Improved planning, consistent standards and value for money landfill levies remain the core focuses of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council into 2019, writes the organisation’s new Chief Executive Officer, Rose Read.
While I hope to bring new leadership and insights to my role as Chief Executive Officer of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) – the core mission of the NWRIC remains the same.
After more than 30 years in the industry, Max Spedding has retired. He is well respected for his ‘steady hand’ management style. Following his lead, Alex Serpo, NWRIC’s Policy Officer, and I will continue to work for a cohesive national vision to advance Australia’s waste management and recycling industry.
The NWRIC was set up to bring together all of Australia’s waste management and recycling businesses and create a shared national vision for a fair, sustainable and prosperous industry. NWRIC’s membership and affiliates include representatives from every state industry body, including the majority of Australia’s nationwide waste management and recycling companies.
In addition to the immediate challenges presented by China’s National Sword and the forthcoming introduction of the landfill levy in Queensland, the NWRIC has identified three major national challenges facing the industry. These are creating and applying consistent standards, improving planning for waste and resource recovery facilities and getting the best value from landfill levies.
These priorities will form the basis of the NWRIC’s activity for 2018 and 2019. It’s worth addressing each in detail.
First: standards. The entire industry is premised on them, as their absence means waste generators could simply dump waste into the environment in an uncontrolled way and put the public and employees at risk. The consequences of this are visible in countries which have no standards, or who don’t enforce their standards.
Success in this arena means both creating robust national industry regulations and enforcing them equitably. Specifically, the NWRIC believes there is a need for a national landfill standard and harmonisation of levies to prevent levy avoidance. We also need more work on illegal dumping.
PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL
Next: planning. Landfills and resource recovery facilities are very difficult to move. As a side note, it is theorised that the largest man-made object on Earth is in fact a landfill.
It’s essential landfills and resource recovery facilities are put on the right site the first time. Good quality infrastructure planning can create enormous dividend for the public, industry and government. Since the need for new waste and resource recovery facilities is inevitable as population grows, forward planning is essential to meet community, environmental and economic requirements.
Effective road access and buffers will reduce or eliminate the public disturbance of these sites. Without reliable planning, industry can’t confidently invest in new infrastructure. Historically, bad planning decisions have set the industry and the ability to recover materials back many times.
Finally: levies. From 2019, it is expected the states will collect close to $1.2 billion per year in landfill levies. As their name implies, landfill levies are ‘levies’ and not taxes, and therefore technically should be hypothecated back into the waste and recycling sectors.
Today, less than one quarter of levies collected are invested back into waste management and resource recovery. With levies on the increase across Australia, governments can now invest more into planning, infrastructure, education, standards and enforcement of regulations.
The mechanism of levy re-investment is important, and by far the largest cost is large infrastructure development. In the April 2018 edition of Waste Management Review, the NWRIC suggested the establishment of a ‘recycling bank’ to distribute a proportion of the levy funds via loans. This ensures levy funds are spent effectively, leveraging private investment so that the funds collected from businesses and households go further. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation shows the success of this model.
Beyond these large scale structural challenges, we are also working on two acute problems. The first is the new landfill levy for Queensland, which is expected to raise close to $200 million per year. The details will be important, and many unresolved questions remain. For example, will the levy apply to bagged asbestos? (Hint: it shouldn’t.) Will enforcement be effective enough to ensure legitimate businesses aren’t undercut by levy avoidance?
The second challenge is the continued impact of the Chinese National Sword policy, which has resulted in a collapse in prices for commodities recovered from kerbside recycling. In the wake of this market shakeup, materials recovery facilities are still in trouble. Kerbside collection services, which have received decades of investment, should not be allowed to collapse.
As the NWRIC has previously advocated, the first step is to clean up what is going into kerbside recycling bins through strong public education programs. In worst cases, kerbside recycling bin contamination is running as high as 40 per cent. Meanwhile, we believe the national average is 15-25 per cent. This figure needs to be reduced down to 10 per cent contamination at the most.
To kick this off, the NWRIC in partnership with the Australian Council of Recycling and the Australian Local Government Association has launched the Recycle Right program. A simple and clear recycling message to be applied nationally on what does and more importantly does not go in the yellow bin.
While the challenges facing industry are significant, they all have well understood solutions. We have the funding and expertise to advance the industry. The NWRIC will be stepping up to promote these solutions.
Rose is a seasoned CEO with experience leading both commercial and not-for-profit organisations, including AMTA’s MobileMuster and Clean Up Australia. In her more than 20-year career, Rose has focused on a strong collaborative approach to implementing product stewardship and natural resource management initiatives through multi-stakeholder engagement.