Bingo: Waste industry crisis leaves small businesses on brink of collapse

A major dispute in NSW’s waste industry could cripple small businesses and strengthen the cement giants’ grip on the market.

Small dumpster businesses across Sydney say they are being priced by ‘uncompetitive’ behavior which is now being referred by a regulator to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Earlier this year, the NSW waste industry was shaken by changes proposed by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to test for life-threatening contaminants in reused waste used in playgrounds, sports fields and other landscaping.

A fierce and vocal backlash from industry claimed the new testing regime would lead to hundreds of job losses and drive up the cost of dumpster hire through the roof.

This week, under immense pressure from operators, the EPA scrapped the idea, saying that instead of testing it, it would take an educational approach about the importance of not putting hazardous materials like asbestos in the rubbish bins.

The EPA said in a statement that it will also “intensify oversight and work closely with industry to improve compliance with existing rules and ensure that companies understand and meet their obligations, including the management of asbestos”.

It’s a win for waste operators, but potentially not for the environment, as the EPA’s own testing showed that more than half of facilities producing reclaimed soil fines reused asbestos-containing materials. , microplastics and other contaminants.

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

Coinciding with its campaign against the EPA’s proposed changes, waste giant Bingo this week introduced a major price increase of up to $65 a ton on mixed waste at some of its facilities.

It also abandoned the practice of having the option of charging mixed heavy waste by the cubic meter and moved to charging per tonne at the same rate as landfill, which further increased prices.

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

While operators of facilities like Bingo may charge increasing amounts to unload and process waste, their own dumpsters are not susceptible to the same price increases, allowing them to undermine competition.

Companies that only trade bin rentals and do not own waste facilities say they have been squeezed between the environmental regulator and waste facilities and their days are numbered.

Bingo NSW business and development general manager John Hassett was angrily questioned by small business owners at an industry meeting on Thursday evening.

Mr. Hassett denied that the price increases were related to the EPA’s proposed changes, although the company advanced the industry standard price increase by seven weeks and explicitly mentioned the EPA’s proposal in the documents announcing the changes.

Several smaller operators said their business would collapse under the new pricing regime.

They accused Bingo of not raising its own jump prices as they claimed that operating costs had risen across the board due to the rising price of labour, fuel and utilities. materials.

“If the changes are costing them so much that they have to raise their fares all the way, how come they’re selling cheaper bins now than they were a month ago?” said a spokesperson for the new representative group Waste Transporters NSW.

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

“When I came into the industry, bingo was the big player for me. I built my business around bingo,” they said.

“They were expanding and they reassured us that ‘we’re a family, we’ll grow together’. You tip here, we’ll take care of you.

“It was spoken from the very ground level. We were told that loyalty counts. Now, because of the price increase, you’ve pushed me out of the market.

The Waste Transporters NSW spokesperson said the ultimate losers would be the waste generators – from builders and construction companies to any household looking to hire a dumpster for a move or renovations.

“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 over this week’s price increases.

This is not the first time the ACCC has come knocking on Bingo’s door as the multi-billion dollar company expands its already considerable influence in Sydney.

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

The ACCC’s concerns were based on laws prohibiting acquisitions that could result in “a substantial lessening of competition in any market”.

“After the acquisition, Bingo would be the largest collector and processor of construction and demolition waste and would have substantial 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, landfilling and collections.”

He said that with no significant competitors, particularly in the eastern suburbs and central Sydney, fears were that the acquisition would result in higher entry fees.

“Collectors rely on access to treatment facilities at competitive rates to win customers,” he said.

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

CPE Capital was reportedly ready to undertake the purchase of Bingo alongside Macquarie, but then disappeared from the deal.

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

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