Meeting of Environment Ministers revives National Waste Policy

Australia’s National Waste Policy will be updated by the end of this year to include circular economy principles, along with a target endorsed of 100 per cent Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.

Federal Government, state and territory ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association met on Friday to set a sustainable path for Australia’s recyclable waste, in the seventh meeting of environment ministers.

They pledged for new product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic solar panels and batteries, while also agreeing to explore waste to energy further and advocate using recycled materials in government procurement.

While making a number of pledges, ministers agreed to have a teleconference in mid-June to discuss progress on recycling, and to meet in late 2018 to further progress delivery of the commitments on Friday.

Taking action on recycled waste in the wake of China’s restrictions on imports was the focus of the meeting. Australia is one of over 100 countries affected by China’s new restrictions, affecting around 1.3 million tonnes of our recycled waste.

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This accounts for four per cent of Australia’s recyclable waste, but 35 per cent of recyclable plastics and 30 per cent of recyclable paper and cardboard. The ministers agreed statement said the restrictions include new limits on contamination for recycled material which much of Australia’s recycling does not meet.

On recycling waste, ministers agreed to reduce the amount of waste generated and to make it easier for products to be recycled. Ministers endorsed a target of 100 percent of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 or earlier. The governments will work with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), representing over 900 companies to deliver this target. Ministers endorsed the development of targets for the use of recycled content in packaging and to monitor this closely.

They also agreed to work together on expanding and developing the local recycling industry. Ministers pledged to advocate for increased use of recycled materials in the goods that government and industry purchase, including paper, road materials, and construction materials and to collaborate on creating new markets for recycled materials.

Waste to energy was also on the agenda, with a pledge to explore it and other waste to biofuels projects, as part of a broader suite of industry growth initiatives. The agreed statement said ministers would continue to recognise the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste a a priority, consistent with the waste hierarchy. This will include support from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

On microbeads, ministers announced the voluntary phase-out of microbeads, which Ministers initiated in 2016, is on track with 94 per cent of cosmetic and personal care products now microbead-free. The agreed statement said ministers remain committed to eliminating the final six per cent and examining options to broaden the phase out to other products.

On food waste, ministers reaffirmed their commitment to halving Australia’s food waste by 2050. They agreed to align their community education efforts to cut food waste and to encourage residual food waste to be composted.

On product waste, ministers agreed to fast-track the development of new product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic solar panels and batteries. This builds on existing successful industry-led product stewardship approaches that manage products such as televisions and computers, tyres and oil.

Ministers also agreed to take action on a range of other nationally significant matters including: guidelines to manage chemical contamination from fire-fighting foams (known as PFAS), opportunities to grow the carbon farming industry, progressing the National Clean Air Agreement, collaboration on the management of flying foxes and their commitment to the recently agreed approach to national environmental-economic accounting.

Ministers also acknowledged action taken on climate change. South Australia raised its proposal to nominate the Flinders Ranges to Australia’s World Heritage Tentative list.