Location, location, location essential to the future of C&D

Construction recyclers do most of the heavy lifting in Australian recycling, but several stones remain in the gears to drive its future, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The trend isn’t hard to spot, behind the successful recycling strategy of any city are construction and demolition (C&D) recycling companies recovering large material volumes. C&D waste generation in 2016-17 (the latest year available) was just over 20 million tonnes nationally, or 38 per cent of the waste produced in Australia by weight.

Recovery of C&D materials across major urban centres can be as high as 90 per cent. So C&D recyclers have taken a hard problem, and over the last decade, have thoroughly crushed it.

Despite this welcome progress, many stones remain in the gears that drive its future development.

In 2019, the NWRIC undertook a survey of key C&D recyclers to determine barriers to advancing recycling in this sector. Our research identified six key areas for improvement:

  1. Implementation of effective specifications for the use of recycled aggregates in infrastructure construction
  2. Competition with virgin products
  3. Inconsistent landfill levies and insufficient enforcement resulting in levy avoidance
  4. Planning frameworks which often fail to provide certainty of site tenure
  5. Poor waste data that can inhibit policy and investment decisions
  6. Market economics that inhibit greater recovery of C&D materials in regional areas

While several of these challenges are self-explanatory, a few are worth discussing in detail.

The first is that local and state land use planning can fail to provide the site tenure required for some of the state’s highest performing C&D recovery facilities. This is a major challenge, as for C&D recovery facilities to be financially sustainable, they must be set close to urban centres where the waste materials are generated and eventually reused. Minimising transport distances is a key driver to the success of these facilities.

Likewise, these facilities require a reasonable footprint to be able to manage the flow of materials through the process; from receival, sorting, processing to stockpiling the various grades of final products ready for reuse.

Unfortunately, many of these sites across Australia are being threatened by encroachment of urban or commercial development, and in some cases, are being closed by local councils to create parks.

To solve this problem, the NWRIC recommends that current waste and recycling infrastructure plans that provide for C&D recycling be formally incorporated into local and state planning regulations, so that precincts or green zones for such facilities are clearly identified and protected for the long term. To be effective, the location and duration of tenure of these ‘green zones’ must be agreed by all levels of government.

A second major challenge is waste levy avoidance in the C&D recovery sector. Construction recyclers charge a gate fee to cover the cost of sorting and processing the materials they receive. This gate fee must be lower than the cost of landfill. To reach this cost, typically a landfill levy is required.

Unfortunately, where there are landfill levies, there is also levy avoidance resulting in potentially recyclable material being dumped or transported vast distances outside levy zones. One prominent example is the illegal waste stockpile in Lara, Victoria. This site contains a massive stockpile of up to 320,000 cubic meters of construction and demolition waste, including materials such as timber, concrete, bricks, plaster, glass and ceramics.

If one cubic meter weighs half a tonne, then this stockpile represents a loss of more than $10 million in levy revenue.  To clean up this illegal dump of C&D waste, the Victorian Government has committed $30 million, the largest waste related budget item for Victoria in 2019.

To ensure the success of the C&D recovery sector, states must address levy avoidance urgently. Possible solutions include better inter-agency engagement (across Police, EPAs and the ATO) to monitor and prevent illegal activity, and more widespread use of regulatory tools like mass balance reporting and GPS tracking.  Setting levies so any differences do not encourage its movement from one region or state to another, or applying the levy portability principle (i.e. the levy liability is a point of generation not disposal) both within and across state and territory boundaries.

Finally, C&D recovery providers can also help to support other recycling streams, including the recovery and reuse of tyres, glass and used plastics. Where these products are not suitable for cradle to cradle recycling, they can be reused as a substitute material for civil construction works. This further diversifies the market opportunities for these recovered materials, which in the past have relied on limited opportunities locally and internationally, ended up in landfill or illegally dumped.

This is why integration of state resource recovery infrastructure plans into local and state land use planning regulations is critical to the future success of C&D resource recovery. By securing space and long term tenure for these facilities states and territories will ensure a viable industry that can supply materials to the ongoing infrastructure development and construction needs of Australia.

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NWRIC meets with ministers

Ministers met with the waste and recycling industry in Melbourne to discuss recycling challenges, developing markets for recycled materials, new infrastructure capacity and how waste levies should be managed and reinvested into the sector.

Federal Waste Reduction Assistant Minister Trevor Evans and Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio meet with National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) members and affiliated representatives on 6 August.

NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards said active collaboration between government and the waste and recycling industry was crucial to an effective sector.

“With recycling services under threat in Victoria, growing stockpiles across the country, exemptions revoked for the recovery of organics from mixed waste in NSW, now has never been a more important time for industry and government to work closely together,” Mr Richards said.

“Topics of discussion included the critical importance of long term infrastructure planning coordinated across all levels of government, as well as consistent, regular community education campaigns to rebuild community confidence in recycling.”

NWRIC Secretary Alex Serpo said NWRIC members suggested local procurement of recycled materials, and setting appropriate recycled content levels for packaging and civil construction, could revitalise domestic recycling.

Fuel manufacture and energy recovery projects were also discussed, with industry ready to deliver projects that recover embodied energy from unrecyclable materials, reduce greenhouse emissions and extend the life of landfills.

The role of waste levies in addressing current challenges was another topic of conversation.

“This included the need for states, territories and the Federal Government to develop a national levy pricing strategy through the Council of Australian Governments,” Mr Serpo said.

“This pricing strategy could prevent the inappropriate disposal and movement of waste, stop levy avoidance activities, and ensure the resource recovery industry is viable and competitive.”

NWRIC is calling on all state governments to be more transparent and accountable for the total amount of levies collected annually, what proportion of the levies are invested back into the waste and recycling sector and what outcomes are achieved.

Composting remains our biggest recycling opportunity

With all the recent discussion about plastic exports, it’s easy to forget that organics remains our single largest recycling opportunity, writes Rose Read CEO of the National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The numbers speak for themselves, according to the National Waste Report, Australia generated 30 million tonnes of organic material in 2016-17. Of this mass, about 6.7 million tonnes went to landfill (or 22 per cent) of which around 43 per cent is food waste according to the National Food Waste Baseline Report.

What are the benefits of composting?

There are many benefits to composting organics over sending them to landfill. Firstly, composting helps to recover nutrients and organic material that can regenerate soils, critical to agricultural productivity. Secondly, diverting organics from landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions, odour and leachate.

Composting can also save council’s and ratepayers considerable expense. In the case of councils and shires that already have a kerbside garden organics recovery services, food can also be added at little cost, which currently can make up as much as 40 per cent of a kerbside rubbish bin.

Where is composting today?

Currently, about 42 per cent of households nationally have access to kerbside organics collection service according to the National Waste Report and 15 per cent have access to food and garden collection Services (FOGO).

South Australian households have the highest access to organic kerbside collections at 92 per cent, NSW 60 per cent and Victoria 56 per cent as reported by the federal Department of Environment and Energy in its report ‘Analysis of Australia’s municipal recycling infrastructure capacity’.

Strategically, each jurisdiction has a different approach to advancing their organics recovery and only Victoria has a dedicated organics resource recovery strategy. Overall, each state government has resource recovery targets for the next decade in the order of 65 per cent to 75 per cent for commercial and municipal streams. To achieve these targets the majority of tonnage will have to come from diverting organics including food waste to composting.

In terms of investment, NSW has the single largest funding program for organics recovery, with around $9 million per annum from 2017 to 2021 as part of the Waste Less, Recycle More. Victoria recently completed a $3.3 million organics recovery program and is currently focused on implementing its e-waste landfill ban and recycling challenges.

While Queensland does not have a specific organics’ program, funding is available through its Resource Recovery Industry Development Program. A key element of Western Australia’s new 2030 waste avoidance and resource recovery strategy is to have a consistent three bin kerbside collection system, including separation of food and garden organics from other waste categories, to be provided by all local governments in the Perth and Peel region by 2025.

How can we accelerate the diversion of organics from landfill in Australia?

While there is clear intent by each state and territory government to divert food and organics from landfill, the NWRIC, in consultation with the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has developed a four-part plan on how best to advance the composting sector.

1. Develop markets for compost

Further development of urban municipal and commercial markets has the potential to utilise large volumes of compost. Key markets include mine site rehabilitation and urban redevelopment such as highways. However, long term, agriculture has the potential to be the largest market for compost, improving soil carbon, providing healthy soils and promoting sustainable food production. Coordinated research and action that links organics diversion with the direct benefits of compost and soil carbon in agriculture is required to develop this market.

2. Long term planning for siting and protecting organic recycling facilities

In order to meet the recycling targets proposed in the state and national waste policies, Australia will need many new organics recycling facilities. The creation of organics recycling facilities requires appropriate sites and surrounding land buffers that are protected for the life of their operation. It is important that these sites are provisioned for in local and state government plans.

3. Reduce contamination in municipal and commercial waste derived compost

Compost derived from household and commercial bins can be contaminated with plastics and other undesirable materials. Through improved education and product stewardship, contamination can be reduced, and clean compost produced. Equally important will be ensuring that all compostable packaging used complies with Australian Standards for home composting AS 5810-2010 and or industrial composting AS 4736-2006 and is clearly labelled.

4. Enforcement of nationally consistent standards for the outputs from organics processing.

While most operators manufacture high quality organic products the presence of substandard products and facilities can undermine the market and damage consumer confidence. Therefore, the enforcement the existing standard for composting output AS4454 – 2012, Composts, soil conditioners and mulches is critical.

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NWRIC presents at ALGA general assembly

At the Australian Local Government Association’s (ALGA) Your Community, Your Environment presentation, National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read highlighted the need to promote a shared approach to resource recovery and circular economies.

The presentation was held as part of ALGA’s National General Assembly in Canberra. Other speakers included APCO Government Partnership Manager Peter Brisbane, Planet Ark Head of Sustainable Resource Programs Ryan Collins, Lake Macquarie Council Deputy CEO Tony Farrell and Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan.

“Industry and local councils can work together to put recycling back on a sustainable pathway,” Ms Read said.

“Central to this shared approach are activities that will reduce contamination, such as consistent statewide community education programs, smarter ways to separate materials at source, removing toxic and dangerous items from bins and upgrading re-processing capacity at material recovery facilities.”

In addressing plastics, Ms Read identified a number of steps to help material recycling facilities remain viable.

“We need to upgrade our recycling facilities and sorting and reprocessing capacity, so they can produce higher quality outputs that meet producer specifications,” Ms Read said.

“It is vital that local, state and federal governments procure recovered mixed plastics for civil construction, and that packaging companies are required to meet minimum recycled content.”

Ms Read said there is also opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and improve soil quality if local councils work with industry, to set up food and organic collection services and composting facilities.

“Key to the success of increased organics recovery will be preventing contamination, establishing local markets for the compost produced and planning for recycling precincts in local council areas,” Ms Read said.

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Waste policy report card released

A detailed analysis of the Labor Party, the Coalition and the Greens election promises has been released.

Using criterion based analysis and independent scoring evaluations, the policy report card has determined all three parties are committed to upgrading innovative recycling infrastructure, establishing local markets for recycled content and dealing with plastic pollution.

According to the report card however, only minor commitments to establishing a circular economy and national regulatory arrangement have been made.

The report card was created by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), the Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN), the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) and the National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC), with independent consultancy from Equilibrium.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the election run up shows an unprecedented, tri-partisan and substantive response to the pressures felt in municipal recycling.

“Labor and the Coalition have come out neck and neck with good grades of C. The Greens also have a C, but less opportunity to realistically implement their vision,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Taken as a whole these policies recognise the landfill diversion, greenhouse gas reduction and jobs creation benefits of our $20 billion and 50,000 job industry.”

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said her organisation was particularly pleased with Labor’s commitment to establishing a National Waste Commissioner.

“This role is key to driving the national waste policy, collaboration across all levels of government and more regulatory consistency between states,” Ms Read said.

“However, NWRIC is concerned with the lack of commitment by the major parties to the use of co-regulatory powers for the Product Stewardship Act for batteries and all electronics.”

AIEN Executive Director Veronica Dullens said tri-partisan support showed recognition for the potential of the waste sector to drive environmental and economic outcomes.

“What is lacking is more specific recognition of the principles of a circular economy and more specific actions to move away from the ‘take, make and throw’ paradigm,” Ms Dullens said.

AORA National Executive Officer Diana De Hulsters said it was time to get serious about policy implementation.

“Given that 60 per cent of a household rubbish bin is potentially compostable, we would like to see comprehensive recycling targets put in place in the National Waste Policy,” Ms Hulsters said.

“Not only those for packaging, which is a minority part of the overall waste stream.”

Official Ratings:

—  All parties have presented credible and coherent policies and achieve a pass mark.

—  The Labor Party scores highly for a balanced suite of programs to support industry growth, recycled content products and work with local and state governments. It loses marks through not specifically committing to wide-ranging community engagement programs – overall achievement is a C.

— The Coalition scores highly for a significant commitment to industry investment and a circular economy approach, however loses marks for lack of recent implementation – overall achievement is a C.

— The Greens score highly with a very strong group of programs, but were marked down due to their inability to implement the proposals – overall achievement is a C.

Click to access the full Report Card.

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Quantifying the Victorian contribution

A recent study by the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) has quantified the economic contribution the sector makes to the Victorian economy.

The data follows the same modelling recently used by National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) state and territory affiliates Waste and Recycling Industry Queensland (WRIQ) and Waste and Recycling Industry Northern Territory (WRINT).   

The VWMA commissioned economist Nick Behrens, Director of Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions, to complete a report that breaks down the economic and social contribution of the waste management and secondary resources industry to the Victorian economy. 

VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said the interconnected waste and resource recovery network seen nationwide comprises a fleet of vehicles, other machinery and infrastructure assets to consolidate, process, recovery, treat, dispose or export waste which all aspects of the economy produce.

“I think that’s something the broader economy doesn’t always recognise,” Mr Smith said.

The Victorian snapshot shows that more than 1100 businesses create 23,000 direct Victorian jobs. The overall industry, including the government and private sector, creates an annual turnover of $3.7 billion. 

This contribution makes up $2.3 billion of Victorian gross state product of the state’s roughly $399 billion of gross state product. 

Mr Smith said that the report shows the waste sector provides an essential service similar to that of water, electricity and roads/logistics.

“This report is the first time we’ve articulated our benefit with data back to the community or to key parts of government at a local, state or federal level,” Mr Smith said.

“Membership with state-based associations such as the VWMA empowers us to act on our members’ behalves and for the interests of the sector. It’s through our members’ support that we’ve been able to carry out this research.”

Mr Smith said that the valuable data and information provides the VWMA with evidence to shape and define the state’s waste management and resource recovery narrative.

“It provides us with authoritative information about the sector which should not be underestimated when we frame the valuable contribution we make to the economy [direct and in-direct], the environment and society.”

The waste and resource recovery sector also supports the growing balance of the Sustainability Fund (sourced through landfill levies). 

“It’s really important to recognise the critical support role the sector plays in supporting the state government’s collection of landfill levies which we understand to be about $215 million a year. The Sustainability Fund is critical in funding the EPA, Sustainability Victoria and other agencies working to make Victoria safe, prosperous and sustainable.”

“The data sets highlight a compelling story about what the private sector’s stake in waste and resource recovery currently looks like. Our data indicates that state government contributions are minuscule when compared to the investments and contribution of the private sector.”

Mr Smith said that the report also highlights industry’s commitment to ensuring a sustainable and efficient waste and resource recovery network.

National Waste and Recycling Industry Council CEO Rose Read said that the report is an important step for the sector in telling its story about the benefits it delivers to the community, councils, the environment and businesses.

“I’m optimistic that other states will follow Victoria, Queensland and Northern Territory’s footsteps and adopt the same methodology developed by Queensland Economy Advocacy Solutions.”

Fast Facts

How the VWMA will use the data:

  • It will help contextualise and frame the broader contribution to Victoria
  • It will work with other associations to help inform the national contribution
  • It will use the data to engage with government, the media and politicians about the important role the sector plays.

How the waste sector can use the data:

  • When talking about their business, contribution and local benefits
  • Combine with other applications or documents that communicate the sector’s broader benefits.

How government can use the data:

  • In government reports or documents
  • To prevent duplications of existing work carried out by the private sector
  • To work with associations to better engage with businesses wanting to drive outcomes for the sector.

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NWRIC welcomes Coalition waste policy

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has issued a statement of support for the Coalition’s proposed waste and recycling policy.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the Coalition’s recent policy announcement would help facilitate a cleaner environment for all Australians.

“The announcement reveals a federal election which has seen the biggest tri-partisan commitment to waste and recycling in Australian history,” Ms Read said.

“The Coalition’s promises follow equally welcome commitments by the Labor Party and the Greens.”

Ms Read highlighted the Coalition’s $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund, Product Stewardship Investment Fund, $20 million investment in new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and commitment to continue working with state, territory and local governments on opportunities to get more recycled content into road construction.

Ms Read said while party commitments vary in focus and values, the lead up to the election has seen a recognition of the waste and recycling challenges facing Australia.

“This is welcome news for all Australians because irrespective of who they vote for, they all put their bins out,” Ms Read said.

“Furthermore industry’s priorities are clear, more jobs, better services and less pollution – there is really nothing to disagree with about delivering this essential community service.”

NWRIC is concerned however about the lack of targets for government procurement of recycled goods, incentives to producers to increase recycled content in their products and packaging or willingness to drive state harmonisation of waste regulations and levies.

“Having six states and two territories enforcing different laws, levies and standards limits industry investment in innovative waste management and resource recovery infrastructure and services essential to building a circular economy,” Ms Read said.

“Good policy combined with funding is the key to effective outcomes and greater certainty for industry investment.”

Ms Read said for the proposed Product Stewardship investment to achieve meaningful outcomes, it must be underpinned by smart, simple regulations that create a level playing field and ensure full producer engagement.

“The National Waste Recycling Industry Council is calling for the appointment of a National Waste Commissioner to drive these necessary reforms and a tri-partisan approach to harmonising the regulations framing our industry,” Ms Read said.

“This process has been a clear success for work health and safety and heavy vehicle laws.”

Ms Read said every household and business in Australia purchases waste services and most purchase recycling services.

“The Commonwealth can cut costs for all Australians and stimulate industry investment by driving collaboration between states, industry and producers and essential regulatory reforms,” Ms Read said.

“It is critical that whichever party wins the upcoming federal election that they work proactively with industry to create jobs, serve communities, protect workers and reduce pollution.”

Earlier in the election cycle NWRIC similarly praised Labor’s policy commitments, specifically noting the development of a national container deposit scheme, National Waste Commissioner and the $60 million investment in a National Recycling Fund.

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NWRIC releases statement in support of Labor waste policy

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has released a statement in support of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s proposed waste and recycling policy.

Labor’s proposal sets out a number of priorities to enhance waste and recycling services, six of which have been highlighted by NWRIC.

NWRIC praised Labor’s commitment to a national container deposit scheme, which includes inviting, but not mandating Victoria and Tasmania become part of an integrated national scheme.

Victoria and Tasmania are currently the only states without a state run container despot scheme in place.

The announcement of a National Waste Commissioner, funded with $15 million over six years, and the expansion of product stewardship schemes to include more e-waste, batteries and white goods were similarly praised.

The council also highlighted the proposed $60 million investment in a National Recycling Fund, and the setting of targets for government purchasing of recycled goods.

NWRIC also cited Labor’s commitment to provide an additional $10 billion in capital for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation over five years.

NWRIC’s statement said the proposal follows Labor’s national policy platform commitment to capture the economic opportunities of a harmonised and strategic national waste reduction and recycling policy, including appropriate energy recovery technologies.

Labor’s policy also commits to establishing a federal EPA and a new Australian Environment Act to replace the current Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Mr Shorten said the new act will aim to tackle inefficiencies, delays and hurdles in the current law, giving business more certainty while protecting the environment.

Presently there are eight different sets of laws and regulations governing waste management and recycling across Australia’s states and territories.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said every household and business in Australia purchases waste services, and most purchase recycling services.

“The Commonwealth can cut costs for all Australians by creating national, high quality regulations covering waste and recycling,” Ms Read said

“NWRIC is calling for a bi-partisan approach to harmonising the regulations protecting our industry.”

Despite welcoming the policy, Ms Read said NWRIC is concerned about Labor’s proposed roll back of the Emissions Reduction Fund.

“Through the Emissions Reduction Fund, a number of leading recycling initiatives have been funded, including returning composting to soils and harvesting renewable energy from biogas,” Ms Read said.

“Waste and recycling services are essential to all Australians. Therefore, it is critical that whichever party wins the upcoming Federal election – they work proactively with industry to create jobs, serve communities, protect workers and reduce pollution.”

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The NWRIC’s visionary policy

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council CEO Rose Read highlights the association’s priorities in 2019 and its long-term plan for resource recovery in Australia. 

Read moreThe NWRIC’s visionary policy