Treading the circular path

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.

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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.

National Waste Policy consensus hits stalemate

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 claiming state and territory ministers “walked away from solid targets on Australia’s recycling and waste”.

It comes after the end of year Meeting of Environment Ministers as part of the Council of Australian Governments, which expected to reach agreements on updates to the National Waste Policy. The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council had called for a National Waste and Resource Recovery Commissioner responsible for ensuring the policy is implemented, facilitating collaboration, regulatory reform and encouraging investment from all levels of government.

According to the ministers official statement, Australia’s state and territory environment ministers agreed by their next meeting to work towards developing a national action plan for the National Waste Policy with appropriate funding, robust targets and milestones.

The ministers agreed to strengthen the national action plan to address plastic pollution, a national approach to waste policy and regulation, including cross border transportation of waste, consideration of proximity principles and a coordinated approach to waste levies. It also committed to increasing demand for recycled materials through procurement.

Ministers agreed to review the targets and milestones annually to ensure priority actions stay focused.

Environment ministers also agreed to consult on new draft guidance on PFAS for an updated PFAS National Environmental Management Plan.

However according to a media release from Environment Minister Melissa Price, state and territory governments “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,” she said.

“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.

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel spoke to ABC News about the outcome.

“What we have on the table right now is one statement from the meeting of ministers saying we’ve agreed and we have another statement from the federal minister saying that the states have not agreed, so which one is it?,” Mr Schmigel told ABC News.

He said there was a real risk that kerbside recycling services could come to a halt with commodity prices falling dramatically as a result of exports of materials into China, noting those restrictions had now spread to other markets such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“If ministers don’t recognise that these are new threats to the system, they are being naive,” he continued.

ACT Government Member of the Legislative Assembly Chris Steel told ABC News that the Federal Government had failed to provide a robust action plan.

“It is disappointing that the Commonwealth failed to provide a robust action plan that would allow us to move together, all states and territories and the Commonwealth towards defined targets under a National Waste Policy. This has been in development for well over a year. The Commonwealth hasn’t done that work prior to the meeting and that’s why we weren’t able to agree on national waste targets,” he said.

NSW Government Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton told ABC News efforts were made to achieve further action.

“As a group…we did push for more. Waste is a critical issue, we need action. We need more than a policy and so what we secured an agreement for was a national action plan with targets to be worked up, to address some of the priorities which can’t be swept under the carpet any more,” she said.

In response to the December 7 meeting, the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) welcomed the statement but said it was concerned at what seems like a lack of real action. WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan praised the consensus on harmonised waste levies and a national proximity principle.

“However, the lack of short-term actions that should have been the minimum commitment out of Friday’s meeting will prove problematic,” she said.

“We are coming up to a year since China rolled out its National Sword policy and still, there are no priority actions that will create demand for the resources we manage in order to alleviate the significant pressure our essential industry is under and in the medium-term, create jobs and boost the Australian economy.”

“We may have a shared vision to transition to a circular economy and while we congratulate ministers on adopting the 2018 National Waste Policy which includes circular economy principles, and we acknowledge that ministers have voiced the need for the urgent development of an action plan, this simply does not go far enough, quickly enough.

Ms Sloan said that as a start, there is not one action in the statement that would drive investment in the industry and the concern is that ministers are simply kicking the can down the road considering there are two significant elections coming up in 2019. She said there needs to be some real action in the form of a roadmap, targets and policies backed by funding as opposed to statements about committing to commit.

“We need to ensure that the 2018 policy does not end up amounting to nothing very much like the 2009 iteration,” she said.

 

 

NWRIC calls for National Waste and Resource Recovery Commissioner

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is calling on the federal, state and territory environment ministers to appoint a National Waste and Resource Recovery Commissioner to ensure the National Waste Policy will be successful.

In a statement, NWRIC CEO Rose Read said Australia can no longer ignore the waste, resource recovery and recycling challenges it faces. It comes ahead of Friday’s Meeting of Environment Ministers as part of the biannual Council of Australian Governments meeting, where the rebooted National Waste Policy will be discussed.

“We are still one of the highest generators of waste per capita in the developed world,” Ms Read said.

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Ms Read said that inconsistent state waste regulations, limited infrastructure planning, reliance on overseas markets for recyclates, unfair local markets, increasing contamination of and lack of regulated product stewardship schemes are all major barriers to Australia realising the true economic, environmental and social value of its waste as a resource.

“Unless there is a significant shift in how our federal, state and territory governments work together to remove these barriers Australia’s waste will continue to grow and industry will not invest in technologies that would transform waste into valuable resources that meet local and global markets,” she said.

A National Waste and Resource Recovery Commissioner would be responsible for ensuring the policy is implemented, facilitating collaboration, regulatory reform and encouraging investment from all levels of government, producers, manufacturers, importers, retailers and recyclers.

The NWRIC believes that key actions that must be progressed as a matter of urgency are:

●  Harmonising state waste regulations specifically around waste definitions, licensing and transport.

●  A national waste and recycling infrastructure strategy that maps material and resource pathways for the next 30 years.

●  Regulating battery and tyre product stewardship schemes.

●  Mandating local, state and government procurement of recycled content in products and services.

●  Reviewing the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) for packaging and including mandated targets for recycled content in packaging and that all packaging must be recyclable,        compostable or reusable.

●  Increasing investment in community and business education that encourages better consumption, increases reuse, improves source separation and reduces contamination.

 

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.

NWRIC calls for mandatory product stewardship scheme

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has welcomed last week’s Meeting of Environments announcements, calling for a mandatory product stewardship across all priority products.

E-waste, batteries, tyres, used machine lubricating oils, paint and chemical drums were highlighted by the NWRIC as products that could fall under a proposed scheme.

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“Only mandatory product stewardship will give investors the confidence to build the capital-intensive infrastructure necessary to process and recover these complex and hazardous products,” the NWRIC said in a statement.

The NWRIC has released action plans to address the issue of the National Sword issue, with short term solutions focused on local governments renegotiating recycling contracts to ensure services continue, despite the drop in commodity prices. It highlighted that long-term actions are needed to reduce contamination in bins and infrastructure to improve the quality of export materials.

The NWRIC said that the review of the National Waste Policy could provide new opportunities to harmonise waste and recycling regulation, pointing to the jurisdictional differences in landfill levies that incentivise interstate transport of waste.

“Other regulatory disparities between states and territories create a cost to business without any economic, social or environmental dividend. Through COAG and the Heads of EPAs (HEPA) group, these anomalies can be resolved,” it said.
It follows the announcement of six action points from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting of Environment ministers.
The six points are:

·      Ensuring all Australian packaging is suitable for recycling by 2025

·      Working with states to find a market for material that would have once been sent to China

·      Advocating for government procurement of recycled materials

·      Improved product stewardship

·      Advancing the review of Australia’s National Waste Policy

·      Prioritising energy recovery projects through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation

The NWRIC also highlighted the manufacture of fuel from unrecyclable materials is a useful step forward.

“This technology is used and recognised globally by countries with more sophisticated recycling systems than Australia. The council welcomes investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation into fuel recovery.”

NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards said kerbside recycling is an important service that all Australians value.

“We welcome the state government assistance offered to protect this critical service, and we are ready to work proactively with all levels of government to maintain and enhance this service into the future,” he said.

The NWRIC also supports the rollout of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation’s Australasian Recycling Label. They noted this label provides clear guidance on which materials should be directed to materials recovery facilities.

SUEZ, ACOR, SV respond to Environment Minister meeting

Stakeholders have largely welcomed the commitments made on Friday by state and territory ministers at April’s Meeting of Environment Ministers – with some suggestions.

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. 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. Read the story on the outcomes of the meeting here.

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.

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.

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SUEZ Australia & New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Mark Venhoek welcomed the government’s focus on making 100 per cent of products recyclable and re-useable by 2025. He noted that swift action and investment needs to be made to ensure that this goal is met.

“As a waste industry, we are falling behind globally and we require fast action to stimulate the local market for recycled and recovered products,” Mr Venhoek said.

“We support the government’s 100 per cent recycled packaging goal which will create a sustainable demand for these products, but believe that it should be mandatory that packaged products can be re-used.

“Collaboration to achieving this is key and without investment from government and a commitment from packaging manufacturers and industry working together, we will not achieve this goal.”

Mr Venhoek also welcomed the commitment from different levels of government to explore waste to energy projects and the support for the technology from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

“Energy from waste technology is the missing link in the waste management hierarchy and waste infrastructure in Australia. After reduction, re-use and recycling, there is a crucial element: to recover the energetic value from waste,” he said.

Sustainability Victoria Chief Executive Officer Stan Krpan said leadership is crucial to ensuring we have a sustainable recycling industry that Australians can be proud of.

Mr Krpan said yesterday’s commitments align with the Victorian Government’s suite of waste strategies and programs that move the state toward a circular economy.

“Supporting our local recycling industry to move towards a circular economy is reflected in the ministers’ commitment to increasing our recycling capacity, advocating for the increased use of recycled material and creating targets for the use of recycled content in packaging,” he said.

“We are also encouraged the strong support of product stewardship schemes and the increasing in the procurement of recycled goods government and industry buy,” he said.

“Large procurements by government and companies can influence upstream design to reduce waste and packaging and trigger other innovations.”

ACOR Chief Executive Officer Pete Shmigel said the right chords have been struck by ministers about investing in recycling’s future, but we did not hear two very important sounds: implementation details and dollars in the till.

“The recycling industry welcomes commitments about ensuring recyclability of packaging products, buying recycled content products by governments, expanding domestic reprocessing capacity and developing a new national plan,” he said.

“However, today’s ministerial announcement lacks comprehensive targets for all measures, and consequences for underperformance, that make practice from theory.”

Mr Shmigel said pro-recycling policy principles are welcome, but pro-recycling positive action and investment is now to be expected.

“As ACOR, we look forward to working directly with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to identify and facilitate a strengthened investment presence in resource recovery – including in an expedited timeframe. There are good projects that merit backing among our members.”

“As ACOR, we strongly question the timeframe given for products’ recyclability as packaging is getting more complex each day and resulting in greater contamination and community cost each day that passes. By 2025, millions of tonnes of potential contamination would have passed through the system without the producers of packaging taking greater responsibility for their decisions.

Mr Shmigel said similar commitments were given in the 2009 National Waste Policy and, on current timeframes, it will be 16 years by the time they have been realised, describing it as “truly mediocre”.

“Finally, further work is urgently needed at state levels to ensure that recyclate does not need to be disposed to landfill in the short-term.”

Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said it is extremely pleasing that the National Waste Strategy will be updated by the end of this year and WMAA looks forward to participating in this.

“The endorsement by Ministers of a target of 100 percent of Australian packaging being recyclable or reusable by 2025 is heartening, and we look forward to working with government to develop meaningful targets from at least 2020 to ensure that this actually achieved,” Ms Sloan said.

“Industry recalls targets set previously under the National Packaging Covenant that were never monitored or achieved, and once this failure was recognised it was just too late.”

Ms Sloan said while there was no new funding for recycling in Friday’s announcement, one thing WMAA will advocate to start immediately is government at all levels spending existing funds differently.

“Ministers must go much further than simply advocating for increased use of recycled materials in the goods that government and industry buy.

“With over 90 per cent of the community supporting recycling and the purchase of recycled products by government, government needs to hold itself to account and if it does not prioritise the use of recycled material, to report to the community why it does not, this should be the norm going forward, not the exception,” she said.

WMAA in a statement said the federal government must show leadership in this space and act now to grow demand for recycled products that can develop markets and jobs in both metropolitan and regional areas. For example, it said Commonwealth Federal Assistance Grants to local government should be predicated on councils using more recycled glass sand and not virgin sand.

“Industry absolutely recognises that there is a place for waste to energy in Australia as an alternate to landfill, and we support this technology. However, it cannot replace recycling and remanufacturing.”

Director of Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel, which looks after 47 national, state and local groups, described the voluntary approach to recycled products as “weak.”

“Mandatory rules, as in Europe, are the only assured way to establish a stable and growing market to justify the investment into new manufacturing,” Mr Angel said.

“If we can have an enforceable renewable energy target, then we can have a similar system for recycled content. A lot of questions remain to be answered about the 100 per cent recyclable, compostable or reusable target including collection capacity – it’s not just about labels.”

Federal Government Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg on Friday said finding a solution to the 1.3 million tonnes of recyclable waste is an urgent and important issue which requires a coordinated approach from supply right through to demand.

“It is also an opportunity for Australia to develop its capabilities and capacity in recycling through effective cooperation and collaboration among the three levels of government,” he said.

APCO welcomes packaging commitment

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has welcomed the Meeting of Environment Ministers commitment to see 100 per cent recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025.

State and territory governments will work with APCO, representing over 900 companies to deliver this target. Ministers endorsed the development of targets for the use of recycled content in packaging and this will be closely monitored.

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said the China issue presents a significant opportunity for Australia to shift to the next level in packaging resource recovery, recycling and end use.

“Today’s announcement is a monumental call to action and one of the most ambitious and decisive environmental targets to be supported in Australia. We applaud the federal, state and territory governments for stepping up as key players in the global movement to create sustainable packaging solutions that drive accountability, transparency and shared value for consumers, industry and government,” she said.

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“We will support more innovative packaging design, enhance consumer education, as well as bolster the reuse and incorporation of recycled content within end markets.

“Across these initiatives, it’s essential that we take a consistent national approach. One that will promote domestic recycling and resource recovery to reduce the amount of waste going into landfill and deliver a smaller, cleaner waste stream in Australia.”

Nestlé Australia CEO Sandra Martinez said the company recognises businesses must step up and find improved solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle.

“Nestlé is proud to be a member of APCO and is working collectively alongside industry to achieve 100 per cent recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025,” she said.