2018 has brought a host of challenges for local governments, giving rise to calls for Federal Government leadership to promote and strengthen a circular economy in Australia, writes Australian Local Government Association President David O’Loughlin.
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has called for continued national leadership from the Federal Government to ensure waste management and resource recovery policies are consistent across all levels of government.
It follows the endorsement of the new National Waste Policy at the eighth Meeting of Environment Ministers in Canberra last week.
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After the Federal Government’s Department of the Environment and Energy issued a statement indicating a consensus was reached on a national action plan for the National Waste Policy, Environment Minister Melissa Price issued a statement last week claiming state and territory ministers “walked away from solid targets on Australia’s recycling and waste”.
“The Federal Government expected to formalise the targets, after months of negotiations and consultation and endorsement at state and federal official level,” Ms Price said in the statement.
“Instead the state and territory governments refused to endorse aspects of our National Waste Policy.
“This is an incredibly disappointing outcome for the nation that simply deprives Australia of a policy that would ensure we have a responsible and environmentally sensible approach to managing waste in the future.”
The minister went on to say that the Federal Government will continue to press forward with an action plan on reducing waste and increasing recycling.
ALGA President, Mayor David O’Loughlin attended the meeting and said there is more work to be done on the issue.
“The new policy may be full of good intentions and strong principles, but has as much backbone as you’ll find in the average plastic shopping bag,” Cr O’Loughlin said.
“Urgent action is needed as ministers themselves have acknowledged. Industry and communities need to see real on-ground action and there is a critical need for national leadership to maintain a unified approach.
“Dedicated and nationally-coordinated action on recycling will give industry the signal it needs to increase investment in sustainable resource recovery and support the nation’s move towards a circular economy,” he said.
Cr O’Loughlin said it is essential that all levels of government increase their procurement of goods and infrastructure that incorporate recycled materials, such as those used in road bases, to help reduce items entering the waste stream. He adds that state and territory governments need to take the necessary steps to help the recyclate industry sector go further.
“89 per cent of Australians have indicated that they want recycled content included in government procurement,” he said.
“There is more than $1 billion sitting in state waste levy funds that could be invested in industry innovation, pilot projects and financially supporting transitions from virgin product feedstock to recycled feedstock.
“There’s another $1 billion to be collected next year, but the meeting achieved no strong policy commitment, no agreement on concrete targets or timeframes, miniscule investment and little progress,” Cr O’Loughlin said.
New targets within the 2025 plan have been outlined alongside the launch of the Australasian Recycling Label.
The new targets aim to aim to increase the average recycled content within all packaging by 30 per cent and phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives.
Additionally, the targets aim to ensure 70 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled or composted.
These build on the previous announcement of a target to achieve 100 per cent of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.
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The targets build on commitments made by federal, state and territory environment ministers and the President for the Australian Local Government Association earlier in April this year.
Industry representatives and environmental groups support the targets including Aldi, ALGA, Amcor, Australia Post, Boomerang Alliance, Chep, Close the Loop, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Detmold, Goodman Fielder, Lion, Metcash, Nestlé, Orora, Pact Group, Planet Ark, Redcycle, Simplot, Suez, Tetra Pak, Unilever, Veolia, Visy and Woolworths.
Woolworths General Manager, Quality and Sustainability Alex Holt highlighted the importance of this collaboration.
“We’re really pleased to see such a wide range of industry players come together in support of such a worthy goal. Moving towards a circular economy won’t be easy, but we have the right mix of organisations on board to help make it a reality,” Mr Holt said.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price congratulated the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and the initial working group of businesses that are supporting the targets.
Minister Price has also officially launched the Australasian recycling Label to help achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets, developed by Planet Ark, PREP Design and APCO to help consumers better understand how to recycle packaging.
“The Australasian Recycling Label provides people with easy to understand recycling information when they need it most, in those few seconds when they are deciding what bin the package goes in. The label removes confusion and reduces waste,” Ms Price said.
With more than 200 recycling labels currently being used in Australia, the new system aims to reduce confusion and contamination in the waste stream.
Nestlé Head of Corporate and External Relations Oceania Margaret Stuart said the inclusion of the label on Netslé’s packaging was a demonstration of the company’s commitment to sustainability.
“More and more people who buy our products want to know how to manage packing waste, so we have committed to implementing the Australasian Recycling Label across all our locally controlled products by 2020,” Ms Stuart said.
Unilever ANZ CEO Clive Stiff has said the announcements are a critical step towards greater collective action on increasing the nationals recycling capability.
“Plastic packaging waste represents an $80 billion loss to the global economy every year. The benefits of the circular economy approach are clear for business and the environment – the more effective use of materials means lower costs and less waste,” Mr Stiff said.
“We are proud to have recently announced that bottles of popular Unilever products like OMO, Dove, Sunsilk, Surf and TRESemmé will soon be made with at least 25% Australian recycled plastic.
“This is just the start for us and no business can create a circular economy in isolation. Heavy lifting is needed from all players involved – suppliers, packaging converters, brand owners, policy makers and retailers, collectors, sorters and recyclers. We need a complete shift in how we think about and use resources.”
ABC’s current affairs program Q&A will feature waste management leaders as it discusses the current issues facing Australia’s waste and recycling industry.
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Joining them will be Craig Reucassel, host of the ABC’s War on Waste program and Tony Jones, the host of Q&A.
Ms Sloan will also appear in episode three of the second season of the War on Waste, which begins on Tuesday 24 July.
The panel will also include Ronni Kahn, an Australian entrepreneur who started the food rescue charity Oz Harvest. The charity partners with the United Nations Environment Programme to raise awareness on the issue of food waste and works with governments and key stakeholders with a goal to halve waste by 2030.
Nature’s Organics CEO Jo Taranto will also be part of the panel. She is also the director of social enterprise start up “Good for the Hood”, whose mission is to inspire communities around the country to reduce waste.
Rounding out the panel is the President of the Australian Local Government Association David O’Loughlin. He has held executive positions across the public and private sectors of the construction industry for more than 27 years and now represents local government, including at Ministerial Councils and the Council of Australian Governments.
The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) and the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) are working on a strategy to protect kerbside recycling in response to National Sword.
At the May 15 NWRIC meeting in Sydney, ALGA President David O’Loughlin met with industry leaders to discuss a solution to National Sword.
Industry leaders agreed to work closely with local government to quickly respond to this crisis and maintain all scheduled collection services for households.
“Households across Australia want to continue recycling,” said NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards. “As such, we are working with the ALGA on a strategy to protect this valued service.”
In the short term, the NWRIC said in a statement that new state government initiatives that reduce contamination are needed to improve product quality and to prevent further stockpiling.
“All communities must help respond to this recycling crisis by not putting non-recyclable materials and food waste in their household recycling bin. Only clean metals, glass, paper and hard plastics can be recycled. Our message to communities is: ‘When in doubt – throw it out’,” the statement read.
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Mr O’Loughlin said that to resolve this crisis, all states, territories and the Commonwealth need to work with us to provide certainty that recovered resources can be profitably used within Australia. He said that this is the only way we can ensure the long term success of Australian recycling.
Mr O’Loughlin said that in some jurisdictions, food waste can be placed in the green bin, leading to greater levels of organic recovery, and increased sales volumes to farmers and wine makers. He said these programs are a leading example of how to the close the gaps for a circular economy.
“Once relief funding is in place from state governments, many of which are sitting on millions in unspent landfill levies, we can commence putting in place new initiatives to create much cleaner materials from household recycling bins,” he said.
The NWRIC statement said that Queensland was the first state to engage with all stakeholders to review its kerbside recycling services at a Bundaberg forum, more on that here.
Both the NWRIC and the ALGA have urged all other states to undertake a similar recycling forum to develop collaborative solutions.