Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel gives the recent Meeting of Environment Ministers a tick, but a number of areas don’t pass muster. He explains why.
Handheld batteries are a major fire risk in established recycling facilities and immediate action is needed to remove them from the general recycling stream, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).
ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel is calling on environment ministers to establish a national battery product stewardship and recycling scheme, with robust manufacturer participation.
“As a result of the digital age, battery consumption is going up by about 300 per cent per year and millions of post-consumer batteries are ending up where they don’t belong, which causes not only environmental harm but increasingly fires and occupational health and safety risks,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Analysis by ACOR shows that a national battery recycling scheme would cost less than one per cent of a typical battery’s retail price, and that seems a very small contribution for manufacturers to make to ensure better environmental and safety outcomes.”
According to Mr Shmigel, only three per cent of batteries are recycled in Australia, compared to 70 per cent in Europe, which has long-established, government-mandated schemes.
Mr Shmigel added that many batteries end up in household kerbside recycling bins as a result of “wishcycling.”
“Batteries that wrongly end up in our industry’s established materials recovery facilities for packaging or scrap metal recycling operations are known to explode as a result of heat and pressure from normal operations,” Mr Shmigel said.
“We are now consistently experiencing the operational and cost impacts, and should not wait to see somebody hurt.”
Outside selected retailer initiatives, Mr Shmigel said there is no alternative, comprehensive or accessible way for Australians to present used batteries for recycling.
“What we have in Australia is not recovery but malarkey. For nearly a decade, there’s been chain-dragging from major battery manufacturers and governments on setting up national programs, where all consumers can easily recycle their used batteries, just as they can their computers, TVs and mobile phones,” Mr Shmigel said.
Mr Shmigel said battery recycling solutions were put forward by industry and NGOs at the last two Meetings of Environment Ministers, however no substantive decisions were made.
“In the meantime, insurance premiums in our industry are known to have increased by five-fold per year in some cases due to increased fire risk,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Because we have very limited to no control of batteries coming into our facilities, that’s a totally inappropriate cost shift when producers are not taking appropriate responsibility.”
Waste glass, mixed plastics and whole baled tyres will be banned over the next two years following the final Meeting of Environment Ministers meeting for the year.
The National Meeting of Environment Ministers in Adelaide on Friday reached an agreement to ban the export of particular categories of waste from 1 July 2020 with a phased approach.
Ministers have agreed waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres that have not been processed into a value-add material should be subject to the export ban.
The phase out plans to be completed by the following dates:
- All waste glass by July 2020
- Mixed waste plastics by July 2021
- All whole tyres including baled tyres by December 2021
- Remaining waste products, including mixed paper and cardboard, by no later than 30 June 2022.
In response to the move, the Victorian Government urged the Federal Government to provide capital investment in waste and recycling infrastructure to ensure the fast approaching ban does not result in stockpiling.
The Queensland Government is similarly calling on the Federal Government to increase their investment in the recycling and resource recovery industry.
Commenting on the ban of exporting waste tyres, Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA), urged all governments to advocate for increasing tyre-derived products in Australia.
The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) said MEM’s decisions on the COAG ban on waste exports and the National Waste Policy Action Plan are several good steps forward, but there were some missteps too.
Among the other decisions from the MEM meeting are the adoption of broader waste minimisation targets in the National Waste Action Plan such as 80 per cent resource recovery and halving organic waste by 2030.
Likewise, the meeting committed to a greater commitment to recycled roads as an important solution, with the Commonwealth to play a leading role.
Additionally, it was recognised that brands and packaging supply chain members need to make clear their ‘buy recycled’ commitments. The meeting committed to harmonising container deposit schemes and recognising the need for infrastructure investment for domestic sustainability, decisions all welcomed by ACOR.
ACOR noted it was concerned with a failure to enact an immediate ban on baled tyre exports as there are readily available markets for the material and serious environmental impacts from its continued export for two more years.
It is also concerned with further indecision on funding for time-critical infrastructure especially for mixed paper decontamination and plastics reprocessing capacity, as well as a continued lack of substantive progress on the product stewardship agenda, including batteries.
ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said it’s hard to understand why banning baled tyres has not been prioritised as ample evidence was produced on the environmental impact of exports, the existing domestic capacity for reprocessing, and the legal avenues available.
“If one or two jurisdictions blocked this, they need to state their reasons so they can be addressed, and so the ban date can be revisited and expedited at COAG itself. Otherwise, other jurisdictions should just start now via regulations as there is minimal risk in doing so,” Mr Shmigel said.
“On the other hand, it’s good to see more commitment to recycled roads as a practical, no/low cost solution for domestic sustainability. There is evidence that specifying recycled content in even 12 major projects around the country can double our plastics recycling rate, and we should move forward faster on that front, including at COAG where we look forward to the Prime Minister’s continued leadership on recycling,”
Ministers also agreed to write to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to set out their expectations with respect to new packaging targets.
APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly, tasked with supporting the delivery of the National 2025 Packaging Targets, applauded the ministers for agreeing on the National Waste Policy: Action Plan 2019.
“APCO was involved closely during the consultation and evolution of this approach and is proud to be identified as a key delivery partner for a range of actions moving forward. In particular, we look forward to working with Planet Ark to develop and launch the Circular Economy Hub online platform and marketplace,” Ms Donnelly said.
“We acknowledge the support of ministers as we strive to be more ambitious, and in particular work with industry and key stakeholders to develop a revised target for the use of recycled content in all packaging. In practical terms, today’s announcement reinforces the collective efforts of the entire supply chain, including APCO’s Members, to deliver a truly sustainable packaging system for Australia, as we continue the transition to a circular economy.”
Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about the potential tyre-derived fuel flow-on effects of the Council of Australian Governments’ proposed export ban.
In early August, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) released a communique detailing its decision to ban the export of waste materials including plastic, paper, glass and tyres.
Specifics of the ban have not yet been released, with government stating that it would develop a ban timeline and action plan in due course. Despite this, industry responses have been swift and overwhelmingly positive, with particular focus given to the potential waste-to-energy flow-on effects of a ban on tyre exports.
Gayle Sloan, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, says Australia has a robust and sustainable non-baling tyre recycling industry, which processes roughly 23 million used tyre units per annum.
“A ban on the export of whole-baled tyres will further drive the industry, which will create Australian jobs while ensuring human and environmental health are protected,” she says.
Pete Smigel, Australian Council of Recycling CEO, says consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable end-of-life disposal and recycling of products that offer sustainable environmental and human health outcomes.
“Australia has a great opportunity to develop a strong, sustainable and profitable tyre recycling industry that delivers significant environmental benefits and as well as job creation across the new manufacturing industry,” Pete says.
“It’s imperative this is supported by responsible government policy, and the COAG communique is a great step towards that.”
Tyrecycle, one of Australia’s largest collectors and recyclers of end-of-life tyres, operates numerous collection and processing facilities across the country, including Australia’s largest crumbing plant based at Somerton in Melbourne. It also has full chain-of-custody reporting.
Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says COAG’s signalled intention to ban the export of waste tyres is a win for the environment and the circular economy.
“The proposed ban presents the best opportunity to turn all end-of-life waste tyres in Australia into value-added commodities such as rubber crumb, rubber granule, tyre-derived fuel (TDF) and high-tensile steel, creating more sustainable jobs in Australia,” he says.
“A ban on the export of waste tyres should include both whole-baled tyres, which are sent unprocessed to countries such as India and Malaysia, as well as casings from old truck tyres sent into overseas markets for use as seconds or in retreading.”
Jim says these elements go hand-in-hand, given the ban on whole-baled tyres will require the establishment and growth of new markets for re-purposed tyre-derived products.
Australia currently exports approximately 70,000 tonnes of whole-baled tyres per annum, which are then used in open burning as a fuel to heat drying kilns and in low-grade pyrolysis plants.
Rob Kelman, Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) Executive Officer, says operations like this are controversial, do not comply with environmental, health and worker regulations and are associated with high levels of pollution.
ATRA members agreed to ban the practice of exporting whole-baled tyres in 2014, due to poor environmental outcomes and a direct association with water borne diseases.
“The World Health Organization specifically identifies international movement of whole tyres as a key factor in the increase in Dengue incidence,” Rob says.
Australia’s tyre recycling sector is largely dominated by traditional recycling methods, which use a series of shredders, screens and granulators to separate waste tyres into commodities.
Jim says these commodities, which are valued commensurate with their level of refinement, are used as raw material in the manufacture of new products such as soft fall surfaces and asphalt, as well as civil work applications such as roads and infrastructure.
“Waste tyres are also used in TDF – a globally traded commodity, which fuels sophisticated, high-energy manufacturing environments and power generation plants overseas,” Jim explains.
“The technology is proven, and TDF has excellent environmental credentials that include a reduction in landfill, improved emissions and reduced use of fossil fuels.”
Jim adds that for every tonne of TDF used, one tonne of CO2 is displaced.
“It burns cleaner than coal and has twice the energy value of brown coal,” he explains.
“The global TDF market, which includes South Korea and Japan, is hungry for more and could easily consume all of Australia’s waste tyres as TDF, but there should also be a gradual push to increase the domestic uptake of TDF, most likely in cement kilns.”
Waste Expo Australia is set to explore the future of waste and resource recovery in the country, with presentations from the Australian Council of Recycling and South Australian EPA.
Waste Expo Australia’s 2018 event saw record attendance numbers, with more than 4500 trade visitors – a growth of over 28 per cent from the previous year.
While national in focus, the expo’s Victorian location is sure to inspire enthusiastic conversations about current industry challenges and the role of government in addressing them.
As one of the most comprehensive free-to-attend conferences for the waste management, resource recovery and wastewater sectors, Waste Expo is returning to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre 23-24 October.
The conference will feature two individual programs, the Oceania Clean Energy Solutions Waste Summit Conference and the EnviroConcepts Wastewater Summit.
The waste summit will cover six targeted streams from resource recovery, waste-to-energy, collections, landfill and transfer stations, construction and demolition waste and commercial and industrial waste.
Organisers have curated a diverse schedule of speakers from local and state governments, industry bodies and the private sector.
Attendees will hear from Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, EPA Victoria Chief Executive Officer Cathy Wilkinson and Sustainability Victoria Director Resource Recovery Matt Genever. Campaspe Shire Council, City of Holdfast Bay, Yarra City Council and Albury City Council will also present case studies.
Ahead of the 2019 expo, Waste Management Review spoke with two presenters, Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel and South Australian EPA Regulatory Reform Projects Manager Steven Sergi, about their perspectives on the future of waste and resource recovery in Australia.
Building domestic markets
While discussions of recycling generally centre on social and environmental benefits, a strong and sustainable sector is essential for national economic growth.
According to Pete, economic drivers for recycling are dependent on competitive material prices and healthy end markets, both of which have been challenged recently.
Pete explains that the future sustainability of domestic recycling systems relies squarely on greater demand for recycled material – which will be the focus of his Waste Expo presentation.
“Recycling is three arrows: collection, sorting and remanufacturing, it’s the third arrow we have to incentivise better,” he says.
Pete says the waste and recycling sector has been nimble in response to China’s National Sword Policy.
“Australia actually increased exports to other parts of the world last year, but that can’t last forever,” he says.
According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australian waste exports increased to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand in 2017.
Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since started reviewing their waste import policies, however, highlighting the need to establish substitute domestic markets.
Pete says dealing with the structural shake up of export markets requires investment in better infrastructure to drive recyclate material demand.
“With Asia changing the rules of the game, we need to build more recycling resilience and sovereignty in Australia,” he explains.
“It’s great to see proactivity by states who have formerly been accused of dragging their feet on recycling, but what’s desperately, and frankly, ridiculously, missing, is national coordination.”
As the waste and resource recovery industry calls for greater regulatory certainty on a national level, multiple state governments are implementing new policy.
In 2017, South Australia passed the Environment Protection (Waste Reform) Amendment Bill. The amendment gave the EPA greater powers to tackle illegal dumping and stockpiling, which, according to Steven, will assist resource recovery growth by penalising illegal operators.
Steven’s Waste Expo presentation, regulatory reform with the South Australian waste and recycling sector: Where to next, will explore these changes.
“The South Australian Government is seeking to help realise the economic potential from innovation in waste and resource recovery technologies, while at the same time protecting the environment,” Steven says.
“South Australia has introduced many waste management reforms over the past decade that have successfully promoted resource recovery in our state and established our reputation as a leader in this field.”
South Australia has one of the highest recovery rates in the country, 83 per cent – 87 per cent of which is reprocessed locally.
Steven says heightening EPA powers shows a commitment to establishing a robust regulatory environment, which supports sustainable waste and resource recovery operations.
“Key amendments through this act include explicit powers to enable regulation of material flow and stockpiling, expansion of the circumstances when financial assurances can be used and improved and proportionate powers for tackling breaches of licence conditions,” he says.
Steven’s presentation will also address the EPA’s commitment to establishing a robust regulatory environment.
“To support the sustainable operation of the waste and resource recovery industry, the EPA will support the best use of secondary materials in accordance with the waste management hierarchy, to provide certainty and fairness to lawful operators,” he says.
Cory McCarrick, Waste Expo Director, says no other waste event in Australia gives access to such thought-provoking content for free.
“Waste Expo Australia is about pushing boundaries and challenging operations and businesses to innovate, not just through technology but through workforce practices and policy reform,” Cory says.
“We have seen a large increase in speakers and suppliers taking part in this event and we are excited to address the major issues facing the industry this year.”
The Indonesian Government has announced that it will ship 547 containers of contaminated waste back to their countries of origin, including 100 housing Australian material.
According to a Fairfax Media report, customs officers, police and environment department officials opened containers of contaminated Australian waste for the media on 18th Sept.
The containers contained mostly plastic, with some food waste and visible liquid.
Indonesian Customs Director General Heru Pambugi said three Australian companies had imported the contaminated plastic waste, including one that did not posses required import documents.
Nine containers have already been shipped, with the remainder to follow in separate shipments.
In response, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said WMRR acknowledges and agrees that Australia should be managing its own waste and resources.
Ms Sloan said while Australia does recycle millions of tonnes of waste on-shore, it needs to grow its demand and use of recovered resources.
“Global shifts have resulted in Australia needing to find homes domestically for our recyclables and this is certainly a positive aspiration,” Ms Sloan said.
“Industry does not want to export these materials, and we know that there are many good reasons to sell these materials right here in Australia and turn them back into packaging.”
Ms Sloan noted that contamination, which is a concern for international importers of recycled materials, is primarily a result of people using their household bins incorrectly.
“Of course, industry and government can and should do more, but so can every citizen by being more diligent about what they put into the yellow bin,” Ms Sloan said.
“What is still lacking in Australia, which is the fundamental reason material has been exported in the past, is greater certainty of remanufacturing pull.”
Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said media reports about Australian recyclate material being returned by Indonesian authorities inappropriately undermines recycling efforts
“Less than 1.5 million tonnes of material from kerbside recycling was exported to overseas companies to make into products. Of that, some 65,000 tonnes went to Indonesia because buyers there bought it as feedstock for their factories – and there’s a lack of local demand for it,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Some 500 containers marked to be sent back by Indonesia that apparently don’t meet technical specifications is not substantial in the successful scheme of Australians’ recycling efforts.”
Mr Shmigel said off-spec material occurs in every industry.
“It is totally wrong to suggest that Australian recyclate export material is ‘toxic’. It is more likely to be material from our households that’s been earnestly but mistakenly put in the yellow bin,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Moreover, under the Prime Minister’s leadership, COAG has very recently decided – and industry has strongly welcomed – that material should no longer be exported and that we should become fully responsible for and more sovereign with our recycling.”
A detailed analysis of the how, what and who of the Australian Council of Recycling’s (ACOR) voluntary Recyclers’ Accreditation Program (RAP) will be commissioned.
According to ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, the analysis will include a feasibility study through consultancy firm Equilibrium.
“The recycling industry has a long history of innovation, continual improvement and collaboration along supply chains, with governments and the community,” Mr Shmigel said.
“RAP is the next logical step and we look forward to working with government and other partners to make sure it is accepted and drives performance and confidence.”
According to Mr Shmigel, RAP will aim to ensure high standards of operational performance and accountability, stakeholder and community confidence, complementary arrangements to policy directions and regulatory obligations and continual improvement in recovery rates.
When established, RAP aims to cover the collection, transport, sorting, pre-treatment and storage of recyclable materials, the remanufacturing of those materials into recycled content products and the management of supply chain relationships, including those with export partners.
Additionally, RAP will have reference to product stewardship schemes, spheres of influence in the recycling supply chain and the proximity principal.
Tasmania’s draft Waste Action Plan, released 29 June, sets a framework to develop the state’s recently announced CDS and a statewide landfill levy.
Acting Environment Minister Elise Archer has opened the draft for public consultation.
In a cabinet reshuffle last week, it was announced Treasurer Peter Gutwein would soon replace Ms Archer as Environment Minister.
“With a growing population and the recent restrictions of recycling product exports to China, it is important Tasmania takes a more strategic approach to the way it manages waste into the future,” Ms Archer says.
“Dealing with our waste is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and the community.”
According to Ms Archer, the proposed state wide levy is set to replace multiple council levies already in place, with funds to be reinvested in waste and recycling infrastructure and programs.
“The draft plan also contains a series of ambitious, but achievable, waste management, litter and recycling targets that align with targets in the recently approved National Waste Policy,” Ms Archer says.
Other proposed measures include ensuing 100 per cent of packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, reducing waste generation by 10 per cent per person by 2030 and achieving an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030.
Additionally, the plan outlines efforts to ensure Tasmania has the lowest incidence of littering in the country by 2023.
The state government will also work with local government and businesses to phase out problematic plastic by 2030 and reduce the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 50 per cent by 2030.
Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the draft illustrated smart and progressive reform.
Mr Shmigel highlighted the CDS, waste reduction goals and the commitment to a new administrative structure for waste management as particularly positive.
“ACOR also thinks it’s terrific innovation that the Treasurer Peter Gutwein will also be Environment Minister,” Mr Shmigel said.
“It helps recognise that recycling is a great way to combine ‘green’ and ‘gold’ as it is both an economic and environmental positive.”
Mr Shmigel is calling on government to set the new levy at a sufficient level to drive positive results and industry investment, and make commitments to the positive procurement of recycled content products to boost local manufacturers.
Additionally, Mr Shmigel has encouraged state government to ensure the proposed resource recovery management body involves both local government and industry experts.
“This new plan can start turning the Apple Isle from a recycling laggard to a recycling leader, and that’s something our industry and no doubt the people of Tasmania support,” Mr Shmigel said.
Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the plan shows a strategic approach to tackling waste, and highlighted its framework for addressing identified priorities.
“WMRR is pleased that Tasmania finally has a waste and resource recovery strategy and in releasing the plan, the minister has acknowledged that waste management is a shared responsibility between all levels of government, the private sector, and community,” Ms Sloan said.
“The minister should also be congratulated for listening to industry about the importance of a levy as an economic tool for prioritising resource recovery, as well as working with industry and the community to design and set the levy. This is a show of great leadership.”
Waste Management Review speaks to the Australian Council of Recycling about how its new board reflects the new reality of recycling.
A detailed analysis of the Labor Party, the Coalition and the Greens election promises has been released.
Using criterion based analysis and independent scoring evaluations, the policy report card has determined all three parties are committed to upgrading innovative recycling infrastructure, establishing local markets for recycled content and dealing with plastic pollution.
According to the report card however, only minor commitments to establishing a circular economy and national regulatory arrangement have been made.
The report card was created by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), the Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN), the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) and the National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC), with independent consultancy from Equilibrium.
ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said the election run up shows an unprecedented, tri-partisan and substantive response to the pressures felt in municipal recycling.
“Labor and the Coalition have come out neck and neck with good grades of C. The Greens also have a C, but less opportunity to realistically implement their vision,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Taken as a whole these policies recognise the landfill diversion, greenhouse gas reduction and jobs creation benefits of our $20 billion and 50,000 job industry.”
NWRIC CEO Rose Read said her organisation was particularly pleased with Labor’s commitment to establishing a National Waste Commissioner.
“This role is key to driving the national waste policy, collaboration across all levels of government and more regulatory consistency between states,” Ms Read said.
“However, NWRIC is concerned with the lack of commitment by the major parties to the use of co-regulatory powers for the Product Stewardship Act for batteries and all electronics.”
AIEN Executive Director Veronica Dullens said tri-partisan support showed recognition for the potential of the waste sector to drive environmental and economic outcomes.
“What is lacking is more specific recognition of the principles of a circular economy and more specific actions to move away from the ‘take, make and throw’ paradigm,” Ms Dullens said.
AORA National Executive Officer Diana De Hulsters said it was time to get serious about policy implementation.
“Given that 60 per cent of a household rubbish bin is potentially compostable, we would like to see comprehensive recycling targets put in place in the National Waste Policy,” Ms Hulsters said.
“Not only those for packaging, which is a minority part of the overall waste stream.”
— All parties have presented credible and coherent policies and achieve a pass mark.
— The Labor Party scores highly for a balanced suite of programs to support industry growth, recycled content products and work with local and state governments. It loses marks through not specifically committing to wide-ranging community engagement programs – overall achievement is a C.
— The Coalition scores highly for a significant commitment to industry investment and a circular economy approach, however loses marks for lack of recent implementation – overall achievement is a C.
— The Greens score highly with a very strong group of programs, but were marked down due to their inability to implement the proposals – overall achievement is a C.
Click to access the full Report Card.