Quantifying our contribution: WRIQ

Waste and Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) has released a new report which shines a light on the real economic value of waste management and secondary resources in the state, writes Chief Executive Officer Rick Ralph.

I have previously argued that the Queensland waste and recycling industry has had to endure more than its fair share of regulatory and policy instability. Over the years, we’ve had numerous changes of environment ministers with which we’ve had to negotiate with, and significant policy uncertainty through the now defunct Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy.

But in the last decade, not many have sought to quantify the real value of employment that the industry brings to the economy.

We’ve focused broadly on waste generation and fate, but not on ultimately what is going to bring the productivity gains to invest in new technologies, build critical infrastructure or instil the confidence the industry so crucially needs. Importantly, we haven’t quantified our sectors real contribution to the economy.

In late 2017, the Waste and Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) commissioned economist Nick Behrens to complete for us a report that quantifies the economic and social contribution of the waste management and secondary resources industry to the Queensland economy.

We circulated an electronic industry census questionnaire to WRIQ members, and survey responses were received from organisations – accounting for 67.4 per cent of all headline waste collected in Queensland. We extrapolated the statistics using a range of data sets, including the member responses, the Recycling and Waste in Queensland Report 2017, Australian Bureau of Statistics data and indirect employer multiplier data by firms which include Deloitte Access Economics and EconSearch.

To put it in perspective, in an Australian first we have quantified Queensland’s waste management and secondary resources industry provides 11,835 jobs to Queenslanders, that is one in every 200 jobs – and $825 million in wages and salaries paid.

In terms of employment, the industry has grown by 17.7 per cent, a figure which is slightly lower than Queensland’s employment growth of 18.6 per cent over the same period. We believe this lower growth in employment is closely related to an industry trend towards increased efficiencies in a traditionally labour-intensive industry – whether that be higher quality compaction to preserve airspace, or advanced software to capture important site data and prevent unnecessary red tape.

In the interests of our more than 100 members, governments and the waste industry, we’ve shown how the state’s employment fares nationally. By state, Queensland directly employs 6432 persons in the waste management and secondary resources industry – with 842 operating their own businesses. We are the third largest employer behind only New South Wales at 9550 and Victoria at 7657. That’s 4404 more jobs than South Australia’s 2028, or 3103 more than Western Australia.

Broken down by industry, the bulk of the direct employees includes greater Brisbane, followed by the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Cairns, Central Queensland and the Darling Downs. That means most of the 11,385 jobs are in greater Brisbane at 5761. In regional terms, the opportunity for growth is real. But before that can happen, we have to unlock the potential in local reprocessing of materials collected. Demographically, Queensland is arguably the most challenged state in terms of its population centres and distance to markets. Therefore, the real opportunity lies in creating local value and more local use of materials where possible.

Over the past decade, the industry has grown broadly in line with many other major economic indicators for Queensland. In current prices, it’s risen by 58.4 per cent – just slightly ahead of the state’s gross state product of 57.8 per cent. When we look at what waste contributes to the state as a whole – in 2016-17 the industry’s direct value contributed $834 million to the economy. That’s $66 million more than the previous year, but almost on par with 2014-15 at $830 million. We’ve come a long way since 2006-7 when the industry was valued at $527 million.

But the investments need to keep up with growth of the economy and wastes that are generated – which is growing at an exponential rate. In 2016-17, 9.8 million tonnes of headline waste were reported – an increase of 648,000 tonnes from 2015-16. Removing the interstate figures locally, we produced 8.9 million tonnes.

In terms of diversion, the worst performers are local government where it is only recovering 31 per cent of municipal solid waste. Whereas in the industrial and business sector, the numbers are better, but improvement is needed with 48 per cent commercial and industrial and 51 per cent construction and demolition diverted. This represents a lost economic opportunity for the state if markets can be created. This is hard data that we should be focusing our conversations on going forward, not just empty rhetoric surrounding unfair landfill levies or interstate waste transport. WRIQ is focused on achieving real outcomes for the state and is optimistic that the Stakeholder Advisory Group will help the government co-design a waste strategy that provides certainty for investment and business planning.

But we need a balanced orderly process of change. At the time of publication, only 34 of the 77 councils had kerbside collections. In November, the Container Refund Scheme will commence.

The real concern however, lies in the political rhetoric announcing the fast tracking of the levy, due to the crisis in recycling. I would argue that there is no crisis, but rather a resetting of the opportunity internally within Australia.

Getting it wrong would mean not learning from the mistakes of the past. I would prefer a formal decision be announced on the levy, of how much, and the streams affected, in the 2018 state budget. The government should then take the next 12 months to get the framework and structure right. With a muted $70.00 per tonne being spoken of, fast tracking legislation simply to raise revenue into the budget without any of the infrastructure sorted, systems or policies understood is going to be yet another wrong move in the state.

But as new legislation and planning doesn’t happen overnight, WRIQ is offering practical solutions. At April’s Queensland Secondary Resources Forum, the industry released a five-point action plan in response to the issues facing the kerbside recycling market nationwide. The five-point plan, titled the Bundaberg Protocol, focuses on education and awareness, collection, procurement, contracting and regulation.

The industry will hold all those listed for action, including itself, accountable and will report on its progress by 18 October.

A snapshot of this plan includes:

  • Education and awareness through improved standardised community education to inform approved items for kerbside recycling bins.
  • A working group to develop an education program project scope for councils.
  • A plan to trial two local government kerbside collection systems and monitor the reduction of contaminants, including in glass, flexible plastics and non-bottle plastics.
  • A recommendation that the Queensland Government’s procurement policy be amended to mandate the use of recycled content in public policy and purchasing, with a preferred weighting to Queensland generated recycled product. This includes recycled glass for reuse in infrastructure, plastic for feedstock in manufactured public infrastructure, paper and cardboard for reuse and organics for street scapes, landscapes and other composting activities.
  • Separating recyclables processing and recyclables collection contracts.
  • The inclusion of risk sharing provisions with commodity prices and contamination between councils and contractors.
  • Preparing notices of intent for the introduction of priority product statements on materials which include non-CRS glass item, non-bottle plastics and textiles.
  • Amending Australian standards to allow for/encourage recycled content to be used in product manufacture.

WRIQ will work with all the stakeholders involved in this process, from state government to materials recovery facilities, industry contactors, local government and other industry advocacy groups. Now is the time to take action and show the nation what Queensland is made of.

The finer details of The Bundaberg Protocol can be read by contacting me at: rick.ralph@wriq.com.au