The Gunnedah Shire Council is calling on the local community to exercise better care with recycling after 24kg of fibro sheeting suspected to contain asbestos was found within material from residents’ kerbside recycling collection in one of the bunkers and on the conveyor belt used for hand sorting at the Material Recycling Facility (MRF).

As a result of the discovery, Gunnedah Shire Council said the MRF was immediately shut down and all workers were removed from the area.

The site was inspected by an appropriately qualified contractor to determine visually if the product was suspected asbestos and upon inspection it was identified that the fibro sheeting was highly likely to be asbestos.

The contractor taped off the bunker, hopper and loading area and all Recyclit workers within the MRF were sent home.

Council notified the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) of the incident, as well as its Work Health and Safety (WHS) business partner and kerbside collection contractor JR Richards who sent representatives to the site to conduct their own investigation. This investigation will include a review of footage provided by the in truck camera to identify the alleged offender.

The asbestos contractor hand picked all the visual fibro sheeting and removed the material from within the bunker and on the conveyor belt. The recycling material within the bunker and hopper was also treated as contaminated material and appropriately disposed at the Gunnedah Waste Management Facility designated asbestos area.

The areas that were exposed to the fibro sheeting contamination were cleaned by the asbestos contractor to allow normal operations to resume on Tuesday.

The areas within the MRF were cleared of all fibro sheeting and contaminated material that night and a sample of the sheeting was sent for testing to confirm the product is asbestos.

The MRF workers that were placed at risk exposure to this material are from the Gunnedah Workshop, a non-profit organisation providing NDIS services and supported employment opportunities to around 40 people with disabilities in Gunnedah.

In response to the incident, Jasmine Alloway, the general manager of Gunnedah Workshop Enterprises, said: “This beautiful community is incredibly supportive of our mission and of our people, which makes the thoughtless actions of one person so much more heartbreaking.

“They have endangered the health of some of Gunnedah’s most vulnerable people, and probably their own as well. I hope that this is a case of ignorance, rather than malice: that they were somehow unaware that Gunnedah’s recycling is sorted by hand, and not that they just didn’t care.

“I would like to take this opportunity to remind our community that after our yellow bins are collected, the contents are hand-sorted by our amazing team. The team works incredibly hard, in difficult conditions, and tolerate a lot of contamination that is sent with the recyclables.”

Safe Work has cleared the site for operation, and advised that in this instance, the risk to the health of workers was well-mitigated.

Gunnedah Shire Council’s director of planning and environmental services Andrew Johns said members of the local community should be mindful of the processes council has in place for the removal and disposal of asbestos.

“If this material had been disposed of correctly at the Gunnedah Waste Management Facility it would have cost the resident or residents responsible for placing this material in their recycling bin, just $5,” Mr Johns said.

“That’s a small price to pay for doing the right thing not only by their own safety but that of our workers and the general community.”

Legal action may be pursued as a result of the investigation.

The asbestos find was the second in the Gunnedah shire since September.

Gunnedah Shire Council was forced to pay $6000 in contamination clean-up costs after “several hundred kilograms” of asbestos was illegally dumped adjacent to Grain Valley Road, Goolhi.

Council later requested reimbursement of expenses through the NSW Environmental Protection Authority but was advised the waste did not present enough of a significant risk to the public or the environment to attract funding under that program – in part because it was contained and also due to the rural location of the dumped material.

Council has an asbestos disposal procedure that can be viewed at: or further information can be obtained by contacting council.

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