for more than 20 years, arguing the risks to the environment, community and its economic viability were profound. However, the appeals were unsuccessful with phase one of development starting in 2018.
“From our point of view as small local shires we are taking all the risk. Will these companies still be solvent in the future to pick up the remediation? We carry the financial burden in these communities,” Rosemary says.
“We have been left with a landfill we have no confidence in its long-term viability.”Toodyay Shire President Rosemary Madacsi
Rosemary hopes lessons can be learnt from Toodyay, and influence those in power making the decision over York.
Only time will tell if the landfill is approved. Kay Davies hasn’t lost hope in an optimistic outcome for York.
“I’m feeling more positive now than I was at the beginning of this process. I feel that is because attitudes have changed. We are not only watching governments change, but people change,” she says.
“I don’t think people are doing the right thing just yet in terms of waste management, but you can really feel that now, they want to. That is the difference, which is major.”