VWMA calls for increased resource recovery investment

The Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) has called for a suite of measures to solve the nation’s recycling crisis, including increased state government investment and reviews of contractual models for waste and resource recovery.

It comes after China’s recent clamp down on the export of recyclable materials of a contamination level of more than 0.5 per cent. The decision covers 24 categories of solid waste, and covers countries such as Japan, USA, Australia and others. China was Australia’s largest market for the export of recyclable materials, but has tightened its restrictions.

National Sword, an extension of China’s Green Fence Policy, will see inspections on recyclable materials such as paper and various grades of post-consumer plastics being imported into China.

In the same week, the Victorian Government announced a $13 million package to go towards helping councils and industries that have been affected by the China policy. The Victorian Government has also moved to establish a recycling industry taskforce to develop a plan for industry transition, a decision welcomed by the VWMA.

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VWMA believes the problem that exists with materials that recycling exporters send to China (and materials that maybe caught up in the inspection program) is that streams can be highly contaminated due to poor recycling practices and sorting, which can originate back to the household (or point of generation).

“The VWMA does not comment specifically on commercial contracts in place between organisations, however the current situation can be attributed to a range of factors that contracting parties have knowingly entered into – this includes fixed priced collection in a commodity sensitive environment and dependencies on export markets,” the organisation said in a statement.

“The VWMA does not support compensation or bailouts as an appropriate response to the current situation. We are focused on medium and long term sustainable solutions for our members and Victorians, and are engaged with the Victorian Government and other related organisations and associations as required to advocate for these medium and longer terms solutions.”

The VWMA Executive met on February 20 to discuss National Sword and its impacts to Victoria, noting that a range of factors created the current recycling issue in the state, including:

  • The export of recyclable material and global (fluctuating) commodity markets.
  • Contractual models that favour one party over another and do not distribute risk.
  • Public awareness and appropriate waste and recycling disposal practice by households.
  • Public confidence in the waste and recycling system.
  • The essentialness of maintaining waste and recycling services for Victorians.

The VWMA acknowledges that China’s decision means a global market reset is being experienced and no one knows what this reset will mean or how long ambiguity around recycling markets may exist.

The VWMA advocates a collaborative approach between industry and government on this matter with the following areas to be prioritised by state and local government:

  • Contractual models for waste and resource recovery contracts: Review the contractual models for waste and resource recovery contracts which may include splitting contracts, linking contracts to an indexed commodity price and a greater distribution of risk between all parties.
  • Unlocking the state government’s Sustainability Fund: Increased state government investment (via low-interest loans and grants) to the private sector and local government (which could include public-private partnerships for larger investments) targeted at all aspects of Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system. These would include waste collection/transports, processing facilities and other infrastructure. The intent of this investment would be to create self-sustainable outcomes (in-line with the Sustainability Fund’s objectives) through value-added product created in Victoria from the materials we all throw out. This investment would also stimulate jobs in construction and manufacturing. The Sustainability Fund receives money from Victorian landfill levies.
  • Stimulate local markets: Where appropriate all levels of government, including federal, should seek to stimulate markets for recovery through minimum requirements in procurement contracts. This would drive local demand for value added product and support broader government initiative around the concepts of circular economy. Options should also consider waste to energy as a viable option for Victoria.
  • Community are engaged and brought along to understand the essential nature of the service that is provided to them: The state’s waste and resource recovery system exists to support Victorians and all Victorians have a civil responsibility to engage in appropriate waste disposal practices (this includes things such as recycling correctly, not throwing dangerous goods into the bin and littering). The Victorian Government should begin to have this conversation with the community and involve industry.

“Victoria’s success in kerbside collection can in large part be attributed to the collaboration between government and industry. The VWMA supports continued engagement with all levels of Industry on this matter,” said VWMA Executive Officer, Mark Smith.

“The Victorian waste and resource recovery system exists to support a prosperous and healthy Victoria. We all generate waste and this waste needs to be managed. Community need to be brought in on the conversation so they understand their role in generating waste and disposing of that waste correctly.”