WMRR challenges export ban timeline

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.”

Related stories:

Federal Government releases recycling market review

Australia may need to increase plastic throughput by 400 per cent to sustain viable domestic reprocessing markets, according to the Federal Government’s Recycling Market Situation Summary Review.

To assist national waste policy rollout, the department commissioned Sustainable Resource Use to undertake a literature review of opportunities to grow markets in recycled glass, plastics, rubber, paper and cardboard.

“In summary, the local and global markets for the recyclable materials – paper and cardboard, plastics, and glass – are all volatile in 2019,” the review reads.

According to the review, this is largely due to regulatory restrictions on the import of recycled material to China and other Asian nations.

“The market security and pricing for recyclables is strongly linked to the availability of markets [to transform waste] back into new products, either as packaging or durable goods,” the review reads.

“There is a recognition that government and major brands have a role in procuring recycled content product in order to create the market pull for a healthy circular outcome.”

The review suggests local governments are facing collection and sorting price uncertainty, and are under pressure to commit to recycled material procurement.

“They are also facing calls for greater effort to control contaminants and to adjust collections to accommodate soft plastics and collect glass separately,” the review reads.

“There are also calls for funding assistance [from state and federal governments] to support new reprocessing infrastructure and modifications to sorting and collection systems.”

Identified opportunities: 

In an environment of constrained export markets for plastics, the review suggests dramatically increasing local plastic reprocessing.

“That expansion may need to be a 400 per cent increase in throughput, and this in turn will require new market outlets for recycling plastic resin, both into packaging and other applications,” the review reads.

The review also highlights significant opportunities to undertake secondary sorting of paper and cardboard, free from major contaminants.

“This approach appears to be a path forward, where source separation might be introduced selectively and progressively,” the review reads.

“This would provide scrap paper and paperboard products of ever improving quality and quantity, suitable for domestic reprocessing or for sale into export markets.”

If glass can be collected and provided for benefaction in large enough fragment sizes for sorting, the review suggests opportunities exist for additional cullet use in packaging production.

“Most sorters receive no revenue for their glass but pay a fee. This is at a level well below landfill disposal costs,” the review reads.

“With more material coming back through deposit systems, the MRF tonnes may decrease and access to benefaction will need to be assured.”

Related stories: