Industry has defended Australia’s recycling operations following an ABC Four Corners investigation on ‘plastic wars’ that revealed the actions of the American plastics industry are ‘fooling consumers’.
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.”
You can read the full results of the survey here.
Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel gives the recent Meeting of Environment Ministers a tick, but a number of areas don’t pass muster. He explains why.
Waste glass, mixed plastics and whole baled tyres will be banned over the next two years following the final Meeting of Environment Ministers meeting for the year.
The National Meeting of Environment Ministers in Adelaide on Friday reached an agreement to ban the export of particular categories of waste from 1 July 2020 with a phased approach.
Ministers have agreed waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres that have not been processed into a value-add material should be subject to the export ban.
The phase out plans to be completed by the following dates:
- All waste glass by July 2020
- Mixed waste plastics by July 2021
- All whole tyres including baled tyres by December 2021
- Remaining waste products, including mixed paper and cardboard, by no later than 30 June 2022.
In response to the move, the Victorian Government urged the Federal Government to provide capital investment in waste and recycling infrastructure to ensure the fast approaching ban does not result in stockpiling.
The Queensland Government is similarly calling on the Federal Government to increase their investment in the recycling and resource recovery industry.
Commenting on the ban of exporting waste tyres, Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA), urged all governments to advocate for increasing tyre-derived products in Australia.
The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) said MEM’s decisions on the COAG ban on waste exports and the National Waste Policy Action Plan are several good steps forward, but there were some missteps too.
Among the other decisions from the MEM meeting are the adoption of broader waste minimisation targets in the National Waste Action Plan such as 80 per cent resource recovery and halving organic waste by 2030.
Likewise, the meeting committed to a greater commitment to recycled roads as an important solution, with the Commonwealth to play a leading role.
Additionally, it was recognised that brands and packaging supply chain members need to make clear their ‘buy recycled’ commitments. The meeting committed to harmonising container deposit schemes and recognising the need for infrastructure investment for domestic sustainability, decisions all welcomed by ACOR.
ACOR noted it was concerned with a failure to enact an immediate ban on baled tyre exports as there are readily available markets for the material and serious environmental impacts from its continued export for two more years.
It is also concerned with further indecision on funding for time-critical infrastructure especially for mixed paper decontamination and plastics reprocessing capacity, as well as a continued lack of substantive progress on the product stewardship agenda, including batteries.
ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said it’s hard to understand why banning baled tyres has not been prioritised as ample evidence was produced on the environmental impact of exports, the existing domestic capacity for reprocessing, and the legal avenues available.
“If one or two jurisdictions blocked this, they need to state their reasons so they can be addressed, and so the ban date can be revisited and expedited at COAG itself. Otherwise, other jurisdictions should just start now via regulations as there is minimal risk in doing so,” Mr Shmigel said.
“On the other hand, it’s good to see more commitment to recycled roads as a practical, no/low cost solution for domestic sustainability. There is evidence that specifying recycled content in even 12 major projects around the country can double our plastics recycling rate, and we should move forward faster on that front, including at COAG where we look forward to the Prime Minister’s continued leadership on recycling,”
Ministers also agreed to write to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to set out their expectations with respect to new packaging targets.
APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly, tasked with supporting the delivery of the National 2025 Packaging Targets, applauded the ministers for agreeing on the National Waste Policy: Action Plan 2019.
“APCO was involved closely during the consultation and evolution of this approach and is proud to be identified as a key delivery partner for a range of actions moving forward. In particular, we look forward to working with Planet Ark to develop and launch the Circular Economy Hub online platform and marketplace,” Ms Donnelly said.
“We acknowledge the support of ministers as we strive to be more ambitious, and in particular work with industry and key stakeholders to develop a revised target for the use of recycled content in all packaging. In practical terms, today’s announcement reinforces the collective efforts of the entire supply chain, including APCO’s Members, to deliver a truly sustainable packaging system for Australia, as we continue the transition to a circular economy.”
Waste Management Review speaks to the Australian Council of Recycling about how its new board reflects the new reality of recycling.
A NSW ReachTel poll has shown strong support for red bin recycling, with 93 per cent supporting the recycling industry and 79 per cent supporting the use of organics on farm use.
The poll, conducted in mid-February with 1546 representative respondents, affirms the NSW Government’s move to protect the future of the alternative waste treatment (AWT) industry, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR.)
The poll comes months after the NSW EPA announced it was stopping the restricted use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land after comprehensive independent studies into potential health risks.
Media reports indicate that NSW Government Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton wrote to the state’s major recycling companies to reveal the government was awaiting expert advice to determine the future use of mixed waste organics.
The poll shows that 92.8 per cent agree that reducing waste and recycling products into new products and uses is important, 78.6 per cent support the use of “organic material for farm use and land rehabilitation,” and 87.3 per cent support “increasing recycling and reducing landfill by processing food and garden material from rubbish bins into useful products.”
ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the community overwhelmingly supports the treatment and recovery of household residual material and its diversion from landfill.
He added that this has been the practice by AWT operators in NSW for 18 years prior to a pre-emptive government decision to delete the practice, alluding to the ban on mixed waste organic outputs.
“It’s pointless to send valuable material to landfill and to miss out on the benefits to farms, mine sites, the environment, and jobs,” Mr Shmigel said.
The results show participants were primarily concerned with increased landfill and pollution in the environment.
Mr Shmigel said the next step after the NSW election is for the government and the EPA to collaborate with industry on the details and delivery of a revived AWT sector.
A new analysis for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) by independent consultancy firm Equilibrium has estimated the cost of mandatory product stewardship schemes on consumers.
The analysis looked at mandatory product stewardship approaches for different products, and estimated the potential dollars per unit that a mandatory scheme would cost.
Under the current Product Stewardship Act 2011, schemes can be established for a variety of different products and materials to lower their lifecycle impacts.
Mandatory schemes involve enabling regulations to be made that require some persons to take specific action on products, according to the analysis. This could include restricting the manufacture or import of products, prohibiting products from containing particular substances, labelling and packaging requirements and other requirements for reusing, recovering, treating or disposing of products.
For a mandatory e-waste scheme, the cost is estimated to be between $1.55 and $1.85 for an e-waste unit size equivalent product of 0.75 kilograms. For mattresses, the cost of a mattress unit (standard double size) would be between $14.50 to $16.50. A mandatory tyre scheme would cost about $3.50 to $4.00 equivalent passenger units.
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ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the Australian community has long supported recycling and overwhelmingly wants to be able to recycle more products and items.
“This new data shows that we can do so affordably. In all cases, the cost of recycling these items is likely to be lower than two per cent of their consumer price. Therefore, cost concerns should not be a key barrier to action by our policy-makers,” he said.
Mr Shmigel said that recycling of these items is a well-established practice overseas, including in much less developed countries, and it is difficult to understand why it is not here too.
“Indeed, the formal review of Australia’s Product Stewardship Act has disappeared and is significantly overdue, the new National Waste Policy has a blank space for product stewardship, and there has been no news following ministers’ apparent discussion of product stewardship at the December 2018 Meeting of Environment Ministers.”
ACOR also believes the major political parties need to make commitments in the areas of recycling infrastructure investment, incentives for and procurement of recycled content products and community education. It has submitted industry analysis for consideration.
Equilibrium Managing Director Nick Harford said that while they can be improved, the current co-regulated TV, computer and mobile phone product stewardship schemes are producing good results. He added that there has been no demonstrable consumer concern about their cost.
“While the current schemes are not mandatory, and research estimates that mandatory schemes may have higher administration costs, the estimated cost per unit in relation to the total product cost is generally reasonable,” he said.
The analysis of the potential impacts of mandatory schemes covered factors including:
- Collection and transport
- Processing and recycling
- Compliance, monitoring, audit and reporting
- Safety and environmental management
- Marketing, communications and education
Three new directors have been appointed to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) Board at the organisation’s Annual General Meeting.
Chair of the Australian Council of Recycling and owner of Re.Group, which oversees the container deposit schemes in the ACT and Queensland, David Singh was one of the new directors appointed to the board. His selection is part of APCO’s efforts to collaborate with the waste and recycling industries and its support for the rollout of container deposit schemes nationally.
- Scrunching the issue of soft plastics
- APCO conduct brand audit for 2025 recycling target
- APCO’s packaging recycling label program
CEO, Director and Company Secretary of the Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia and Board Director of the Banksia Foundation, Andrew Petersen was also selected to be a director.
Fellow of the Australian Institute of Packaging Keith Chassell was appointed to the board. Mr Chassell has around 50 years of experience in the packaging, fast moving consumer goods and the food and beverage sectors.
The Board of Directors for 2019 includes Sam Andersen, Andrew Petersen, Keith Chessell, David Singh, Trent Bartlett, Jacky Nordsvan, Anne Astin, Jason Goode and Renata Lopes.
APCO Board Chair Sam Andersen said the board is delighted to welcome the new board members who bring a wealth and diversity of industry experience at a critical time for Australia’s waste and recycling, packaging and sustainability sectors.
“This has been a remarkable year of growth and progress for APCO, and we look forward to an even more productive year in 2019 with the support and guidance of the new Board Directors,” Ms Andersen said.
The Australian Council of Recycling has released a 10-point plan for results-based recycling, which has been submitted to the consultation process for the new National Waste Policy.
It aims to assist the industry and government reaching the goal of 100 per cent recovery of recyclable, compostable, reusable or recoverable materials and their diversion from landfill.
The plan details public policy measures such as reforming waste levies to focus on increasing recycling rates with an exemption of recycling residuals across each state.
It also recommends a $1.5 billion investment of waste disposal levy funds into recycling, with transparency and allocation to resource recovery objectives. This funding could potentially be used to invest in recyclate market development and commercialisation projects, improving infrastructure and technology used for sorting and reprocessing, investment into data collection for decision making, and investment into the cost of kerbside recycling.
A landfill ban for batteries, e-waste, and other potentially hazardous materials is recommended in the report as a way of making end of life producer responsibility the way to pay for recycling.
It also recommends a national recycling infrastructure audit, development of new metrics for waste, recycling and resource recovery activity beyond tonnes diverted, the examination of trends and how to optimise parallel container deposit schemes to build a sustainable domestic recycling sector through national industry development.
The plan includes the introduction of a resource recovery incentive for industry with different tax levels for virgin and recycled material in packaging and road construction.
Improving contestability in the recycling sector, creating a dedicated Clean Energy Finance Corporation funding initiative to support recyclate materials collection and sorting, and using more energy recovered from residual waste to generate sustainable energy are key measures to improve recycling according to the report.
The plan also outlines standardising recycling methods and improving government approaches to planning, regulation and enforcement.
To read the plan, click here.
Waste Management Review speaks to Peter Schmigel, the new Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), about some of the key issues facing the recycling sector.