Bingo finally accepts guilt for odours that damaged health of Western Sydney residents.

On June 2, a Bingo Industries subsidiary Dial-a-Dump (EC) Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to allowing odours to escape from its landfill premises into surrounding suburbs. This is an offence under Section 129 of the NSW Environmental Operations Act.

Between March and June 2021, Bingo allowed emissions of a rotten egg gas (hydrogen sulphide) to escape from its massive landfill and waste recycling premises at Eastern Creek. These odours affected the quality of life and health of thousands of people in the nearby Western Sydney suburbs of Minchinbury, Rooty Hill and Erskine Park. (More details of the impact on residents and their campaign to get the odours stopped can be found here.)

Although 800 separate complaints were lodged with the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), it took the EPA more than a year, until May 2022, to charge Bingo. EPA officers collected evidence from 58 witnesses, including residents and experts, which proved that Bingo failed to adequately control foul smelling gas produced by rotting material in the landfill.

Hundreds of Bingo trucks go in to landfill each day.

Bingo is a small player in Macquarie global empire

Bingo is a fully owned subsidiary of the massive infrastructure management company Macquarie. Macquarie Asset Management manages approximately $700 billion worth of assets world wide and promotes itself as aiming to deliver “positive impacts for everyone.” Many residents living near the Eastern Creek ‘Ecology Park’ say the only impacts that they have experienced are negative ones.

Macquarie took over full ownership of Bingo from its previous owners, the Tartak family, in 2021. Bingo itself had previously taken over Dial-a-Dump from Ian Malouf in 2018/9. However Macquarie’s new corporate arrangements left representatives of both previous owners on the Board responsible for the management of Bingo.

Previous owners still involved with management of Bingo

Macquarie registered a new subsidiary company, Resource and Recycle Holdings Ltd, to hold scores of Bingo subsidiaries involved in the waste industry around Australia.

Ian Malouf remains on the board of Resource and Recycle Holdings (RRH) and its subsidiaries Bingo Industries. Ex CEO of Bingo Dan Tartak also remained on the Board for 10 months after the $2.3 billion takeover deal. In 2022, he was charged with criminal cartel charges relating to price fixing in the demolition industry. He subsequently resigned from the Bingo board before pleading guilty. He was replaced by his brother, property developer and investor Mark Tartak in 2022. Chair of the RRH Board is Tony Shepherd, well known for his role in driving the development of tollroads in Australia, including Westconnex, and for his previous role as Chairperson of the Business Council of Australia.

Case delayed by not guilty plea

The pollution case was listed in the NSW Land and Environment Court in September last year. Just one day before the hearing, Bingo informed the EPA that it intended to plead not guilty. At the hearing on the following day, Bingo argued that it could not move forward without the EPA lodging a lot more information with the Court. A legal tussle over what documents should be filed led EPA lawyer Peter English to accuse Bingo’s barrister of interpreting ‘the interests of justice’ as the interests of his client “instead of the interest of the court and the interests of the community including those residents who will be witnesses”. At the end of the hearing, Justice Moore commented that he had never previously experienced similar legal tactics as those being used by Bingo’s legal team. (More details on the case can be found here.)

In early May 2023, there was a further delay when Bingo was granted an extension of time to file its defence.

Finally, more than two years after the offences, Bingo pleaded guilty. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for later this year. The maximum fine is $1,000,000, which is not large for a company the size of Macquarie.

This case demonstrates how disadvantaged the EPA is in its attempts to regulate big business players. Initially the EPA used Clean Up Notices to try to get Bingo to control the odours. Only after all other options were explored did the EPA start the long process of preparing the prosecution case against Bingo. Bingo then used its considerable legal resources to slow down the process.

Bingo attempts major expansion at Eastern Creek

While it was struggling with its bad odour problem, Bingo was preparing a State Significant development application for approval to more than double the scale of its recycling operations at Eastern Creek. The EPA is given the opportunity to comment on all State Significant applications but has no power to stop the Planning Department from approving them. As CEM has previously reported, the EPA delivered a scathing critique of the Bingo application, including a failure to acknowledge or deal with the serious ongoing odour problem. Last August, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment required Bingo to file a response to objections and criticisms of the proposal within two months. Ten months later, no response has been received and the expansion application appears to have stalled.

Odours continue in 2022 and 2023

In Autumn 2022, the odours again severely impacted on the suburbs surrounding the landfill and many more complaints were laid. In April 2022, the EPA issued a licence variation report which required Bingo to explain many instances of odours detected by the EPA. Bingo’s response is unfortunately not public.

In August 22, an EPA officer stated in a letter that the agency was investigating “a further odour event” that impacted Minchinbury between March and July 2022. So far residents have not been told of the result of that investigation and no charges have been laid.

Bingo has been required to install gas flares to burn the emissions. So far the gas extraction system appears to have improved the situation for residents but has not been entirely effective. During 2023, some residents have again complained of hydrogen sulphide odours.

The EPA has also installed three gas monitors to measure levels of Hydrogen Sulphide in Minchinbury and several nearer the landfill. There is a delay of one week before residents can see the results online which tends to make them less helpful. Residents have also not been told where the monitors are located. Odours travel with wind flows and often affect some residents while others, even quite close by, do not smell them. The EPA also acknowledges that people will detect odours at different levels. The monitors show that there continues to be detectable levels of hydrogen sulphide in the air around the landfill at some times. Overall the readings on the monitors and the observations of residents show that the odour problem has not been completely resolved. So far, the effectiveness of the gas flares has not be tested during a prolonged wet period.

Bingo does keep a complaints register but some residents prefer to complain directly to the EPA or some have given up complaining. The register acknowledges odour complaints in 2022 and up until February this year and states that the company is taking “immediate or long term action to fix” each one. In relation to a complaint in April, Bingo states that hydrogen sulphide exceedances were not detected on the EPA monitors. In recent week, residents have continued to post occasional complaints about odours on community Facebook pages.

Meanwhile some residents have been plagued by heavy dust deposits. They have so far been unable to get the EPA to test the composition of the dust deposits or to establish their origin within the large industrial complex of Eastern Creek.

These continuing environmental problems for residents at Eastern Creek raise questions about whether such a large industrial estate, including a major waste facility, should have been allowed to develop so close to suburbs where thousands of residents live.

Report prepared by Wendy Bacon

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