The sunshine state has given a swathe of single-use plastics the flick, with the latest ban taking effect today as part of efforts to stop waste from ending up in local waterways, beaches and landfill.
With the first wave of export bans set to commence in July, Waste Management Review speaks with industry stakeholders about investment expectations and the globalised waste economy.
The National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is calling on the Council of Australia Governments (COAG) to ensure clean, high grade paper and cardboard are exempt from waste export bans.
According to NWRIC CEO Rose Read, while industry supports banning waste glass, whole baled tyres, mixed plastic and mixed paper exports, the NWRIC does not support banning clean paper and cardboard exports.
“Australia currently exports close to 1.1 million tonnes of clean, high grade paper and cardboard every year, approximately one third of the material we use. This export market is estimated to be worth more than $230 million,” Ms Read said.
“Without the capacity to export clean paper and cardboard, recycling services could fail, including household kerbside collections.”
Ms Read added that Australia does not currently have the capacity to locally remanufacture all the paper and cardboard it generates.
“Australia’s domestic paper mills that process recycled paper are in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. These mills do not currently have sufficient capacity to take all of the recycled paper and cardboard generated on the east coast. Let alone that generated in SA, NT and WA, who rely on overseas markets,” she said.
“Recycled paper is only purchased by a small number of reprocessors, limiting competition.”
The NWRIC is inviting COAG to work with the waste and resource recovery industry to develop national scrap specifications for metals, plastics, paper, cardboard, e-waste and other recycled materials.
“These would give the waste management and recycling sector clarity and certainty on what can be exported, and manufacturers confidence in the recovered material being supplied,” Ms Read said.
With just over a month to go, Ewaste Watch questions how prepared Victoria is to realise the benefits of the e-waste landfill ban.
Victoria will become the third jurisdiction in Australia to ban e-waste from landfill on 1 July, following in the footsteps of the ACT and South Australia.
Ewaste Watch director Rose Read said while the state government has made efforts to increase the number of convenient drop-off locations, she is unsure if communities and businesses are sufficiently aware of new collection points.
Ms Read also said critical questions had not been answered, including, will householders and businesses have to pay for the recycling? What controls are in place to ensure waste is properly recycled? What will happen to data left on electronic items? And can householders and businesses take their electronic goods back to manufacturers for free recycling?
“Finally, will local councils who are left to implement the landfill ban be able to field the many questions and provide collection services that meet the expectations of residents and businesses?” Ms Read said.
“If not, there is a real risk we may see an increase in illegal dumping, problematic stockpiling and general non-compliance with the ban.”
Ewaste Watch’s second Director John Gertsakis believes the ban is only one part of the e-waste solution, and that federal government must expand the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to include all electronic and electrical products not covered by an industry product stewardship scheme.
“Councils need the support of manufacturers, brands and retailers to ensure recycling is free, and that community-friendly options are provided for electronics reuse, repair and recycling,” Mr Gertsakis said.
“The Victorian e-waste ban is a great opportunity to adjust consumer behaviour, build a circular economy and provide a clear signal to the electronics and battery industries to produce more durable and sustainable goods.”
The Western Australian Government will begin enforcing its lightweight plastic bag ban will from January 1, 2019, with fines of up to $5000 for retailers that continue to supply plastic bags.
Plastic bag suppliers and manufacturers that provide misleading information when selling bags to retailers also risk prosecution and fines.
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The ban includes any bag made of plastic with handles and a thickness of 35 microns or less.
WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said the state’s plastic bag ban has been well supported by the community.
“From January 1, 2019 it will be an offence for retailers to supply lightweight plastic bags – this includes small retail shops, takeaway food outlets and markets,” Mr Dawson said.
“Consumers can help by remembering to take their own reusable bags when they go shopping.
“Taking lightweight plastic bags out of the litter stream is a significant step towards protecting our environment.”
The plastic waste crisis is expected to deepen, potentially leading to a federal response in the form of an emergency tax by 2021, according to global wealth manager Credit Suisse.
It argues that reactionary policy measures are highly likely in the short term and could include a tax on virgin resins or additional tariffs placed on imported plastic goods in its report, The age of plastic at a tipping point.
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With too much plastic waste domestically and with no large export markets available, Credit Suisse estimates there will be a sharp increase in plastic being sent to landfill and illegal dumping.
“Our headline view is that things will get worse before they get better: the policy initiatives in the National Waste Strategy won’t take hold until FY20/21,” the report said.
Credit Suisse expects bans on single use-plastics to be extended to the six most common plastic packaging and tax incentives to be provided to help hit the 2025 target of 30 per cent recycled content in packaging.
The long lead time from policy approval to implementation is problematic, particularly for new waste infrastructure, which the company said will likely lead to a more supportive project approval environment for waste infrastructure.
Waste managers are expected to benefit from this scenario, with short term potential from council re-negotiations and long-term potential to fast-track waste infrastructure approvals, according to the report.
“Plastic has infiltrated almost every aspect of human life. It is the most prolific material on the planet, growing faster than any commodity in the last 33 years,” the report said.
“Plastic packaging has become one of the most intractable environmental challenges of our age. None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable; they accumulate in landfills or the natural environment rather than decompose.
“To curtail the situation in the short run, it is a matter of when, not if, we see reactionary policy measures,” the report said.
European Parliament has endorsed a proposition to ban 10 single-use plastic products which are commonly found on Europe’s beaches and seas, including drinking straws, cutlery and abandoned fishing gear.
The 10 products targeted also include plastic cotton buds, plates, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons and form up to 70 per cent of all marine litter items.
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Single-use drink containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.
Under the rules proposed in May, member states will be obliged to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drink cups. This can be done through national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale or ensuring that there is a charge attached to single-use plastic products.
Certain products will require clear and standardised labelling that includes how to dispose of the waste, the negative environmental impact of the product and the presence of plastics in the product.
The European Commission has also teamed up with the United Nations Environment Programme to launch a coalition of aquariums to fight plastic pollution.
Aquariums around the world will organise permanent activities and be invited to change their procurement policies for their canteens and shops to eliminate all single-use plastic items.
The coalition aims to have at least 200 aquariums on board by 2019 to raise public awareness about plastic pollution.
EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said the European Commission has been working for 18 months to instigate and build this global coalition.
“Aquariums are a window to our ocean. With their collections and their educational programmes, they show us what we need to protect, and they inspire the ocean lovers of tomorrow,” he said.
“Millions of people visit aquariums around the world every year. This will mobilise them to rethink the way we use plastic.”
The Victorian Government has awarded 76 councils a share of $16.5 million to improve the state’s e-waste infrastructure.
Funding will go towards upgrading more than 130 e-waste collection and storage sites and help local councils to safely store and collect increasing amounts of e-waste.
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The funding aims to assist councils prepare for the state’s ban on e-waste which will come into effect in July 2019.
The upgrades aim to ensure 98 per cent of Victorians in metropolitan areas are within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point and 98 per cent of regional Victorians are within a 30-minute drive from a disposal point.
Councils will receive discarded electronics which will then be stripped of components for reprocessing or sold on the second-hand goods market.
Applications will also open in November for a share of $790,000 to deliver local education campaigns, with councils able to apply for up to $10,000 in funding.
E-waste is defined as anything with a plug or a battery that has reached the end of its useful life, including phones, computers, white goods, televisions and air conditioners.
The amount of e-waste generated in Victoria is projected to increase from 109,000 tonnes in 2015 to 256,000 tonnes in 2035.
Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the funding will ensure the state has one of the best e-waste collection infrastructure networks in Australia.
“We’re delivering on our promise to maximise recycling and minimise the damage e-waste has on our environment,” she said.
The Victorian Government has launched a campaign to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags ahead of the state’s 2019 ban on lightweight, single-use plastic bags.
The Better Bag Habits campaign urges Victorians to remember their bag, wallet, keys and phone when leaving the house. The campaign will run on social media and radio.
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Some tips the campaign will encourage will be to store reusable bags in the car, at home, work to ensure customers are always ready to shop. It also encourages the use of foldable bags that can easily fit into a pocket, handbag or backpack.
Research commissioned by Sustainability Victoria found around three quarters of Victorians already carry reusable bags when food shopping.
Younger Victorians and those on higher incomes have been the slowest to say no to single-use bags, particularly when shopping for non-food items.
The ban on single-use plastic bags will come apply to shopping bags less than 35 microns tick after community consultation found a 96 per cent of the 8000 submissions were for the ban.
The state government is also working with other states and territories to phase out thick plastic bags to further reduce plastic pollution.
Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said Victorians are already saying no to plastic bags, but this campaign will encourage it to become a habit.
“We’re stopping plastic pollution and ensuring Victorians are ready to live without single-use, lightweight plastic bags.”
Waste Management Review speaks to Stan Krpan, Chief Executive Officer at Sustainability Victoria, about the organisation’s future approach to data capture, Victoria’s e-waste ban to landfill and the health of the waste sector.