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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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