Bushfire recovery: Recycling and disposal of building materials including asbestos

Information for property owners on how to safely recycle or remove building materials, including those that may contain asbestos, following a bushfire.

Date last updated

Wednesday 15 Jan 2020

Industries and topics
  • Asbestos
  • Bushfires
  • Hazardous manual handling
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Materials not contaminated by asbestos

If your property (house or workplace) does not have asbestos-containing debris, you can sell or provide it to a recycler. Contact the recycler to establish any specific requirements they may have prior to collection.

Material that does not contain asbestos and cannot be recycled can be disposed of at a licensed landfill. Contact the landfill for any specific requirements.

For information about landfill disposal or recycling contact:

Homeowners only

The information below is for homeowners undergoing property clean-up following a bushfire. 

This information is not meant for a workplace. 

Property clean-up at a workplace must be carried out in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, EPA and local council requirements.  This requires workplaces to engage a Class A licensed asbestos removalist for all friable asbestos material, or to engage a Class A or B licensed asbestos removalist for non-friable asbestos materials greater than 10m2.

Materials contaminated by asbestos

Asbestos-containing materials are very common in houses built before 1990 and are commonly found in walls, roofs, eaves, fences and electrical switch boards.

Risks associated with fire-damaged asbestos-containing material

Most asbestos-containing material in the home is ‘non-friable’ (bonded material). However, in a fire, non-friable asbestos has the potential to shatter and disintegrate, which can cause the material to become ‘friable’ (material that is no longer bonded).  

Friable asbestos can easily crumble to dust and this significantly increases the risk of breathing asbestos fibres.

Breathing asbestos fibres may lead to serious diseases, such as asbestos is, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

A trained person, such as an Occupational Hygienist can be engaged to identify if asbestos materials are on a property and whether the material is deemed to be friable or non-friable.

For more information about asbestos visit: www.asbestos.vic.gov.au.

Options for disposing asbestos-contaminated materials

If you believe any material is contaminated with asbestos, you have two options.

  1. Engage a licensed asbestos removalist (recommended)

    Licensed asbestos removalists are professionals trained and authorised by WorkSafe Victoria to remove asbestos. A list of asbestos removalists and the types of asbestos they are allowed to remove can be found at Victorian Asbestos Removalists.

  2. Clean and dispose of the asbestos-containing materials yourself (not recommended)

    If you decide to do the work yourself, it must be carried out in a way that is without risk to the homeowner or any neighboring properties, and the disposal must be done in accordance with EPA and local government requirements.

The process for removal of asbestos contamination from materials to be recycled or disposal of asbestos-containing materials is as follows.

Clean the asbestos-containing (AC) materials

  1. Isolate the contaminated area with signage and barrier tape to prevent access by unprotected persons.
  2. Use a skip/bin that is double lined with thick plastic sheeting (0.2mm) to place asbestos containing or contaminated materials for disposal, in combination with thick plastic bags (0.2mm) and thick tape for sealing plastic.
  3. Designate an area for recycling contaminated material to be placed which should have double layered thick plastic sheeting laid down on the ground
  4. Designate an area to place cleaned recycling materials for collection by recycling company away from asbestos contaminated areas
  5. Set up designated decontamination area. Ensure light spraying equipment, rags and water are available.
  6. Use personal protective equipment (PPE):
    • P2 filtered respirator, preferably half face respirator with cartridge (P2) respirator
    • Must be clean shaven
    • Must ensure that the respirator forms a tight seal on the face
    • Disposable hooded coveralls suitable for asbestos removal (type 5, category 3)
    • Gloves
    • Safety boots (gumboots or laceless safety boots)

Tips to minimise dangerous dust

  • Keep all material for recycling or disposal wet/damp using fine water spray (a continuous fine spray may be required for some very dusty tasks).
  • Avoid unnecessary breakage of AC material.
  • Remove large pieces of AC material by hand if practicable.
  • Do not use power tools for cutting/drilling AC material.

Recycle or dispose of the cleaned materials

  1. Transfer contaminated recyclable materials to designated area on plastic sheeting.
  2. Clean all visible asbestos contamination from the recyclable material.
    • Use wet cloths to remove any loose debris.
    • If asbestos contamination is difficult to remove, use hand tools such as scrapers, do not use power tools, compressed air or high pressure water.
  3. Inspect recyclable material to make sure no asbestos contamination remains.
  4. Transfer cleaned recyclable material to designated clean area.
  5. If a recycling company requires a written statement that no visible asbestos contamination remains on recyclable materials, then engage a competent person to inspect and provide an Asbestos Clearance Certificate. Transfer all asbestos contaminated material or asbestos containing materials to skip / bin for disposal.

Clean up, decontaminate and dispose of any waste

  1. Decontaminate tools and any equipment used including any machinery.
    • Hose down gently using fine spray mist
    • Wet wipe surfaces
  2. Decontaminate PPE by spray / wet wiping and rolling down coveralls and removing before removing respiratory protection.
  3. All asbestos contaminated materials, including wet wipes, rags and coveralls must be disposed of as asbestos containing waste in skip / bin or dedicated asbestos waste bags at the end of each day.
  4. Waste must be double wrapped in thick plastic sheeting (0.2mm thick builders plastic) and sealed along all edges.
  5. All waste must be transported and disposed of at an EPA landfill licensed to accept asbestos waste. Refer to EPA guidance.
  6. Minimise dust during transport of asbestos contaminated waste.  Use sealed trucks/bins/skips that prevent leakage of waste.
  7. Inspect the site to make sure all visible asbestos contaminated material has been removed.

Recycling construction material

Workplaces that process construction and demolition material, such as concrete and brick for re-use (in forms such as crushed rock), from places that may have contained asbestos are required to:

  • have a process for inspecting material when it is unloaded, if possible, if not prior to stockpiling or processing to isolate asbestos contaminated material prior to processing, and
  • segregate any material identified as asbestos contaminated and dispose of it as asbestos waste.

This information and further guidance can be found in the WorkSafe Guidance "Recycling construction and demolition material".