The Victorian Government’s four-year Recycling Victoria policy will invest more than $300 million into the state’s waste and recovery sector, including 40.9 million to establish recycling infrastructure in regional areas.
For COAG’s export bans to be a success, harmonisation of Australia’s regulatory framework is key. Jim Fairweather, ResourceCo CEO, explains.
The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has labelled the NSW State Budget ‘short sighted’, with the real economic potential of the waste and resource recovery industry being bypassed for a reliance on landfill levies.
Victorians are being asked to provide feedback on the proposed model for the state’s container deposit scheme (CDS), which will be rolled out by 2023.
The NSW Government is seeking an industry partner to co-develop a funding proposal for new paper/cardboard processing capacity in preparation for the 1 July 2024 COAG export ban on mixed waste paper and cardboard.
Following COAG’s March 2020 agreement to phase out exports of certain waste materials, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Federal Government would co-invest in recycling infrastructure with state and territory governments and industry.
The Federal Government has now invited state and territory governments to submit funding proposals for new paper and cardboard processing.
“These proposals need to be for economically viable projects that best address national pressures, utilise best-practice methodology, know-how and technology, achieve value for money and maximise industry financial contributions,” a NSW Government statement reads.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has welcomed the announcement, and is optimistic about further funding announcements in due course.
“If governments’ ongoing efforts in developing the right policy and funding settings for the impending COAG waste exports bans are anything to go by, then there is much Australia can look forward to in its goal to build domestic recycling capacity and future-proof our essential waste and resource recovery sector,” a WMRR statement reads.
With COVID-19 impeding growth and progress for numerous industries, WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the association is encouraged by the scale of work being undertaken to ensure Australia has the necessary strategic policies to build a sustainable environment and lay out a roadmap for recovery.
“One of the things we’ve been saying to all governments is that planning for the bans must continue so that Australia can emerge out of COVID-19 with a viable and resilient sector that drives domestic processing of materials and importantly, provides local revenue and jobs – not just during the infrastructure development phase, but also across operations throughout the lifespan of facilities and services,” Ms Sloan said.
“The release of this EOI is proof that the government agrees that there are opportunities in our sector – both in the domestic recovery of materials and the recovery of economies.”
According to Ms Sloan, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for Australia to build a resilient domestic economy.
“The WARR industry stands ready to continue working with governments to capitalise on these opportunities and create remanufacturing jobs and investment throughout Australia,” she said.
“This is a sector where the well will not run dry because where there are people, there are and will be waste (resources) ready to be remanufactured back into the products they once were.”
Applications to the Federal Government are due 31 July, with a decision on successful projects expected at the end of August.
Commencement of the Victorian EPA’s new Environment Protection Act 2018 has been postponed until 1 July 2021, due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.
The Act was originally scheduled to commence 1 July this year.
According to a Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning statement, the decision is part of the state government’s focus on delivering a suite of initiatives designed to ease the burden on business, industry and Victorians as they address the impacts of the pandemic.
“As a result of this decision, the EPA will continue to regulate under the Environment Protection Act 1970, including all subordinate legislation (regulations and statutory policies including state environment protection policies and waste management policies) until the new commencement date,” the statement reads.
“The Victorian Government is committed to the EPA’s reforms and the long-term benefits they will provide for all Victorians. This is not a cancellation of the environment protection reforms. As with many aspects of working life at the present time, it is a responsive adjustment to the current circumstances.”
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has welcomed the announcement, with CEO Gayle Sloan noting that WMRR has been engaging with the regulator.
“Originally slated to commence this July, the new Act represents a significant shift in approach towards prevention, as well as a more flexible, risk-based approach to compliance – both of which are welcome, but will take time for industry and government to work through together to get the balance right,” she said.
“Additionally, with the current challenges being faced by all of Australia, including our essential industry, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is consumed with the job at hand of keeping our services operating and ensuring the safety of our staff and the community, and we need to remain focused on this task at this time and not further regulatory change.”
According to Ms Sloan, the deferral further illustrates that the Victorian Government listens to the needs of industry and considers its concerns and recommendations.
“WMRR appreciates the government’s decision to defer the commencement of the new EP Act by a year, which affords all of us – industry and governments alike – time to work through the sticking points and ensure that the Act meets all its objectives and the industry is given sufficient time to plan for the changes,” she said.
“Importantly, the EPA is keenly aware that now is not the time to be effecting significant regulatory changes, and as we continue to face mounting challenges related to the pandemic, business as usual is unrealistic.”
WMRR is encouraging other government to reconsider the need to progress additional regulations that will place undue financial and operational pressure on operators already facing difficult times.
“We would encourage other jurisdictions to urgently pivot towards a post-COVID-19 world for our essential industry, by actioning strategic policies and plans that will build a solid foundation for a strong and sustainable environment, as well as fast tracking the capital funding, planning, and approval of waste and resource recovery and remanufacturing infrastructure,” she said.
“Doing this now, we hope, will enable us to come out of this pandemic with a strong and viable sector, which will positively offer a much-needed boost to local economies, creating local jobs that will be welcomed now and into the future.”
According to an Engage Victoria statement, the EPA will continue to work with Victorian businesses, organisations and communities to prepare them for the act’s new date.
“This includes finalising and releasing the environment protection regulations and the Environment Reference Standard,” the statement reads.
Appropriately sorted paper and cardboard will be exempt from the Federal Government’s forthcoming waste export ban, as announced by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
The Victorian Government will invest $100 million into the state’s recycling system to drive research and expand local processing and manufacturing.
The investment follows a suite of additional announcements earlier this week, including the introduction of a container deposit scheme and roll out of a four-bin kerbside system.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the measures are part of the state’s 10-year Recycling Victoria plan, which aims to reform waste management and create sustainable industry.
The plan, Mr Andrews said, will create an additional 3900 jobs for the sector.
“The $100 million investment will help local businesses give new life to old rubbish – better processing recyclable materials and getting more value from waste by making it available for end-market uses like recycled plastic in railway sleepers or recycled glass in footpaths,” Mr Andrews said.
As part of the package, the state government will double funding for businesses to invest in infrastructure to sort and reprocess recyclables for use in manufacturing.
Mr Andrews said the $28 million infrastructure boost will bring the total funding available through the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to $56 million.
“The package includes $30 million in grants to make Victoria a leader in recycling innovation – creating new products from recycled materials like glass, plastic, organics, electronic waste, concrete, brick and rubber,” he said.
“The government will also provide $10 million in grants to help businesses improve resource efficiency, reduce waste and increase recycling in their daily operations – saving them time and money.”
A new $7 million Business Innovation Centre will also be established, to bring industry, universities and councils together to develop new technologies and collaborate on creative solutions to waste challenges.
“For waste that can’t be recycled, processors will also be able to access $10 million for waste-to-energy initiatives, minimising the amount of rubbish being sent to landfill, while $11.5 million will go towards treating hazardous waste – protecting the community from illegal chemical stockpiles,” Mr Andrews said.
According to Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan, the Victorian Government is leading the way by committing significant new funds to the industry.
“WMRR is pleased that the Victorian Government has flagged infrastructure investment as part of this package,” she said.
“This will be key to driving success as we work with government to continue to grow markets domestically for these valuable resources.”
Ms Sloan said that with 14 million tonnes of waste generated annually in Victoria, the investment represents a fantastic opportunity to transition the state’s remanufacturing industry.
“WMRR acknowledges that a sustainable remanufacturing base will take time to develop in Victoria, and its success depends on robust government regulation and policy that support market development and community and business demand for recycled material, which will go a long way in providing industry with certainty to invest,” Ms Sloan said.
According to Ms Sloan, WMRR will continue to work closely with Victoria’s leaders to provide feedback and input on the projects, policies, and investment priorities that will drive the sector forward.
“Market development and remanufacturing demand cannot however be achieved by one state alone,” she said.
“As we head towards the COAG meeting next month and impending export bans, it is vital that there be national action on creating markets and demand for recycled products, this includes emphasis on design, a mandated product stewardship scheme for packaging and national specifications.”
In a recently released statement, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) argues that export ban intentions will not be met under current proposed timelines.
“Developing necessary infrastructure alone will take years – and if this lack of emphasis on, and intervention in, the rest of the supply chain continues, the concern is that the bans will very likely result in perverse outcomes, including increasing volumes of materials sent to landfill,” the statement reads.
According to the statement, while the association recognises the Federal Government is working hard to understand the reality of the Australian market ahead of the ban, it queries the purpose of “yet another report” that does not offer new economic analysis.
“While WMRR agrees with some of the observations made in the recently released Recycling market situation summary review, these are neither new nor surprising, and have been widely advocated by WMRR and industry over the years,” the statement reads.
“Also, while the association acknowledges the intent behind the research, it is important that we move beyond consultants reviewing the work of other consultants, and instead talk with those at the coalface – the operators of the waste and resource recovery industry who manage these materials daily and directly, and will directly bear the impact (cost and market access) of the ban.”
WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said a lack of emphasis on product design by manufacturers in the lead up to the ban was disappointing.
“These are major barriers to the effective operating of the waste export bans and overall success of any circular economy. Urgent government action is required not just to ban, but to develop robust policy, regulation and funding frameworks that address these market failures and create demand for recycled materials in Australia,” Ms Sloan said.
“We need real funded solutions that close the loop.”
According to Ms Sloan, solutions include interventions by way of national standards for design and specifications, incentives, taxation reform, mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes and enforceable targets including the use of recycled material.
“Importantly, the Federal Government needs to take the lead by committing to procurement of recycled material now. Without these levers, there will continue to be a lack of market demand, which begs the question, where do you think materials will end up,” she said.
Ms Sloan added that now is not the time to start adding low value material such as soft plastics to yellow recycling bins.
“Rather, we need to standardise nationally what can go in the yellow bin, and if producers wish to produce packaging outside of this standard and accepted suite, they need to meet the costs of collecting and recycling those materials,” Ms Sloan said.
“That said, now is absolutely the time to have an open conversation about who should be funding these systems, as we cannot continue to expect councils and householders to continue to go it alone; those who produce these materials must be required to contribute as they already do overseas.”
Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about the potential tyre-derived fuel flow-on effects of the Council of Australian Governments’ proposed export ban.