New parliamentary role created for waste reduction

Re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a new parliamentary position, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister.

The role has been awarded to Queensland MP Trevor Evans, who was elected to the House of Representatives for Brisbane in 2016.

Mr Morrison has also announced his new cabinet, replacing Environment Minister Melissa Price with Sussan Ley.

Ms Price served as Environment Minister since August 2018, after previously serving as Assistant Minister to the portfolio.

Since being elected to parliament in 2001, Ms Ley has served as Health Minister, Education Minister, Sport Minister and most recently Regional Development Assistant Minister.

“Australians hold strong views on caring for our environment, both locally and globally, and I look forward to listening to the variety of perspectives and ideas that will be put forward,” Ms Ley said.

“As well as implementing our government’s strong range of policy initiatives in this portfolio.”

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the national industry body welcomed both appointments.

“WMRR congratulates both the minister and assistant minister, and looks forward to working with them on the commitments made by the government ahead of the election. Once the dust settles WMRR will be engaging with Minister Ley on how we can move forward,” Ms Sloan said.

“Effectively drawing that link between the environment and the economy so our essential waste and resource recovery industry maximises the opportunities at hand, to not only protect the environment, but grow local jobs and the economy.”

Australian Council of Recyclers CEO Peter Shmigel said the appointment of Sussan Ley and Trevor Evans represents unprecedented national leadership on recycling,

“This is the first time there’s direct ownership and accountability for recycling results at a ministerial level. The creation of the assistant minister role is a really welcome innovation by Prime Minister Scott Morrison,” Mr Shmigel said.

“The assistant minister helps guarantee the delivery of the government’s very substantive and useful recycling promises, including infrastructure funding and product stewardship progress.”

Roles within the Environment and Energy Department have also been re-shuffled, with responsibility for emissions reduction transferred from environment minister to energy minister.

Ms Price has been removed from cabinet all together and will serve as defence minister, while Angus Taylor remains in his role as energy minister.

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Election results for the waste industry

The Coalition, which promised $203 million to the waste and recycling sector, has been re-elected with a likely majority.

While votes are still being counted, the Coalition currently holds 75 of the 76 seats needed to win government – with ABC election analyst Antony Green predicting a final result of 77 seats.

The lead up to the 18 May election saw significant waste and recycling policy promises from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“We will increase Australia’s recycling rates, tackle plastic waste and litter, accelerate work on new recycling schemes and continue action to halve food waste by 2030,” Mr Morrison said earlier in May.

While Melissa Price has been re-elected to the seat of Durack Western Australia, it is unclear whether she will return as Environment Minister.

The Coalition’s campaign promises include:

— $100 million to develop the Australian Recycling Investment Fund to support the manufacturing of lower emissions and energy-efficient recycled content products including recycled content plastics, paper and pulp.

— $20 million for a new Product Stewardship Investment Fund to accelerate work on new industry-led recycling schemes for batteries, electrical and electronic products, photovoltaic systems and plastic oil containers.

— $20 million to find new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and waste through the Cooperative Research Centres Projects grants program.

— $16 million to support the Pacific Ocean Litter Project, working with neighbours in the Pacific to reduce plastics and other waste in the ocean.

— Up to $5.8 million for a range of initiatives through the Environment Restoration Fund to support Clean Up Australia, Keep Australia Beautiful, the Australian Council of Recycling, Planet Ark, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and OzHarvest.

— Up to $5 million through the Environment Restoration Fund for Conservation Volunteers Australia to coordinate community campaigns to clean up plastic waste in beaches and rivers.

— Continuing to work with state, territory and local governments on opportunities to get more recycled content into road construction – building on the funding provided to the Australian Road Research Board in the 2019-Budget.

The industry will now have to wait and see if the Coalition’s promises are put into action.

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Budget allocates $3.8 billion to Department of Environment

Last night’s federal budget announcement saw $3.8 billion allocated to the Department of the Environment and Energy.

From the allocation, $3.5 billion will go towards the Climate Solutions Package, while $100 million will be channelled into the Environment Restoration Fund.

Environment Minister Melissa Price said funding for the Climate Solutions Package would be used to ensure the government meets its Paris commitment, reducing emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030.

According to Ms Price, $2.0 billion will go towards the Climate Solutions Fund, which is expected to reduce emissions by more than 100 million tonnes.

The Climate Solutions Fund will build upon the previous Emissions Reduction Fund, which saw landfill operators earn carbon credits through the conversion of methane to energy and carbon dioxide.

When organic matter in landfill waste decomposes it releases methane, which if not collected enters the atmosphere. Carbon credits therefore work to incentives investment in gas to energy initiatives.

The Environment Restoration Fund is designed to support local councils and state governments deliver projects to protect and remediate Australia’s environment.

Ms Price said the funds $100 million allocation will be used to support practical action on waste and recycling.

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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.

Consumers expect sustainable packaging from industry: research

Consumers are aware of the problems caused by packaging waste but expect the industry to provide more sustainable options, according to research launched by packaging company Pact Group.

The research has found 91 per cent of Australians are concerned about the impact of packaging, with 76 per cent more concerned about packaging waste now than they were five years ago.

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Despite this, the research has found that less than half would be willing to pay more for a product with environmentally friendly packaging.

Pact Group, Executive Chairman Raphael Geminder said that Australia’s packaging industry needs smarter packaging waste solutions, with consumer sentiment shifting and government action forthcoming.

“We can no longer simply rely on consumers to solve the problem, we need government and industry working side by side to create scaled, standardised solutions to tackle packaging waste,” Mr Geminder said.

“In order to realise this vision, we require industry-wide collaboration to simplify the recycling process for consumers.

“An integrated approach will allow us to deliver innovation at scale so new solutions do not simply increase cost and lose value. Consumers should not be forced to choose between value and sustainability,” he said.

The company has announced its own targets to meet those outlined by the Environment Minister Melissa Price last week. Pact Group aims to eliminate all non-recyclable packing, offer 30 per cent recycled material across its portfolio and provide solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle all single use secondary packaging in supermarkets by 2025.

Mr Geminder said there are tangible, incremental changes that can be made today, with longer-term changes which will require cross industry collaboration.

“I will be calling on my industry colleagues to work together with us on common platforms, agreed standards and processes that will create a framework for manufacturers, brand owners and retailers to solve problems systematically,” he said.

Image Credit: Pact Group. Pictured Raphael Geminder (L) and Melissa Price (R)

New national targets set within 2025 packaging plan

New targets within the 2025 plan have been outlined alongside the launch of the Australasian Recycling Label.

The new targets aim to aim to increase the average recycled content within all packaging by 30 per cent and phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives.

Additionally, the targets aim to ensure 70 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled or composted.

These build on the previous announcement of a target to achieve 100 per cent of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.

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The targets build on commitments made by federal, state and territory environment ministers and the President for the Australian Local Government Association earlier in April this year.

Industry representatives and environmental groups support the targets including Aldi, ALGA, Amcor, Australia Post, Boomerang Alliance, Chep, Close the Loop, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Detmold, Goodman Fielder, Lion, Metcash, Nestlé, Orora, Pact Group, Planet Ark, Redcycle, Simplot, Suez, Tetra Pak, Unilever, Veolia, Visy and Woolworths.

Woolworths General Manager, Quality and Sustainability Alex Holt highlighted the importance of this collaboration.

“We’re really pleased to see such a wide range of industry players come together in support of such a worthy goal. Moving towards a circular economy won’t be easy, but we have the right mix of organisations on board to help make it a reality,” Mr Holt said.

Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price congratulated the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and the initial working group of businesses that are supporting the targets.

Minister Price has also officially launched the Australasian recycling Label to help achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets, developed by Planet Ark, PREP Design and APCO to help consumers better understand how to recycle packaging.

“The Australasian Recycling Label provides people with easy to understand recycling information when they need it most, in those few seconds when they are deciding what bin the package goes in. The label removes confusion and reduces waste,” Ms Price said.

With more than 200 recycling labels currently being used in Australia, the new system aims to reduce confusion and contamination in the waste stream.

Nestlé Head of Corporate and External Relations Oceania Margaret Stuart said the inclusion of the label on Netslé’s packaging was a demonstration of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

“More and more people who buy our products want to know how to manage packing waste, so we have committed to implementing the Australasian Recycling Label across all our locally controlled products by 2020,” Ms Stuart said.

Unilever ANZ CEO Clive Stiff has said the announcements are a critical step towards greater collective action on increasing the nationals recycling capability.

“Plastic packaging waste represents an $80 billion loss to the global economy every year. The benefits of the circular economy approach are clear for business and the environment – the more effective use of materials means lower costs and less waste,” Mr Stiff said.

“We are proud to have recently announced that bottles of popular Unilever products like OMO, Dove, Sunsilk, Surf and TRESemmé will soon be made with at least 25% Australian recycled plastic.

“This is just the start for us and no business can create a circular economy in isolation. Heavy lifting is needed from all players involved – suppliers, packaging converters, brand owners, policy makers and retailers, collectors, sorters and recyclers. We need a complete shift in how we think about and use resources.”

Microbeads being phased out of Australian cosmetics

Microbeads are being phased out of cosmetics and personal care products in Australia, according to an independent assessment.

The federal government commissioned the assessment which found that out of approximately 4400 relevant supermarket and pharmacy products inspected, only six per cent contained microbeads.

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This follows the challenge set by Australia’s environmental ministers to voluntarily phase out microbeads in cosmetic and personal use products.

The independent assessment found no shampoos, conditioners, body washes or hand cleaners containing microbeads, the remaining six per cent were not “rinse off” products and posed a smaller risk to the environment.

Microbeads are plastic particles of around one millimetres in diameter and are often found in exfoliants. They can have a damaging effect on marine life and the environment because of their ability to attract toxins, pollute waterways and transfer up the food chain.

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the best solution is to prevent them from entering marine environments in the first place.

“Governments have been working with industry to do just this since the Meeting of Environment Ministers in 2016,” he said.

“While our original target was 90 per cent, we will continue the good work done to date until 100 per cent of cosmetics and personal care products are microbead-free,”

“I thank industry for their cooperation and look forward to continuing to work with them until we reach 100 per cent.”

Assistant Minister for the Environment Melissa Price said she was pleased with how well the phase out had gone, considering it was an optional phase out of products by the industry.

“I am really pleased to see such a strong industry response, given the damage that microbeads can do to our marine ecosystems,” Assistant Minister Price said.

“This is further proof that industry is capable of making the right choices when it comes to environmental protection.”

The Federal Government will commission a further assessment on late 2018 to provide an additional level of assurance of the success of the phase out.