Treading carefully on waste exports

It’s time we transformed into an economy that values all our resources and takes accountability onshore, writes Matt Genever, Director Resource Recovery, Sustainability Victoria.

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NWRIC discusses export ban with Minister Ley

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has asked Environment Minister Sussan Ley to bring the ban on whole bale tyre exports forward to July 2020, in parallel with glass.

According to an NWRIC statement, the potential harm to humans and the environment by exporting whole baled tyres is significant, with ample capacity to process the material into value added products domestically.

NWRIC members made the request at their quarterly meeting in Canberra this week, which Ms Ley attended to discuss export ban execution and the implications of the proposed timetable.

At the meeting, council members indicated their support for the intent of the ban, and welcomed the strong leadership of the Federal Government, according to an NWRIC statement.

In reference to mixed plastics, NWRIC advised Ms Ley that more time is required for industry to purchase equipment and scale processing capacity. The council also argued for the need to fast track local plastic demand through packaging.

Additionally, NWRIC called the export ban on baled paper and cardboard “illogical,” given local demand is limited and strong existing markets exist overseas.

“This also applies to the export of single resin polymer plastics, such as clean bales of PET and HDPE. The vast majority of this resource is going to legitimate licensed overseas manufacturers,” the statement reads.

How to build local demand for recovered materials for packaging, products and infrastructure was another topic of conversation.

“The minister emphasised the government’s commitment to increase the uptake of recovered materials by changing their procurement practices,” the statement reads.

“She also stressed that businesses must step up too, especially the packaging industry, manufacturers and retailers, by ramping up the use of recycled materials. This program is especially needed in plastic packaging and products.”

NWRIC also argued that for the ban to be successful, new obligations must extend beyond the waste and resource recovery sector, to include organisations importing products to Australia.

“A circular economy requires all parts of the supply chain participate. This also includes consumers who must buy recycled, along with households plus businesses sorting recycling better,” the statement reads.

“Importantly, the minister acknowledged that Australia is a net importer of plastics and paper, so this needs to be considered in implementing the export ban.”

NWRIC members also requested Ms Ley consider banning the export of whole crushed car bodies, white good and waste motor oils.

“All of these products, when exported unprocessed, are causing serious harm to human health and the environment in locations across Asia,” the statement reads.

In addition to the export ban, Ms Ley and NWRIC members discussed the challenges of diverting organics from landfill, and the need for nationally consistent landfill levies.

According to the statement, NWRIC told Ms Ley that there needs to be greater transparency and investment of levies back into developing recovered materials markets, community education, compliance activities, research and data collection. NWRIC members also highlighted the importance of state investment being matched by the Commonwealth.

Related stories:

Waste export bans alone won’t drive resource recovery

Waste export bans won’t deliver the National Waste Policy Action Plan resource recovery targets unless recycled materials are used in packaging, products and infrastructure, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council.

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Tyrecycle questions export ban delay

While Tyrecycle welcomes the Australian Environment Minister’s agreement to ban the export of whole baled tyres, the recycler has called the two-year implementation delay disappointing.

According to a Tyrecycle statement, the decision to delay implementation also represents a missed opportunity to grow local markets.

“To learn the ban specific to whole-baled tyres won’t be implemented until December 2021, six months after plastics which are far more challenging, seems nonsensical,” the statement reads.

“Not only is there already sufficient processing capacity in Australia for end-of-life tyres, but there are also existing local and overseas markets for recycled tyre products.”

A new report commissioned by the Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) shows that present Australian capacity is capable of recycling all the material currently exported as bales.

“We already have the capability to recycle tyres for use in asphalt for road surfacing, in tile adhesive, in soft fall and sporting surfaces and as tyre-derived fuels to replace fossil fuel use,” the statement reads.

“All we need is a commitment to increased levels of domestic procurement for tyre-derived products.”

The statement suggests that delayed timeframes will lead to the continued exportation of roughly 70,000 tonnes of whole bales tyres per year.

“Indian authorities are presently seeking to clamp down on imports of used tyres and a recent decision by India’s Green Tribunal leans toward banning any imports of whole tyres that would be used in batch pyrolysis reactors. Surely, it’s a far more ethical and environmentally responsible approach for Australia to act first,” the statement reads.

“A ban, implemented sooner rather than later stands to create local jobs, attract investment in domestic infrastructure and technology, and position Australia as a global leader in the circular economy.”

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NWRIC raises concerns over export ban viability

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has raised concern’s over COAG’s proposed export ban, suggesting the regulatory measure will fail if not supported by markets for recovered plastics and paper.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the Meeting of Environment Minister’s (MEM) announcement is in urgent need of adjustment to ensure the timelines are realistic.

“Its intent is noteworthy, however its achievability is seriously constrained unless markets and infrastructure are established in parallel,” Ms Read said.

“Perverse impacts from the ban must be avoided as Australia seeks to address its waste and recycling challenges.”

According to Ms Read, NWRIC members are keen to work with all agencies and the packaging and manufacturing industry to support developing markets and regulatory shifts. 

“However, we are very concerned that the regulatory focus is being crudely placed at the end-of-pipe and not at the source of the issue i.e. brands and producers,” Ms Read added. 

“The proposed export bans have the potential to address Australia’s packaging waste and recycling challenges, but only if supported by appropriately targeted product stewardship regulation and effective government procurement policies that create new home markets for used packaging.” 

Ms Read said it was also unrealistic to enforce export bans for plastics by July 2021 and paper by June 2022, when the packaging industry and manufacturers are only working to achieve 30 per cent recycled content and 100 per cent recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. 

“Currently, there is no regulation requiring manufacturers or the packaging industry to achieve these targets or penalties if they don’t.  This is far from being equitable,” Ms Read said.

Despite concerns, Ms Read said NWRIC welcomes the environment ministers commitment to further test the proposed export ban timetable with industry and local government prior to finalisation in early 2020.

“The NWRIC is calling on the federal environment minister to bring together a round table of industry leaders from the manufacturing, packaging, waste and resource recovery sectors, to commit to both minimum recycled content levels in plastic and paper packaging and scaling up reprocessing capacity within mutually agreed and realistic timeframes,” Ms Read said.

“If the environment ministers do not prioritise minimum recycled content levels in plastic and paper packaging, there will be no markets for recovered plastic and paper, stockpiles will grow increasing fire risk, resources will be sent to landfill, people may lose their jobs and currently viable businesses will cease.”

To read further industry responses to the export ban timeline click here.

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Waste export bans are one part of the solution

The Prime Minister’s August announcement to ban the export several waste types is a welcomed development. It has the potential to reboot local reprocessing and markets for recovered materials, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. 

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