ALGA calls for Fed Govt leadership on National Waste Policy

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.

WMAA’s five policy priorities ahead of MEM

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has written to Federal Government Environment Minister Melissa Price ahead of the December 7 Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM) meeting calling for five policy priorities for the government to drive.

In its letter, WMAA called for a national proximity principle as well as a level playing field, including a common approach to levies and market development, and strengthening product stewardship and extended producer responsibility schemes. WMAA also called for government leadership in sustainable procurement and market development and a whole-of-government approach.

Commenting on the upcoming MEM, Ms Sloan said it was time for the Federal Government to take ownership of its important role in driving industry forward and start using the tools and levers that only it has to turn Australia’s circular economy aspirations into reality.

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“The one thing we all know about waste is, it just keeps coming. The role of ministers at this meeting must be to start pulling the right levers for Australia, to leverage demand for these resources to meet this ongoing supply,” WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan said.

“Take the GST as an example. This is not payable on second hand products so why couldn’t the same exemption be applied to recyclate? There are other levers such as research and development incentives, import bans, tax disincentives… All of which can go a long way in incentivising the use of recycled material in Australia.”

Ms Sloan noted that next year, Germany will have a new packaging law requiring all manufacturers, importers, distributors and online retailers to meet strict material generation targets or face hefty fines.

“Packaging producers must also licence their packaging and all businesses will have to register with a central packaging registry to ensure compliance and maintain market access. Australia can draw lessons from Germany because it is time for our Federal Government to take our extended producer responsibility laws and frameworks seriously if Australia is genuine about creating jobs and investment,” Ms Sloan said.

WMAA noted that of course, each state and territory must focus on particular policies, but there is value in developing some commonality across key regulation and policies or further exacerbate what is now a highly uneven playing field and continue to create confusion and uncertainty among businesses that operate nationally.

Potential emergency plastic tax by 2021: report

The plastic waste crisis is expected to deepen, potentially leading to a federal response in the form of an emergency tax by 2021, according to global wealth manager Credit Suisse.

It argues that reactionary policy measures are highly likely in the short term and could include a tax on virgin resins or additional tariffs placed on imported plastic goods in its report, The age of plastic at a tipping point.

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With too much plastic waste domestically and with no large export markets available, Credit Suisse estimates there will be a sharp increase in plastic being sent to landfill and illegal dumping.

“Our headline view is that things will get worse before they get better: the policy initiatives in the National Waste Strategy won’t take hold until FY20/21,” the report said.

Credit Suisse expects bans on single use-plastics to be extended to the six most common plastic packaging and tax incentives to be provided to help hit the 2025 target of 30 per cent recycled content in packaging.

The long lead time from policy approval to implementation is problematic, particularly for new waste infrastructure, which the company said will likely lead to a more supportive project approval environment for waste infrastructure.

Waste managers are expected to benefit from this scenario, with short term potential from council re-negotiations and long-term potential to fast-track waste infrastructure approvals, according to the report.

“Plastic has infiltrated almost every aspect of human life. It is the most prolific material on the planet, growing faster than any commodity in the last 33 years,” the report said.

“Plastic packaging has become one of the most intractable environmental challenges of our age. None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable; they accumulate in landfills or the natural environment rather than decompose.

“To curtail the situation in the short run, it is a matter of when, not if, we see reactionary policy measures,” the report said.

CEFC Annual Report tabled in Australian senate

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) Annual Report 2017-18 has shown the corporation has invested $127 million in waste-related projects in the past year.

The report was tabled in the Australian Senate and has found the total new CEFC commitments in 2017-18 were $2.3 billion, which is up from $2.1 billion in the previous year.

Across its entire portfolio, the corporation has contributed to projects with a total value of around $19 billion and financed more than 5500 smaller-scale clean energy projects through its partners.

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The CEFC is responsible for investing $10 billion in clean energy products on behalf of the Federal Government to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.

Since beginning in 2013, a total of 190 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions have been forecast to be cut, once funds are deployed and projects fully operation.

In the Chair’s Report, CEFC Chair Steven Skala said these investments include marquee projects and highlight decarbonisation and can be achieved profitably and effectively across the clean energy sector and waste related projects.

“This year has seen industry seizing the challenges and opportunities offered by decarbonisation and accelerating its consideration of emerging duties associated with carbon disclosure,” he said.

“The financial markets have also moved in this regard. The question now is not one of direction, but of pace. This means the CEFC will continue to have a significant number of opportunities available in its investment pipeline.”

CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said much has changed since the CEFC began investing in 2013.

“From our early days largely focusing on renewable energy opportunities, we now see our capital working right across the economy, in an increasingly diverse range of projects,” Mr Learmonth said.

“We see clean energy technologies embraced by home owners and small businesses; essential infrastructure projects and landmark property developments; innovative start-ups and institutional investors with an eye to a sustainable future.

“In 2017-18, our most active year of investment, we see a common thread in this activity: a focus on embracing technological innovation to cut energy costs and lower emissions.”

Southern Oil Refining turning waste into oil

A new plant that aims to turn biosolids from waste water treatment sewage into renewable crude oil is being built in Gladstone, Queensland.

The Federal Government is providing Southern Oil Refining with up to $4 million in funding for the $11.8 million demonstration plant.

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Biosolids will be sources from waste water treatment plants in Gladstone as well as the project’s partner Melbourne Water Corporation’s Werribee facility.

The renewable crude oil will then be upgraded to renewable diesel and potentially jet fuel.

Southern Oil Refining’s existing Northern Oil Refining facility in Gladstone will be used for the project, which is currently being used for re-refining waste oils such as transmission and engine oils.

It will treat up to one million litres of biosolids a year using a thermochemical conversion process to produce a biocrude.

Minister for the Environment Josh Frydenberg said that bioenergy projects not only provide an alternative to the stockpiling of waste, but also have the potential to help with Australia’s fuel security.

“With Australia producing over 300,000 tonnes of biosolids through sewage treatment annually, it makes sense to look for options for commercialising its disposal,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Federal Member for Flynn Mr Ken O’Dowd said he is excited for Gladstone to be the home of world-class, state of the art technology.

“Using the skills and some of the world’s best R&D and scientists, there is no stopping this remarkable ‘new age’ company from achieving this huge benefit that was once thought to be a distant aspiration,” Mr O’Dowd said.

The project was funded though the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which also provided $2.4 million for Australia’s first biocrude and biofuel laboratory based at the same site.

NWRIC calls for new international trade agreements

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.

Meeting of Environment Ministers revives National Waste Policy

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.

 

 

Federal Govt offer waste battery export guidance

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.

National Plan for PFAS released to protect environment and health

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.