The EPA has already removed 36,000 tonnes of contaminated waste to lessen the fire risk, an operation set to continue for several more months.
The glass company declined to comment on the reason GRS was shuttered. Administrators PFK did not respond to a request for comment.
A state government spokeswoman said the EPA had powers to recover the cost of its clean-up work at the site.
“Given the extensive cost involved in making this site safe for the community, EPA will pursue its costs through all legal avenues,” she said.
But the state government and regulatory agencies are already funding the clean-up of a number of defunct recycling and illegal waste dumping sites around the state amid safety concerns or because businesses or owners were unable or unwilling to pay for the massive remediation works.
WorkSafe has budgeted $56 million to clean up 13 toxic chemical stockpiles in the city’s north. It is likely to cost $100 million to remove a mountain of construction rubbish the size of the MCG left at a purported recycling facility in Lara, outside Geelong.
And in a further blow to the state’s trouble-plagued recycling industry, the massive pile of glass is also likely to end up dumped in landfills given much of the material is highly contaminated, industry insiders and experts say.
Trevor Thornton, Deakin University’s senior lecturer in hazardous materials management, said clearing the glass stockpile at the Coolaroo site could prove extremely difficult.
“It is a big task if they’re trying to recycle it,” he said. “At the moment the only way to recycle it is to give it away.”
Dr Thornton said dumping the glass in landfill may be the only realistic solution.
GRS, which was licensed to hold up to 141,400 tonnes, was collecting it from 30 Victorian councils for reuse or to create sand for road construction. But the company become a major headache for regulators and emergency services in early 2019.
After fires erupted at the Maffra Street property in March and April last year, the EPA banned the company from accepting any new materials.
GRS was slapped with a clean-up order – which it failed to heed – by the Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court in August after a Hume council testified conditions at the site were “a matter of life and death”.
In late October, black liquid was detected leaking into nearby Merlynston Creek, flowing down to popular park Jack Roper Reserve and sparking warnings to avoid any contact with the waterways. Just days later another “spot fire” broke out at the property.
The incidents led the EPA to step in to take control of management of the site, which has included hiring a private firefighting crew to continuously monitor the pile.
Authorities have observed temperatures spike to up to 600 degrees celsius in the pile, generated by extreme pressure from the weight of the densely-packed materials.
“EPA continues to manage hotspots at the Glass Recovery Services site in Coolaroo and is working closely with various agencies including Metropolitan Fire Brigade to get the best result for the community,” a spokesman said.
A MFB spokeswoman said an “enhanced” and “strengthened” response had been planned for any fire at the site.
The EPA has also lodged a caveat over the land occupied by GRS, which is owned by a related company, in a bid to aid attempts to recover its costs.
Dr Thornton said glass was one of the most problematic materials in the kerbside recycling system.
He said there was currently a poor market for glass because demand was low and it tended to contaminate other materials in the recycling stream.
GRS and its director are currently facing more than dozen civil charges for repeated license breaches and failing to prevent the March 2019 fire. The maximum penalty for a licence contravention is $386,856.
Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.
Benjamin is a state political reporter