By Kelly Fuller via ABC News
With tens of thousands of new homes planned for construction south-west of Sydney and across the Illawarra over the next decade, the New South Wales Government is being urged to either regulate or ban the use of polystyrene waffle pods.
Waffle pods are polystyrene blocks used by the building industry as void fillers in concrete slabs.
They reduce construction costs and the amount of concrete required and can help with insulation.
On the South Coast, community groups and Wollongong Council have raised concerns about the use of the plastic material and its management.
Because they are light-weight, the blocks are easy to store and work with, but they are also vulnerable to being blown away in strong winds.
Polluted waterways spur action
In July 2019, hundreds of waffle pods were blown off building sites in West Dapto and Wongawilli, Wollongong Council was left to manage the clean up on public land and in local waterways.
In response to the pollution Greens Councillor, Cath Blakey, won support from Wollongong Council to call on the State Government to introduce a compulsory code of conduct for storage and use of the pods.
Soon after, the council won support from Local Government NSW to lobby the State Government for better management of waste from construction sites.
In November 2019, the industry body Expanded Polystyrene Australia (EPSA) released a voluntary code of practice for management of the pods.
The advice included asking suppliers and contractors to conduct reasonable due diligence of product usage and storage, an awareness of weather especially on days of high wind and recommended using netting and pegs to for on-site stacking.
High winds cause more pollution
Over the weekend of November 28–29, wind gusts of more than 70 kilometres per hour saw pods once again blown off constriction sites at West Dapto and further south at Shell Cove.
Nicole Colquhoun, from Plasticwise Thirroul, said it caused pollution all over Integral Energy Park and down local streets — and Wollongong Council and the community was once again left to clean up the pollution.
Ms Colquhoun said the event proves the industry’s voluntary code of practice is failing and the State Government needs to control the product’s use.
“But we’d like to see poly banded al together it’s just a noxious product that we should be getting rid of them looking at other more sustainable options.”
Call for legislation
Councillor Cath Blakey said with major housing expansion expected in the Greater Macarthur region, south-west of Sydney and west of Wollongong the industry must seek alternatives.
“And they can be done with completely recyclable or compostable material that breaks down, when it needs to,” she said.
“When we have an industry that fails to take responsibility then we need legislation.”
In Shell Cove, resident Emma Grima said she has been actively cleaning up waffle pods and other plastics around the area for the last 12 months.
“I would 100 per cent back it all the way if the State Government introduced a ban on them.
“It’s such an old-school product, even when they deliver them off the truck and rip off the plastic from the waffle pods that is protecting them from travelling, little particles escape into the environment.
“And in 100-plus an hour gust winds like we had last weekend, when I found more while going on my walk, I wasn’t looking for them, and I come across all the waffle pods again.”
Greens call for state-wide ban
NSW Greens Environment spokeswoman Cate Faerhman said next year she will move in the state’s parliament to eliminate use of the product.
“Waffle pods are cheap, nasty and polluting.
“The ‘voluntary code of practice’ clearly isn’t enough.
“There are better alternatives like cardboard or even hard plastic.
The ABC understands the NSW Government is working to release its plastic plan and 20-year waste strategy early in 2021.
The ABC also contacted EPSA but received no response.
Industry experts and engineers contacted by the ABC also did not want to offer comment, but acknowledged the industry’s growing interest in alternatives, but cost remains the hurdle.
Some companies have developed recycled plastic void formers, some recycled polypropylene, and a number have created honeycomb cardboard solutions.