Waste of the nation

Waste Management Review speaks to Australia’s first Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans about his future priorities.

The Liberal Government’s May re-election saw a shakeup of the Department of Environment and Energy. While Energy Minister Angus Taylor retained his position, Melissa Price, who served as Environment Minister from August 2018, was replaced with Sussan Ley.

Cabinet shakeups aren’t uncommon following an election, and as such, the appointment of a new Environment Minister was not particularly noteworthy on its own. What was significant, however, was the introduction of an entirely new parliamentary portfolio, the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management.

The role was awarded to Queensland Member of Parliament Trevor Evans, who has held the seat of Brisbane since 2016. He is one of the youngest MPs elected to the House of Representatives.

Waste Management Review spoke to Trevor in June.

According to Trevor, Minister Ley will still hold final responsibility for all matters inside the portfolio. His role as assistant minister will be to assist in the fulfilment of waste targets and policy drafting.

“As my title suggests, I have a particular focus on the government’s initiatives and funding around waste reduction and recycling, and some of our environmental management,” Trevor explains.

“This new role is a really exciting one for me personally, as I’ve always been an incredibly passionate advocate for Australia’s unique environment.”

As a child, Trevor says he wanted to be a zookeeper because of his love of Australian animals.

“Instead, I find myself in the house of animals that is Parliament House,” he jokes.

“I’m taking the passion that I’ve always had for our local environment, building on a lot of local work I’ve done in my Brisbane electorate on conservation and bringing those passions to this role.”

Highlighting the importance of industry led initiatives was a common thread throughout Waste Management Review’s conversation with Trevor, who before entering politics served as National Retail Association President.

“I’ve done a lot of work at the coalface when industry meets consumer demand,” Trevor says.

“I was there at quite an interesting time, where industry and the retail sector were starting to react and plan for the first product stewardship schemes.”

Trevor says it’s this background that informs his belief that private sector is best placed to deal with the complexities of individual product areas and international supply chains.

Trevor plans to use his new position to grow conversations around waste reduction and recycling.

“I believe there is a huge information and awareness gap at present, where many members of the public are incredibly passionate and want to be as involved as they possibly can,” he says.

“I think one of the key aspects of the role will be helping to bridge that gap. I’ll be doing everything I can to help everyone have the best information at their fingertips.”

In the lead-up to the federal election, the waste industry saw unprecedented bi-partisan support.

An ‘election score card’ created by multiple industry associations showed that both major parties had outlined substantive commitments to recycling infrastructure, establishing local markets for recycled content and developing solutions for plastic waste.

So after the election, the waste industry was not asking, ‘what policies will the Liberal Party propose?’ but rather, ‘will they make good on their promises?’

Trevor says the central responsibility of the assistant minister portfolio will be the rollout of the government’s $167 million package of initiatives and funding programs.

Programs include the $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund, $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund and $20 million for plastic recycling through Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) grants.

“On top of that, I have responsibility for the Federal Government’s role in the new National Waste Policy,” Trevor says.

“The first priority in that space is to work with the states and territories on the action plan.”

The National Waste Policy, which provides a framework for collective action on waste by industry, government and communities, was updated in 2018 after the failure of the 2009 policy.

The policy highlights the importance of interjurisdictional collaboration and proposes targets such as reducing total waste generation by 10 per cent by 2030. Other targets include an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all resource recovery streams by 2030, 30 per cent recycled content across all goods and infrastructure procurement by 2030 and phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2030.

During the election cycle, the Labor Party proposed mandatory targets for all government departments to purchase products made from recyclable material.

When asked by Waste Management Review whether the Liberal Party has plans to implement similar measures, Trevor says the biggest opportunity for government to pursue that idea would be through the National Waste Policy.

“Different states and territories and different levels of government will bring different things to the table there,” he says.

“You can expect that governments’ own procurement processes will be a big part of the negotiations in terms of how all levels of government come to the table to achieve the National Waste Policy.”

While Trevor didn’t confirm specific procurement figures, government has committed to working with state, territory and local government on getting more recycling content in road construction – building on the $2.6 million 2019 budget allocation to the Australian Road Research Board.

Trevor says developing the National Waste Policy implementation plan, securing appropriate funding and setting robust targets will be his core concerns over the coming year. He adds that the policy is still in the planning stage.

“The most important priority in that space is to work with the states and territories on the action plan to underpin the strategy.”

LOCAL INDUSTRY

According to Trevor, the Federal Government is heavily invested in improving recycling rates and growing the local recycling industry.

“For us, the centrepiece for our efforts to grow a local recycling industry is the $100 million in funding we are proving to support proposals and more local industry in the recycling chain,” he says.   

The Australian Recycling Investment Fund is a new initiative, which Trevor says is designed to support the manufacturing of low-emission and energy-efficient recycled content products, including recycled content plastics, paper and pulp.

The fund will be administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which according to Trevor, will receive guidelines from government about the mandate and how to best invest in new industry.

Whether there were any specific projects in the investment fund pipeline, Trevor says not yet.

“There will be a period of time where we will ensure that scheme is set up and properly instructed with key criteria from government. Then there will no doubt be invitations put to industry to participate in that process,” he says.

Trevor says government have also provided a further $20 million to the pre-existing CRC grants program, to support plastics innovation and research.

“CRCs are a place where the tertiary education and research sector come together with government and business to look at challenges in a shared way, and collaborate when it comes to ideas and innovation,” Trevor says.

“The grants are already delivering great results in many key industries to Australia’s future, so funding CRC work specifically to encourage research, in and around plastics, will lead to some really world-leading solutions here in Australia.”

Trevor says growing industry will be a central priority for his government, particularly given stresses caused by changes to international import regulations.

China’s National Sword policy is the obvious cornerstone. Other restrictions have taken place in India, which banned solid plastic imports in March, and Malaysia, which launched an investigation into international plastic imports in June.

“It is important to note that Australians want, and should expect, that our country supports international recycling supply chains,” he says.

According to Trevor, it is beneficial for Australia to be involved in international recycling chains, both on an economic and environmental level.

“What we have to be conscious of is that there are strict rules around the quality of waste streams being traded around the world,” he says.

“Where companies do the wrong thing, it’s very reasonable for us to expect there to be appropriate compliance and enforcement efforts. Companies that do the wrong thing let down not just their industry, but all Australians that want to see those recycling chains succeed.”

HARMONISATION

Talking about challenges that arise from a lack of centralised policy, specifically around waste levies and interstate transport, Trevor says harmonisation was one of many competing policy goals.

Additionally, Trevor says he will address considerations of the proximity principle at the meeting of environment ministers later this year.

“I can say – at this stage – I do see a case for harmonisation, or increased harmonisation, in many aspects of the waste and recycling industries,” Trevor says.

“There is a case to be made there, however, at this stage, while we are negotiating with the states and territories on the action plan, I’m not going to get too prescriptive about where that needs to be.”

In reference to the effectiveness of banning problematic waste streams, Trevor says state level initiatives have seen positive benefits.

He adds that changing consumer behaviours requires cooperation between government and industry, along with awareness at the small business level.

“I think blanket bans are a clunky policy tool. What’s better is to look at proactive ideas around true cost and substitution,” he says.

“There is certainly some scope for harmonisation between the different approaches between states and territories, and that’s something I hope to influence.”

Trevor makes notes of early state actions around single-use plastics. He adds rather than straight out banning plastic bags, which would come up against genuine questions of consumer convenience, commercial industry worked closely with consumers and government to move towards substitutes.    

“Now the attention, rightly, focuses on some of the heavyweight plastic bag substitutes that have come in, along with some of the definitions of compostability and biodegradability.”

In reference to the Product Stewardship Act review, Trevor says the act is very important piece of work.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity for government to work more closely with industry and look forward to finding ways to achieve real tangible outcomes for something that is very complex and serious,” he says.

Trevor says that while government is not in a position to reveal whether it is looking to introduce more mandatory schemes, it has put $20 million on the table to support the creation of new schemes via the Product Stewardship Investment Fund.

“There is always a debate around the nature of a scheme, in terms of whether they are industry-led, voluntary or mandatory. It is very much a ‘horses for courses’ approach,” Trevor says.

This article was published in the August edition of Waste Management Review. 

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Climate change impact: MRA Consulting

MRA’s Mike Ritchie speaks to Waste Management Review about the waste sector’s contribution to national emissions and its role in meeting Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.  

Read moreClimate change impact: MRA Consulting

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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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.

Read moreTreading the circular path

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.

 

Australians believe recyclables going to landfill: research

Most Australians across all states and demographics believe the recyclables they put into their council bins are ending up in landfill, according to new research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The series of surveys has also found that 49 per cent of people believe that green and eco-friendly efforts will not have an effect in their lifetime, with 63.8 per cent of those older than 65 seeing no benefits being realised.

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Key findings also report that 72.4 per cent of people would recycle more of the material if it was reliably recycled.

Confusion also surround which level of government is responsible for residential waste and recycling services, with some people thinking industry instead of government is responsible for waste management.

UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Director Veena Sahajwalla said rising stockpiles and increasing use of landfill, in the absence of a coordinated government solution to a waste problem, had not been lost on consumers.

“Each council is fending for themselves right across Australia and while the meeting of federal and state environment ministers earlier this year made an important announcement about a new National Waste Policy stating that by 2025 all packaging will be re-usable, compostable or recyclable, we don’t have to wait another seven years for this decision to come into effect,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“It is clear on this issue that people want action, and they want governments to invest and do something now.

“A number of councils and private business are interested in our technology but unless there are incentives in place, Australia will be slow to capitalise on the potential to lead the world in reforming our waste into something valuable and reusable.”

UNSW’s SMaRT Centre launched a demonstration e-waste microfactory in April, which is able to recover the components of discarded electronic items for use in high value products.

UNSW is also finalising a second demonstration microfactory, which converts glass, plastics and other waste materials into engineered stone products, which look and perform as well as marble and granite.

“Rather than export our rubbish overseas and to do more landfill for waste, the microfactory technology has the potential for us to export valuable materials and newly manufactured products instead,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“Through the microfactory technology, we can enhance our economy and be part of the global supply chain by supplying more valuable materials around the world and stimulating manufacturing innovation in Australia.”