Waste Management Review speaks to Alex Serpo, Policy Officer at the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, about the harmonised government policy required to grow the waste and recycling industry.
The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has called on the Federal Government to secure trade agreements with international recycling partners.
This follows the implementation of China’s National Sword Policy, which has placed heavy restrictions on the level contamination in recycling exports.
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In a statement, the NWRIC said recycling has become a globalised industry, with exporting nations such as China needing to play their part to address the reuse of valuable resources. It also noted it strongly supports the re-establishment of domestic remanufacture in Australia.
“Secure international trade agreements will be necessary for the long-term prosperity of Australian recycling,” said the NWRIC.
“The establishment of improved recycling infrastructure requires long term investment and the installation of new technology. This new infrastructure cannot be financed without secure long-term markets for both the input materials and the end products.
“As a result, the NWRIC calls on the Commonwealth though its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to facilitate new negotiations to establish long term and stable trade agreements for the Australian recycling industry,” the NWRIC said.
The NWRIC lists paper, all metals, plastics and manufactured fuels as materials these trade agreements should cover, and notes that an existing China-Australia Free Trade Agreement could possibly be extended to cover clean recycled materials.
NWRIC Chair Phil Richards said Australian industry has the capacity to build new and improved recycling infrastructure that can produce high quality material ready to feed local manufacturing and exports.
“Strengthening our international trade agreements to export recycled products will secure an early recovery of comprehensive recycling services across Australia,” Mr Richards said.
Australia’s National Waste Policy will be updated by the end of this year to include circular economy principles, along with a target endorsed of 100 per cent Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.
Federal Government, state and territory ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association met on Friday to set a sustainable path for Australia’s recyclable waste, in the seventh meeting of environment ministers.
They pledged for new product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic solar panels and batteries, while also agreeing to explore waste to energy further and advocate using recycled materials in government procurement.
While making a number of pledges, ministers agreed to have a teleconference in mid-June to discuss progress on recycling, and to meet in late 2018 to further progress delivery of the commitments on Friday.
Taking action on recycled waste in the wake of China’s restrictions on imports was the focus of the meeting. Australia is one of over 100 countries affected by China’s new restrictions, affecting around 1.3 million tonnes of our recycled waste.
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This accounts for four per cent of Australia’s recyclable waste, but 35 per cent of recyclable plastics and 30 per cent of recyclable paper and cardboard. The ministers agreed statement said the restrictions include new limits on contamination for recycled material which much of Australia’s recycling does not meet.
On recycling waste, ministers agreed to reduce the amount of waste generated and to make it easier for products to be recycled. Ministers endorsed a target of 100 percent of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 or earlier. The governments will work with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), representing over 900 companies to deliver this target. Ministers endorsed the development of targets for the use of recycled content in packaging and to monitor this closely.
They also agreed to work together on expanding and developing the local recycling industry. Ministers pledged to advocate for increased use of recycled materials in the goods that government and industry purchase, including paper, road materials, and construction materials and to collaborate on creating new markets for recycled materials.
Waste to energy was also on the agenda, with a pledge to explore it and other waste to biofuels projects, as part of a broader suite of industry growth initiatives. The agreed statement said ministers would continue to recognise the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste a a priority, consistent with the waste hierarchy. This will include support from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
On microbeads, ministers announced the voluntary phase-out of microbeads, which Ministers initiated in 2016, is on track with 94 per cent of cosmetic and personal care products now microbead-free. The agreed statement said ministers remain committed to eliminating the final six per cent and examining options to broaden the phase out to other products.
On food waste, ministers reaffirmed their commitment to halving Australia’s food waste by 2050. They agreed to align their community education efforts to cut food waste and to encourage residual food waste to be composted.
On product waste, ministers agreed to fast-track the development of new product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic solar panels and batteries. This builds on existing successful industry-led product stewardship approaches that manage products such as televisions and computers, tyres and oil.
Ministers also agreed to take action on a range of other nationally significant matters including: guidelines to manage chemical contamination from fire-fighting foams (known as PFAS), opportunities to grow the carbon farming industry, progressing the National Clean Air Agreement, collaboration on the management of flying foxes and their commitment to the recently agreed approach to national environmental-economic accounting.
Ministers also acknowledged action taken on climate change. South Australia raised its proposal to nominate the Flinders Ranges to Australia’s World Heritage Tentative list.
The Federal Government’s Department of the Environment and Energy has released a report that offers guidance on whether a hazardous waste permit is required to export waste batteries to another country.
Batteries can increase the risk of toxic chemicals polluting the environment if not disposed of properly.
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The report clarifies the Federal Government’s position on the status of batteries as hazardous waste under the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports Act) 1989 (the Act) and Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) (OECD Decision) Regulations 1996 (the OECD Regulations).
Alkaline, nickel-metal hydride, zinc-carbon and zinc chloride waste batteries are considered by the Federal Government to not require an import permit, as long as they are not flammable, explosive or toxic.
These batteries are considered to be in List B for the Basel Convention for international transport of potentially hazardous waste.
The Federal Government said it is the responsibility of the waste exporter to check whether the destination and transit countries require a hazardous waste permit to import waste batteries.
The report can be read here.
The heads of all state and territory EPAs and the Federal Government have released a National Environment Management Plan for PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) to help protect the environment and human health.
PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals which have historically been used in firefighting foams and other industrial and consumer products for decades, according to EPA Victoria. PFAS can also be found in soil, surface water and groundwater in urban areas, and some PFAS are being phased out around the world as they may pose a risk to human health and the environment.
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The National Environment Management Plan for PFAS describes how to properly deal with and clean up contaminated sites, how to best treat soil and waste, and methods for safely destroying the chemicals.
PFAS can make products heat resistant, non-stick, water repellent, and weather and stain resistant.
Prior to the plan, there was no consistent guidance or direction for communities that had been affected by PFAS.
Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s Executive Director Assessments, Tim Eaton, said PFAS chemicals have been used in a range of products in the past, including pesticides, stain repellents and fire-fighting foams.
“PFAS compounds have had a wide range of uses because they resist heat, chemical and biological degradation, and are very stable,” Mr Eaton said.
“There is now growing concern worldwide about the effects of PFAS on our health and on animals and plants, because of that chemical stability and the fact that they easily enter the environment, moving into soil, creeks, rivers and lakes. We know there are sites with PFAS contamination, so we are working collectively to manage them.”
The plan can be read here.
Joe Pickin, Director at Blue Environment, explains the challenges of improving the nation’s waste management data, with a new National Waste Report to be released this year.
The National Food Waste Strategy brings to light a range of challenges for reducing the nation’s food waste, but where to from here?
The Federal Government has launched its National Food Waste Strategy at the inaugural National Food Waste Summit in Melbourne.
The strategy provides a framework to support the government’s goal of halving Australia’s food waste by 2030.
The National Food Waste Strategy identifies four priority areas to help reach this target: including policy support, business improvements, market development and behaviour change.
The federal government has made an initial funding commitment of $1.37 million over 24 months towards this goal. The funding will be used to support an independent organisation (Food Innovation Australia Limited) that will develop an implementation plan. It will also be used to monitor and evaluate the strategy and coordinate priority areas of work.
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The funding will go towards a voluntary commitment program that will initially engage businesses and industries to commit to actions that reduce food waste and a National Food Waste Baseline so that the government can monitor and track its progress.
Data collated for the report shows the cost of food waste to the Australian economy is $20 billion per year.
Of the food waste disposed in landfill in 2014-15, 7.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent is estimated to be released over the life of its decay.
The Federal Government, with the states and territories, will enable Food Innovation Australia Limited, through $1 million over the next 24 months, to start implementing the strategy. A steering committee will provide advice and guidance to Food Innovation Australia Limited. Membership of the committee will be announced in the coming months and will align with the priority areas of the strategy.
By late 2018, Food Innovation Australia Limited will deliver the plan for the strategy that sets out short, medium and long-term actions. The industry voluntary commitment program will be in place by early 2019.
The Federal Government has also committed a further $370,000 through its National Environment Science Program for two research projects to support the strategy. Of this, $200,000 will support research to establish the National Food Waste Baseline and develop an approach for the measurement of progress against the 50 per cent reduction target. The remaining $170,000 will identify the highest value return on investment opportunities in food waste for business, community organisations and governments.
Ways to support a consistent national approach to community education on food waste will also be on the agenda of the upcoming Meeting of Environment Ministers in December.
Commenting on the announcement, the Victorian Government noted it is working with businesses to manage food waste across the supply chain and find new ways to use food and organic waste products.
A roundtable hosted by Minister D’Ambrosio earlier this year attracted major food producers and processing companies including Swisse, SPC Ardmona and Devondale Murray Goulburn.
The Victorian Government is also helping businesses develop new markets for high quality organic products and boost the uptake of recycled organic products in agriculture.
A number of major stakeholders have put forward their submissions to a federal government inquiry into Australia’s waste and recycling industry.
The inquiry looks to investigate issues related to landfill, markets for recycled waste and the role of the federal government in providing a coherent approach to the management of solid waste. Submissions have now closed for the inquiry, which will report its findings by November 29.
The diverse range of stakeholders range from recycling companies such as Envorinex and TIC Group, to industry figureheads such as the Australian Landfill Owners Association and the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. Local and state governments from across the nation have also put forward submissions.
Brisbane City Council in its submission commented on the landfill levy issue. Queensland currently has no landfill levy in place, and has faced issues of interstate waste transport from NSW where the levy is more than $70 a tonne. With several views on the matter, Brisbane City Council argued a levy must be at least $50 per tonne to change behaviour.
“Any landfill levy introduced in Queensland (orregions within the State) will have a net cost to ratepayers. Council is reluctant to act as a tax collector for the Queensland Government,” they noted.
“Funds collected through a landfill levy must be hypothecated to the waste and resource recovery sectors (including local government) in the first five to 10 years post levy introduction to ensure the sector is robust and able to provide genuine alternatives to landfill.”
The council also added a levy is likely to increase the risk of illegal dumping and levy funds would need to be allocated to manage activities such as clean-up, waste education and enforcement.
The Australian Landfill Owners Association responded to the terms of reference by advocating its support for the diversion of solid waste for recycling when an improved environmental outcome is derived. It also noted all waste that is landfilled should be directed to well managed and environmentally compliant activities, while also calling for the federal government to harmonise legislation to prevent the unnecessary transportation of waste across state borders.
“ALOA wishes to re-iterate the role that appropriately managed, environmentally compliant and properly licenced landfills perform within a broad waste management system serving a modern society,” the submission read.
“Landfills of this type are key pieces of essential infrastructure serving a vital role in the safe and efficient disposal of a wide range of wastes.”
The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council in its submission argued for the returning of funding to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Waste Accounts program – discontinued in 2014. The council also focused on high standards for the accreditation and management of landfills, the harmonisation of landfill levies and suggestions to improve resource recovery and recycling, among a host of other recommendations.
You can read all of the industry’s submissions in full here.