No more empty promises: ACOR

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel provides a four-point plan for an Australian recycled content product reboot.

Promises and keeping them are important. Really important. In the form of norms and laws, kept promises are what keep our society glued together and functioning.

The same is true of Australian recycling. Every time someone participates in recycling – from presenting material at the kerbside or the city office building, to collecting and sorting and reprocessing and remanufacturing that material – we’re basically part of a promise. It’s a promise that that material will be made into a new product – a recycled content product (RCP).

In recent times, as Asian societies have changed their material import rules and some virulent mainstream media reports have followed, there have been many in Australian society who have been testing the promise. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Anyone involved in recycling – whether you’re running a company, a council waste educator or a one armed bandit – has heard the same question many times over: “So, is it really being recycled?”

This is evidence that regular punters, including those who make decisions about whether to hire recycling contractors at their businesses, are questioning the social licence of our industry to operate. It’s serious stuff – even if it’s based on perceptions and emotions than data and rationality. Narrative matters.

Those of us closer to the real numbers and the real facilities know the empirical reality. The vast majority of what’s collected, is in fact, recycled. Whether you run a material recovery facility (MRF), scrap metal site, glass beneficiation plant or a paper mill, you know the truth. More than 35 million tonnes is recycled, with only four million of that heading overseas.

At MRFs themselves, due to community-generated contamination and “wish-cycling”, loss rates generally don’t exceed 10 to 15 per cent as a result of good technology and good operators. Moreover, 50,000 recycling sector jobs and some $15 billion of GDP value just didn’t magically appear.

But ultimately, at the same time that waste awareness is very high, community confidence in recycling outcomes ain’t in great shape. Our industry needs that goodwill for business health and for the ongoing support of public policy decision-makers, especially as we make the tough but inevitable transition to domestically sustainable recycling.

Therefore, it’s time for us to get much more serious about RCPs – both as a method to meet our public promise and as a key part of domestic transformation. Fortunately, there are some good “green shoots” like Coca-Cola’s commitment to recycled content PET bottles (and let’s hope they’re Australia-sourced), and similar RCP initiatives from PACT, Asahi, Nestle, Unilever and others.

These are all good news, but the risk remains that without an overarching strategy, RCPs won’t become the norm they need to be. Us grey beards remember the demise, for example, of the Buy Recycled Business Alliance, and local government-based RCP purchasing initiatives like Eco-Buy in the early 2000’s.

An overall plan is especially necessary as we have to increase plastics take-up by 400 per cent, according to the SRU report for the Federal Government. Without this, the report found we won’t meet APCO targets and policy parameters such as the environment ministers’ directive to the packaging supply chain to get 20 per cent recycled content in PET and HDPE.

So, here’s a quick four-point plan for the “Australian RCP reboot”:

ONE: Results not rhetoric: The nice words from the Federal Government and the states, including at the last two meeting of environment minister meetings, need to become done deeds in developing RCPs and measurable targets. Councils, in fact, are probably doing better than the other tiers of government in areas such as secondary glass and mixed plastics into roads.

TWO: Follow the money: The economics of virgin material use compared to recyclate use – when using standard rationalist metrics – is not in favour of recycled products in some material categories. That’s partly a result of structural factors, including Australia’s comparatively high labour and energy costs, as well as increased amounts of historically inexpensive fossil fuel for virgin plastics resin manufacture. Therefore, if we want RCPs made here and all the social and environmental benefits that come with that, we have to pull economic levers here.

Options include UK- and France-style GST discounts for RCP manufacturers, European-style EPR schemes (if consumer costs can be contained) and energy rebates based on the energy-efficient nature of RCPs. Or, perhaps, given that secondhand goods such as those going through Vinnies and Lifeline are GST exempt, what’s so different about a “secondhand” plastic bottle?

THREE: Rules of the road: Agreed and recognised specs and standards around RCPs – be they for recycling collection, sorting, remanufacture or export – create confidence. There’s been a failure of leadership and communication in this area – and we’re all to blame. As Equilibrium’s recent report for the Commonwealth spells out, we need real standards and now. And we shouldn’t let any development processes drag on and become a delaying tactic by some self-interested players. It’s great to see industry innovators using RCPs including in roads using existing information; all it takes is normal risk mitigation and initiative.

FOUR: “Once you think you’ve communicated enough, communicate again”: RCPs become more viable when the supply chain is humming. For it to do that, there’s a case for better “vertically integrated” communication and education. For ratepayers that’s “recycling right” and helping them understand the RCPs their efforts help make. For procurement managers, civil engineers and other product specifiers, that’s on RCP availability and performance. For the community, it’s what brands are making RCP commitments and merit support at the cash register.

Or as one of my colleagues says: “If you’re not buying recycled, you’re a recycling bystander.” It’s time for those in a position to buy recycled – governments, councils, consumers, corporates – to get off the sidelines. And it’s time for our industry to strive for the best possible processes and RCPs that beat virgin on performance and confidence. That’s the promise we need to keep.

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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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How confident are you in recycling?

The Australian Council of Recycling has launched a new industry survey to provide an up-to-date measure of confidence in the sector and support better decision making. 

The recycling sector employs around 50,000 people. While this is indicative of the sector’s success to date, an unrivalled opportunity exists to increase that number exponentially.

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita and with that affluence comes increased waste generation. Currently, the sector accounts for 0.5 per cent total employment, with Australia ranked 17th in the world in recycling.

But as a vital part of the economy, recycling can punch above its weight with the right support. The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has been supporting the businesses that collect, sort and remanufacture materials into value-added products.

These are the businesses getting their hands dirty to beneficially manage materials from the residential, commercial, industrial and infrastructure sectors.

The Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) ban on select waste exports, in addition the upcoming NSW Government’s 20-year waste strategy, national container deposit schemes and updated infrastructure recyclate specifications, highlight the regulators’ appetite for reform. Nevertheless, quality data is a barrier to understanding.

It’s why ACOR has explored the gaps and discovered that the missing piece of the data puzzle – an understanding of business confidence. While organisations such as NAB run monthly business confidence surveys, there has not in recent times been a measure of confidence for Australia’s recycling sector.

Such datasets would prove useful for federal, state and territory and local government regulators, and help inform decision-making to supercharge the recycling sector, instead of it being stymied by outdated regulation.

According to ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, understanding the recycling sector’s place in the overall economy is vital.

“We don’t do enough to gauge our own performance and trends and share that information with the public and decision-makers. Hopefully, the survey helps claim that opportunity,” Pete says.

He says the survey is a first of its kind.

“There’s lots of work about where the industry is at in terms of environmental performance, especially in ‘tonnage’ terms, for example how much we manage and various recycling rates. There’s less information about the economic side, such as business confidence going forward. That’s a key difference for this survey.”

Pete says that a schism between communications surrounding the so-called “waste crisis” and industry’s perceptions of the sector has created confusion.

“In all the media hype of the last few years, there’s been a fair bit of ‘blurring’ of different recycling markets. The reality is that while kerbside has its issues, we’ve been powering along in C&I and C&D with more than $500 million in investment in the last two years,” Pete says.

He says that interestingly, some businesses are integrated across these streams and have therefore been successfully hedging.

“Good decision-making requires a detailed understanding of the differences in our streams of activity.”

With COAG’s ban on waste exports and kerbside recycling undergoing dramatic changes, Pete says it’s important more now than ever that industry has the confidence to invest at scale and the right market signals.

“Domestic sustainability will require significant investment from many players, and that is assisted by industry insights.

“We’re literally only months away from the COAG ban being in place – on top of existing Asian pressures and in addition to further moves the Asians are likely to make. I’m hopeful that the survey gives us a better sense about how affected businesses and their supply chains are feeling about these very significant structural changes about to come down the pipe.”

The survey is broken down into MSW, C&I and C&D and allows respondents to answer various questions about whether they feel confident in their operations. Likewise, the survey covers government support and allows users to rank the issues most important to them.

To participate in this leading industry survey click here

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ACOR launches NSW recycling app

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) and the NSW Government have launched a recycling app to help the state improve resource recovery rates.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said Recycle Mate identifies what suburb a user is in and provides tailored information to each council’s recycling collection system.

“It’s like having a huge recycling guidebook in your pocket – it’s the most comprehensive recycling app of its kind,” Mr Shmigel said.

“The app’s database is constantly being updated – more items are added every day as users photograph their waste and recycling. That means that everyone who downloads and uses the app is helping us to make it even better.”

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the app will simplify the recycling process.

“NSW has been recycling for more than 30 years, but with a changing landscape we need to be even more careful with what goes in our recycling bins, and this app will help us achieve that,” Mr Kean said.

“This app will make recycling easier, and more importantly, it will help sort our waste, which ultimately means more items can be recovered and reused, as we move closer to closing the loop and creating a circular economy.”

Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock said the NSW Government is committed to helping the state’s 128 councils increase recycling rates.

“This app will keep recycling front of mind for residents across the state and help make local communities cleaner and greener,” Ms Hancock said.

“The government will continue to work closely with local councils to reduce waste and strengthen recycling.”

The project was supported with a $350,000 grant from the NSW EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative.

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Fuelling the market

Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about the potential tyre-derived fuel flow-on effects of the Council of Australian Governments’ proposed export ban.

In early August, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) released a communique detailing its decision to ban the export of waste materials including plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

Specifics of the ban have not yet been released, with government stating that it would develop a ban timeline and action plan in due course. Despite this, industry responses have been swift and overwhelmingly positive, with particular focus given to the potential waste-to-energy flow-on effects of a ban on tyre exports.

Gayle Sloan, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, says Australia has a robust and sustainable non-baling tyre recycling industry, which processes roughly 23 million used tyre units per annum.

“A ban on the export of whole-baled tyres will further drive the industry, which will create Australian jobs while ensuring human and environmental health are protected,” she says.

Pete Smigel, Australian Council of Recycling CEO, says consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable end-of-life disposal and recycling of products that offer sustainable environmental and human health outcomes.

“Australia has a great opportunity to develop a strong, sustainable and profitable tyre recycling industry that delivers significant environmental benefits and as well as job creation across the new manufacturing industry,” Pete says.

“It’s imperative this is supported by responsible government policy, and the COAG communique is a great step towards that.”

Tyrecycle, one of Australia’s largest collectors and recyclers of end-of-life tyres, operates numerous collection and processing facilities across the country, including Australia’s largest crumbing plant based at Somerton in Melbourne. It also has full chain-of-custody reporting.

Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says COAG’s signalled intention to ban the export of waste tyres is a win for the environment and the circular economy.

“The proposed ban presents the best opportunity to turn all end-of-life waste tyres in Australia into value-added commodities such as rubber crumb, rubber granule, tyre-derived fuel (TDF) and high-tensile steel, creating more sustainable jobs in Australia,” he says.

“A ban on the export of waste tyres should include both whole-baled tyres, which are sent unprocessed to countries such as India and Malaysia, as well as casings from old truck tyres sent into overseas markets for use as seconds or in retreading.”

Jim says these elements go hand-in-hand, given the ban on whole-baled tyres will require the establishment and growth of new markets for re-purposed tyre-derived products.   

Australia currently exports approximately 70,000 tonnes of whole-baled tyres per annum, which are then used in open burning as a fuel to heat drying kilns and in low-grade pyrolysis plants.

Rob Kelman, Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) Executive Officer, says operations like this are controversial, do not comply with environmental, health and worker regulations and are associated with high levels of pollution.

ATRA members agreed to ban the practice of exporting whole-baled tyres in 2014, due to poor environmental outcomes and a direct association with water borne diseases.

“The World Health Organization specifically identifies international movement of whole tyres as a key factor in the increase in Dengue incidence,” Rob says.

Australia’s tyre recycling sector is largely dominated by traditional recycling methods, which use a series of shredders, screens and granulators to separate waste tyres into commodities.

Jim says these commodities, which are valued commensurate with their level of refinement, are used as raw material in the manufacture of new products such as soft fall surfaces and asphalt, as well as civil work applications such as roads and infrastructure.

“Waste tyres are also used in TDF – a globally traded commodity, which fuels sophisticated, high-energy manufacturing environments and power generation plants overseas,” Jim explains.

“The technology is proven, and TDF has excellent environmental credentials that include a reduction in landfill, improved emissions and reduced use of fossil fuels.”

Jim adds that for every tonne of TDF used, one tonne of CO2 is displaced.

“It burns cleaner than coal and has twice the energy value of brown coal,” he explains.

“The global TDF market, which includes South Korea and Japan, is hungry for more and could easily consume all of Australia’s waste tyres as TDF, but there should also be a gradual push to increase the domestic uptake of TDF, most likely in cement kilns.”

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ACOR report examines recycled roads

Australia can significantly boost domestic recycling by replacing virgin resources with recycled materials in road construction, according to a new report from the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

Undertaken by MRA Consulting for ACOR, the report shows that by using recovered soft plastics, secondary glass cullets and passenger tyre crumb in asphalt and/or road base, Australia could double the amount of soft plastic domestically recycled, increase tyre recycling by 50 per cent and help eliminate unused glass cullet stockpiles.

According to ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, roads are Australia’s largest single asset, and by building them with recycled materials, Australia can deliver the goal of domestically sustainable recycling.

“Our message to governments who build roads is; use recycled content to keep valuable stuff out of tips, deliver value for money to taxpayers and generate more jobs,” Mr Shmigel said.

Mr Shmigel said the report examined 12 roads including Sydney’s Westconnex, the Bruce Highway Upgrade in Queensland and the CityLink Tunnel in Melbourne.

“In reality, some 10,000 kilometers of new roads are being constructed; so regular use of recycled material in roads according to a new standard would be a road-led recycling revolution for regional jobs and environmental benefits like greenhouse gas reduction,” Mr Shmigel said.

“It’s important to recognise that recycled roads – compared to virgin roads – are cost competitive and comparable if not better on quality and longevity.”

Mr Shmigel said 11 of the 12 projects modelled in the report are partly funded by the Federal Government, which can require recycled content as part of funding agreements.

“That’s a great opportunity for our ‘Recycling PM’ to further deliver on his vision,” Mr Shmigel said.

“The choice is before us. Drive recycled roads into a better economic and environmental future, or drive old roads straight to the tip.”

Findings:

Glass: 

Current recycling: 627,000 tonnes or 57 per cent

Additional tonnes from 12 recycled roads: 1.34 million tonnes

Soft Plastics:

Current recycling: 89,900 tonnes or 4.5 per cent

Additional tonnes from 12 recycled roads: 104,500 tonnes

Passanger tyres:

Current recycling: 328,000 tonnes or two per cent

Additional tonnes from 12 recycled roads: 174,000 tonnes

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NSW EPA opens MWOO consultation

EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford says the EPA does not intend to amend its MWOO revocation, or allow the material to be used as a soil amendment on agricultural, mining rehabilitation or forestry land.

“The research undertaken on MWOO has been extensive, including an assessment of human health and ecological risks when applied as a soil amendment and advice from scientific experts,” Mr Gifford said.

“The research clearly shows that the potential risks outweigh the limited benefits of applying MWOO on agricultural land, given the levels of contamination left behind such as glass and plastics, as well as metals and chemicals.”

The NSW EPA is seeking feedback on the future use of mixed waste organic outputs (MWOO), and a proposed transition package to support the alternative waste treatment (AWT) industry transition.

The proposed transition package follows the EPA’s October 2018 revocation of the general and specific Resource Recovery Order and Resource Recovery Exemption for the application of MWOO.

Mr Gifford said the NSW Government’s proposed $6.5 million transition package is designed to help industry consider and develop new sustainable solutions to manage general household waste.

“This is just the first step in considering new and future uses for general household waste, with significant work underway to improve the management of waste in NSW through the development of a 20 Year Waste Strategy,” Mr Gifford said.

“The $6.5 million package includes funding for AWT operators to undertake research and development into alternative products and end markets for household general waste, and to make the required changes to their facilities to produce products, such as refuse derived fuel or other innovative new uses.”

Mr Gifford said funding is available to introduce food organics and garden organics (FOGO) processing lines at AWT facilities.

“More than 40 NSW councils are already providing FOGO kerbside collections to households, or food only collections as sustainable alternatives in managing general household waste,” Mr Gifford said.

“The NSW Government is also extending existing funding to minimise the risk of disruption to kerbside collection services and ensure that any additional transport and landfill costs are not passed on to councils or ratepayers.”

According to Mr Gifford, NSW Health advised that they do not expect any adverse health effects as a result of past use of MWOO on agricultural land.

“The health risk assessment identified certain circumstances where exposure to chemicals could occur at levels that are higher than referenced doses, but these circumstances would be unusual and short lived,” Mr Gifford said.

According to Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel, if the NSW Government implements the EPA’s decision, waste to landfill or incineration will increase by roughly 25 per cent.

“It is hard to understand how an internationally proven product successfully used by local farmers and others for nearly 20 years – and which the NSW Government has previously said has no human health impact – can be banned,” Mr Shmigel said.

“While industry has been given no opportunity to see the report cited in today’s media, we were yesterday ‘confidentially’ briefed by the EPA that laboratory tests on our industry’s material were done at 10 times the actual permissible usage.”

Mr Shmigel said industry has on several occasions offered to develop and invest in new performance levels to address EPA concerns.

“That offer has been de facto rejected, or is now being dismissed as unachievable, without robust industry consultation,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Therefore, the prospect of an environmentally beneficial and economically sustainable way forward has been seemingly ruled out by the EPA, which is fully unproductive.”

In contrast, Total Environment Centre Executive Director Jeff Angel welcomed the EPA’s decision.

“This issue has been festering for over 10 years, when we and scientists first drew attention to the potential pollution from the toxic chemicals and plastics that was being applied as a so-called soil enhancer,” Mr Angel said.

“It’s now clear it was poisoning the environment and threatens human health. We don’t need this stuff spread across the environment, and better ways need to be found to reuse the resources.”

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Waste Expo: the next generation

Waste Expo Australia is set to explore the future of waste and resource recovery in the country, with presentations from the Australian Council of Recycling and South Australian EPA.

Waste Expo Australia’s 2018 event saw record attendance numbers, with more than 4500 trade visitors – a growth of over 28 per cent from the previous year.

While national in focus, the expo’s Victorian location is sure to inspire enthusiastic conversations about current industry challenges and the role of government in addressing them.

As one of the most comprehensive free-to-attend conferences for the waste management, resource recovery and wastewater sectors, Waste Expo is returning to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre 23-24 October.

The conference will feature two individual programs, the Oceania Clean Energy Solutions Waste Summit Conference and the EnviroConcepts Wastewater Summit.

The waste summit will cover six targeted streams from resource recovery, waste-to-energy, collections, landfill and transfer stations, construction and demolition waste and commercial and industrial waste.

Organisers have curated a diverse schedule of speakers from local and state governments, industry bodies and the private sector.

Attendees will hear from Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, EPA Victoria Chief Executive Officer Cathy Wilkinson and Sustainability Victoria Director Resource Recovery Matt Genever. Campaspe Shire Council, City of Holdfast Bay, Yarra City Council and Albury City Council will also present case studies.

Ahead of the 2019 expo, Waste Management Review spoke with two presenters, Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel and South Australian EPA Regulatory Reform Projects Manager Steven Sergi, about their perspectives on the future of waste and resource recovery in Australia.

Building domestic markets

While discussions of recycling generally centre on social and environmental benefits, a strong and sustainable sector is essential for national economic growth.

According to Pete, economic drivers for recycling are dependent on competitive material prices and healthy end markets, both of which have been challenged recently.

Pete explains that the future sustainability of domestic recycling systems relies squarely on greater demand for recycled material – which will be the focus of his Waste Expo presentation.

“Recycling is three arrows: collection, sorting and remanufacturing, it’s the third arrow we have to incentivise better,” he says.

Pete says the waste and recycling sector has been nimble in response to China’s National Sword Policy.

“Australia actually increased exports to other parts of the world last year, but that can’t last forever,” he says.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australian waste exports increased to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand in 2017.

Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since started reviewing their waste import policies, however, highlighting the need to establish substitute domestic markets.

Pete says dealing with the structural shake up of export markets requires investment in better infrastructure to drive recyclate material demand.

“With Asia changing the rules of the game, we need to build more recycling resilience and sovereignty in Australia,” he explains.

“It’s great to see proactivity by states who have formerly been accused of dragging their feet on recycling, but what’s desperately, and frankly, ridiculously, missing, is national coordination.”

Regulatory reform

As the waste and resource recovery industry calls for greater regulatory certainty on a national level, multiple state governments are implementing new policy.

In 2017, South Australia passed the Environment Protection (Waste Reform) Amendment Bill. The amendment gave the EPA greater powers to tackle illegal dumping and stockpiling, which, according to Steven, will assist resource recovery growth by penalising illegal operators.

Steven’s Waste Expo presentation, regulatory reform with the South Australian waste and recycling sector: Where to next, will explore these changes.

“The South Australian Government is seeking to help realise the economic potential from innovation in waste and resource recovery technologies, while at the same time protecting the environment,” Steven says.

“South Australia has introduced many waste management reforms over the past decade that have successfully promoted resource recovery in our state and established our reputation as a leader in this field.”

South Australia has one of the highest recovery rates in the country, 83 per cent – 87 per cent of which is reprocessed locally.

Steven says heightening EPA powers shows a commitment to establishing a robust regulatory environment, which supports sustainable waste and resource recovery operations.

“Key amendments through this act include explicit powers to enable regulation of material flow and stockpiling, expansion of the circumstances when financial assurances can be used and improved and proportionate powers for tackling breaches of licence conditions,” he says.

Steven’s presentation will also address the EPA’s commitment to establishing a robust regulatory environment.

“To support the sustainable operation of the waste and resource recovery industry, the EPA will support the best use of secondary materials in accordance with the waste management hierarchy, to provide certainty and fairness to lawful operators,” he says.

Cory McCarrick, Waste Expo Director, says no other waste event in Australia gives access to such thought-provoking content for free.

“Waste Expo Australia is about pushing boundaries and challenging operations and businesses to innovate, not just through technology but through workforce practices and policy reform,” Cory says.

“We have seen a large increase in speakers and suppliers taking part in this event and we are excited to address the major issues facing the industry this year.”

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COAG proposes export ban

Federal, state and local government ministers have agreed to work on a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, to improve Australia’s recycling capacity.

The agreement was made at the 9 August Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison arguing more needed to be done to deal with rising amounts of recyclable waste.

Environment Ministers will advise a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

COAG agreed the strategy should draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.

Australia exported roughly 4.5 million tonnes of waste last year, with the majority sent to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since begun to review their waste import policies.

“It’s our waste, and it’s our responsibility,” Mr Morrison said in a post-meeting press conference, according to an ABC report.

“That’s why I think setting a clear path forward as leaders — that we don’t want to see this going into the ocean, that we don’t want to see this go into waterways, and we’ll do everything in our remit to achieve that goal — is a very important outcome.”

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said the COAG announcement aligned with domestic sustainability goals.

“The best route to COAG’s vision of recycling sovereignty and security is for governments to now match very big deeds and dollars to their discussions. This great leadership by COAG must be followed by great investment that matches industries own,” Mr Shmigel said.

“As part of the Environment Ministers’ upcoming plan, that means: major scale support for reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure; unprecedented public sector purchasing of recycled content products and other bold incentives for domestic use of recyclate, such as tax credits for manufacturers, removal of ridiculous regulatory barriers and indeed proposed bans for recycled content products in some states.”

Mr Shmigel said material export bans needed to be implemented over a clear timetable with consultation and care to avoid unintended consequences.

“If there are no new and sustainable markets established for the 4.5m tonnes of currently exported material, there will only be the option of domestic disposal – which is highly undesirable,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Ministers must also remain open to alternative waste treatment and waste to energy where Australia only uses some 2 per cent of its waste, which is massively below European countries, who also have much higher recycling rates.”

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the meeting represents a step in the right direction towards building a sustainable domestic remanufacturing industry.

“Waste management and resource recovery were firmly on the table at the COAG meeting in Cairns, and leaders agreed to develop a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass, and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand,” Ms Sloan said.

“This is a significant and positive commitment – industry has always advocated that Australia should be processing our own waste and recyclables. Industry can, and is keen, to build capacity and the fact that we’re on the agenda and we have the Prime Minister’s and Premiers’ attention means we can finally move forward.”

Ms Sloan said WMRR support the task given to environment ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

“As part of this exercise, leaders agreed the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste,” Ms Sloan said.

“We also look forward to Meeting of Environment Ministers convening sooner rather than later to progress what we all know we need – and what is now clearly in everyone’s sights – market signals that will enable industry to invest and all stakeholders to support onshore remanufacturing and markets for domestic recycled products.”

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