NWRIC calls for recycling taskforce and welcomes Queensland levy

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has called on each state and territory to form a recycling task force to review their current practices and establish sustainable recycling activities for the future.

It comes in response to the Chinese National Sword program, which imposes vastly higher contamination standards on recycled materials exported to China. Materials exported must now have 0.5 per cent contamination or less – compared to five to 10 per cent previously.

The NWRIC said this program has caused an unforeseen and sudden crash in the price of recycled materials. It has also left a significant volume of material ‘stranded’, with no end market available. Preliminary Commonwealth figures suggested that 1.25 million tonnes of material was exported to China in 2016/17 – including 920 thousand tonnes of paper and cardboard, 203 thousand tonnes of metals and 125 thousand tonnes of plastics.

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In this context, the NWRIC is calling on each state and territory to establish a recycling task force to review and improve current practices and develop new processes to protect and advance domestic recycling. Challenges the task forces could address include:

  1. Products to accept in household recycling bins.
  2. Education to reduced contamination.
  3. Recycling labelling.
  4. An approach to glass collection.
  5. Maximising value from container deposit programs.
  6. A review of packaging design and reuse.
  7. A review of how landfill levies effect recycling.
  8. A review of contract conditions for recyclers.

The NWRIC also believes this challenge creates an opportunity to establish a leading approach to container deposit programs that will support and protect material recovery facilities. Further investment and innovation can target a higher quality output for use in Australian remanufacturing, it added.

The organisation noted that an effective response on the Chinese National Sword program will require intergovernmental involvement coupled with wide industry representation. Each task force should include representation from planning departments, EPAs and change management agencies such as Sustainability Victoria or the WA Waste Authority.

Further, NWRIC believes the task forces should include state and national local government associations, state and national industry bodies, the Australian Packaging Covenant and remanufacturing companies.

In other news, the NWRIC also supported the new waste strategy announced by the Palaszczuk Government, but cautioned that a potential landfill levy must create jobs and investment for Queenslanders. If a levy is implemented, the NWRIC supports the recommendation of the Honourable Peter Lyons QC – that a levy must apply to all waste generated in the state – not just commercial waste. This recommendation was also echoed by Queensland Treasury in its Interim Report – Economic Opportunities for Queensland’s waste industry .

In a statement the NWRIC said that if implemented, a waste levy must be applied over the largest area possible in order to prevent unnecessary waste transport, or be applied based on where waste is generated.

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“It must not be set at a rate or structured in a way which makes recycling less viable. For example, where recyclate such as scrap metal is being exported, the cost of disposing of shredder floc must not make Australia’s exports less competitive,” the NWRIC said in a statement.

The NWRIC said that the imposition of a landfill levy could also generate funds which can be reinvested into infrastructure planning, education, enforcement of standards and grants for innovation and research. Where money is given for infrastructure investment, it should be distributed via low interest loans and be equally available to all industry players.

“The NWRIC expects the introduction of a landfill levy in South-East Queensland will stop the unnecessary interstate transport of inert waste, with as much as one million tonnes estimated to be flowing out of NSW in South East Queensland in the last year. NSW must also take responsibility for this problem.”

“One solution to this problem is for NSW to bring into force its new Minimum Standards for Managing Construction and Demolition Waste, as soon as possible. This standard contains important initiatives designed to stem the flow of interstate waste and promote the development of new recycling infrastructure.”

The NWRIC said that if implemented, two important policy programs must also accompany a universal and fair landfill levy. Without these programs, improvements in resource recovery will not be possible. Firstly, Queensland must provide ‘resource recovery precincts’ for waste and recycling infrastructure which are protected from residential and commercial encroachment.

Secondly, states must empower regulators to effectively enforce standards equally across the industry. The private sector will not invest into recycling when they can be commercially undermined by those who do not obey the law or submit to regulatory standards.

“Effective planning for waste management and recycling infrastructure will ensure the public is not adversely affected by these essential services – while landfill levy revenue could be used to fund new and ongoing enforcement initiatives,” said NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards.