Last year’s Waste Expo Australia saw a record number of delegates converge on the Melbourne Exhibition Centre to examine new opportunities in a changing sector.
Federal, state and local government ministers have agreed to work on a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, to improve Australia’s recycling capacity.
The agreement was made at the 9 August Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison arguing more needed to be done to deal with rising amounts of recyclable waste.
Environment Ministers will advise a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.
COAG agreed 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.
Australia exported roughly 4.5 million tonnes of waste last year, with the majority sent to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since begun to review their waste import policies.
“It’s our waste, and it’s our responsibility,” Mr Morrison said in a post-meeting press conference, according to an ABC report.
“That’s why I think setting a clear path forward as leaders — that we don’t want to see this going into the ocean, that we don’t want to see this go into waterways, and we’ll do everything in our remit to achieve that goal — is a very important outcome.”
Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said the COAG announcement aligned with domestic sustainability goals.
“The best route to COAG’s vision of recycling sovereignty and security is for governments to now match very big deeds and dollars to their discussions. This great leadership by COAG must be followed by great investment that matches industries own,” Mr Shmigel said.
“As part of the Environment Ministers’ upcoming plan, that means: major scale support for reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure; unprecedented public sector purchasing of recycled content products and other bold incentives for domestic use of recyclate, such as tax credits for manufacturers, removal of ridiculous regulatory barriers and indeed proposed bans for recycled content products in some states.”
Mr Shmigel said material export bans needed to be implemented over a clear timetable with consultation and care to avoid unintended consequences.
“If there are no new and sustainable markets established for the 4.5m tonnes of currently exported material, there will only be the option of domestic disposal – which is highly undesirable,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Ministers must also remain open to alternative waste treatment and waste to energy where Australia only uses some 2 per cent of its waste, which is massively below European countries, who also have much higher recycling rates.”
Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the meeting represents a step in the right direction towards building a sustainable domestic remanufacturing industry.
“Waste management and resource recovery were firmly on the table at the COAG meeting in Cairns, and leaders agreed to develop 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,” Ms Sloan said.
“This is a significant and positive commitment – industry has always advocated that Australia should be processing our own waste and recyclables. Industry can, and is keen, to build capacity and the fact that we’re on the agenda and we have the Prime Minister’s and Premiers’ attention means we can finally move forward.”
Ms Sloan said WMRR support the task given to environment ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.
“As part of this exercise, leaders agreed the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, 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,” Ms Sloan said.
“We also look forward to Meeting of Environment Ministers convening sooner rather than later to progress what we all know we need – and what is now clearly in everyone’s sights – market signals that will enable industry to invest and all stakeholders to support onshore remanufacturing and markets for domestic recycled products.”
A NSW ReachTel poll has shown strong support for red bin recycling, with 93 per cent supporting the recycling industry and 79 per cent supporting the use of organics on farm use.
The poll, conducted in mid-February with 1546 representative respondents, affirms the NSW Government’s move to protect the future of the alternative waste treatment (AWT) industry, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR.)
The poll comes months after the NSW EPA announced it was stopping the restricted use of mixed waste organic material on agricultural land after comprehensive independent studies into potential health risks.
Media reports indicate that NSW Government Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton wrote to the state’s major recycling companies to reveal the government was awaiting expert advice to determine the future use of mixed waste organics.
The poll shows that 92.8 per cent agree that reducing waste and recycling products into new products and uses is important, 78.6 per cent support the use of “organic material for farm use and land rehabilitation,” and 87.3 per cent support “increasing recycling and reducing landfill by processing food and garden material from rubbish bins into useful products.”
ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the community overwhelmingly supports the treatment and recovery of household residual material and its diversion from landfill.
He added that this has been the practice by AWT operators in NSW for 18 years prior to a pre-emptive government decision to delete the practice, alluding to the ban on mixed waste organic outputs.
“It’s pointless to send valuable material to landfill and to miss out on the benefits to farms, mine sites, the environment, and jobs,” Mr Shmigel said.
The results show participants were primarily concerned with increased landfill and pollution in the environment.
Mr Shmigel said the next step after the NSW election is for the government and the EPA to collaborate with industry on the details and delivery of a revived AWT sector.
Stakeholders have largely welcomed the commitments made on Friday by state and territory ministers at April’s Meeting of Environment Ministers – with some suggestions.
Federal Government, state and territory ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association met on Friday to set a sustainable path for Australia’s recyclable waste, in the seventh Meeting of Environment Ministers. Taking action on recycled waste in the wake of China’s restrictions on imports was the focus of the meeting. Australia is one of over 100 countries affected by China’s new restrictions, affecting around 1.3 million tonnes of our recycled waste. Read the story on the outcomes of the meeting here.
Australia’s National Waste Policy will be updated by the end of this year to include circular economy principles, along with a target endorsed of 100 per cent Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.
They pledged for new product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic solar panels and batteries, while also agreeing to explore waste to energy further and advocate using recycled materials in government procurement.
While making a number of pledges, ministers agreed to have a teleconference in mid-June to discuss progress on recycling, and to meet in late 2018 to further progress delivery of the commitments on Friday.
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SUEZ Australia & New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Mark Venhoek welcomed the government’s focus on making 100 per cent of products recyclable and re-useable by 2025. He noted that swift action and investment needs to be made to ensure that this goal is met.
“As a waste industry, we are falling behind globally and we require fast action to stimulate the local market for recycled and recovered products,” Mr Venhoek said.
“We support the government’s 100 per cent recycled packaging goal which will create a sustainable demand for these products, but believe that it should be mandatory that packaged products can be re-used.
“Collaboration to achieving this is key and without investment from government and a commitment from packaging manufacturers and industry working together, we will not achieve this goal.”
Mr Venhoek also welcomed the commitment from different levels of government to explore waste to energy projects and the support for the technology from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
“Energy from waste technology is the missing link in the waste management hierarchy and waste infrastructure in Australia. After reduction, re-use and recycling, there is a crucial element: to recover the energetic value from waste,” he said.
Sustainability Victoria Chief Executive Officer Stan Krpan said leadership is crucial to ensuring we have a sustainable recycling industry that Australians can be proud of.
Mr Krpan said yesterday’s commitments align with the Victorian Government’s suite of waste strategies and programs that move the state toward a circular economy.
“Supporting our local recycling industry to move towards a circular economy is reflected in the ministers’ commitment to increasing our recycling capacity, advocating for the increased use of recycled material and creating targets for the use of recycled content in packaging,” he said.
“We are also encouraged the strong support of product stewardship schemes and the increasing in the procurement of recycled goods government and industry buy,” he said.
“Large procurements by government and companies can influence upstream design to reduce waste and packaging and trigger other innovations.”
ACOR Chief Executive Officer Pete Shmigel said the right chords have been struck by ministers about investing in recycling’s future, but we did not hear two very important sounds: implementation details and dollars in the till.
“The recycling industry welcomes commitments about ensuring recyclability of packaging products, buying recycled content products by governments, expanding domestic reprocessing capacity and developing a new national plan,” he said.
“However, today’s ministerial announcement lacks comprehensive targets for all measures, and consequences for underperformance, that make practice from theory.”
Mr Shmigel said pro-recycling policy principles are welcome, but pro-recycling positive action and investment is now to be expected.
“As ACOR, we look forward to working directly with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to identify and facilitate a strengthened investment presence in resource recovery – including in an expedited timeframe. There are good projects that merit backing among our members.”
“As ACOR, we strongly question the timeframe given for products’ recyclability as packaging is getting more complex each day and resulting in greater contamination and community cost each day that passes. By 2025, millions of tonnes of potential contamination would have passed through the system without the producers of packaging taking greater responsibility for their decisions.
Mr Shmigel said similar commitments were given in the 2009 National Waste Policy and, on current timeframes, it will be 16 years by the time they have been realised, describing it as “truly mediocre”.
“Finally, further work is urgently needed at state levels to ensure that recyclate does not need to be disposed to landfill in the short-term.”
Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said it is extremely pleasing that the National Waste Strategy will be updated by the end of this year and WMAA looks forward to participating in this.
“The endorsement by Ministers of a target of 100 percent of Australian packaging being recyclable or reusable by 2025 is heartening, and we look forward to working with government to develop meaningful targets from at least 2020 to ensure that this actually achieved,” Ms Sloan said.
“Industry recalls targets set previously under the National Packaging Covenant that were never monitored or achieved, and once this failure was recognised it was just too late.”
Ms Sloan said while there was no new funding for recycling in Friday’s announcement, one thing WMAA will advocate to start immediately is government at all levels spending existing funds differently.
“Ministers must go much further than simply advocating for increased use of recycled materials in the goods that government and industry buy.
“With over 90 per cent of the community supporting recycling and the purchase of recycled products by government, government needs to hold itself to account and if it does not prioritise the use of recycled material, to report to the community why it does not, this should be the norm going forward, not the exception,” she said.
WMAA in a statement said the federal government must show leadership in this space and act now to grow demand for recycled products that can develop markets and jobs in both metropolitan and regional areas. For example, it said Commonwealth Federal Assistance Grants to local government should be predicated on councils using more recycled glass sand and not virgin sand.
“Industry absolutely recognises that there is a place for waste to energy in Australia as an alternate to landfill, and we support this technology. However, it cannot replace recycling and remanufacturing.”
Director of Boomerang Alliance Jeff Angel, which looks after 47 national, state and local groups, described the voluntary approach to recycled products as “weak.”
“Mandatory rules, as in Europe, are the only assured way to establish a stable and growing market to justify the investment into new manufacturing,” Mr Angel said.
“If we can have an enforceable renewable energy target, then we can have a similar system for recycled content. A lot of questions remain to be answered about the 100 per cent recyclable, compostable or reusable target including collection capacity – it’s not just about labels.”
Federal Government Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg on Friday said finding a solution to the 1.3 million tonnes of recyclable waste is an urgent and important issue which requires a coordinated approach from supply right through to demand.
“It is also an opportunity for Australia to develop its capabilities and capacity in recycling through effective cooperation and collaboration among the three levels of government,” he said.