Federal Government opens export ban consultation

As required by COAG Regulation Impact Guidelines, the Federal Environment Department is seeking consultation on its export ban Regulation Impact Statement (RIS).

The department aims to determine the relative costs and benefits of regulatory options under consideration. The RIS highlights two options, one non-regulatory and one regulatory.

Option one, status quo with consumer education and work on standards, suggests waste exports could continue between countries party to the Basel Convention Hazardous Waste Act.

Under option one, government would encourage improved outcomes through non-regulatory initiatives such as household education campaigns, targets under the National Waste Action Plan and increased use of recyclable material in procurement.

“Under the status quo approach, current laws would continue to operate. As this option is non-regulatory, it is not expected to increase compliance costs,” the RIS reads.

“Businesses will be able to continue to determine whether to export waste materials in accordance with the Hazardous Waste Act framework and the laws of the importing country.”

Problems with this approach, as highlighted by the RIS, include disruptions to international markets, unregulated international standards and poor environmental outcomes.

“The status quo will not fully address interrelated systemic challenges in Australia’s recycling sector that limit domestic resource recovery,” the RIS reads.

“Without addressing these challenges, the imposition of import restrictions by other countries could result in a range of health, environmental and financial impacts.”

Listed impacts include increased landfilling, recyclable mismanagement, stockpiling and illegal dumping.

As an alternative, the RIS highlights a regulatory approach: prohibit or restrict plastic, paper, tyre and glass exports.

“Under this option, affected waste would need to be processed domestically,” the RIS reads.

“The material could be restricted from export until it had been re-processed into materials that are ready for further use, and should not harm human health or the environment in the importing country.”

According to the RIS, option two could be implemented through commonwealth legislation, or alternatively, through export restrictions such as permit systems and accreditation or supply chain assurance.

Exemptions could be considered, the RIS suggests, where continued export promotes circular economy principals.

“These could include exemption for materials that meet established industrial uses and have established markets,” the RIS reads.

The RIS also suggests exemptions could be considered for material that originates from clean well-sorted systems, such as container deposit schemes or single source collection, with demonstrated low contamination levels.

Option two contains two variants: under option two (a) government would not undertake targeted interventions or provide financial assistance to support implementation. While under option two (b), regulation would be supported by targeted government interventions to improve material standards and build markets and associated demand.

Listed targeted interventions include developing technical standards to encourage increased recyclable material use, changes to landfill levies and regulatory standards, product stewardship schemes, transitional industry assistance and changes to government procurement policies.

Benefits to this approach include providing future assurance to industry and all levels of government, and encouraging innovation and investment.

Submissions close 12 February.

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187 countries agree to regulate plastic trade

The United Nations has announced amendments to the Basel Convention, including the characterisation of plastic as a hazardous material.

The Basel Convention controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another, and with 187 signatories is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on waste.

The amendment was approved by Australia and 186 other countries following a two week conference. Noticeably absent was the United States, the largest plastic waste exporter in the world.

The United States was one of two countries not to ratify the agreement.

UN Environment Executive Secretary Rolph Payet said plastic waste had reached epidemic proportions, with an estimated 100 million tonnes found in the world’s oceans.

“Governments this week amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework,” Mr Payet said.

“Which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, while also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.”

Mr Payet said a new Partnership on Plastic Waste will be established to assist with implementing the new measures.

“The partnership will provide a set of practical supports including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance for this ground-breaking agreement,” Mr Payet said.

Break Free From Plastic Global Coordinator Von Hernandez, who attended the conference, said the amendment will require exporters to obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or un-recyclable plastic waste.

“After China banned imports of most plastic waste in 2018, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, have received a huge influx of contaminated and mixed plastic wastes that are difficult or even impossible to recycle,” Mr Hernandez said.

“This decision provides an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.”

BaliFokus Co-Founder Yuyun Ismawati, who also attended the conference, said the amendment would force higher standards of responsible plastic waste management.

Ms. Ismawati said Indonesia had received an additional 184,702 tons of plastic waste following China’s National Sword policy – with imports increasing by 141 per cent and exports decreasing by 48 per cent.

“Toxic plastics disposed by rich communities in other countries will no longer become the burden of poor communities,” Ms Ismawati said.

According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Indonesia is Australia’s second-largest waste destination, taking 19 per cent of total waste exports.

The amendment follows a recent Malaysian investigation into illegal plastic waste imports and an Indian ban on the material.

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