Waste Expo: the next generation

Waste Expo Australia is set to explore the future of waste and resource recovery in the country, with presentations from the Australian Council of Recycling and South Australian EPA.

Waste Expo Australia’s 2018 event saw record attendance numbers, with more than 4500 trade visitors – a growth of over 28 per cent from the previous year.

While national in focus, the expo’s Victorian location is sure to inspire enthusiastic conversations about current industry challenges and the role of government in addressing them.

As one of the most comprehensive free-to-attend conferences for the waste management, resource recovery and wastewater sectors, Waste Expo is returning to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre 23-24 October.

The conference will feature two individual programs, the Oceania Clean Energy Solutions Waste Summit Conference and the EnviroConcepts Wastewater Summit.

The waste summit will cover six targeted streams from resource recovery, waste-to-energy, collections, landfill and transfer stations, construction and demolition waste and commercial and industrial waste.

Organisers have curated a diverse schedule of speakers from local and state governments, industry bodies and the private sector.

Attendees will hear from Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, EPA Victoria Chief Executive Officer Cathy Wilkinson and Sustainability Victoria Director Resource Recovery Matt Genever. Campaspe Shire Council, City of Holdfast Bay, Yarra City Council and Albury City Council will also present case studies.

Ahead of the 2019 expo, Waste Management Review spoke with two presenters, Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel and South Australian EPA Regulatory Reform Projects Manager Steven Sergi, about their perspectives on the future of waste and resource recovery in Australia.

Building domestic markets

While discussions of recycling generally centre on social and environmental benefits, a strong and sustainable sector is essential for national economic growth.

According to Pete, economic drivers for recycling are dependent on competitive material prices and healthy end markets, both of which have been challenged recently.

Pete explains that the future sustainability of domestic recycling systems relies squarely on greater demand for recycled material – which will be the focus of his Waste Expo presentation.

“Recycling is three arrows: collection, sorting and remanufacturing, it’s the third arrow we have to incentivise better,” he says.

Pete says the waste and recycling sector has been nimble in response to China’s National Sword Policy.

“Australia actually increased exports to other parts of the world last year, but that can’t last forever,” he says.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australian waste exports increased to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand in 2017.

Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since started reviewing their waste import policies, however, highlighting the need to establish substitute domestic markets.

Pete says dealing with the structural shake up of export markets requires investment in better infrastructure to drive recyclate material demand.

“With Asia changing the rules of the game, we need to build more recycling resilience and sovereignty in Australia,” he explains.

“It’s great to see proactivity by states who have formerly been accused of dragging their feet on recycling, but what’s desperately, and frankly, ridiculously, missing, is national coordination.”

Regulatory reform

As the waste and resource recovery industry calls for greater regulatory certainty on a national level, multiple state governments are implementing new policy.

In 2017, South Australia passed the Environment Protection (Waste Reform) Amendment Bill. The amendment gave the EPA greater powers to tackle illegal dumping and stockpiling, which, according to Steven, will assist resource recovery growth by penalising illegal operators.

Steven’s Waste Expo presentation, regulatory reform with the South Australian waste and recycling sector: Where to next, will explore these changes.

“The South Australian Government is seeking to help realise the economic potential from innovation in waste and resource recovery technologies, while at the same time protecting the environment,” Steven says.

“South Australia has introduced many waste management reforms over the past decade that have successfully promoted resource recovery in our state and established our reputation as a leader in this field.”

South Australia has one of the highest recovery rates in the country, 83 per cent – 87 per cent of which is reprocessed locally.

Steven says heightening EPA powers shows a commitment to establishing a robust regulatory environment, which supports sustainable waste and resource recovery operations.

“Key amendments through this act include explicit powers to enable regulation of material flow and stockpiling, expansion of the circumstances when financial assurances can be used and improved and proportionate powers for tackling breaches of licence conditions,” he says.

Steven’s presentation will also address the EPA’s commitment to establishing a robust regulatory environment.

“To support the sustainable operation of the waste and resource recovery industry, the EPA will support the best use of secondary materials in accordance with the waste management hierarchy, to provide certainty and fairness to lawful operators,” he says.

Cory McCarrick, Waste Expo Director, says no other waste event in Australia gives access to such thought-provoking content for free.

“Waste Expo Australia is about pushing boundaries and challenging operations and businesses to innovate, not just through technology but through workforce practices and policy reform,” Cory says.

“We have seen a large increase in speakers and suppliers taking part in this event and we are excited to address the major issues facing the industry this year.”

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Indonesia sends back waste containers

The Indonesian Government has announced that it will ship 547 containers of contaminated waste back to countries of origin, including 100 housing Australian material.

According to a Fairfax Media report, customs officers, police and environment department officials opened containers of contaminated Australian waste for the media on 18th Sept.

The containers contained mostly plastic, with some food waste and visible liquid.

Indonesian Customs Director General Heru Pambugi said three Australian companies had imported the contaminated plastic waste, including one that did not posses required import documents.

Nine containers have already been shipped, with the remainder to follow in separate shipments.

In response, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said WMRR acknowledges and agrees that Australia should be managing its own waste and resources.

Ms Sloan said while Australia does recycle millions of tonnes of waste on-shore, it needs to grow its demand and use of recovered resources.

“Global shifts have resulted in Australia needing to find homes domestically for our recyclables and this is certainly a positive aspiration,” Ms Sloan said.

“Industry does not want to export these materials, and we know that there are many good reasons to sell these materials right here in Australia and turn them back into packaging.”

Ms Sloan noted that contamination, which is a concern for international importers of recycled materials, is primarily a result of people using their household bins incorrectly.

“Of course, industry and government can and should do more, but so can every citizen by being more diligent about what they put into the yellow bin,” Ms Sloan said.

“What is still lacking in Australia, which is the fundamental reason material has been exported in the past, is greater certainty of remanufacturing pull.”

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said media reports about Australian recyclate material being returned by Indonesian authorities inappropriately undermines recycling efforts

“Less than 1.5 million tonnes of material from kerbside recycling was exported to overseas companies to make into products. Of that, some 65,000 tonnes went to Indonesia because buyers there bought it as feedstock for their factories – and there’s a lack of local demand for it,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Some 500 containers marked to be sent back by Indonesia that apparently don’t meet technical specifications is not substantial in the successful scheme of Australians’ recycling efforts.”

Mr Shmigel said off-spec material occurs in every industry.

“It is totally wrong to suggest that Australian recyclate export material is ‘toxic’. It is more likely to be material from our households that’s been earnestly but mistakenly put in the yellow bin,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Moreover, under the Prime Minister’s leadership, COAG has very recently decided – and industry has strongly welcomed – that material should no longer be exported and that we should become fully responsible for and more sovereign with our recycling.”

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Next steps for Recyclers’ Accreditation Program

A detailed analysis of the how, what and who of the Australian Council of Recycling’s (ACOR) voluntary Recyclers’ Accreditation Program (RAP) will be commissioned.

According to ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, the analysis will include a feasibility study through consultancy firm Equilibrium.

“The recycling industry has a long history of innovation, continual improvement and collaboration along supply chains, with governments and the community,” Mr Shmigel said.

“RAP is the next logical step and we look forward to working with government and other partners to make sure it is accepted and drives performance and confidence.”

According to Mr Shmigel, RAP will aim to ensure high standards of operational performance and accountability, stakeholder and community confidence, complementary arrangements to policy directions and regulatory obligations and continual improvement in recovery rates.

When established, RAP aims to cover the collection, transport, sorting, pre-treatment and storage of recyclable materials, the remanufacturing of those materials into recycled content products and the management of supply chain relationships, including those with export partners.

Additionally, RAP will have reference to product stewardship schemes, spheres of influence in the recycling supply chain and the proximity principal.

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Tasmania releases Waste Action Plan

Tasmania’s draft Waste Action Plan, released 29 June, sets a framework to develop the state’s recently announced CDS and a statewide landfill levy.

Acting Environment Minister Elise Archer has opened the draft for public consultation.

In a cabinet reshuffle last week, it was announced Treasurer Peter Gutwein would soon replace Ms Archer as Environment Minister.

“With a growing population and the recent restrictions of recycling product exports to China, it is important Tasmania takes a more strategic approach to the way it manages waste into the future,” Ms Archer says.

“Dealing with our waste is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and the community.”

According to Ms Archer, the proposed state wide levy is set to replace multiple council levies already in place, with funds to be reinvested in waste and recycling infrastructure and programs.

“The draft plan also contains a series of ambitious, but achievable, waste management, litter and recycling targets that align with targets in the recently approved National Waste Policy,” Ms Archer says.

Other proposed measures include ensuing 100 per cent of packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, reducing waste generation by 10 per cent per person by 2030 and achieving an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030.

Additionally, the plan outlines efforts to ensure Tasmania has the lowest incidence of littering in the country by 2023.

The state government will also work with local government and businesses to phase out problematic plastic by 2030 and reduce the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 50 per cent by 2030.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the draft illustrated smart and progressive reform.

Mr Shmigel highlighted the CDS, waste reduction goals and the commitment to a new administrative structure for waste management as particularly positive.

“ACOR also thinks it’s terrific innovation that the Treasurer Peter Gutwein will also be Environment Minister,” Mr Shmigel said.

“It helps recognise that recycling is a great way to combine ‘green’ and ‘gold’ as it is both an economic and environmental positive.”

Mr Shmigel is calling on government to set the new levy at a sufficient level to drive positive results and industry investment, and make commitments to the positive procurement of recycled content products to boost local manufacturers.

Additionally, Mr Shmigel has encouraged state government to ensure the proposed resource recovery management body involves both local government and industry experts.

“This new plan can start turning the Apple Isle from a recycling laggard to a recycling leader, and that’s something our industry and no doubt the people of Tasmania support,” Mr Shmigel said.

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the plan shows a strategic approach to tackling waste, and highlighted its framework for addressing identified priorities.

“WMRR is pleased that Tasmania finally has a waste and resource recovery strategy and in releasing the plan, the minister has acknowledged that waste management is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and community,” Ms Sloan said.

“The minister should also be congratulated for listening to industry about the importance of a levy as an economic tool for prioritising resource recovery, as well as working with industry and the community to design and set the levy. This is a show of great leadership.”

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ACOR’s recycling reboot

Waste Management Review speaks to the Australian Council of Recycling about how its new board reflects the new reality of recycling.  

Read moreACOR’s recycling reboot

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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Liberal Party releases waste and recycling policy

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that if elected, the Liberal Government will invest $203 million to increase recycling and reduce waste, protect Australia’s biodiversity and restore waterways

Mr Morrison said he wants to ensure the protection of Australia’s environment for future generations.

“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.”

The government’s waste and recycling initiatives 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.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the government’s new recycling policy was a win for the industry.

“With the kerbside recycling part of our sector under pressure, this package is an appropriate, awesome and advantageous investment in Australian recycling’s domestic sustainability now and into the future,” Mr Shmigel said.

“The Coalition has kicked one strongly through the policy posts that will result in less waste to landfill, recycling industry co-investment, community confidence in their efforts, value-adding jobs in regional centres and resource security in a competitive world.”

Mr Shmigel said the Labor Party’s recycling policy was also strong and substantial, with commitments in the areas of industry infrastructure, product stewardship and procurement.

“Australian voters, some 90 per cent of whom voluntarily participate in recycling, can be confident that both our major parties and the Greens have provided substantive policies for this election,” Mr Shmigel said.

“All three choices are positive and ACOR will compile a comparative scorecard based on its 10 point plan in the next week.”

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ACOR backs Labor’s waste minimisation policy

Labor’s proposed $290 million waste minimisation policy has received support from the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the proposal was a bold boost for recycling and remanufacturing in Australia.

The policy calls for a national ban on single use-plastic bags and microbeads from 2021 and outlines the creation of a National Container Deposit Scheme.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he will consult with states, territories and industry on how to best implement the proposals.

“This will create a consistent approach across the country – following moves of many state and territories to phase out single-use plastic bags, as well as manufacturers phasing out microbeads,” Mr Shorten said.

Mr Shorten also announced the establishment of a National Waste Commissioner, a $60 million National Recycling Fund and a $15 million investment to assist nearby counties clean up the pacific ocean.

Mr Shmigel said independent modelling commissioned by ACOR shows Labor’s policy has the potential to divert millions of tonnes from landfill to recycling, create 300 new jobs in regional Australia and reduce greenhouse gases.

“The initiative will lift Australia from its 17th position in the world in terms of recycling rates and let us grow the sector from the current 50,000 jobs.”

Mr Shmigel said the policy’s direct investment in infrastructure to decontaminate recycling, building of home-grown markets and expedition of product stewardship schemes were particularly significant.

“It speaks to the 88 per cent of Australians who told a recent survey they want a more pro-active recycling policy,” Mr Shmigel said.

Director of the Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel said the policy doesn’t go far enough however, stressing the need for ‘buy recycled’ tax incentives and mandatory rules for recycled content in products.

‘’An important piece of the puzzle is mandatory rules for recycled content in products. This needs to extend beyond government to the private sector. It’s the only way to cement reprocessing of waste into the economy and save resources and the environment. Anything less is fiddling at the edges.

‘’The introduction of a plastic pollution reduction strategy to set a future direction to reduce single use plastics wasted or littered should have been included,” Mr Angel said.

“The public and many industry sectors recognise that packaging is a significant problem, but the problem includes all single use and disposable plastic waste.’’

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Mandatory product stewardship cost on consumers calculated

A new analysis for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) by independent consultancy firm Equilibrium has estimated the cost of mandatory product stewardship schemes on consumers.

The analysis looked at mandatory product stewardship approaches for different products, and estimated the potential dollars per unit that a mandatory scheme would cost.

Under the current Product Stewardship Act 2011, schemes can be established for a variety of different products and materials to lower their lifecycle impacts.

Mandatory schemes involve enabling regulations to be made that require some persons to take specific action on products, according to the analysis. This could include restricting the manufacture or import of products, prohibiting products from containing particular substances, labelling and packaging requirements and other requirements for reusing, recovering, treating or disposing of products.

For a mandatory e-waste scheme, the cost is estimated to be between $1.55 and $1.85 for an e-waste unit size equivalent product of 0.75 kilograms. For mattresses, the cost of a mattress unit (standard double size) would be between $14.50 to $16.50. A mandatory tyre scheme would cost about $3.50 to $4.00 equivalent passenger units.

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ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the Australian community has long supported recycling and overwhelmingly wants to be able to recycle more products and items.

“This new data shows that we can do so affordably. In all cases, the cost of recycling these items is likely to be lower than two per cent of their consumer price. Therefore, cost concerns should not be a key barrier to action by our policy-makers,” he said.

Mr Shmigel said that recycling of these items is a well-established practice overseas, including in much less developed countries, and it is difficult to understand why it is not here too.

“Indeed, the formal review of Australia’s Product Stewardship Act has disappeared and is significantly overdue, the new National Waste Policy has a blank space for product stewardship, and there has been no news following ministers’ apparent discussion of product stewardship at the December 2018 Meeting of Environment Ministers.”

ACOR also believes the major political parties need to make commitments in the areas of recycling infrastructure investment, incentives for and procurement of recycled content products and community education. It has submitted industry analysis for consideration.

Equilibrium Managing Director Nick Harford said that while they can be improved, the current co-regulated TV, computer and mobile phone product stewardship schemes are producing good results. He added that there has been no demonstrable consumer concern about their cost.

“While the current schemes are not mandatory, and research estimates that mandatory schemes may have higher administration costs, the estimated cost per unit in relation to the total product cost is generally reasonable,” he said.

The analysis of the potential impacts of mandatory schemes covered factors including:

  • Collection and transport
  • Processing and recycling
  • Compliance, monitoring, audit and reporting
  • Safety and environmental management
  • Sales
  • Administration
  • Marketing, communications and education

ACOR releases agenda for 2019

The Australian Council of Recycling’s (ACOR) focus for 2019 will be promoting the uptake of recycled content products through industry-led projects, according to ACOR AGENDA 19 released by the peak body today.

Projects and partnerships under ACOR AGENDA 19 include an anti-contamination initiative for kerbside recycling, starting with NSW to improve the quality of materials needed for product manufacturing.

The agenda also comprises a recycling commodities index to provide greater certainty for recycled content manufacturing industry participants. ACOR will also launch a recycled contents products directory and online trading platform, in addition to a thought leadership initiative on incentives for the use of recycled content.

ACOR’s plan will see it compile and promote research on: jurisdictional comparison of “waste” definitions; jurisdictional comparison of recyclate to roads specifications; jurisdictional comparison of waste levy reinvestment and the location of industry facilities by electorates.

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A voluntary industry accreditation will also be rolled out across the supply chain and industry-provided training for regulatory and public policy partners.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that if society is not buying recycled content products, then Australians are not really recycling.

“The board of ACOR has decided our best contribution are positive and practical projects that increase the usage of products with recycled content. It is market demand that will ensure the full economic, social and environmental benefits of recycling, and put the circularity into the circular economy,” he said.

Mr Shmigel said in its own businesses, the recycling sector is massively innovative, enterprising and results-driven and ACOR AGENDA 19 initiatives reflect that industry ethic.

“While having the right public policy is important for recycling’s future, and ACOR will continue to advocate, we are determined to positively and practically act, and not just talk, in the recycling sector’s best interests,” Mr Shmigel said.

“We are an industry that employs some 50,000 people and may generate some $20 billion of value. It’s time we and our partners take that to the next level, including through ACOR AGENDA 19.”

You can read the agenda here.