Industry welcomes COAG recycling pledge

The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s pledge to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

The decision was made at the 9 August Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, with the intention of developing Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities.

VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said the decision would help create market certainty among the private sector, which is the biggest investor in Victoria’s waste management system.

“For too long there’s been an air of uncertainty around Victoria’s recycling challenge, fuelled by finger pointing and short-sighted solutions, so it’s promising to see COAG agree on the urgent need for a new approach,” Mr Smith said.

“In order to successfully manage our waste needs, now and into the future, we need appropriate investment in the people, system, processes, education and engagement to drive sustainable change.”

According to Mr Smith, as the primary employer, purchasers and manager of waste and recycling assets across Victoria and Australia, business has an integral role to play in developing the sector.

Mr Smith said VWMA has long called for all levels of government to work together with the private sector and other key stakeholders on a sustainable solution to the state’s ongoing recycling challenge.

“The private sector supports more than 23,000 Victorian jobs and invests over $800 million into waste and recycling services and infrastructure annually,” Mr Smith said.

“COAG’s agreement to build the sector’s capacity to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste will be very welcome and serve as a catalyst for investment and innovation.”

Mr Smith said while it’s still early days, the COAG’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

“VWMA looks forward to continuing to work with local and state government, as well as councils and other expert bodies, to arrive at a solution that benefits all Australians,” Mr Smith said.

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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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187 countries agree to regulate plastic trade

The United Nations has announced amendments to the Basel Convention, including the characterisation of plastic as a hazardous material.

The Basel Convention controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another, and with 187 signatories is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on waste.

The amendment was approved by Australia and 186 other countries following a two week conference. Noticeably absent was the United States, the largest plastic waste exporter in the world.

The United States was one of two countries not to ratify the agreement.

UN Environment Executive Secretary Rolph Payet said plastic waste had reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 100 million tonnes found in the world’s oceans.

“Governments this week amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework,” Mr Payet said.

“Which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.”

Mr Payet said a new Partnership on Plastic Waste will be established to assist with implementing the new measures.

“The partnership will provide a set of practical supports including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance for this ground-breaking agreement,” Mr Payet said.

Break Free From Plastic Global Coordinator Von Hernandez, who attended the conference, said the amendment will require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or un-recyclable plastic waste.

“After China banned imports of most plastic waste in 2018, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have received a huge influx of contaminated and mixed plastic wastes that are difficult or even impossible to recycle,” Mr Hernandez said.

“This decision provides an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.”

BaliFokus Co-Founder Yuyun Ismawati, who also attended the conference, said the amendment would force higher standards of responsible plastic waste management.

Ms. Ismawati said Indonesia had received an additional 184,702 tons of plastic waste following China’s National Sword policy – with imports increasing by 141 per cent and exports decreasing by 48 per cent.

“Toxic plastics disposed by rich communities in other countries will no longer become the burden of poor communities,” Ms Ismawati said.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Indonesia is Australia’s second-largest waste destination, taking 19 per cent of total waste exports.

The amendment follows a recent Malaysian investigation into illegal plastic waste imports and an Indian ban on the material.

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Recycling company wins Governor of Victoria export award

Lithium battery processing company Envirostream Australia has won the Regional Exporter Award in the 2018 Governor of Victoria Export Awards (GOVEA).

The awards are open to a range of industry sectors, including the waste and recycling industry and showcase some of the state’s most successful and innovative exporters.

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The company recovers 95 per cent of the materials contained in energy storage battery and sells the steel, copper and aluminium into national markets to be manufactured into new projects.

It began operating recycling facility in the Melbourne suburb of Campbellfield which is able to recover 40 tonnes of batteries per month on each processing line.

Envirostream has partnered with Planet Ark and other stakeholders to develop a battery collection and recycling program that uses battery recycling  and high material recovery.

“We believe this model will challenge the status quo in the recycling industry by adding value in Australia before exporting. This model creates jobs, decreases the cost to recycle and increases the recycling rate of batteries,” Envirostream Australia Director Andrew Mackenzie said.

The GOVEA are open to all Victorian exporters, regardless of size or total export sales.

Winners of the awards are automatically placed as finalists in the national Australian Export Awards.

The Winners:

  • Exporter of the Year – Leica Biosystems
  • Export Award for Innovation Excellence – Sealite
  • Emerging Exporter Award – FitMyCar
  • Victorian Women in International Business Award – Dr Ewa Douroux, Business Services Manager from Leica Biosystems
  • Agribusiness Award – Hussey and Company
  • Business Services Award – OMC International
  • Creative Industries Award – FanHubMedia
  • eCommerce Award – DPP Pharmaceuticals
  • Education and Training Award – IDP Education
  • Environmental Solutions Award – GeoFabrics Australasia
  • Digital Technologies Award – Catapult
  • Health and Biotechnology Award – Leica Biosystems
  • Manufacturing Award – Bosch Australia
  • Minerals, Energy, and Related Services Award – Business For Millennium Development
  • Regional Exporter Award – Envirostream Australia
  • Small Business Award – Cornerstone Solutions

Pictured Left to Right: Victorian Trade Minister Philip Dalidakis, Envirostream National Development Manager John Polhill, Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau. 

National Sword could displace 111M tonnes of plastic waste by 2030

An estimated 111 million metric tonnes of plastic waste will be displaced by China’s National Sword policy by 2030 around the world, according to new research.

The Chinese import ban and its impact on global waste trade research paper published in the journal Science Advances reports that new global ideas are needed to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials, including redesigning products and funding domestic plastic waste management.

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The report, authored by researchers at the University of Georgia, said China had imported 106 million tonnes of plastic waste since 1992, which makes up more than 45 per cent of total global plastic imports.

The National Sword Policy has implemented new restrictions on the contamination rate for imported waste, requiring a cleaner and more processed version of materials such as plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles.

“The displaced plastic waste is equal to nearly half (47 per cent) of all plastic waste that has been imported globally since reporting began in 1988,” the report said.

“Only 9% of plastic waste has been recycled globally, with the overwhelming majority of global plastic waste being landfilled or ending up contaminating the environment (80 per cent).

“Plastic packaging and single-use items enter the waste stream immediately after use, contributing to a cumulative total of 6.3 billion MT of plastic waste generated worldwide.”

The report warns that if no adjustments are made in solid waste management, then much of the waste that would have been diverted from landfill by customers paying for a recycling service will be landfilled.

“Both the displaced plastic waste and future increases in plastic recycling must be addressed immediately. Initially, the countries exporting the most plastic waste can use this as an opportunity to develop and expand internal markets,” the report said.

“If domestic recycling of plastic waste is not possible, then this constraint reinforces the motivation to reduce use and redesign plastic packaging and products so that they retain their value and are more recyclable in domestic markets.”

How many recyclables are affected by China waste ban?

Cans for recycling in a container deposit scheme

Consultancy firm Blue Environment was asked by the Federal Government to analyse the amount of waste being sent to China before the ban on contaminants began.

China’s ban on waste with contaminants of more than 0.5 per cent have led to commodity price reductions, stockpiling and instability in the provision of recycling collection services, according to Blue Environment.

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The data showed that 1.25 million tonnes of waste was exported to China in 2016-17, with 920 thousand tonnes made up of paper and cardboard, 203 thousand tonnes of metal and 125 thousand tonnes of plastics.

Blue Environment also report that 99 per cent of waste from the 2016-17 period were affected by these new restrictions.

According to the data, China made up the majority of exported materials in plastics and paper and cardboards, making up 68 and 63 per cent of the total recyclable material exports.

Blue Environment said the data should be considered preliminary and may change with further consideration.

You can read the full data set here.