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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

Byron steam-weeding contractor under pressure

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A steam weeder similar to the ones used in Byron Shire. Photo weedsnetwork.com
A steam weeder similar to the ones used in Byron Shire. Photo weedsnetwork.com

Hans Lovejoy

A current chemical-free steam weeding trial around Byron Shire Council-run parks has come under pressure after comments by a senior council staffer.

Infrastructure services director Phil Holloway questioned the effectiveness of the trial, telling Echonetdaily last Friday that, ‘While there are signs of some die-back, some weeds grew back in three weeks.’

The comments came after a roadside weeding initiative last week by a few concerned locals failed to stop Byron Shire Council spraying the controversial herbicide glyphosate in Huonbrook, west of Mullumbimby.

The steam-weeding trail aims to cover six parks and playgrounds by a local contractor, who also runs a garden maintenance business.  Mr Holloway said, ‘Due to the need for repeated treatments, the cost is also quite high and cannot be used throughout the entire shire at this stage.’

But contractor Paul Sommers told The Echo that he has ‘consistently told the council that to undertake a trial that collects accurate data –including cost effectiveness and where it is best utilised – would include a three- to six-month pilot program.’

‘It’s the best way to gauge success rather than simply two treatments in random places,’ he said.

‘The fact that some weeds grew back after the first treatment is normal and a second application is always needed.

‘This is where the follow up treatments of a pilot program could show the effectiveness of saturated steam as a viable safe and cost effective weed control practice.’

Measuring cost

‘Many other councils across Australia are switching to chemical free weed control as its now clearly becoming a matter of public and environmental safety and with the science to raise alarm bells.

‘If we are to measure cost, we must also look at all the hidden costs of herbicides including potential public exposure to toxins that could lead to litigation.

‘Added to that is a potentially tarnished public image and undermining of the environment, safety and sustainability commitment.

‘The Netherlands have now banned the use of Round Up (which contains glysophate) and for good reason.

‘While I’m out steaming playgrounds, I constantly get positive feedback from the community saying that they want and expect toxic-free public spaces.

‘I do endeavour to work closely with council to move towards a chemical-free shire where possible. Surely playgrounds, parks, footpaths and around waterways would be the place to start.’

Mr Holloway, however, has maintained that price was considered an issue. He responded with, ‘While ideally the machine would be used more frequently, the cost currently prohibits this and will need to be reviewed. Staff will continue to monitor the sites and report to Council in February on its success.’

He said steam weeding has been used twice to treat all playgrounds in the shire targeting grasses that grow through the soft fall.

‘This approach will be continued on the parks where the weed problem is most persistent. In looking forward, additional funds would need to be allocated in the 2015/16 budget to continue the program and increase its reach, and will be considered as part of review next year,’ he said.

Mayor Simon Richardson boldly announced in November 2013 that Council will attempt to be chemical free in five years, and a chemical free register has since been established. Those wishing to be included can download the form at http://bit.ly/1y9hQUg.

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