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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Matt Kean addresses industry at AWRE

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean says local councils have been shut out of the waste and resource recovery conversation for too long, due to a “cosy” relationship between government and industry.

Addressing delegates at the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council’s (NWRIC) Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo industry breakfast, Mr Kean said his department intends to bring councils and the wider community back to the decision making table.

“Policy has been developed for too long by government working with industry, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but costs keep rising for communities and local councils. Lets not forget that waste is over a third of peoples council rates,” Mr Kean said.

“Rate-capping caps the amount of council rates on every single item on the bill except for waste, so there’s been no incentive for industry to delivered cheaper, better outcomes for the community, and that’s something I would like to see change.”

Mr Kean added that after speaking with local councils, it was clear to him that they agree.

“We need to have them as part of the conversation, and we need them at the table to talk to industry and develop policy that is going to deliver waste management services in the cheapest most environmentally sound way possible,” Mr Kean said.

“We need everyone effected by this industry to be part of the conversation, and that’s what I’m looking to do differently to my predecessors.”

At the event, chaired by NWRIC CEO Rose Read, Mr Kean also addressed the Council of Australian Government’s recent proposal to ban international waste exports.

According to Mr Kean, NSW is working closely with other governments to develop a ban timeline, which he anticipates will be tabled next month, following the November Meeting of Environment Ministers.

“We need to face the fact that the export of waste undermined the confidence of consumers who expected that when they were told they were recycling waste it was actually being recycled, the same goes for MWOO, I just want to point that out as well,” Mr Kean said.

“That’s why I was proud to sign up to a timetable to ban export waste. It’s a step towards rebuilding consumer confidence and delivering improvement in our waste management practices, including recycling.”

When asked by Ms Read why NSW’s waste levy revenue was not being reinvested in industry, Mr Kean said he had concerns over how levy revenue is currently spent.

Mr Kean added that he doesn’t believe scattering the levy delivers good environmental outcomes and said his department will review levies and targets in the 20 year waste strategy.

Ms Read also asked Mr Kean whether the state government was open to establishing a trust account to report on where levy funds are spent.

The Environment Minister replied that he wouldn’t make policy commitments on the fly, and said his government is committed to establishing policy in a considered and comprehensive manner.

Additionally, Mr Kean said his department would work to deliver greater policy and funding transparency.

Referencing NSW’s forthcoming 20 year waste strategy, Mr Kean called the policy a “huge body of work,” and reiterated the importance of working with local government to deliver positive outcomes.

“When I became the minister earlier this year, the 20 year waste strategy was flagged and it was underway, but I asked the department to put a hold on that strategy because I believe it needs to be more comprehensive,” Mr Kean said.

“I’ve reset the agenda in terms of what I want the strategy to achieve, and that agenda will be developed in consultation with industry, with local government and the community. We hope there will be a discussion paper early next year.”

Mr Kean said he hopes to deliver a strategy that provides industry certainty and enables investment before the end of 2020.

“It cant just work for Sydney, its got to work for the regions as well,” Mr Kean said.

“Major reform is on the table, so I’ve asked my department to engage in frank conversations with community groups, local councils and industry about how we can better deliver outcomes.”

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Time to get Australia’s product stewardship back on track

Product stewardship is an effective way to deliver cost effective solutions that minimise the impact of products, goods and materials on the environment and human health. Product stewardship is also an important tool that can drive resource recovery and the circular economy in Australia, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council.

What exactly is product stewardship? Simply, producers take responsibility to minimise the human health and environmental impacts of their products throughout their complete life cycle.

From designing out waste to recycling at the end of life and everything in between.

Producers, manufacturers, brands and/or retailers take the primary responsibility and work with their supply chains (upstream and downstream) and customers to minimise harm to human health and the environment.

Product stewardship has been part of Australia’s regulatory framework since the late 1990’s. However, it has had a very stop and start history due to inconsistent government willingness to put in place the necessary regulatory and policy frameworks essential to make producer responsibility possible.

From 1998 through to 2001 there was a flurry of regulatory and voluntary activity with the establishment of the Used Packaging National Environment Protection Measure in 1998 and the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act in 2000.

At the same time industry led voluntary schemes for mobile phones (MobileMuster) and farm chemical containers (DrumMuster) kicked off. Meanwhile, various pilot take-back projects started for select IT equipment and televisions. As part of its 2001 Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act, the NSW Government introduced a provision to establish extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes in NSW.

However, for the next decade little progress was made in addressing the growing impacts of products on the environment due to governments’ ongoing preference for voluntary, industry-led product stewardship programs.

Fortunately, in 2011 the Federal Government took the lead, stepped up and introduced the Product Stewardship Act, which is a robust piece of legislation that provides a framework for government and industry to reduce the impacts of products on the environment and society.

The first suite of products to be addressed under the Act were televisions, computers, printers and accessories. Within 12 months the Product Stewardship (Television and Computers) Regulation was passed establishing the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) requiring all companies who import or manufacture these products in Australia to provide free, reasonable accessible collection services, achieve agreed collection and recovery targets.

The result, within five years collection rates jumped from 18 per cent (under sporadic voluntary programs) to 60 per cent. Australia’s e-waste collection and recycling capacity increased, creating jobs and revenue for Australia at minimal cost to local councils, state or federal governments. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of tonnes of electronic waste being diverted from landfills. With, more than 90 per cent of the materials recovered to an Australian Standard for reuse.

Unfortunately, though, the impetus government for smart, cost effective regulation to create a level playing field for producers was short lived.  As eight years on all we have is a suite of poor performing, partly industry funded, voluntary schemes for tyres, paint, printer cartridges, and mattresses.

Plus, we still don’t have any form of producer responsibility scheme for batteries, other electronics or photovoltaics. Even though these products have been on the product priority list for up to six years.

But fingers crossed, with the new Federal Government’s election commitment of $20 million for product stewardship the tide is changing.  However, we have yet to hear from the government as to how it will invest these funds. Let alone what the outcomes from the Product Stewardship Act Review are, which was initiated way back in 2017.

So, here are a few suggestions to help them get things moving.

Do not change the objects of the Act. They are fine. Just get on and implement them.

Using regulation effectively and efficiently

Free riding is the biggest barrier to getting producer stewardship schemes up and running. To solve this problem, amend the Act so that when a product is placed on the priority list all organisations who put those products in to the Australia market must either:

  1. register and establish a voluntary accredited scheme either as part of the government’s process or on their own within a given timeframe, or
  2. be a member of an existing accredited voluntary scheme.

If not, they will be required to pay an agreed advance recycling fee for each unit placed on the market to the Product Stewardship Fund, which will be used to support local and state government activity in recovering and dealing with the product.

To ensure the APCO packaging targets are met within the required timeframes, establish a regulation under the Act that replaces the Used Packaging NEPM and call out these targets, with penalties similar to the NTCRS for failure to meet the targets.

Getting the priorities right

Batteries and photovoltaics, given the diversity of both these industries free rider regulation needs to be put in place. A voluntary approach will not work. Therefore, resources should be applied to establish the necessary regulations under the Act and assist the industry in getting these two schemes up and running by the end of 2020.

Expand the scope of the NTCRS to include all electronics. The ACT, SA and Victoria have all banned e-waste from landfills. This means the cost of collecting and processing these products is unfairly being borne by local councils and state governments rather than the producers and users.

Making Voluntary Accreditation Meaningful

Amend the voluntary accreditation system to a three-tiered approach: 

Tier 1 – companies register to develop a voluntary scheme within 12 months that includes a three-year product stewardship business plan.

Tier 2 – companies apply for accreditation by submitting a three-year product stewardship business plan.

Tier 3 – companies apply for renewal of accreditation by submitting a five- year product stewardship business plan.

At each tier the Federal Government will provide funding (on a dollar for dollar basis) and/or in-kind resources for any of the following activities – material flow analysis, risk assessment, cost sharing agreements, market development, communications, governance compliance requirements, industry and stakeholder engagement, business planning assistance.  As well as government accreditation and access to product stewardship logo.

The first priority would be to have the current suite of voluntary programs for tyres (TSA), paint (Paint Back), farm chemical drums (DrumMuster, ChemClear), printer cartridges (Cartridges for Planet Ark), soft plastics (Redcycle) become accredited. Why? To increase industry participation, improve performance and transparency and to promote them to the community.

The second priority would be to encourage other companies and industries to apply to become accredited through direct approaches and greater engagement with industry.

It’s time for the new Minister for Environment and Energy and her Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management to turn their election promises into action. It’s also time for state and territory governments to get behind the federal government’s product stewardship commitment by contributing matching dollars to the National Product Stewardship Fund.

If the federal government doesn’t get going soon waste will continue to be exported.  Landfills will fill up with products that leach potentially harmful substances. Stockpiles and risk of fires will continue to grow due to lack of markets and infrastructure to process products. Batteries will continue contaminate kerbside bins, causing explosions and fires, putting recyclers and infrastructure at risk. Potentially recyclable, rare and valuable resources will be lost.

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Levy reform urgently needed

A national approach to levy pricing, adoption of the levy portability principle by all jurisdictions, and more transparent management of levy funds are urgently required, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council. 

Waste or landfill levies are a key regulatory tool used to improve recycling and fund environmental liabilities from waste generation. They have a significant effect on both the commercial environment of nearly every waste and recycling business and community behaviour. They also generate significant amounts of funds for each jurisdiction. Therefore, carefully considered levy regulations nationwide are essential to advancing Australia towards a circular economy.

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has recently undertaken a review of the current status of waste and landfill levies across Australia (see www.nwric.com.au). It examines by jurisdiction, how much the levies are, what waste types are levied, where and when they apply, how they are administered, the amount of funds raised each year and how these funds are spent.

It also analysed the impacts and benefits of these levies on waste and recycling outcomes across Australia and identified a number of issues that need to be addressed urgently to ensure the levies achieve what they were set out to do and not drive waste down the hierarchy.

Waste/landfill levies were first introduced in 1971 by NSW at a $0.56 per tonne. Since then South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland have introduced levies. In 2018-19 rates ranged in price from $0 to $250 with an estimated $1.13 billion raised. In 2019-20 this is expected to increase to $1.54 billion with the introduction of the waste levy in Queensland. This will equate to approximately $58 per capita per year, up from $39 per capita per year in 2018-19.

Of the $1.13 billion funds raised in 2018-19, an estimated $282 million or 25 per cent nationally was reinvested into activities relating to waste and recycling, state EPA’s or climate change (in the case of Victoria). At a state level the reinvestment rate of the levy ranged from 10.9 per cent in NSW, 25 per cent in WA, 66 per cent in Victoria to 73 per cent in South Australia. Funds not reinvested were either retained in consolidated revenue (as in the case of NSW and WA) or retained in nominated funds such as Victoria’s Sustainability Fund, SA’s Green Industries Fund or SA’s Environment Protection Fund where some of the funds may be invested in various non-waste or recycling related environmental activities.

In 2019-20 it is estimated that of the $1.54 billion in funds raised, around $569 million or 37 per cent will be reinvested into waste and recycling activities. This increase can largely be attributed to the Queensland government’s commitment to reinvest over 70 per cent of the levy, with local councils receiving 105 per cent of their levy contribution

On the positive side, the levies have increased resource recovery over time and enabled the commercial development of local resource recovery businesses including material recovery facilities, processing facilities for plastics, paper, cardboard, glass, timber, organics, alternate waste treatment plants and waste-to-energy facilities for fuel manufacture, thermal and electricity generation.

The levies have also funded various waste and recycling initiatives. These range from state EPA and local government environmental compliance activities, community and business waste and recycling education campaigns, research and development, data collection, construction of new infrastructure by local government and private enterprise, to cleaning up waste and pollution generated from illegal actions.

On the negative side however, differentials in levies across regions and between states has created a levy avoidance industry, both legal and illegal, resulting in potentially recyclable material ending up in landfill, and hazardous material being disposed of inappropriately. This has become big business particularly in NSW and WA due to the significant variability of levy rates for solid, hazardous and liquid wastes. It is estimated that between 1.5 million to three million tonnes of waste has been transported per annum either significant distances to landfills where levies do not apply, dumped into the environment, stockpiled or in the case of hazardous wastes hidden or mislabelled to reduce or avoid state levies.

Key learnings from this analysis are the vastly different approaches states and territories take to levies. This ranges from how much is charged between regions and states, what wastes are levied (e.g. solid, liquid, hazardous or prescribed) and how they are defined, where liability for the levy is charged, how the levy is administered and how levy funds are managed and reinvested into activities to improve waste and recycling practices and reported on.

Of major concern is the lack of transparency in most jurisdictions of how many funds are collected per year, how and where they are invested in waste and recycling activities and assessment of the effectiveness of the investment in achieving waste and recycling strategies and targets.

The NWRIC believes there is an urgent need to reform the current state levy structures, pricing, administration and investment management. It is critical this reform is done in a coordinated manner between all state and territories to remove interstate inconsistencies that are clearly driving poor waste disposal behaviours contrary to the objects of the levy to increase resource recovery and environmental protection.

This will be the only way to ensure the best return on investment of levy funds in delivering better waste management and resource outcomes expected by the community.

This article appeared in the October edition of Waste Management Review, some figures have been changed. 

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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. 

First, just the facts. As part of the Council of Australian Governments communique on 9 August 2019, the Prime Minister, along with the states and territories announced:

“Leaders agreed Australia should establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres – while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand.”

Further, the communique also said:

— “Leaders agreed the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics,”

— The government will work to; “decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste,”

— “The strategy should draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.”

These developments are a decisive push in the right direction. However, there are two key elements that need to be addressed to achieve its intention of stopping waste being dumped in developing countries, and stimulating Australia’s resource recovery industry.

These two elements are: building markets at home and clearly specifying how waste paper, plastic, tyres or glass must be processed to become a resource suitable for manufacturing.

Building markets at home

In regard to building markets, two key priority materials stand out. The first is plastics. In order to use the plastics we currently export at home, we will need to increase domestic reuse of plastics by more than 180,000 tonnes per year. To use those plastics here, every Australian would need to purchase products that contain an additional seven kilograms of recycled plastic per year. This still only represents seven per cent of the total plastic waste produced by Australians annually.

Using plastics in civil infrastructure will help. Examples include street furniture, decking by local councils and railway sleepers such as the recent project by Sustainability Victoria, Integrated Recycling and Metro Trains. Integrated Recycling say more than one million railway sleepers in Australia need to be replaced, so just creating railways sleepers from mixed plastics could create a market for up to one quarter the plastics we previously sent overseas.

However, clearly higher end markets for plastics are also desirable, especially putting PET and HDPE back into packaging. These higher end markets will create the necessary pull to stimulate development of Australia’s reprocessing capacity and the collection systems to ensure quality material.

The second market is tyres. According to the Federal Department of the Environment and Energy, Australians generate in excess of 400,000 tonnes of end of life tyres per year. Plenty of scope remains for creating local markets for tyre derived products. Key products produced from tyres include rubber crumb, or explosives and adhesives. Likewise, waste tyres can become high quality engineered fuels for local or export markets.

Positive procurement by local and state governments as well as businesses including the waste and recycling industry is also urgently needed. As consumers of products and materials we must match our rhetoric with action by preferentially purchasing products with recycled content.

Clear specifications and definitions necessary

Clearly, the intention of these bans is to stop the export of unprocessed waste to countries that do not have the ability to process it responsibly. So to untangle this problem, the first step is to have a clear definition of waste.

State and Territory EPAs have done preliminary work in this area as part of their domestic landfill bans, which identify certain goods and materials that should be processed and not buried. Examples include whole baled tyres, whole cars and white goods, all of which are banned from landfill in South Australia.

The next step is to define and agree nationally what minimum material specifications must be met before each waste material type becomes a resource suitable for manufacture locally or overseas.

To some this may seem simple, but in reality it is quite difficult as currently each state and territory have a different approach to this problem. For example in NSW, ‘Resource Recovery Exemptions and Orders’ are used. In Queensland, there is an ‘end of waste (EOW) framework’ of the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011.

This divergence in approaches will need to be resolved urgently, as national agreement on ‘waste’ and ‘resource’ definitions will be key for the COAG’s national ban on the export of waste paper, glass, plastics and tyres is to be successful.

In closing, this approach should also be harmonised with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, which has recently expanded its scope to include various plastics. It should be noted that the Australian Government has yet to ratify these latest changes to the Basel Convention.

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Location, location, location essential to the future of C&D

Construction recyclers do most of the heavy lifting in Australian recycling, but several stones remain in the gears to drive its future, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The trend isn’t hard to spot, behind the successful recycling strategy of any city are construction and demolition (C&D) recycling companies recovering large material volumes. C&D waste generation in 2016-17 (the latest year available) was just over 20 million tonnes nationally, or 38 per cent of the waste produced in Australia by weight.

Recovery of C&D materials across major urban centres can be as high as 90 per cent. So C&D recyclers have taken a hard problem, and over the last decade, have thoroughly crushed it.

Despite this welcome progress, many stones remain in the gears that drive its future development.

In 2019, the NWRIC undertook a survey of key C&D recyclers to determine barriers to advancing recycling in this sector. Our research identified six key areas for improvement:

  1. Implementation of effective specifications for the use of recycled aggregates in infrastructure construction
  2. Competition with virgin products
  3. Inconsistent landfill levies and insufficient enforcement resulting in levy avoidance
  4. Planning frameworks which often fail to provide certainty of site tenure
  5. Poor waste data that can inhibit policy and investment decisions
  6. Market economics that inhibit greater recovery of C&D materials in regional areas

While several of these challenges are self-explanatory, a few are worth discussing in detail.

The first is that local and state land use planning can fail to provide the site tenure required for some of the state’s highest performing C&D recovery facilities. This is a major challenge, as for C&D recovery facilities to be financially sustainable, they must be set close to urban centres where the waste materials are generated and eventually reused. Minimising transport distances is a key driver to the success of these facilities.

Likewise, these facilities require a reasonable footprint to be able to manage the flow of materials through the process; from receival, sorting, processing to stockpiling the various grades of final products ready for reuse.

Unfortunately, many of these sites across Australia are being threatened by encroachment of urban or commercial development, and in some cases, are being closed by local councils to create parks.

To solve this problem, the NWRIC recommends that current waste and recycling infrastructure plans that provide for C&D recycling be formally incorporated into local and state planning regulations, so that precincts or green zones for such facilities are clearly identified and protected for the long term. To be effective, the location and duration of tenure of these ‘green zones’ must be agreed by all levels of government.

A second major challenge is waste levy avoidance in the C&D recovery sector. Construction recyclers charge a gate fee to cover the cost of sorting and processing the materials they receive. This gate fee must be lower than the cost of landfill. To reach this cost, typically a landfill levy is required.

Unfortunately, where there are landfill levies, there is also levy avoidance resulting in potentially recyclable material being dumped or transported vast distances outside levy zones. One prominent example is the illegal waste stockpile in Lara, Victoria. This site contains a massive stockpile of up to 320,000 cubic meters of construction and demolition waste, including materials such as timber, concrete, bricks, plaster, glass and ceramics.

If one cubic meter weighs half a tonne, then this stockpile represents a loss of more than $10 million in levy revenue.  To clean up this illegal dump of C&D waste, the Victorian Government has committed $30 million, the largest waste related budget item for Victoria in 2019.

To ensure the success of the C&D recovery sector, states must address levy avoidance urgently. Possible solutions include better inter-agency engagement (across Police, EPAs and the ATO) to monitor and prevent illegal activity, and more widespread use of regulatory tools like mass balance reporting and GPS tracking.  Setting levies so any differences do not encourage its movement from one region or state to another, or applying the levy portability principle (i.e. the levy liability is a point of generation not disposal) both within and across state and territory boundaries.

Finally, C&D recovery providers can also help to support other recycling streams, including the recovery and reuse of tyres, glass and used plastics. Where these products are not suitable for cradle to cradle recycling, they can be reused as a substitute material for civil construction works. This further diversifies the market opportunities for these recovered materials, which in the past have relied on limited opportunities locally and internationally, ended up in landfill or illegally dumped.

This is why integration of state resource recovery infrastructure plans into local and state land use planning regulations is critical to the future success of C&D resource recovery. By securing space and long term tenure for these facilities states and territories will ensure a viable industry that can supply materials to the ongoing infrastructure development and construction needs of Australia.

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NWRIC meets with ministers

Ministers met with the waste and recycling industry in Melbourne to discuss recycling challenges, developing markets for recycled materials, new infrastructure capacity and how waste levies should be managed and reinvested into the sector.

Federal Waste Reduction Assistant Minister Trevor Evans and Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio meet with National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) members and affiliated representatives on 6 August.

NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards said active collaboration between government and the waste and recycling industry was crucial to an effective sector.

“With recycling services under threat in Victoria, growing stockpiles across the country, exemptions revoked for the recovery of organics from mixed waste in NSW, now has never been a more important time for industry and government to work closely together,” Mr Richards said.

“Topics of discussion included the critical importance of long term infrastructure planning coordinated across all levels of government, as well as consistent, regular community education campaigns to rebuild community confidence in recycling.”

NWRIC Secretary Alex Serpo said NWRIC members suggested local procurement of recycled materials, and setting appropriate recycled content levels for packaging and civil construction, could revitalise domestic recycling.

Fuel manufacture and energy recovery projects were also discussed, with industry ready to deliver projects that recover embodied energy from unrecyclable materials, reduce greenhouse emissions and extend the life of landfills.

The role of waste levies in addressing current challenges was another topic of conversation.

“This included the need for states, territories and the Federal Government to develop a national levy pricing strategy through the Council of Australian Governments,” Mr Serpo said.

“This pricing strategy could prevent the inappropriate disposal and movement of waste, stop levy avoidance activities, and ensure the resource recovery industry is viable and competitive.”

NWRIC is calling on all state governments to be more transparent and accountable for the total amount of levies collected annually, what proportion of the levies are invested back into the waste and recycling sector and what outcomes are achieved.

Composting remains our biggest recycling opportunity

With all the recent discussion about plastic exports, it’s easy to forget that organics remains our single largest recycling opportunity, writes Rose Read CEO of the National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

The numbers speak for themselves, according to the National Waste Report, Australia generated 30 million tonnes of organic material in 2016-17. Of this mass, about 6.7 million tonnes went to landfill (or 22 per cent) of which around 43 per cent is food waste according to the National Food Waste Baseline Report.

What are the benefits of composting?

There are many benefits to composting organics over sending them to landfill. Firstly, composting helps to recover nutrients and organic material that can regenerate soils, critical to agricultural productivity. Secondly, diverting organics from landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions, odour and leachate.

Composting can also save council’s and ratepayers considerable expense. In the case of councils and shires that already have a kerbside garden organics recovery services, food can also be added at little cost, which currently can make up as much as 40 per cent of a kerbside rubbish bin.

Where is composting today?

Currently, about 42 per cent of households nationally have access to kerbside organics collection service according to the National Waste Report and 15 per cent have access to food and garden collection Services (FOGO).

South Australian households have the highest access to organic kerbside collections at 92 per cent, NSW 60 per cent and Victoria 56 per cent as reported by the federal Department of Environment and Energy in its report ‘Analysis of Australia’s municipal recycling infrastructure capacity’.

Strategically, each jurisdiction has a different approach to advancing their organics recovery and only Victoria has a dedicated organics resource recovery strategy. Overall, each state government has resource recovery targets for the next decade in the order of 65 per cent to 75 per cent for commercial and municipal streams. To achieve these targets the majority of tonnage will have to come from diverting organics including food waste to composting.

In terms of investment, NSW has the single largest funding program for organics recovery, with around $9 million per annum from 2017 to 2021 as part of the Waste Less, Recycle More. Victoria recently completed a $3.3 million organics recovery program and is currently focused on implementing its e-waste landfill ban and recycling challenges.

While Queensland does not have a specific organics’ program, funding is available through its Resource Recovery Industry Development Program. A key element of Western Australia’s new 2030 waste avoidance and resource recovery strategy is to have a consistent three bin kerbside collection system, including separation of food and garden organics from other waste categories, to be provided by all local governments in the Perth and Peel region by 2025.

How can we accelerate the diversion of organics from landfill in Australia?

While there is clear intent by each state and territory government to divert food and organics from landfill, the NWRIC, in consultation with the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has developed a four-part plan on how best to advance the composting sector.

1. Develop markets for compost

Further development of urban municipal and commercial markets has the potential to utilise large volumes of compost. Key markets include mine site rehabilitation and urban redevelopment such as highways. However, long term, agriculture has the potential to be the largest market for compost, improving soil carbon, providing healthy soils and promoting sustainable food production. Coordinated research and action that links organics diversion with the direct benefits of compost and soil carbon in agriculture is required to develop this market.

2. Long term planning for siting and protecting organic recycling facilities

In order to meet the recycling targets proposed in the state and national waste policies, Australia will need many new organics recycling facilities. The creation of organics recycling facilities requires appropriate sites and surrounding land buffers that are protected for the life of their operation. It is important that these sites are provisioned for in local and state government plans.

3. Reduce contamination in municipal and commercial waste derived compost

Compost derived from household and commercial bins can be contaminated with plastics and other undesirable materials. Through improved education and product stewardship, contamination can be reduced, and clean compost produced. Equally important will be ensuring that all compostable packaging used complies with Australian Standards for home composting AS 5810-2010 and or industrial composting AS 4736-2006 and is clearly labelled.

4. Enforcement of nationally consistent standards for the outputs from organics processing.

While most operators manufacture high quality organic products the presence of substandard products and facilities can undermine the market and damage consumer confidence. Therefore, the enforcement the existing standard for composting output AS4454 – 2012, Composts, soil conditioners and mulches is critical.

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NWRIC presents at ALGA general assembly

At the Australian Local Government Association’s (ALGA) Your Community, Your Environment presentation, National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read highlighted the need to promote a shared approach to resource recovery and circular economies.

The presentation was held as part of ALGA’s National General Assembly in Canberra. Other speakers included APCO Government Partnership Manager Peter Brisbane, Planet Ark Head of Sustainable Resource Programs Ryan Collins, Lake Macquarie Council Deputy CEO Tony Farrell and Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan.

“Industry and local councils can work together to put recycling back on a sustainable pathway,” Ms Read said.

“Central to this shared approach are activities that will reduce contamination, such as consistent statewide community education programs, smarter ways to separate materials at source, removing toxic and dangerous items from bins and upgrading re-processing capacity at material recovery facilities.”

In addressing plastics, Ms Read identified a number of steps to help material recycling facilities remain viable.

“We need to upgrade our recycling facilities and sorting and reprocessing capacity, so they can produce higher quality outputs that meet producer specifications,” Ms Read said.

“It is vital that local, state and federal governments procure recovered mixed plastics for civil construction, and that packaging companies are required to meet minimum recycled content.”

Ms Read said there is also opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and improve soil quality if local councils work with industry, to set up food and organic collection services and composting facilities.

“Key to the success of increased organics recovery will be preventing contamination, establishing local markets for the compost produced and planning for recycling precincts in local council areas,” Ms Read said.

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