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Survey shows level of recycling confidence: ACOR

The Australian Council of Recycling commissioned Prime Creative Media before and after COVID-19 to get an updated measure of industry confidence.

In the wake of COVID-19, some organisations have identified the potential for new business over the next six months, but it comes against a broader backdrop of concern about public policy settings for recycling, a new report by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has shown.

ACOR which represents dozens of people contributing to the $15 billion resource recover industry, commissioned Prime Creative Media through its title Waste Management Review to undertake a measure of industry confidence of Australia’s recycling sector.

From January to March 2020, Prime Creative Media surveyed more than 500 respondents working in municipal waste (MSW), commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste.

The trends have shown that while almost half of all organisations across MSW, C&I and C&D are positive about their organisation’s performance, more than a third of respondents across all streams are very negative about the public policy and government setting.

Respondents ranked issues most important to them and the top three issues across employees working in MSW, C&D and C&I.

Key issues highlighted by respondents were a need for greater reinvestment of state waste disposal activities into resource recovery, grants/loans for resource recovery and pro-active purchasing of recycled content by the public sector.

In ACOR’s second follow-up – COVID-19 Industry Pulse Check – 41 per cent of just under 100 participants indicated they were somewhat impacted by COVID-19, 35 per cent very impacted and 16 per cent unsure of the impact.

Businesses are also somewhat confident about identifying new business opportunities over the next three to six months, with 35 per cent indicating some level of positivity.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that with the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of unprocessed materials, re-investment into the sector is critical now more than ever.

“If we want to optimise recycling’s environmental and economic benefits….we need to better line up industry interests and their social outcomes and public policy,” he said.

“Implementation of the National Waste Policy with all stakeholders around one table is an opportunity in that way.”

Key findings: 

 

You can read the full results of the survey here.

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Increase of household waste during isolation affects recycling

During current lockdown measures, Australian households have thrown out more than 10 per cent more rubbish and recyclables via kerbside bins.

ACOR said urgent action is needed to manage the additional volumes of plastic waste as the increase in household waste is affecting Australia’s recycling and resource recovery system.  

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said over the past two months, the recycling and waste industries have experienced unprecedented levels of kerbside recycling, especially from soft plastics.

The impact of more people staying at home has raised concerns with ACOR on Australia’s ability to meet national packaging recycling targets by 2025, which were agreed by federal and state governments in 2018.

Mr Schmigel said before COVID-19 emerged, the nationally adopted target for plastic packaging being recycled was set at 70 per cent of plastic packaging being recycled or composted.

“A commitment was made to the phase-out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging,” he said.

“With these new and unexpected trends, these targets will be even harder to hit by 2025.”

Mr Schmigel said there are exceptionally high levels of soft plastic going through the system, including fresh food packaging, packaged food wrappers, the wrapping around paper towels and toilet paper, postal and delivery sacks, and plastic shopping bags.

“Regretfully, too much of this soft plastic is ending up where it does not belong – the kerbside recycling bin – and that spoils our good recycling efforts as a country,” he said.

“As per local Councils’ instructions, soft plastics do not belong in kerbside recycling bins.”

However, return of soft plastic by consumers to supermarkets has stayed steady, which means extra material being consumed is not being fully captured for recycling. 

Mr Schmigel said also due to people working from home, recycling from business sites is down by over 20 per cent, which is impacting on the overall viability of the industry.

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction Trevor Evans launched a report by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) this month tracking the progress of the national 2025 packaging targets.

It found only 16 per of Australia’s plastic packaging was recycled or composted in 2017-18.

“We need change at both the supply and demand ends: behavioural changes from Australians to get it right at the kerbside and to return soft plastics to supermarkets, and policy changes from governments,” he said.

ACOR is calling on the Federal and state Governments to help consumers by making  labels mandatory rather than voluntary for brand owner companies and purchase recycled content products such as plastic roads and noise barriers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced export bans on waste plastic last year, to tackle the amount of rubbish including paper, glass and tyres in the world’s oceans.

“If no action is taken to address the plastics issue, other than to implement the proposed export bans and the current system is maintained, the recovery rate for plastic packaging will drop from the current 16 per cent to 13 per cent in 2025,” the 2019 report stated.

“Upcoming communications campaigns to help consumers reduce kerbside recycling contamination from the Governments of South Australia and Victoria are very welcome in this context, and their example should be followed by the other States,” he said.

“These campaigns go a long way to help inform Australians on what to recycle where, but it is ultimately all our responsibility to actively learn correct methods.”

Mr Schmigel said ACOR’s suggested low-cost initiatives are necessary and will keep hi-viz recycling jobs in cities and regions going during this challenging time.

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Recyclers confident about performance in face of crisis

Although it is early days for COVID-19, some organisations have already identified the potential for new business and innovation over the next six months. The finding comes against a broader backdrop of concern about public policy settings for recycling, a breaking report commissioned by Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has shown.

ACOR, which represents the $15 billion strong resource recovery industry, commissioned Prime Creative Media to undertake a measure of industry confidence of Australia’s recycling sector.

From January to March 2020, Prime Creative Media surveyed more than 500 respondents working in municipal waste (MSW), commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste. This included an updated survey conducted in the past two weeks.

The research reports found that, while almost half of all organisations across MSW, C&I and C&D streams are positive about their organisation’s own performance and prospects, more than a third of industry respondents across all streams are not positive about public policy and government settings for resource recovery.

Respondents ranked issues most important to them and the top three issues across organisations working in MSW, C&D and C&I.

Keys issues highlighted by respondents were a need for greater reinvestment of State-based waste disposal levy funding into activities in resource recovery; grants/loans for resource recovery especially infrastructure and technology; and pro-active purchasing of recycled content products by the public sector.

In ACOR’s second follow-up – COVID-19 Industry Pulse Check – 41 per cent of just under 100 participants indicated they were somewhat impacted by COVID-19, 35 per cent very impacted and 16 per cent unsure of the impact.

Several respondents indicated they would like clarifications on what the meaning of waste as an essential service is. Respondents called for waste levy relief by pausing waste levy increases over the next six months to 12 months.

Businesses are also somewhat confident about identifying new business opportunities over the next three to six months, with 35 per cent indicating some level of positivity.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that with the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of unprocessed materials, re-investment into the sector is critical now more than ever.

“It’s hoped that governments take the findings of these reports under consideration as part of the ongoing response to COVID-19 and more broadly.

The overall picture is one of an industry that believes in its own capability, and was planning significant capital investments, but that is not as confident about the policies, regulations and government frameworks under which it operates. The latter are key to industry development,” Shmigel said.

“If we want to optimise recycling’s environmental and economic benefits, including during COVID19 when we really need those hi-viz jobs, we need to better line up industry interests and their social outcomes and public policy.

Implementation of the National Waste Policy with all stakeholders around one table is an opportunity in that way. It’s time for an era of better partnership, including around infrastructure, procurement, planning, and economic signals like waste disposal levies,” he added.

You can read the full results of the survey here.

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Federal Govt commits to dollar for dollar infrastructure investment

In a speech to the first ever National Plastics Summit in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to match industry investment in recycling infrastructure dollar for dollar.

With Australia’s recycling facilities “under severe strain”, the Prime Minister said the Federal Government would invest in technological innovation to maximise the value of recycled products.

“I will have more to say on this closer to the up-coming budget, but the Commonwealth stands ready to work with the states, to co-invest in these critical infrastructure facilities, and with industry,” Mr Morrison said.

“We are working with state and territory governments to identify and unlock the critical upgrades that will lead to a step-change in their recycling capacity. And we will invest in these facilities with governments and with industry on a one-to-one-to-one basis.”

Furthermore, Mr Morrison announced plans to strengthen the Commonwealth Procurement Guideline, to ensure “every procurement undertaken by a Commonwealth agency considers environmental sustainability and the use of recycled content as a factor in determining value for money.”

In his address, Mr Morrison highlighted demand as central to long-term industry sustainability.

“We know that banning the export of waste plastics will keep more of the raw stock here for use, and lifting industry capacity will increase our ability to use these materials constructively. But to make the system really hum, we need to build the market,” he said.

“The global recycled plastics market is expected to grow at 7.9 per cent annually over the next decade, they are phenomenal figures, and be worth almost $67 billion in 2025. Industry is not blind to the incredible potential here.”

Of the summit, Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the Federal Government was creating an unprecedented opportunity to reduce Australia’s plastics and greenhouse gas footprint.

“Prime Minister Morrison and his Ministerial colleagues have acted with total clarity and fast pace to put plastic waste minimisation near the top of their agenda,” he said.

“A summit that puts substance before stylistics is what we need to deal with the plastics problem, including our comparatively very low recycling rate of some 12 per cent and our lack of domestic recycling capacity.”

According to Mr Shmigel, improved plastic recycling is an affordable and accessible way to take practical and positive climate action.

“Support for putting recycled content plastic into irrigation pipes, channel lining and rainwater tanks would be a great way to assist drought-proofing while supporting Australian manufacturers,” he said.

“From all players involved in plastics management, from the government to brand owners to recyclers to the community, it’s time for real action not rhetoric, and that’s what the summit will be judged by.”

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ACOR reveals only eight per cent of waste levy revenue is reinvested

Only eight per cent of the $2.6 billion collected in waste levies over the last two years has been reinvested in recycling infrastructure and technology, according to new analysis by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

An ACOR statement reveals that in 2018 and 2019, a total of $446,093,088 in waste and resource recovery grants funding was given or pledged by state and federal governments.

According to the statement, this expenditure compares to $2.67 billion collected in waste levies by mainland state governments over the 18/19 and 19/20 financial years, representing 16.7 per cent.

“Of the $446.1 million given or pledged in funding, 50.5 per cent was allocated to infrastructure-related initiatives and reprocessing-related initiatives. This represents around 8 per cent of the collected waste levies. Less than $100m of the $225m has actually been given to recipients to date,” the statement reads.

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel said governments set waste levies up with the explicit aim of incentivising waste reduction.

“But more than 80 per cent of these state-based levies are ending up in consolidated revenue or other purposes,” he said.

“This is problematic because recycling rates have plateaued and Australia will no longer be allowed to export a great deal of material to Asia for recycling.”

Mr Shmigel said that without substantial investment soon, current kerbside recycling services may be put at risk. He added that with the export ban set to begin in less than six months, stockpiling might occur.

“Those who decided on the ban need to realise that without reinvestment in domestically sustainable recycling, and its necessary infrastructure, more material that Australians expect to be recycled – especially plastic – will need to go to landfill,” Mr Shmigel said.

“On independent modelling by MRA Consulting, some $300 million in one-off investment is needed to be able to process and remanufacture the types of paper and plastic we have been exporting.”

While Mr Shmigel said industry is prepared for matching arrangements and low-interest loans, he noted that there has been nowhere near that level of expenditure in 2018 and 2019.

“Australian recycling can be domestically sustainable and a world leader, and it requires waste levies to be expended on what they were set up for: support recycling,” he said.

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