The new National Waste Policy acknowledges the importance of a circular economy, but is largely a missed opportunity, writes Jenni Downes, Senior Research Consultant at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute of Sustainable Futures.
The NSW Government has revealed its draft of its Circular Economy Policy as part of the state government’s plan to improve its resource recovery methods.
The policy draft defines the state government’s role in implementing circular economy principles across NSW and how it can commit to achieving long term objectives.
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Minimising the consumption of finite resources by replacing raw materials with recovered and recycled products is one of the main principles of the policy.
Additionally, the policy aims to decouple economic growth from resource consumption by maximising the value of resources through keeping materials in use for as long as possible.
Product design will also play a role to implement a circular economy with an aim of creating long lasting products that are able to be easily re-used, remanufactured and repaired.
The draft aims to extend the life of existing landfills to reduce the demand for new landfills along with a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Local market for high quality post-consumer recycled materials will be developed to keep them materials use for longer to reduce dependency on international markets. It also aims to improve the quality of collected materials through better sorting.
To move away from the “take, make and dispose” status quo, the policy recommends innovating technologies that increase resource recovery efficiency and referencing higher value re-use opportunities.
Creating new jobs in manufacturing, service and resource recovery sectors is listed as a main principle behind the delivery of a circular economy.
The draft sets out certain focus areas to guide future government action which involve supporting innovation, encouraging sustainable procurement practices for businesses and government, improving recycling systems and making the most of organic resources through food donation or composting.
Mainstream product stewardship will also aim to provide incentives for producers to take responsibility for the management of products at the end of their lives.
To establish this framework, the NSW Government aims to incorporate circular economy principles in the revision of the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy in 2019. A Circular Economy Implementation Plan to be developed by 2020 will also aim to provide timing and direction for the implementation of circular economy principles.
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said the policy draft is the beginning of a better way for NSW to manage its waste and resources.
“Achieving a circular economy will minimise our waste, reduce our impact on the environment and is an opportunity to boost the NSW economy,” Ms Upton said.
“It’s an antidote to the current “linear economy”, where we make things, use them and then throw them away. Instead, we can use items for as long as possible, through repair, re-use and recycling, rather than being thrown away.
“At the same time NSW is working with the Federal Government on the development of national circular economy principles,” she said.
The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has welcomed the release of the draft, however it says there is more work to be done on the policy.
The association has urged the NSW Government to set up an organisation similar to Sustainability Victoria or Green Industries South Australia to implement in the final policy.
WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan said that all states are preparing or implementing similar strategies, so it is vital that they align and work together.
“WMAA supports the paper’s proposal that the NSW Government will investigate opportunities to incorporate circular economy principles into the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy as part of the five-yearly review process,” Ms Sloan said.
“WMAA commends the government for its support for broadening and strengthening stewardship schemes. This has been discussed time and again and it is pleasing to see that industry’s feedback has been heard,” she said.
“We are also calling on government to consider how the waste levy should look like in a circular economy environment, including how collected monies are re-invested in industry to further boost processing and jobs.
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How progressive is Australia compared with the rest of the world when it comes to actioning circular economy principles? Waste Management Review investigates.