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.
A new analysis for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) by independent consultancy firm Equilibrium has estimated the cost of mandatory product stewardship schemes on consumers.
The analysis looked at mandatory product stewardship approaches for different products, and estimated the potential dollars per unit that a mandatory scheme would cost.
Under the current Product Stewardship Act 2011, schemes can be established for a variety of different products and materials to lower their lifecycle impacts.
Mandatory schemes involve enabling regulations to be made that require some persons to take specific action on products, according to the analysis. This could include restricting the manufacture or import of products, prohibiting products from containing particular substances, labelling and packaging requirements and other requirements for reusing, recovering, treating or disposing of products.
For a mandatory e-waste scheme, the cost is estimated to be between $1.55 and $1.85 for an e-waste unit size equivalent product of 0.75 kilograms. For mattresses, the cost of a mattress unit (standard double size) would be between $14.50 to $16.50. A mandatory tyre scheme would cost about $3.50 to $4.00 equivalent passenger units.
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ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the Australian community has long supported recycling and overwhelmingly wants to be able to recycle more products and items.
“This new data shows that we can do so affordably. In all cases, the cost of recycling these items is likely to be lower than two per cent of their consumer price. Therefore, cost concerns should not be a key barrier to action by our policy-makers,” he said.
Mr Shmigel said that recycling of these items is a well-established practice overseas, including in much less developed countries, and it is difficult to understand why it is not here too.
“Indeed, the formal review of Australia’s Product Stewardship Act has disappeared and is significantly overdue, the new National Waste Policy has a blank space for product stewardship, and there has been no news following ministers’ apparent discussion of product stewardship at the December 2018 Meeting of Environment Ministers.”
ACOR also believes the major political parties need to make commitments in the areas of recycling infrastructure investment, incentives for and procurement of recycled content products and community education. It has submitted industry analysis for consideration.
Equilibrium Managing Director Nick Harford said that while they can be improved, the current co-regulated TV, computer and mobile phone product stewardship schemes are producing good results. He added that there has been no demonstrable consumer concern about their cost.
“While the current schemes are not mandatory, and research estimates that mandatory schemes may have higher administration costs, the estimated cost per unit in relation to the total product cost is generally reasonable,” he said.
The analysis of the potential impacts of mandatory schemes covered factors including:
- Collection and transport
- Processing and recycling
- Compliance, monitoring, audit and reporting
- Safety and environmental management
- Marketing, communications and education
Equilibrium has developed a tool with the Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) to assist local councils and kerbside service operators to assess changes to contracts.
The methodology comes off the back of China’s National Sword policy, which has spurred on numerous contract renegotiations across Australia. It is intended to act as a guide that councils and others can use to suit their particular circumstances and requirements, rather than being prescriptive. It includes examples, instructions and indicative responses aiming to make it simple to use.
MWRRG developed the tool in consultation with councils, industry groups, materials recovery facility operators and other states.
MWRRG is using the system with Victorian Councils, and it has been widely circulated to all states, major recyclers and industry groups. The methodology assists parties involved in kerbside recycling arrangements to make informed decisions on ongoing arrangements based on principles of accountability, transparency and reasonableness when negotiating and agreeing to service arrangements.
It sets out the principles of kerbside recycling, considerations for assessing kerbside recycling service arrangements, commodity price indices, factors and calculations to inform financial considerations and monitoring and verification of agreements.
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Equilibrium Managing Director Nick Harford said the current issues surrounding contract stability have highlighted that the community wants and supports kerbside recycling. He said it is incumbent on the waste industry to ensure services are sustainable.
“The current situation with kerbside recycling has motivated an update of kerbside arrangements by some materials recovery facility (MRF) operators and collectors, as they have expressed concerns about meeting current contractual obligations. In Victoria, there is a requirement for councils to update arrangements with MRF operators in order to be able to access the state government financial support,” Mr Harford said.
The tool calculates the market commodity prices for materials such as mixed paper, paper grade, cardboard grade, mixed grade, PET plastic, HDPE plastic, aluminium, steel and glass. In addition, it shows the percentage of total materials in kerbside by weight and the average tonnes processed per annum. Operating expenditure is divided into labour, repair and maintenance, consumables, waste to landfill, rent, rates, interest, business insurance, legal compliance and reporting, systems accreditation and certification and a range of other key metrics.
Mr Harford said the figures included in the template method were based on current market intelligence and reported composition of materials in kerbside.
“Having said that however, the figures are indicative and as a guide only, it is intended that the method and tool is adapted to each individual circumstance and the numbers re-entered to reflect actual specific arrangements,” he said.
He said kerbside recycling is a relatively complex arrangement when all factors are considered and it is not homogeneous. Mr Harford noted that council contracts differ and companies use varying business and operational models.
“It is therefore necessary to assess a broad range of activities to determine whether the service being offered is adequate, the price is reasonable and the operation is sustainable. The risk assessment is a process to navigate what may or may not be a priority for a particular arrangement. The most significant risk factors depend on each circumstance.
“For some councils, security of downstream markets for commodities may be paramount, while for others it may be business contingency and insurance. The method and tool enables assessment of a wide range of risk factors.”
Mr Harford said general feedback has been positive and that the information is helping people work through reviewing and, where needed, updating kerbside arrangements.
“Equilibrium doesn’t present this is as being anything entirely novel as most people with a working knowledge of kerbside would be aware of these issues, but it is a way to bring more transparency and accountability to current considerations. The method and tool is being updated based on further feedback and to also account for other factors that some operators have requested – one being an ability to assess capital expenditure impacts on ongoing arrangements.”
MWRRG Chief Executive Officer Rob Millard said the organisation has shared the tool with other jurisdictions to inform and support a consistent approach to dealing with recycling challenges across the country.
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