Survey shows level of recycling confidence: ACOR

The Australian Council of Recycling commissioned Prime Creative Media before and after COVID-19 to get an updated measure of industry confidence.

In the wake of COVID-19, some organisations have identified the potential for new business over the next six months, but it comes against a broader backdrop of concern about public policy settings for recycling, a new report by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has shown.

ACOR which represents dozens of people contributing to the $15 billion resource recover industry, commissioned Prime Creative Media through its title Waste Management Review to undertake a measure of industry confidence of Australia’s recycling sector.

From January to March 2020, Prime Creative Media surveyed more than 500 respondents working in municipal waste (MSW), commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste.

The trends have shown that while almost half of all organisations across MSW, C&I and C&D are positive about their organisation’s performance, more than a third of respondents across all streams are very negative about the public policy and government setting.

Respondents ranked issues most important to them and the top three issues across employees working in MSW, C&D and C&I.

Key issues highlighted by respondents were a need for greater reinvestment of state waste disposal activities into resource recovery, grants/loans for resource recovery and pro-active purchasing of recycled content by the public sector.

In ACOR’s second follow-up – COVID-19 Industry Pulse Check – 41 per cent of just under 100 participants indicated they were somewhat impacted by COVID-19, 35 per cent very impacted and 16 per cent unsure of the impact.

Businesses are also somewhat confident about identifying new business opportunities over the next three to six months, with 35 per cent indicating some level of positivity.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that with the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of unprocessed materials, re-investment into the sector is critical now more than ever.

“If we want to optimise recycling’s environmental and economic benefits….we need to better line up industry interests and their social outcomes and public policy,” he said.

“Implementation of the National Waste Policy with all stakeholders around one table is an opportunity in that way.”

Key findings: 

 

You can read the full results of the survey here.

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Federal Govt commits to dollar for dollar infrastructure investment

In a speech to the first ever National Plastics Summit in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to match industry investment in recycling infrastructure dollar for dollar.

With Australia’s recycling facilities “under severe strain”, the Prime Minister said the Federal Government would invest in technological innovation to maximise the value of recycled products.

“I will have more to say on this closer to the up-coming budget, but the Commonwealth stands ready to work with the states, to co-invest in these critical infrastructure facilities, and with industry,” Mr Morrison said.

“We are working with state and territory governments to identify and unlock the critical upgrades that will lead to a step-change in their recycling capacity. And we will invest in these facilities with governments and with industry on a one-to-one-to-one basis.”

Furthermore, Mr Morrison announced plans to strengthen the Commonwealth Procurement Guideline, to ensure “every procurement undertaken by a Commonwealth agency considers environmental sustainability and the use of recycled content as a factor in determining value for money.”

In his address, Mr Morrison highlighted demand as central to long-term industry sustainability.

“We know that banning the export of waste plastics will keep more of the raw stock here for use, and lifting industry capacity will increase our ability to use these materials constructively. But to make the system really hum, we need to build the market,” he said.

“The global recycled plastics market is expected to grow at 7.9 per cent annually over the next decade, they are phenomenal figures, and be worth almost $67 billion in 2025. Industry is not blind to the incredible potential here.”

Of the summit, Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Shmigel said the Federal Government was creating an unprecedented opportunity to reduce Australia’s plastics and greenhouse gas footprint.

“Prime Minister Morrison and his Ministerial colleagues have acted with total clarity and fast pace to put plastic waste minimisation near the top of their agenda,” he said.

“A summit that puts substance before stylistics is what we need to deal with the plastics problem, including our comparatively very low recycling rate of some 12 per cent and our lack of domestic recycling capacity.”

According to Mr Shmigel, improved plastic recycling is an affordable and accessible way to take practical and positive climate action.

“Support for putting recycled content plastic into irrigation pipes, channel lining and rainwater tanks would be a great way to assist drought-proofing while supporting Australian manufacturers,” he said.

“From all players involved in plastics management, from the government to brand owners to recyclers to the community, it’s time for real action not rhetoric, and that’s what the summit will be judged by.”

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ACOR reveals only eight per cent of waste levy revenue is reinvested

Only eight per cent of the $2.6 billion collected in waste levies over the last two years has been reinvested in recycling infrastructure and technology, according to new analysis by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

An ACOR statement reveals that in 2018 and 2019, a total of $446,093,088 in waste and resource recovery grants funding was given or pledged by state and federal governments.

According to the statement, this expenditure compares to $2.67 billion collected in waste levies by mainland state governments over the 18/19 and 19/20 financial years, representing 16.7 per cent.

“Of the $446.1 million given or pledged in funding, 50.5 per cent was allocated to infrastructure-related initiatives and reprocessing-related initiatives. This represents around 8 per cent of the collected waste levies. Less than $100m of the $225m has actually been given to recipients to date,” the statement reads.

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel said governments set waste levies up with the explicit aim of incentivising waste reduction.

“But more than 80 per cent of these state-based levies are ending up in consolidated revenue or other purposes,” he said.

“This is problematic because recycling rates have plateaued and Australia will no longer be allowed to export a great deal of material to Asia for recycling.”

Mr Shmigel said that without substantial investment soon, current kerbside recycling services may be put at risk. He added that with the export ban set to begin in less than six months, stockpiling might occur.

“Those who decided on the ban need to realise that without reinvestment in domestically sustainable recycling, and its necessary infrastructure, more material that Australians expect to be recycled – especially plastic – will need to go to landfill,” Mr Shmigel said.

“On independent modelling by MRA Consulting, some $300 million in one-off investment is needed to be able to process and remanufacture the types of paper and plastic we have been exporting.”

While Mr Shmigel said industry is prepared for matching arrangements and low-interest loans, he noted that there has been nowhere near that level of expenditure in 2018 and 2019.

“Australian recycling can be domestically sustainable and a world leader, and it requires waste levies to be expended on what they were set up for: support recycling,” he said.

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ACOR calls for battery product stewardship

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.”

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MEM sets waste ban timeline, but several “missteps”

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,”
he said.

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.”

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