Landfill puts small businesses on the brink of collapse

Sydney small dumpsters say they are being priced for “uncompetitive” behavior now referred to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) by a regulator.

Earlier this year, the NSW waste industry was rocked by changes proposed by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to test for potentially deadly contaminants in recycled waste used in playgrounds, sports fields and other landscaping.

A fierce and vociferous backlash from the industry claimed the new testing regime would result in hundreds of job cuts and increase the cost of renting a through-the-roof container.

This week, under immense pressure from operators, the EPA ditched the idea, rather than test it, it would adopt an educational approach about the importance of not putting hazardous materials like asbestos in dumpsters.

The EPA said in a statement it would also “step up surveillance and work closely with industry to improve compliance with existing rules and ensure companies understand and comply with their obligations, including asbestos management.”

It’s a win for waste processors, but perhaps not for the environment, as the EPA’s own testing found that more than half of plants producing recovered soil particulate matter reuse material containing asbestos, microplastics and other contaminants.

your place ---dats skip bin
Camera iconSmall businesses renting out dumpsters in NSW are bankrupted by waste facility prices. Credit: News limited

Amid the dispute, small dumpster companies are accusing larger operators of taking advantage of the situation to deliberately raise prices and drive them out of business.

Coinciding with its campaign against the proposed EPA changes, waste giant Bingo this week introduced a major price increase of up to $65 per tonne for mixed waste in some of its facilities.

It also scrapped the custom of loading mixed heavy waste per cubic meter and moved it per tonne at the same rate as landfill, further pushing up prices.

The company said the increases were “necessary” because of “significant financial, regulatory and environmental challenges facing the NSW waste industry”.

While operators of facilities like Bingo can charge ever-increasing amounts of money to dump and process waste, their own containers are not subject to the same price hikes, which could undermine competition.

Companies that only deal in the rental of waste containers and have no waste facilities, claim that they are sandwiched between the environmental regulator and waste facilities and that their days are numbered.

John Hassett, CEO of Bingo NSW, business and development, was asked angry questions by small business owners during an industry meeting Thursday night.

A major conflict unfolding in NSW's waste industry could cripple small businesses and giant cement companies' grip on the market.  Image: Bingo
Camera iconThere is frustration at Bingo Industries, Sydney’s largest operator of waste facilities. Bingo Credit: Delivered

Mr. Hassett denied that the price increases were related to the proposed EPA changes, despite the company bringing forward the industry standard price increase by seven weeks and explicitly mentioning the EPA proposal in the material announcing the changes.

Several small operators said their businesses would collapse under the new pricing regime.

They accused Bingo of not raising its own skip prices, despite the fact that operating costs had risen across the board due to increases in the price of labour, fuel and materials.

“If the changes are costing them so much that they have to raise their rates through the roof, why are they selling the bins cheaper now than they were a month ago?” said a spokesperson for the newly formed representative group Waste Transporters NSW.

Some said they felt let down by the company, which started as a trusted partner and let them down as it grew, with one operator describing it as a “kick in the guts”.

“When I got into the industry, Bingo was the most important player for me. I built my business around Bingo,” they said.

“They were expanding and they gave us the reassurance that ‘we are a family, we will grow together. Tip here, we’ll take care of you.”

“We have been talking about this from the ground up. We were told loyalty was important. Because of the price increase you have now priced me out of the market.”

The Waste Transporters NSW spokesperson said the ultimate losers would be waste generators – from builders and construction companies to any household looking to rent a container for relocation or renovation.

“Once we’re dead, why would they give cheap rates?” they said.

The EPA has revealed that it is in the process of referring Bingo to the ACCC about this week’s price increases.

A major conflict unfolding in NSW's waste industry could cripple small businesses and giant cement companies' grip on the market.  Image: Bingo
Camera iconBingo owns the lion’s share of the waste facilities in Sydney. Bingo Credit: Delivered

It’s not the first time the ACCC has turned to Bingo as the multi-billion dollar company expands its already significant influence in Sydney.

When Bingo acquired rival waste company Dial-a-dump in 2019, the ACCC stepped in and forced the company to divest one of its facilities in Banksmeadow. It sold to CPE Capital for less than $50 million expected.

The ACCC’s concerns were based on laws prohibiting acquisitions that are likely to “significantly reduce competition in any market.”

“After the acquisition, Bingo would be the largest collector and processor of construction and demolition waste and have a significant amount of dry landfill capacity in Sydney,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said at the time.

“We are concerned about the effect of the proposed acquisition on processing, dumping and collection.”

He said without substantial competitors, particularly in the eastern suburbs and central Sydney, there were fears the acquisition would lead to higher entry prices.

“Collectors rely on access to processing facilities at competitive rates to compete for customers,” he said.

Last year, financial services firm Macquarie bought Bingo through one of its investment funds for a reported $2.3 billion.

CPE Capital was said to be willing to buy Bingo along with Macquarie, but later dropped out of the deal.

Bingo and the ACCC both declined to comment publicly on the latest issue.

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