COAG proposes export ban

Federal, state and local government ministers have agreed to work on a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, to improve Australia’s recycling capacity.

The agreement was made at the 9 August Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison arguing more needed to be done to deal with rising amounts of recyclable waste.

Environment Ministers will advise a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

COAG agreed the strategy should draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.

Australia exported roughly 4.5 million tonnes of waste last year, with the majority sent to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since begun to review their waste import policies.

“It’s our waste, and it’s our responsibility,” Mr Morrison said in a post-meeting press conference, according to an ABC report.

“That’s why I think setting a clear path forward as leaders — that we don’t want to see this going into the ocean, that we don’t want to see this go into waterways, and we’ll do everything in our remit to achieve that goal — is a very important outcome.”

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said the COAG announcement aligned with domestic sustainability goals.

“The best route to COAG’s vision of recycling sovereignty and security is for governments to now match very big deeds and dollars to their discussions. This great leadership by COAG must be followed by great investment that matches industries own,” Mr Shmigel said.

“As part of the Environment Ministers’ upcoming plan, that means: major scale support for reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure; unprecedented public sector purchasing of recycled content products and other bold incentives for domestic use of recyclate, such as tax credits for manufacturers, removal of ridiculous regulatory barriers and indeed proposed bans for recycled content products in some states.”

Mr Shmigel said material export bans needed to be implemented over a clear timetable with consultation and care to avoid unintended consequences.

“If there are no new and sustainable markets established for the 4.5m tonnes of currently exported material, there will only be the option of domestic disposal – which is highly undesirable,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Ministers must also remain open to alternative waste treatment and waste to energy where Australia only uses some 2 per cent of its waste, which is massively below European countries, who also have much higher recycling rates.”

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the meeting represents a step in the right direction towards building a sustainable domestic remanufacturing industry.

“Waste management and resource recovery were firmly on the table at the COAG meeting in Cairns, and leaders agreed to develop a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass, and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand,” Ms Sloan said.

“This is a significant and positive commitment – industry has always advocated that Australia should be processing our own waste and recyclables. Industry can, and is keen, to build capacity and the fact that we’re on the agenda and we have the Prime Minister’s and Premiers’ attention means we can finally move forward.”

Ms Sloan said WMRR support the task given to environment ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

“As part of this exercise, leaders agreed the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste,” Ms Sloan said.

“We also look forward to Meeting of Environment Ministers convening sooner rather than later to progress what we all know we need – and what is now clearly in everyone’s sights – market signals that will enable industry to invest and all stakeholders to support onshore remanufacturing and markets for domestic recycled products.”

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Next steps for Recyclers’ Accreditation Program

A detailed analysis of the how, what and who of the Australian Council of Recycling’s (ACOR) voluntary Recyclers’ Accreditation Program (RAP) will be commissioned.

According to ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, the analysis will include a feasibility study through consultancy firm Equilibrium.

“The recycling industry has a long history of innovation, continual improvement and collaboration along supply chains, with governments and the community,” Mr Shmigel said.

“RAP is the next logical step and we look forward to working with government and other partners to make sure it is accepted and drives performance and confidence.”

According to Mr Shmigel, RAP will aim to ensure high standards of operational performance and accountability, stakeholder and community confidence, complementary arrangements to policy directions and regulatory obligations and continual improvement in recovery rates.

When established, RAP aims to cover the collection, transport, sorting, pre-treatment and storage of recyclable materials, the remanufacturing of those materials into recycled content products and the management of supply chain relationships, including those with export partners.

Additionally, RAP will have reference to product stewardship schemes, spheres of influence in the recycling supply chain and the proximity principal.

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Indonesia rejects Australian plastic waste

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) have confirmed, following a review, that the shipping container in Indonesia at the centre of recent media reports is from an Australian recycling company.

The container consists of approximately 13 tonnes of mixed plastic material derived from household kerbside recycling from suburban Melbourne.

According to a Fairfax Media report, the entire container is considered toxic by the Indonesian Environment department and is not acceptable for import.

In total, 65 containers from France, Germany, Hong Kong, the United States and Australia have been seized.

ACOR’s review was advised the material was not “toxic” however, and contained waste from council recycling bins, such as plastic containers for motor oil and food products.

In the statement, ACOR argued one shipping container should not define any specific company, or the wider Australian recycling system.

“It does though reflect the reality of what is collected from Australian ratepayers via councils’ kerbside recycling programs, and our industry’s subsequent attempts to do something useful with very heterogeneous material,” the statement reads.

“Similar container loads of exported mixed plastic have long met all expected requirements under both Australian and Indonesian law and policy. However, across Asia, authorities are changing their approaches in line with their own domestic circumstances.”

Of the 37 million total tonnes of waste annually diverted from landfill in Australia, four million tonnes are exported.

“Approximately 415,000 tonnes of plastic is recycled by Australia every year or some 11 per cent of our society’s total consumption,” the statement reads.

“Of that, some 235,000 tonnes are exported overall, and some 60,000 tonnes have been exported to Indonesia in the last twelve months or so, according to Federal Government figures.”

According to the statement, plastic exported to Indonesia represents approximately 1.5 per cent of total material exported for recycling.

“Material has historically been exported because overseas buyers pay for it as inputs to make useful products. In the case of mixed plastics in particular, there has historically been under capacity of domestic infrastructure and robust markets in Australia,” the statement reads.

“In Europe, unlike here, there are specific policies in place to promote domestic recycled content manufacturing. Without export, our recycling rate for plastics could fall to as low as five per cent.”

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QLD releases waste management strategy

Queensland’s new Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy aims to provide a legal framework to support industry growth and sustained waste reduction.

Targets for 2050 include a recycling rate of 75 per cent for all waste types and a 25 per cent reduction in household waste.

Additionally, the state government will invest $100 million over the next three years for new and expanded waste management facilities.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the strategy was the most innovative in Australia.

“Queensland has set a new and very welcome high standard with its Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy,” Mr Shmigel said.

“The state government has truly recognised the combined environmental and economic benefits of optimised resource recovery and a circular economy.”

Mr Shmigel said the Resource Recovery Industry Road Map was particularly significant, and highlighted forward facing infrastructure funding.

“It’s about quality jobs based on demand for recycled content products as much as it is about trucks and tonnes. That is a great shift in approach,” Mr Shmigel said.

Mr Shmigel said ACOR also welcomed new levy arrangements for contaminated residuals from legitimate recycling and remanufacturing operations.

“The community and stakeholders are right to expect results from the new strategy and the new levy – whether it’s reinvestment in recycling, or pursuing the proximity principle when it comes to waste management,” Mr Shmigel said.

“We look forward to working with the Queensland Government to deliver on the strategy’s huge potential.”

ACOR outlined five critical implementation jobs for the state government: 

— Ensure the new waste levy is effective in curtailing the interstate movement of waste, including strong cross-border coordination, monitoring, measurement and disclosure.

— Establish further targets for state and local government for procurement of recycled content products.

— Full transparency and regular reporting of strategy results.

— Use newly available resources to improve regulatory performance by agencies and facilitate a level playing field for operators.

— Make sure kerbside recycling and CDS systems work in a complementary way.

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Tasmania releases Waste Action Plan

Tasmania’s draft Waste Action Plan, released 29 June, sets a framework to develop the state’s recently announced CDS and a statewide landfill levy.

Acting Environment Minister Elise Archer has opened the draft for public consultation.

In a cabinet reshuffle last week, it was announced Treasurer Peter Gutwein would soon replace Ms Archer as Environment Minister.

“With a growing population and the recent restrictions of recycling product exports to China, it is important Tasmania takes a more strategic approach to the way it manages waste into the future,” Ms Archer says.

“Dealing with our waste is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and the community.”

According to Ms Archer, the proposed state wide levy is set to replace multiple council levies already in place, with funds to be reinvested in waste and recycling infrastructure and programs.

“The draft plan also contains a series of ambitious, but achievable, waste management, litter and recycling targets that align with targets in the recently approved National Waste Policy,” Ms Archer says.

Other proposed measures include ensuing 100 per cent of packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, reducing waste generation by 10 per cent per person by 2030 and achieving an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030.

Additionally, the plan outlines efforts to ensure Tasmania has the lowest incidence of littering in the country by 2023.

The state government will also work with local government and businesses to phase out problematic plastic by 2030 and reduce the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 50 per cent by 2030.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the draft illustrated smart and progressive reform.

Mr Shmigel highlighted the CDS, waste reduction goals and the commitment to a new administrative structure for waste management as particularly positive.

“ACOR also thinks it’s terrific innovation that the Treasurer Peter Gutwein will also be Environment Minister,” Mr Shmigel said.

“It helps recognise that recycling is a great way to combine ‘green’ and ‘gold’ as it is both an economic and environmental positive.”

Mr Shmigel is calling on government to set the new levy at a sufficient level to drive positive results and industry investment, and make commitments to the positive procurement of recycled content products to boost local manufacturers.

Additionally, Mr Shmigel has encouraged state government to ensure the proposed resource recovery management body involves both local government and industry experts.

“This new plan can start turning the Apple Isle from a recycling laggard to a recycling leader, and that’s something our industry and no doubt the people of Tasmania support,” Mr Shmigel said.

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the plan shows a strategic approach to tackling waste, and highlighted its framework for addressing identified priorities.

“WMRR is pleased that Tasmania finally has a waste and resource recovery strategy and in releasing the plan, the minister has acknowledged that waste management is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and community,” Ms Sloan said.

“The minister should also be congratulated for listening to industry about the importance of a levy as an economic tool for prioritising resource recovery, as well as working with industry and the community to design and set the levy. This is a show of great leadership.”

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ACOR’s recycling reboot

Waste Management Review speaks to the Australian Council of Recycling about how its new board reflects the new reality of recycling.  

Read moreACOR’s recycling reboot

Waste policy report card released

A detailed analysis of the Labor Party, the Coalition and the Greens election promises has been released.

Using criterion based analysis and independent scoring evaluations, the policy report card has determined all three parties are committed to upgrading innovative recycling infrastructure, establishing local markets for recycled content and dealing with plastic pollution.

According to the report card however, only minor commitments to establishing a circular economy and national regulatory arrangement have been made.

The report card was created by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), the Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN), the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) and the National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC), with independent consultancy from Equilibrium.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the election run up shows an unprecedented, tri-partisan and substantive response to the pressures felt in municipal recycling.

“Labor and the Coalition have come out neck and neck with good grades of C. The Greens also have a C, but less opportunity to realistically implement their vision,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Taken as a whole these policies recognise the landfill diversion, greenhouse gas reduction and jobs creation benefits of our $20 billion and 50,000 job industry.”

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said her organisation was particularly pleased with Labor’s commitment to establishing a National Waste Commissioner.

“This role is key to driving the national waste policy, collaboration across all levels of government and more regulatory consistency between states,” Ms Read said.

“However, NWRIC is concerned with the lack of commitment by the major parties to the use of co-regulatory powers for the Product Stewardship Act for batteries and all electronics.”

AIEN Executive Director Veronica Dullens said tri-partisan support showed recognition for the potential of the waste sector to drive environmental and economic outcomes.

“What is lacking is more specific recognition of the principles of a circular economy and more specific actions to move away from the ‘take, make and throw’ paradigm,” Ms Dullens said.

AORA National Executive Officer Diana De Hulsters said it was time to get serious about policy implementation.

“Given that 60 per cent of a household rubbish bin is potentially compostable, we would like to see comprehensive recycling targets put in place in the National Waste Policy,” Ms Hulsters said.

“Not only those for packaging, which is a minority part of the overall waste stream.”

Official Ratings:

—  All parties have presented credible and coherent policies and achieve a pass mark.

—  The Labor Party scores highly for a balanced suite of programs to support industry growth, recycled content products and work with local and state governments. It loses marks through not specifically committing to wide-ranging community engagement programs – overall achievement is a C.

— The Coalition scores highly for a significant commitment to industry investment and a circular economy approach, however loses marks for lack of recent implementation – overall achievement is a C.

— The Greens score highly with a very strong group of programs, but were marked down due to their inability to implement the proposals – overall achievement is a C.

Click to access the full Report Card.

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Liberal Party releases waste and recycling policy

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that if elected, the Liberal Government will invest $203 million to increase recycling and reduce waste, protect Australia’s biodiversity and restore waterways

Mr Morrison said he wants to ensure the protection of Australia’s environment for future generations.

“We will increase Australia’s recycling rates, tackle plastic waste and litter, accelerate work on new recycling schemes and continue action to halve food waste by 2030.”

The government’s waste and recycling initiatives include:

  • $100 million to develop the Australian Recycling Investment Fund to support the manufacturing of lower emissions and energy-efficient recycled content products including recycled content plastics, paper and pulp.
  • $20 million for a new Product Stewardship Investment Fund to accelerate work on new industry-led recycling schemes for batteries, electrical and electronic products, photovoltaic systems and plastic oil containers.
  • $20 million to find new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and waste through the Cooperative Research Centres Projects grants program.
  • $16 million to support the Pacific Ocean Litter Project, working with neighbours in the Pacific to reduce plastics and other waste in the ocean.
  • Up to $5.8 million for a range of initiatives through the Environment Restoration Fund to support Clean Up Australia, Keep Australia Beautiful, the Australian Council of Recycling, Planet Ark, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and OzHarvest.
  • Up to $5 million through the Environment Restoration Fund for Conservation Volunteers Australia to coordinate community campaigns to clean up plastic waste in beaches and rivers.
  • Continuing to work with state, territory and local governments on opportunities to get more recycled content into road construction – building on the funding provided to the Australian Road Research Board in the 2019-Budget.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the government’s new recycling policy was a win for the industry.

“With the kerbside recycling part of our sector under pressure, this package is an appropriate, awesome and advantageous investment in Australian recycling’s domestic sustainability now and into the future,” Mr Shmigel said.

“The Coalition has kicked one strongly through the policy posts that will result in less waste to landfill, recycling industry co-investment, community confidence in their efforts, value-adding jobs in regional centres and resource security in a competitive world.”

Mr Shmigel said the Labor Party’s recycling policy was also strong and substantial, with commitments in the areas of industry infrastructure, product stewardship and procurement.

“Australian voters, some 90 per cent of whom voluntarily participate in recycling, can be confident that both our major parties and the Greens have provided substantive policies for this election,” Mr Shmigel said.

“All three choices are positive and ACOR will compile a comparative scorecard based on its 10 point plan in the next week.”

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Industry associations respond to 60 Minutes recycling report

Waste management industry associations have released a statement contesting claims made in the 60 Minutes Sunday night program, Plastic not so fantastic.

Liam Bartlett’s 60 Minutes report claims much of Australian plastic waste is not being reused or recycled, but rather dumped, buried or burned in illegal processing locations in South-East Asia.

The program refers to Australia’s recycling industry as a ‘con,’ which according to industry associations doesn’t paint a full picture of the Australian recycling industry or its capacity, and includes a false claim that much of Australia’s plastic waste is being disposed of incorrectly.

Recycling groups including the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), the Australian Organics Recycling Association, Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW and National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) contributed to the statement — urging greater investment, regulatory reform and policy support from governments.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australia generated 67 million tonnes of waste last year, 37 million tonnes of which was recycled.

The report also shows 33 million tonnes of that recycling was undertaken within Australia, with plastic exports decreasing by 25 per cent.

It is estimated in the report that between 10 and 15 per cent of kerbside recycling cannot be recycled because it is contaminated with nappies, soft plastics, garden hoses, bricks and batteries.

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel said the program should not discourage the vast majority of Australians who regularly recycle.

“Australian recycling is highly successful despite some ill-conceived claims in the broadcast, in fact up to 90 per cent of material collected for recycling is made into new products,” Mr Shmigel said.

Plastic not so fantastic claims 71,000 tonnes of Australian recyclable plastic has been exported to Malaysia.

In response, Mr Shmigel said 71,000 tonnes represents less than two per cent of the 4 million tonnes that is actually exported and less than 0.2 per cent of the 37 million collected for recycling.

“If the claim that all these materials are not being properly processed is accurate, this is very concerning, as there are also legitimate processors in Malaysia,” Mr Shmigel said.

According to the statement, in response to the impacts of restrictions across Asia, the local recycling industry which employs more than 50,000 Australians and generates up to $15 billion in value, is currently making some of the most advanced recycling investments in the world.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the industry is investing in high-tech infrastructure to improve sorting and processing in order to produce high quality materials from recovered waste.

Ms Sloan is also advocating for a stronger domestic recycling system through a new labelling scheme to build community confidence.

“We need a Made with Australian Recycled Content label which will do two key things – empower the community to take action and ownership of the materials they consume, and incentivise manufacturers and brand owners to include recycled content in their packaging and products,” Ms Sloan said.

“This will create new markets for recycled materials and ensure a sustainable future for kerbside recycling, local resource recovery, and remanufacturing.”

Ms Sloan said the local industry is investing heavily and working collaboratively to upgrade local processing capacities which in the past were, to some extent, built to meet China’s previous specifications.

A recent Reachtel survey commissioned by ACOR found that almost 93 per cent of people said reducing waste and recycling products into new products was important to them and 87 per cent supported increasing recycling and reducing landfill by processing food and garden material from rubbish bins into useful products.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the community continuously votes in favour of recycling through its strong participation.

“We encourage householders to continue to separate and sort their recycling correctly to reduce contamination and realise the environmental and economic benefits of recycling,” Ms Read said.

Prime Creative Media has contacted 60 Minutes for comment.

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ACOR backs Labor’s waste minimisation policy

Labor’s proposed $290 million waste minimisation policy has received support from the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the proposal was a bold boost for recycling and remanufacturing in Australia.

The policy calls for a national ban on single use-plastic bags and microbeads from 2021 and outlines the creation of a National Container Deposit Scheme.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he will consult with states, territories and industry on how to best implement the proposals.

“This will create a consistent approach across the country – following moves of many state and territories to phase out single-use plastic bags, as well as manufacturers phasing out microbeads,” Mr Shorten said.

Mr Shorten also announced the establishment of a National Waste Commissioner, a $60 million National Recycling Fund and a $15 million investment to assist nearby counties clean up the pacific ocean.

Mr Shmigel said independent modelling commissioned by ACOR shows Labor’s policy has the potential to divert millions of tonnes from landfill to recycling, create 300 new jobs in regional Australia and reduce greenhouse gases.

“The initiative will lift Australia from its 17th position in the world in terms of recycling rates and let us grow the sector from the current 50,000 jobs.”

Mr Shmigel said the policy’s direct investment in infrastructure to decontaminate recycling, building of home-grown markets and expedition of product stewardship schemes were particularly significant.

“It speaks to the 88 per cent of Australians who told a recent survey they want a more pro-active recycling policy,” Mr Shmigel said.

Director of the Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel said the policy doesn’t go far enough however, stressing the need for ‘buy recycled’ tax incentives and mandatory rules for recycled content in products.

‘’An important piece of the puzzle is mandatory rules for recycled content in products. This needs to extend beyond government to the private sector. It’s the only way to cement reprocessing of waste into the economy and save resources and the environment. Anything less is fiddling at the edges.

‘’The introduction of a plastic pollution reduction strategy to set a future direction to reduce single use plastics wasted or littered should have been included,” Mr Angel said.

“The public and many industry sectors recognise that packaging is a significant problem, but the problem includes all single use and disposable plastic waste.’’

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