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Free fill - is it worth it?

The EPA has launched a community awareness campaign on social media, prompting residents to ask if the free fill they are taking on to their land is really worth it.

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The EPA and councils receive regular reports of fill (soil excavated from one site and used as a base material in building, landscaping or general fill somewhere else) being delivered to unsuspecting property owners with promises that it is clean and harmless, only to find that it is contaminated with building and demolition waste, general rubbish, chemicals, heavy metals or even asbestos.

Many tradespeople, gardeners and renovators use online classified websites, respond to flyers and even take up doorknock offers for free or cheap fill material. While not all of this fill will be contaminated, all too often unsuspecting property owners respond to these ads for free fill, only for contaminated or poor-quality material to be delivered.

Not all operators are dodgy but it is worth taking a minute to consider where the fill you are bringing onto your property is coming from and if you can know for sure that it is clean: free fill may come at no price, but it can have a hefty cost if it turns out to be contaminated and affects your land.

The EPA is reminding residents across NSW thinking of undertaking any DIY works – particularly those in rural or semi-rural areas - to think twice when it comes to free fill: if the ‘dirt deal’ seems too good to be true, it probably is.

By accepting contaminated waste onto a property, owners are inadvertently breaking the law and can be left holding the bill for any clean-up costs, as well as dealing with any environmental pollution. The best way to prevent the financial and environmental risks that can come with contaminated fill is to stop the material reaching your property in the first place

Make sure it's legal

Check before you start

First, ask your local council if filling is allowed.

You might need council approval to make sure you:

use clean good quality fill that doesn’t contain contaminants like asbestos, chemicals or building waste do not put it where it could harm plants, wildlife or waterways do not cause flooding have the right safety measures in place.

If you don’t get approval, council or the EPA might order you to remove the fill and pay for proper disposal. They can order land owners and occupiers to do this.

Ask questions and keep records

Beware of free or cheap fill because it may be contaminated.Ask anyone who offers you free or cheap fill for their full contact details and ABN to see if they are trustworthy.Ask your supplier for a written report certifying the quality of the fill, and where it comes from.If you doubt the fill quality, ask the supplier to test for contaminants and give you the results.Keep copies of all records you receive from the supplier like emails, quotes and invoices.

It is an offence to give false or misleading information about waste. If you suspect someone is doing the wrong thing, phone the EPA on 131 555.

Supervise delivery

Supervise and inspect all loads of fill as they arrive.Stage the delivery of loads so there is time to check what you are getting.Ask delivery drivers where they got the fill.Record their details, such as truck registration, proof of identity or employment and driver log books.Stop accepting fill if it contains asbestos, bricks, concrete, wood, glass or plastic, looks a strange colour or smells bad.Keep your property locked when you are not there so trucks cannot enter without you knowing.

Understand the risks

Dishonest operators may offer landowners good quality clean fill, but deliver fill with building waste, chemicals and asbestos in it. You may get a lot more fill than you wanted. Then they disappear, leaving you with contaminated land that costs a lot to clean up.

Taking contaminated fill could devalue your land, risk your family’s health and cost you thousands of dollars to clean up.

If you dispose of fill illegally, you could receive up to:

$15,000 on-the-spot fine$5 million in court fines7 years in prison.

Don’t risk your property, family health or money.

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