Waste Management Review speaks with former Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel about his next venture – Australia’s first total solution for bicycles.
For the past three years Pete Shmigel has sat in the top job at the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR). In that time, Shmigel’s can-do attitude and commitment to change has shined a light on recycling operations across Australia.
Shmigel announced he would be stepping down as ACOR CEO in late last year to pursue personal endeavours. Cameron O’Reilly was announced as ACOR’s new CEO in December.
“My career path has been very lucky. I say yes when nice people come along and ask me to fix the problem,” Shmigel says.
Shmigel started working with the waste management sector as the NSW Environment Minister’s Chief of Staff around the time kerbside recycling began in the early 90s.
He was attracted to the growth opportunities the sector presented, and has been committed to showing leadership in public policy ever since – giving consumers, councils, collectors, sorters, reprocesses and manufacturers greater certainty going forward.
What’s next? Shmigel says he is finally saying yes to himself. He is now transferring his knowledge and ambition into building his own recycling business in Australia.
“With a potential partner and dedicated investors, we’re looking to start Australia’s first total solution for bicycles, bikes, scooters and other personal transport vehicles,” he reveals.
Currently, there are only ad hoc systems for repurposing and recycling personal transport vehicles.
“We want to provide a genuine network solution for places including shopping centres, to riders, to major transport fleets, to retailers and to councils,” Shmigel says.
“There is always an opportunity to do some good and also have a sustainable business in that too.”
Shmigel is weary that as more personal transport vehicles turn to electric modes, they will end up in landfill.
More than one million bikes are sold in Australia annually and it has been predicted that in the next five years, 75 per cent of those bikes will have batteries.
“We know batteries are problematic in landfill and even a conventional recycling facility. So, providing a solution to batteries on bicycles will also be on our agenda too,” Shmigel says.
“We’re going to have some great sustainability fun.”
THE RECYCLING ROADMAP
“The recycling sector is a part of the big girls and boys now. That’s been an incredible shift to see over the past three years,” Shmigel says.
He is chuffed to see over a billion dollars being invested in industry and recognised through policy, and as said by the Treasurer in his 2020/21 budget speech, recycling is a high priority area.
“We’re at a really exciting time for the industry. Plastics gets a lot of attention, as it rightfully should,” Shmigel says.
A Plastics Recycling Results Roadmap is set to be released shortly, following a roundtable meeting between Shmigel and Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans.
The roadmap will seek to identify key practical and policy requirements for meeting the 70 per cent plastics recycling target, and develop an industry plan for consumer and corporate engagement and education on plastics recycling and recovery.
It will also explore market demand and policy options for reaching the target following discussions about current conditions and the realities of plastics recycling, as well as APCO’s plastics recycling targets.
The Plastics Recycling Roundtable, which took place in late August last year, was attended by 27 representatives from 19 organisations involved in the plastic supply chain and lifecycle.
Those in attendance were required to interact as a Plastics Recycling Roundtable under ACOR’s auspices for six months and convene regularly with the minister.
“There are some really exciting signs in terms of funding from the Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) and from own state government funding,” Shmigel says.
“We’re going to see further innovation as engagement continues with the corporates.”
Shmigel notes that the trick will be getting the economics right. How do we ensure recycled content made in Australia is competitive with virgin plastic?
“I think we have to go beyond APCO and go to the next level of initiatives. Things like creating plastic recycling credits for recycled content is something I’d love to see happen from the next set of promises from the Federal Government,” he says.
Shmigel has been vocal in calling out the “buzz word” circular economy.
“For me, it’s a marketing phrase like many others I’ve come across in the last 30 years,” he says.
“Before this phase there was clean of production, industrial ecology, eco efficiency and corporate social responsibility. I have been supported for being practical.”
Shmigel credits ACOR members who have been on the same page in identifying problems in the market and creating resourceful products.
“It’s easy to get distracted by religious theories and buzz words. Stick to the meat and potatoes – action problems,” he says.
Shmigel highlights that industry has to continually advocate that investment in the sector is not only worthwhile, but critical to the wider economy.
“Sometimes the narrative out there that recycling doesn’t work and it goes to landfill needs to be taken seriously to remodel community understanding,” he says.
Shmigel believes that public dialogue needs to be heightened, and predicts in five to ten years, the main challenge will be getting enough material to actually make the recycled content products we need to make in Australia.
“It’s a slow market, but with the efficiency and the growth we foresee, I think we will have to hunt for material. Australia will be the oceanic powerhouse for resource recovery,” he says.
Shmigel adds that ACOR has taken a positive and pragmatic focus to emphasise opportunities in the sector as opposed to what’s wrong with industry.
“It’s one thing to be a lobbyist or an advocate for the industry, but you need real work behind it. I’m happy that ACOR is in a position to go to the next level,” he says.
Shmigel agreed in a discussion with the ACOR board that now the sector is mature in policy and investment, there is a need to resource appropriately.
“Several former members of parliament applied for the CEO position and I’m absolutely thrilled with the outcome,” he says.
“It reflects the quality of industry and how ACOR will continue to make a positive contribution to every table it sits at.
“Industry needs to work together to sort out the alphabet soup. Stakeholders look at all industry organisations in the sector and say we are one religion.
“So, we need to continue the positive and practical agenda as a unified voice.”