The Victorian Government’s Recycling Victoria strategy is the largest package of recycling reforms in the state’s history. Waste Management Review explores the policy.
This article is the second in a three part series: part two will explore the forthcoming CDS, waste as an essential service and the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund. To read part one click here.
In recent years, Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system has faced a number of setbacks, from fires at material recycling facilities and illegal stockpiling, to uneven policy regulations and the collapse of major processor SKM Recycling in 2019. Added to this is uncertainty amid COVID-19 ramifications.
The SKM collapse was particularly noteworthy, entering mainstream consciousness after 33 Victorian councils were forced to landfill their recycling: calling the state’s infrastructure capacity into question.
Fast forward just one year, and the state is in better shape, with the release of Victoria’s long-awaited circular economy policy Recycling Victoria: A New Economy presenting widespread opportunity for sector growth.
CASH FOR CANS
Before Recycling Victoria’s February release, Victoria, often touted as the ‘progressive’ state, was the only Australian jurisdiction without a container deposit scheme (CDS) in place or forthcoming.
The state government’s CDS hesitance has been an ongoing point of frustration for industry, with Ms D’Ambrosio telling delegates at VWMA’s August 2019 State Conference that the state government had no current plans to develop a CDS.
Additionally, despite an acknowledgement of demonstrated success in other jurisdictions, Infrastructure Victoria’s October 2019 interim waste report suggested more analysis was needed on how to design an optimal scheme for the state. That said, the times are changing, with Recycling Victoria committing to introduce a CDS by 2023.
Speaking with Waste Management Review in March, Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister, said the Victorian commitment means Australia is now fully covered by CDS.
“The next question is whether we can get those schemes operating as harmoniously as possible. We know a harmonised approach between the states and territories would lead to the very best outcomes for Australia,” he said.
While the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) would prefer to see a national CDS, Rose Read, NWRIC CEO, says at minimum, Victoria should work with all other state and territory CDS’ to ensure performance criteria for community access, network distribution, collection and material recovery targets.
She adds that reporting set by governments should be consistent to ensure services can be delivered cost effectively by the industry to the beverage suppliers.
While Mark Smith, Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Outgoing Executive Officer, says he is supportive of Victoria’s CDS announcement, he similarly stresses the need to select a model that puts community access, ease of use and accessibility first, and doesn’t put remote and regional communities at a disadvantage.
“I’m optimistic that government will appropriately consultant with all the key stakeholders about a CDS role out including the VWMA members. Our association is here to advocate for our members and I’d really encourage the teams working on CDS to engage with us, Victoria’s peak body representing the sector” he says.
“I’d encourage any of our members who are concerned about CDS in Victoria to reach out and voice those concerns directly with us, so we can consider them when engaging with the government in coming months.”
Recognising that major reforms are needed to lift the performance of Victoria’s recycling sector, the state government will establish a new dedicated Waste and Recycling Act to govern all aspects associated with waste and recycling services. And in effect, regulate waste as an essential service.
“This new Act will address current gaps by requiring improved data collection from waste and recycling organisations (including material recovery facilities) to provide transparency and accountability for what happens to our waste,” the strategy reads.
Nick Harford, Equilibrium Managing Director, says regulating waste as an essential service represents sensible reform. He notes that in 2019, the Essential Services Commission was asked by the state government to review the waste and resource recovery sector.
“They provided a confidential report to government last year, and obviously we don’t know what was in it. But they indicated at the time that they saw a limited availability of recycling markets and additional capacity constraints,” he says.
According to Nick, the Essential Services Commission also indicated that they wanted to explore contractual arrangements, barriers to market and community and business expectations.
“I think these are the sorts of things they will now examine, and given the nature of those things, I expect there will need to be some consultation with stakeholders, if not the broader Victorian community,” he says.
Nick notes that responsibilities are likely to change under the Act, highlighting that local government currently holds authority for MSW waste, with different systems and kerbside compositions across local government areas.
“I think government is signalling that these new powers may enable a state-wide approach. It may be outcomes focused, for instance, the state government sets its expectations and it’s up to local government or other authorities to achieve that. Or it could be a more mandated approach,” he says.
The state government will also establish a new waste authority in 2021, with the aim of better governing Victoria’s waste and recycling systems, and holding waste service providers to account. This will ensure, the strategy suggests, that recent recycling disruptions are not repeated.
In terms of how these changes will affect the private sector, Nick forecasts that it will lead to increased accountability.
“It’s flagged in the policy that greater data collection and reporting is expected. Which I assume is another driver for legislating as an essential service, because it gives the state power to demand reporting from the sector,” he says.
“That will potentially lead to more costs, but we’ll have to see how it pans out. Recycling companies have been getting better and better in terms of tracking and reporting their materials handling. So really, it’s just business as usual. I think the general principle is that an informed market is an efficient market.”
Nick highlights that if the Essential Services Commission informs the purchase of waste and recycling services in a more effective manner, it could lead to increased competition, and as such, more innovation, as companies look for opportunities and competitive advantages.
In addition to essential services regulation, Nick highlights Recycling Victoria’s waste-to-energy (WtE) commitments as significant, albeit vague.
“This is an area where we as an industry need to see more detail, because the state government mentions giving priority to aerobic digestion as a technology, as well as putting a cap on the amount of material that can go to WtE via thermal technology,” he says.
Despite a recognition of the role WtE plays in a functioning resource recovery sector, the state government has placed a cap of one million tonnes a year on the amount of residual waste that can be used in thermal WtE facilities, until 2030.
“The cap will be implemented through new rules which will be given effect by legislation or regulations. The cap will include all thermal WtE facilities and apply to the quantity of waste they use as feedstocks,” the strategy reads.
In reference to the cap, Nick says he isn’t sure how it will play out.
“Does that include facilities that are already approved, even if they are not up and running? Australian Paper for example is already approved, which is 700,000 tonnes per annum of material earmarked for thermal processing. They haven’t secured that material yet, but it is on the drawing board,” he says.
According to Rose, applying a volume cap provides certainty to industry, and importantly, gives the community confidence that genuine recyclables won’t be used as feedstock.
“However, the NWRIC does not believe a cap of one million tonnes is appropriate, as currently there is over 4.2 million tonnes going to landfill, of which between 40 per cent to 50 per cent of this material would be considered eligible residual waste,” she says.
Under Recycling Victoria, the state government has also committed to supporting early entrants into Victoria’s WtE market, including facilities that use organic waste to make bioenergy or provide precinct-scale energy.
Investment support will include grant or loan funding, and investment facilitation to help proponents navigate regulatory and financial processes. The government will also fund research to develop safe end uses for residual products such as ash and digestate.
The state government has allocated $100 million via the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to help local businesses establish and upgrade infrastructure to sort and reprocess recyclables for use in manufacturing. The fund will be administered by Sustainability Victoria (SV).
“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,” Premier Daniel Andrew 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.”
Claire Ferres Miles, SV Chief Executive Officer, says SV are proud to have played a significant role in developing the Recycling Victoria policy.
“Our work to transform the recycling sector is already underway – SV designed and recently launched $39.5 million in grants from the Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund to boost recycling capacity in Victoria,” she says.
“We look forward to supporting all Victorians as together we transition to a circular economy, and ensuring our community has a recycling system that can be relied on.”
According to Claire, widespread disruption to global recycling market has exposed the volatility of Victoria’s recycling system, and the need to invest in industry to increase resilience.
“The Recycling Victoria Infrastructure Fund is focussed initially on plastics and paper and cardboard reprocessing and glass beneficiation, as there are significant gaps for these materials,” she says.
Claire notes however that the exact processing gap for any material is not clear cut, with many variables.
“Using market intelligence and horizon scan activity, we are proactively working to be aware of how materials are moving through our economy and where government intervention is required,” she says.
“As an example of this, we used our e-waste material flow analysis to identify photovoltaic panels as an emerging waste issue. This data has supported us to develop a national stewardship approach to address this issue.”
In addition to the Infrastructure Fund, Recycling Victoria will see the expansion of the state government’s Investment Facilitation Service.
“SV’s Investment Facilitation Service is available to all Victorian-based resource recovery businesses, and since its inception in 2015, has engaged with over 400 resource recovery projects,” Claire says.
“The service promotes opportunities in the sector, supports business case development and coordinates the investor’s relationship across government.”
The service has also been a critical conduit through which industry concerns and needs informed Recycling Victoria’s development, Claire says. She adds that much of this feedback and insight is reflected in the policy.
“Over the coming months, SV will work closely with industry to define an enhanced role for this service that is high value and fit-for-purpose, for both current and emerging challenges, and opportunities to achieve investment attraction in Victoria,” Claire explains.
In addition to the paper and cardboard, plastic and glass materials fund, SV has opened grants for the Infrastructure Fund’s hazardous waste stream, with expressions of interest sought until 8 May.
“There is an estimated 15,000 – 29,000 tonnes per annum of liquid hazardous wastes containing recyclable solvent that needs to be managed in Victoria. Currently there is limited capacity to recycle these solvents,” Claire says.
“This funding will support the establishment of recycling infrastructure to viably increase the recycling of solvents for use in the Victorian economy.”
Of the Investment Fund, Jillian Riseley, Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) Chief Executive Officer, says there is significant opportunity to improve infrastructure capacity across Victoria.
“It’s exciting as we look to the future and our role in facilitating the delivery of new recycling services contracts for councils,” she says.
Jillian adds that MWRRG is in the final stages of its review into the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan.
“It will make a range of recommendations for the waste and resource recovery sector to ensure we meet our future needs and objectives to reduce waste and increase resource recovery,” she says.
“In reviewing our Metropolitan Implementation Plan, we consulted with industry to understand the capacity and future needs of the sector to ensure we have the right infrastructure in place.”
MWRRG have ensured that the review recommendations align with the objectives of Recycling Victoria, the findings of Infrastructure Victoria’s report on the waste and resource recovery sector and the national waste policy, Jillian adds.
According to Duncan Lummis, ARCADIS Associate Technical Director, Recycling Victoria provides some long-awaited clarity and an outline route map to help steer Victoria away from its current over reliance on landfill and export markets for recyclables.
He adds that currently, multiple government agencies have either recently, or are in the process of, considering the scale of capacity gaps in Victoria’s reprocessing infrastructure.
“Sustainability Victoria’s updated 2018 Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan identified significant gaps across the state. Notably, these included a lack of reprocessing facilities for organic and residual wastes across all regions in Victoria,” he says.
These gaps, Duncan adds, have the potential to become more significant in light of the new, ambitious landfill diversion and recovery targets.
In the medium term, he says, FOGO processing capacity needs to be increased significantly to manage the newly expanded household services.
“The scale of the gaps, by region and material type, would be clearer with the release of government studies, data and analysis used to support the development of the new policy,” Duncan says.
In terms of Recycling Victoria’s infrastructure funding commitments, Duncan says “time will tell” as to whether the new funding referenced in the policy is adequate.
“Key considerations will be the measurement of future landfill diversion and recovery performance against the policy’s targets, and the ability of future funding priorities to be refocused where required,” he says.
“Flexibility to change future funding priorities is needed to address underperforming areas and sectors. The revamped waste data system in Victoria should also be used to ensure that future funding is appropriately targeted.”
Duncan says the decision to initially focus on organic, plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, textiles and tyre processing is positive.
“In addition, for WtE solutions to process residuals, the indirect support provided through increases in the landfill levy is a game changer that should enable much needed alternatives to landfill to enter the Victorian market,” he explains.
Duncan adds that contaminated soil reprocessing solutions would also benefit from clear, longer term support mechanisms to encourage investment.
“This would help to address the emerging PFAS issues, partly resulting from Victoria’s Big Build agenda, which has resulted in large quantities of contaminated soils being stockpiled” he says.
Duncan expects that specific materials will continue to be prioritised until the trajectory of landfill diversion and recovery performance demonstrates that the new targets are likely to be achieved.
“Confidence in the achievement of the targets is needed, which will not only be gained through the provision of key financial packages, levy increases and regulatory changes, but crucially, will be demonstrated and evidenced through more robust and reliable data,” he says.
“Monitoring of performance against the targets should be ongoing and used to inform future revisions to the policy when required, to help ensure councils, communities, commerce, industry and the waste management sector are collectively kept on track to achieve the targets.”
THE INTERIM WASTE REPORT
Published in October 2019, Infrastructure Victoria’s (IV) interim waste report sought to examine the waste and resource recovery sector through an infrastructure lens.
Evidence from the report suggested Victoria was failing to meet its stated waste policy objectives, including reducing waste to landfill and minimising the impact of waste disposal on human health and the environment.
While two separate documents, Jonathan Spear, IV Deputy Chief Executive, says he is pleased to see an alignment between IV’s report and Recycling Victoria.
“There are lots of themes there and lots of policy directions that government took after this final policy set,” he says.
“It was really good to see, and really good collaboration with IV with industry and with local government and state government to achieve that.”
Following the report, IV was tasked with providing final advice to government, which Jonathan says they have recently delivered.
“The key part of our work was being quite detailed about what the infrastructure requirements are for recycling and resource recovery,” he says.
“What we think government will do is use that to inform the finer details of implementing its policy, especially around what sort of infrastructure investments are meant to be made by industry and local, state and commonwealth governments.”
Jonathan expects IV’s advice will publicly available in the coming months.
Next week’s instalment will explore the policy’s organics recovery targets, the Victorian Government’s Social Procurement Framework and efforts to support safe and effective high-risk and hazardous waste management.
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