The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has responded to China’s intention to ban imports of 24 categories of solid waste to the country (including plastics, paper and textiles waste).
The last World Trade Organization (WTO) report indicates that the ban will take place at the end of 2017. WTO reports China representatives said the measure is aimed at addressing risks of pollution from solid waste, and seeks to protect the environment and human health. A six month transition period has been provided, and China said it had further clarified the scope of the measure based on comments from WTO members.
The European Union, Japan, the United States, Australia and Canada have questioned the broad scope of the measure, and whether it applied to domestic operators in the same way as foreign operators. They asked China for a longer transition period of up to five years.
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In a statement, WMAA said industry had signalled to government for a long time that relying on the export markets for recyclables was dangerous and now it find itself, with the change in China’s legislation, walking towards this inevitability.
“Whilst stockpiling is a legitimate business practice, we know that the community is not happy with simply stockpiling recyclable materials, they rightly want this material to be used in making other products in Australia – reducing reliance on natural material,” said WMAA CEO Gayle Sloan.
WMAA’s statement said Australia needs to act now to ensure that the circular economy is real.
“It is not enough that products we purchase in Australia are capable of being recycled, we need to ensure that they are also made from recycled material,” Ms Sloan, said.
“In this way we can create real demand for commodities like those that households put in their yellow bins.”
“This is simply too important an issue for the Federal Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, to continue to repeat his mantra ‘it is up to the states’ this is one that the Federal Government actually needs to step up to the plate on,” Ms Sloan said.
WMAA said all levels of government, including national, need to put policies in place that support the development of sustainable secondary markets for recycled materials.
“The best first step would be sustainable procurement being introduced nationally by all, allowing government to actually walk the talk and model these behaviours,” Ms Sloan said.
WMAA noted investment in new recycling infrastructure creates construction jobs and economic activity that provides a real boost to local economies. While the change in China’s legislation can be seen as a short-term crisis, WMAA argued in reality the change to a circular economy will not only bring long term employment, through green-collar manufacturing, but also sustainable economic growth.
“We have seen the change that programs like War on Waste have had on supermarkets. Let’s get the changes we need to ensure that packagers are using recycled products as an input in all they do – but we cannot do this without the support of government,” Ms Sloan said.
Container Deposit Schemes are being introduced nationally, and WMAA said the key is that the recycled product made in Australia is re-used by the beverage companies that participate in this scheme.
WMAA said it has discussed the circular economy with the industry, generators, and the community, with their support offered.