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Byron Shire
December 6, 2022

Byron mayor, GM in heated exchange over steam weeding

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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

Chris Dobney

On the eve of council elections, a war of words has broken out between Byron mayor Simon Richardson and GM Ken Gainger over the Council’s steam weeding program, which the mayor allegedly said on radio had been ‘set up to fail’ by staff.

The comments were apparently made during a round of interviews with mayoral candidates on Bay FM last Friday.

They drew a feisty response from the GM, who says he has ‘offered [Cr Richardson] the opportunity to provide me with details as to the staff member to whom his allegations relate and evidence to support those allegations so that I could instigate an independent Code of Conduct investigation into the matters raised.’

But the mayor has in turn said he has ‘requested some further information from the GM in order for me to prepare a response, though as of yet, I have not received this information from the GM.’

‘I’ve also been somewhat preoccupied this week, and so until I receive this information I will be focusing on other matters and hope to provide the response required as soon as possible,’ he added.

In a statement to Echonetdaily, Mr Gainger was defensive of the role of staff, whom he said had ‘worked diligently progressing Council’s aspirational resolution to be chemical free by late 2018.’

‘Since 2013 Council’s glyphosate use by Open Space crews has been reduced from 16,925 ml to 540 ml (2016). Overall including Works portfolios (roadsides etc) glyphosate use has been reduced by 27 per cent,’ he said.

‘Since March this year chemical treatments on roadside vegetation has ceased. Council now operates its own steam weeding machine and so far this financial year $25,000 has been spent in steam weed control around playgrounds, public amenities, high use public areas (including some sports fields) etc – the annual budget for this work is $100,000.

‘Council has also recently contracted further steam weeding resources (external provider) in the Mullumbimby main street. Council’s Better Byron Crew who look after the Byron Bay Town Centre have been hand weeding for some months. The annual chemical treatment of Bindii weed program has also been suspended this year with treatment being replaced with manual hand removal.

‘These collective actions are supported by Council’s insurers,’ Mr Gainger said.

Cr Richardson responded that it was ‘really pleasing to see staff work diligently to achieve the outcomes required within the Council resolution’ adding, ‘after initial problems we are all now on the same page and the positive results are flowing.’

‘It is great to know that staff are on board with the new way of treating weeds in public, open and highly used spaces and I look forward to further success in this area for the benefit of our community and environment.

‘It was however, unfortunate that the externally drafted Integrated Weed Management Strategy was of such a poor quality that the Biodiversity and Sustainability Committee had no choice but to recommend it not progress but begin anew. Again, staff were in agreement,’ Cr Richardson said.

Mr Gainger said that earlier this year staff had proposed a new Integrated Weed Management Strategy aimed at progressively delivering on Council’s chemical free target to the Council.

‘Council voted to have this draft strategy peer reviewed but has yet to vote the $20,000 needed to instigate this action,’ said.

‘The steam weeding machine purchased by Council is the equivalent in terms of effectiveness of any similar machine currently available in the region. It was chosen after extensive field trials,’ Mr Gainger added.


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  1. I’ve been in contact with a company that uses herbicide, and was told that the formulation that they have is ‘chemical-free.’ When I asked what it did contain, if it didn’t have any chemicals, they changed tack and said that it was completely harmless to humans. It later emerged that the chemical was Roundup, and that the assurance of it’s safety came from Monsanto. I later sent them about 30 peer-reviewed scientific studies proving that Roundup is harmful to animals and humans. Watch this space.

  2. Wow, 2016 just 540 millilitres of Glyphosate? That’s half a litre, in the entire Shire, give the Shire a medal! However the questions for Mr Mayor and Mr Manager are: Does this steam generator use as a source of energy a carbon based fuel ? My kettle does this via electricity. I’m also conscious this produces CO2;
    How much CO2 is the wonder steam machine producing/contributing to atmospheric greenhouse pollution to reduce the use of this poison?
    I trust the figures are at your fingertips?
    Nifty N

    • If such figures were available Nifty you’d then need to compare them to the significant damage the glyphosate does to the soil microorganisms which play a very important role in CO2 cycles to get a proper assessment. Also, the Council is working towards a Zero Emission goal so any slight increases in one area (if that’s even the case) would be offset elsewhere. It’s really a non issue I think. Plus there’s so many more benefits wrt to steam weeding in terms of occupational health and safety as well as public safety and environmental benefits.

    • With regards to Carbon emissions (CE), European studies in 2007 determined relative energy consumption of 5 various non chemical treatments. Flames, hot air, steam, hot water and brushes. A comparative data was collected in Australia on the SW900 saturated steam unit. There is also research showing energy consumed and CE in producing glyphosate (herbicide).
      The factors in calculating CE of any methods must include the amount of applications required to maintain the area to the expected presentation standard and the size of the area treated.
      Over a year it was calculated that saturated steam is the most efficient and delivers the least emissions, steam treatment (Danstream) was 40% less efficient, hot water <98C was the least efficient of the wet thermal methods.
      Once the CE has been calculated it is simple enough to have a carbon offset strategy through tree plantings.

  3. Mr Grainger states that the steam machine purchased by Council is equivalent to any other machine available on the market. I disagree.
    I’m the developer of the Australian invention known as ‘Steamwand’ and inventor and patent owner of the process of creating pressurised super-heated water and saturated steam for controlling vegetation.
    I have a published paper comparing various methods of thermal weed control.
    I understand that the machine used by council is a steam cleaner, purported to be also useful for weeding by the manufacturers. Steam cleaners typically use low volumes of water, i.e 0.25 – 2 litres of water a minute. The steam is emitted as wet vapor at temperatures as low as 70C and up to 150C. Vapor poses 2 issues that I had to overcome in the development of my invention. Vapor rapidly loses temperature in air as it leaves the nozzle and vapor does not have great penetrating effect on the part of the plant (meristem) at its base where it can regrow from. This results in having to apply the vapor for a number of seconds to the plant to achieve any visible cooking and the plant has a strong ability to regrow quickly. The largest cost in non chemical vegetation management is labour so productivity and residual effect are the key performance indicators by which a thermal weeder should be judged.
    My first steamwand machine was a steamer with the same attributes as Councils. I built it in 1997. It won awards. It failed in commercialisation because it was too slow and weeds grew back too quickly.
    To overcome these failings I needed more volume and retained heat at the applicator head next to the plant being treated.
    Our current SW700 and SW800 models create 5L of saturated steam, emitted as boiling water at over 100C. This process allows for between 350-600 sq.m of paved footpath areas to be weed per hour. No need to dwell on weeds. Thermal shock at 100C causes instant explosive destruction of soft stem and leaf cells. There’s enough volume to cause damage to the meristem area of the plants resulting in fewer treatments per annum than less effective steam or flame treatments.
    Our SW900 model, (pictured in this article) used and operated by your Byron Councils preferred contractor Steamweeders has double the output, allowing dual operators or intense use on weeds like singapore daisy, wandering trad and grasses.
    We applaud the Council’s move towards non chemical vegetation management. They are joining a world wide movement being led by European countries. In order to allow the councils budget of $100K to spent in the most effective manner it should be directed to the most effective steam treatment system available, which in extensively documented reports is the SW900 model, used by their local preferred contractor Steamweeders.

  4. I read Council staff report on steam weeding trial done last year. It was published on the found minutes. Yes it was very poorly written, however my great disappointment is that it did not follow any trial format or methodology, so it was no a trial what made steam weeding look eneficient, what it isn’t through. The reisons why it was poorly done need to be investigate.
    Yes 1/2 litre per year would be great, however it must be a mistake. Every single sign post and drain get sprayed with herbicides with glyphosate as a active ingredients. Also every single remnant of bush land get sprayed for weed control.
    The reality is that using thyntetic herbicides a main tool of weed control is out of date and the community concerns are scientifically base. Cancer and indocrine hormone disfunction are enough resons to be concern when you see it being pour into our drains.
    I am a chemical free bush regenerator and implementing this aproach on native reforestation projects and bushland and it is economic viabLe. It is definitely cheaper then cancer treatment or the list of loved ones. Also much cheaper them descontsminstion of rivers, ocean, soil.

  5. The GM has obviously passed on misleading information regarding the Steam ‘cleaning’ machine they bought. For starters they bought a Steam cleaner, not a steam weeder and no trials were done as Ive personally spoken to the company that sold it and they did a one off trial only . secondly, it didn’t come close to the leading Steamweeding machines available on the market, It cost rate payers about $40k for this machine and within two years of no success in killing weeds it sits in the council workshop and labeled a waste of money from council staff themselves! I know Ive seen it in the workshop and no one had a good word to say about it. I eventually sold them the same machine I use and its been a great success as you will read about. Unfortunately I dont believe they have been as successful as the contracted services i provided , all you have to do is look around the streets and parks for yourselves and its clear they cant keep up. Steam Weeding Contractors across Australia have shown in every case to be more effective in keeping weeds down and financially more cost effective then council staff doing it themselves.


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