Industry associations respond to 60 Minutes recycling report

Waste management industry associations have released a statement contesting claims made in the 60 Minutes Sunday night program, Plastic not so fantastic.

Liam Bartlett’s 60 Minutes report claims much of Australian plastic waste is not being reused or recycled, but rather dumped, buried or burned in illegal processing locations in South-East Asia.

The program refers to Australia’s recycling industry as a ‘con,’ which according to industry associations doesn’t paint a full picture of the Australian recycling industry or its capacity, and includes a false claim that much of Australia’s plastic waste is being disposed of incorrectly.

Recycling groups including the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), the Australian Organics Recycling Association, Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW and National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) contributed to the statement — urging greater investment, regulatory reform and policy support from governments.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australia generated 67 million tonnes of waste last year, 37 million tonnes of which was recycled.

The report also shows 33 million tonnes of that recycling was undertaken within Australia, with plastic exports decreasing by 25 per cent.

It is estimated in the report that between 10 and 15 per cent of kerbside recycling cannot be recycled because it is contaminated with nappies, soft plastics, garden hoses, bricks and batteries.

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel said the program should not discourage the vast majority of Australians who regularly recycle.

“Australian recycling is highly successful despite some ill-conceived claims in the broadcast, in fact up to 90 per cent of material collected for recycling is made into new products,” Mr Shmigel said.

Plastic not so fantastic claims 71,000 tonnes of Australian recyclable plastic has been exported to Malaysia.

In response, Mr Shmigel said 71,000 tonnes represents less than two per cent of the 4 million tonnes that is actually exported and less than 0.2 per cent of the 37 million collected for recycling.

“If the claim that all these materials are not being properly processed is accurate, this is very concerning, as there are also legitimate processors in Malaysia,” Mr Shmigel said.

According to the statement, in response to the impacts of restrictions across Asia, the local recycling industry which employs more than 50,000 Australians and generates up to $15 billion in value, is currently making some of the most advanced recycling investments in the world.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the industry is investing in high-tech infrastructure to improve sorting and processing in order to produce high quality materials from recovered waste.

Ms Sloan is also advocating for a stronger domestic recycling system through a new labelling scheme to build community confidence.

“We need a Made with Australian Recycled Content label which will do two key things – empower the community to take action and ownership of the materials they consume, and incentivise manufacturers and brand owners to include recycled content in their packaging and products,” Ms Sloan said.

“This will create new markets for recycled materials and ensure a sustainable future for kerbside recycling, local resource recovery, and remanufacturing.”

Ms Sloan said the local industry is investing heavily and working collaboratively to upgrade local processing capacities which in the past were, to some extent, built to meet China’s previous specifications.

A recent Reachtel survey commissioned by ACOR found that almost 93 per cent of people said reducing waste and recycling products into new products was important to them and 87 per cent supported increasing recycling and reducing landfill by processing food and garden material from rubbish bins into useful products.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the community continuously votes in favour of recycling through its strong participation.

“We encourage householders to continue to separate and sort their recycling correctly to reduce contamination and realise the environmental and economic benefits of recycling,” Ms Read said.

Prime Creative Media has contacted 60 Minutes for comment.

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WMRR releases election plan

Ahead of the 2019 federal election on 18 May, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has released a five-point election plan.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said that as China, India and Indonesia enforce stricter contamination levels of imported commodities, the Australian waste management and resource recovery industry needs 1.2 million tonnes of remanufacturing capacity.

“China’s National Sword policy brought to the fore the need for Australia to focus on domestic processing and remanufacturing. It showed everyone where the gaps were and what issues we needed to fix,” Ms Sloan said.

“While industry is willing and ready to up recovery and remanufacture materials, and community has expressed a hunger for resource recovery, we need support and collaboration from all stakeholders, we especially need leadership from the Federal Government.”

WMRR is calling on everyone from industry, government and the community to support an ‘Made with Australian Recycled Material’ label to highlight and support the use and purchase of Australian recycled material.

Ms Sloan said Labor’s waste and recycling policy offers a ray of hope for the industry, highlighting its commitment to mandate recycled content targets, stimulate demand for recycled materials and develop a $60 million National Recycling and Circular Economy Fund.

“We need all government departments to mandate sustainable procurement of goods that include Australia recycled content, and to be held accountable for their procurement decisions,” Ms Sloan said.

“This is what government leadership looks like and with a top down approach, manufacturers will follow suit. Further, we need support for domestic remanufacturing not later, but now.”

WMRR’s five-point election plan:

1. Leadership in sustainable procurement and market development, creating a strong remanufacturing sector and supporting Australian job creation. Mandatory targets should be set to ensure a 30 per cent government procurement of recycled goods by 2020.

2. Strengthening product stewardship and extended producer responsibility schemes, including the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation implementing the “Made with Australian Recycled Material” label for all packaging. To create jobs and investment in Australia, the Federal Government needs to strengthen the laws and framework around extended producer responsibility and move to a mandatory scheme for recycled content in packaging

3. A national proximity principle to enable certainty, market development and investment in local jobs and infrastructure. The Federal Government needs to clarify the constitutional interpretation of the proximity principle and seek advice from the Commonwealth Attorney General on this matter as a priority.

4. A common approach to levies and industry development (with a minimum 50 per cent reinvestment.) WMRR is calling on the Federal Government to drive coordination across jurisdictions to harmonise policies and regulations, including a common approach for resource recovery exemptions and orders.

5. A whole-of-government approach to circular economy, including considering tax reform and import restrictions to support the sector. The Federal Government must use the levers unique to it in relation to areas such as taxation and importation to encourage the use of recycled materials.

WMRR has opened design submissions for a “Made with Australian Recycled Material” Label.

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WMRR Landfills and Transfer Stations Conference opens

More than 300 waste management and resource recovery operators have descended on Brisbane this week to discuss landfill and transfer station innovation, design, operation and regulation at the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia’s (WMRR) 2019 Australian Landfills and Transfer Stations Conference.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the organisation and its sponsors invested in the conference because they recognise that landfills play an important role and are integral to both environment and community safety.

“We must continue to ensure that Australia’s landfills are world’s best practice in order that we continue to maintain a network of high-quality engineered facilities that effectively manages our residual waste while ensuring human health and the environment are protected at all times.

“The role of landfills goes beyond the responsible disposal of residual waste. Landfills and transfer stations play a fundamental role during periods of service and economic disruption and post-disaster emergency waste management,” Ms Sloan said.

Queensland Minister for Environment Leeanne Enoch, who opened the conference, noted the groundswell of community support for effective waste management and resource recovery, and reiterated the Queensland Government’s commitment to transitioning to a circular economy.

“Queensland now has a waste levy after years of getting by without an effective market signal. The levy will bolster the recycling and resource recovery sector without a cost impact on community. It will lead to job creation and new industries that manufacture products using recycled content.

“The levy is just one vital component. The draft waste management and resource recovery strategy, which is currently out for consultation, sets the course for Queensland to become a zero-waste society where the waste we produce is reused and recycled as much as possible,” Ms. Enoch said.

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Minister to open Australian Landfill and Transfer Stations Conference

Queensland Government Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch will be sharing the government’s vision for the state’s waste and resource recovery industry at this week’s 2019 Australian Landfill and Transfer Stations Conference.

Hosted by the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), WMRR in a statement welcomed the Queensland Government’s new waste strategy and its commitment to a circular economy.

“There is no denying that Queensland will have to play catch-up, but the good news is that it has the benefit of hindsight and can learn fundamental lessons from its neighbours on the eastern seaboard,” the statement read.

“The Queensland Government certainly does not have its blinkers on and is asking the right questions. It is pleasing to see that the Department of Environment and Science is thinking about how to stimulate investment to build the economic opportunity that our essential waste management and resource recovery industry offers.”

She said the government’s decisions to date are a sign of things to come, including the potential growth of the state’s resource recovery and remanufacturing industries, which signals more jobs, less reliance on export markets and a boost to the local economy.

“Queensland can outshine the rest of Australia because the state has a minister who has an acute understanding of what needs to be done to build and sustain an integrated and efficient waste and resource recovery system, which undoubtedly includes the consideration and maintenance of well-managed landfills and transfer stations,” Ms Sloan said.

Ms Sloan said that Queensland was focusing on market development and infrastructure planning, which are sorely missing in NSW.

“Queensland has also committed to reinvesting 70 per cent of levy funds in industry, the environment and local government, going above and beyond the other States.

“Importantly, we are seeing plans for a whole-of-government approach, which WMRR has been harping on for years because waste and resource recovery is an essential industry and it is a shared responsibility.”

Ms Enoch will be giving the opening address at 8am on Wednesday, March 27 at the 2019 Australian Landfill and Transfer Stations Conference which will be held at the Pullman Mercure in Brisbane.

Queensland landfill levy legislation passes parliament

The Queensland Government has passed its Waste Reduction and Recycling (Waste Levy) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said Queensland was now one step closer to transitioning to a zero waste future.

The legislation passed today reintroduces a waste disposal levy for Queensland.

“Thanks to these new laws we will be able to improve our waste management, stop interstate waste, increase investment in industry, and create more jobs while protecting the environment,” she said.

“The Palaszczuk Government is also standing by our commitment that Queenslanders will not have to pay more to take out their wheelie bin every week. We are providing advance payments to councils over-and-above the rate of household waste that goes to landfill to ensure the costs are not passed onto ratepayers,” Ms Enoch said.

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“There is no doubt we need to do better. At the moment, we are generating more waste than we are growing in population and we are also recycling only 45% of the waste we generate, and this needs to change.”

Ms Enoch said because the waste levy will only be paid on waste that is disposed of to landfill, it will provide a valuable incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle waste as much as possible.

“Part of fighting the war on waste also means changing our way of thinking.

“We need to start seeing waste as a valuable resource and the waste levy will help attract investment, develop new industries and products, and grow jobs across the state in the resource recovery sector.

“Not only is diverting waste away from landfill better for our environment, it also provides more job opportunities. It is estimated that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste disposed in landfill, about three jobs are supported. But if that waste was recycled, this would support about nine jobs.”

Ms Enoch said 70 per cent of revenue raised from the waste levy will go back to councils, the waste industry, scheme start-up, and environmental programs.

“This is unprecedented in Australia. No other state or territory reinvests that much from their waste levies.”

The programs the Palaszczuk Government will fund from the levy include compliance work to reduce the risk of litter and illegal dumping, a school-based education program to help our kids learn about recycling, a regional recycling transport assistance program and support for the construction industry.

Waste Management & Resource Recovery Association Australia CEO Gayle Sloan said that the association appreciated the Queensland Government considering the far-reaching impacts the levy would have on stakeholders in the supply chain.

The WMRR had long upheld the positive impacts the waste levy would have on Queensland, including improving the state’s economic, environmental, and social health.

“With the legislation now in place the Queensland Government can kick this into gear so that we can start to create jobs and investment in the state and fall in step with the rest of Australia in transitioning to a circular economy,” Ms Sloan said, adding that industry is keenly awaiting the 1 July 2019 levy start date.

The levy will begin on 1 July 2019 at a rate of $75 per tonne for general waste, $155 per tonne for Category 1 regulated waste and $105 per tonne for Category 2 regulated waste.