Senate passes Recycling and Waste Reduction Act

The Senate yesterday passed the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020, Australia’s first ever national waste legislation.

The Act establishes a framework to regulate the export of waste materials, in line with the agreement to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres by the Council of Australian Governments in 2020.

“The export ban sends a strong message that it is time to take responsibility for our waste, to seize the economic opportunities of transforming our recycling industry and to stop sending problem waste overseas,” Environment Minister Sussan Ley said.

The Act also seeks to manage the environmental, health and safety impacts of products, in particular those impacts associated with disposal, and provide for voluntary, co-regulatory and mandatory product stewardship schemes.

According to Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans, the new laws will improve the existing framework for product stewardship, by encouraging companies to take greater responsibility for the waste they generate through the products they design, manufacture or distribute.

“We are turbo-charging product stewardship and making it easier for businesses and product experts to create or expand recycling schemes for the products and materials they make,” he said.

“The export ban coupled with our changes to product stewardship will create jobs, spark innovation and deliver strong environmental outcomes.”

An amendment by the Greens for a mandated packaging product stewardship scheme was narrowly rejected.

The amendment, also supported by Labor and advocated for by the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) and other industry bodies, lost by a single vote, signalling growing support for a mandated scheme.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said while it was disappointing that the amendment fell through, it is heartening to see growing consensus that more needs to be done to tackle packaging waste.

“With the export bans coming in shortly, and the need to meet national targets, WMRR is urging all governments to think about how we can tackle packaging with the limited and voluntary tools that we’ve been given,” she said.

“WMRR proposes that it’s time to set up a genuinely independent body truly representative of all stakeholders in the supply chain, including but not limited to the packaging industry, to find productive ways in which we can work together to genuinely close the loop on packaging in Australia by using Australian recycled products.

“This is key if we are serious about making real progress while being hamstrung by the lack of regulation on the packaging industry.”

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