NWRIC calls on VIC Premier to intervene in Alex Fraser decision

The National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is calling on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to intervene in the City of Kingston’s decision to deny the extension of Alex Fraser’s Clarinda recycling facility.

Earlier this year, Alex Fraser called on Kingston City Council to extend its operating permit for its glass and construction and demolition recycling site, as one million tonnes of recyclables risks going to landfill. Kingston Council rejected the extension earlier this month.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the Clarinda facility is a site of state significance.

“It’s capacity to recycle up to one million tonnes of construction materials represents approximately 25 per cent of Melbourne’s recycled material each year,” Ms Read said.

“To lose this site will have significant ramifications for resource recovery in Victoria and the population of Melbourne.”

According to an NWRIC statement, the City of Kingston decision contrasts with Sustainability Victoria’s Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan, which identifies the Alex Fraser site as one of Melbourne’s key resource recovery hubs.

“This illustrates another major weakness in the Victorian Government’s ability to manage waste and recycling, where clearly they have failed to integrate their infrastructure planning with local and state government planning regulations,” the statement reads.

The statement suggests that if Victorian’s want best practise recycling, it’s important that significant recovery hubs are protected and not overridden by local decisions.

“Moving these sites is not a simple matter, there are significant impacts not just on the recycler and its commercial operations, but on the whole of Victoria’s economy, employment and the environment,” the statement reads.

“If the Victorian government is serious about getting recycling back on track in Victoria, the premier needs to step up and mediate a more realistic solution for the future of the Alex Fraser Clarinda site as a matter of urgency.”

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NWRIC discusses export ban with Minister Ley

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has asked Environment Minister Sussan Ley to bring the ban on whole bale tyre exports forward to July 2020, in parallel with glass.

According to an NWRIC statement, the potential harm to humans and the environment by exporting whole baled tyres is significant, with ample capacity to process the material into value added products domestically.

NWRIC members made the request at their quarterly meeting in Canberra this week, which Ms Ley attended to discuss export ban execution and the implications of the proposed timetable.

At the meeting, council members indicated their support for the intent of the ban, and welcomed the strong leadership of the Federal Government, according to an NWRIC statement.

In reference to mixed plastics, NWRIC advised Ms Ley that more time is required for industry to purchase equipment and scale processing capacity. The council also argued for the need to fast track local plastic demand through packaging.

Additionally, NWRIC called the export ban on baled paper and cardboard “illogical,” given local demand is limited and strong existing markets exist overseas.

“This also applies to the export of single resin polymer plastics, such as clean bales of PET and HDPE. The vast majority of this resource is going to legitimate licensed overseas manufacturers,” the statement reads.

How to build local demand for recovered materials for packaging, products and infrastructure was another topic of conversation.

“The minister emphasised the government’s commitment to increase the uptake of recovered materials by changing their procurement practices,” the statement reads.

“She also stressed that businesses must step up too, especially the packaging industry, manufacturers and retailers, by ramping up the use of recycled materials. This program is especially needed in plastic packaging and products.”

NWRIC also argued that for the ban to be successful, new obligations must extend beyond the waste and resource recovery sector, to include organisations importing products to Australia.

“A circular economy requires all parts of the supply chain participate. This also includes consumers who must buy recycled, along with households plus businesses sorting recycling better,” the statement reads.

“Importantly, the minister acknowledged that Australia is a net importer of plastics and paper, so this needs to be considered in implementing the export ban.”

NWRIC members also requested Ms Ley consider banning the export of whole crushed car bodies, white good and waste motor oils.

“All of these products, when exported unprocessed, are causing serious harm to human health and the environment in locations across Asia,” the statement reads.

In addition to the export ban, Ms Ley and NWRIC members discussed the challenges of diverting organics from landfill, and the need for nationally consistent landfill levies.

According to the statement, NWRIC told Ms Ley that there needs to be greater transparency and investment of levies back into developing recovered materials markets, community education, compliance activities, research and data collection. NWRIC members also highlighted the importance of state investment being matched by the Commonwealth.

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Waste export bans alone won’t drive resource recovery

Waste export bans won’t deliver the National Waste Policy Action Plan resource recovery targets unless recycled materials are used in packaging, products and infrastructure, writes Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council.

Led by the Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, state and territory environment ministers agreed at their recent meeting on a timeline for COAG’s waste export bans and signed off on the National Waste Policy Action Plan.

The proposed waste export bans in large are being introduced to reduce harm to human health and the environment overseas. But the likelihood of them delivering the 80 per cent resource recovery target by 2030, or the 70 per cent plastics recovery rate by 2025 on their own is low.

To achieve these resource recovery targets, the demand to use recovered materials locally needs to be fast tracked.

The environment ministers commitment on the 8th November to identify significant procurement opportunities such as major road projects that could use recycled material is a good start. As is prioritising work to develop specifications and standards for the use of recycled materials in building, construction and infrastructure development.

However, this will only increase demand for glass and crumbed tyres. It won’t increase the demand for recovered plastic, paper and cardboard locally.

What is needed to create markets for plastics, paper and cardboard is legally requiring packaging companies, manufacturers and retailers to increase the proportion of recovered materials in packaging put onto the Australian market, including imports, as most of these materials come from overseas.

Some may say that manufacturers have already committed to this. But evidence to date suggests this is limited to one or two global brands that cover less than 40 per cent of the packaging market.

Likewise, none of the major supermarkets have committed to increase the proportion of recycled content in the packaged products they sell. Nor is there any commitment to indicate the level of recycled content on packaging to give consumers the choice to buy recycled.

On the phased timings proposed to implement the export ban:

The NWRIC considers the timeline for mixed plastics is insufficient for industry to purchase and install equipment, especially as there are limited markets.

The timeframe should be extended to match the 2025 APCO recycle content target. If the government wants this to progress more quickly, manufacturers should be required to meet specific plastic recycled content targets sooner.

The NWRIC also does not support the banning of single resin/polymer plastics that have not been processed (e.g. cleaned and baled PET), nor the banning of baled paper and cardboard. Both these recyclates have legitimate overseas markets, clearly demonstrating they are value added products that will not have a negative impact on human health or the environment.

To give government confidence that there will be no harm to human health and the environment overseas, exporters should be able to verify their downstream pathways and material recovery rates with the aid of third-party audits.

Submissions in response to the government’s discussion paper on implementing the banning exports of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres discussion paper are due by 3 December 2019.

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What happened to MWOO?

One year on from the NSW EPA’s ban on mixed waste organic material, Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about resource recovery exemptions.

When the NSW EPA banned the restricted use of mixed waste organic material (MWOO) in October 2018, industry reaction was swift.

The ban’s 24-hour notice period was deemed particularly controversial, with council planning and tender processes instantly altered.

The EPA’s apparent lack of transparency was also criticised, with claims industry had little access to the EPA’s internal research, or knowledge of the decision-making process.

While a Technical Advisory Committee Report was prepared in April 2018, it was withheld from the public for five months. Then Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said withholding the report illustrated poor judgement on the EPA’s behalf.

The report’s eventual release did little to alleviate industry’s concerns. Speaking with Waste Management Review in October, an industry stakeholder, who wished to remain anonymous, said the report lacks reference to data that supports its baseline scientific assertions.

“While the report makes reference to multiple studies, those studies aren’t cited and industry hasn’t been granted access to the EPA’s research,” the stakeholder said.

Additionally, the stakeholder said industry engagement in the lead up to the decision was poor, with no formal consultation period or submissions process.     

The decision was also deemed controversial due to the NSW Government consistently advising that the state had a shortage of alternative waste treatment facilities (AWT).

In a joint letter to Ms Upton, the Waste Management Association of Australia, the Australian Organics Recycling Industry Association, Waste Contractors Association of NSW, Australian Council of Recycling and the Australian Organics Recycling Association said several existing long-term AWT contracts had been compromised by the decision.

RED BIN REPORT

MWOO, which predominantly consists of household waste organics and has traditionally been used as compost, was banned for use on agricultural land, plantation forests and in mining rehabilitation. It is worth noting the ban excludes land application of compost derived from source separated FOGO.

According to a 2006 NSW Environment and Conservation Department Report, titled Recycled Organics in Mine Site Rehabilitation and authored by Georgina Kelly, MWOO improves soil structure, moisture retention and soil aeration. The report also asserts that MWOO is a rich nutrient source that facilitates rapid micro flora and fauna regrowth.

On agricultural land the material serves a similar function, acting as a soil amendment, topsoil substitute and fertiliser.

Despite two decades of widespread use, the EPA’s Technical Advisory Committee Report argued that MWOO had limited agricultural or soil benefits.

“It is clear the current use of MWOO on broadacre agricultural land, with application rates restricted to 10 tonnes per hectare, could not be classified as beneficial reuse in terms of improved crop production or beneficial effects on soil chemical or physical quality,” the report reads.

“Higher and/or repeat application rates are needed for the material to have any significant effects on crop growth and quality and on soil chemical and physical quality.”

The report also suggests that higher MWOO application rates run the risk of greater soil contamination by metals, persistent organic chemicals and physical contaminants.

The report lists one site visit, conducted 22 September 2017, where visible waste streams including nappies, plastic and clothing were found in high proportions – the specific site and/or operator is not named.

According to the anonymous stakeholder, further research should have been conducted, including more site visits and sustained onsite testing.

In laboratory and glasshouse experiments referenced by the report, the effect of MWOO, and specifically ground glass, was examined on earthworm avoidance, rhizobium nodulation and clover and carrot growth.

Ground glass is commonly found in MWOO as processing employs grinding to meet physical contaminant limits.

While no adverse effects were observed for earthworm behaviour, rhizobium nodulation and clover growth, glass particles were seen to adhere to the surface of carrot tubers, at an application rate equivalent to 25 tonnes per hectare.

“While this application rate is above current 10 tonnes per hectare agricultural guidelines, if regulations were to change (to allow the beneficial effects of MWOO to be realised) it is possible that more MWOO would be applied, making this a real concern,” the report reads.

“The fact that glass is permissible in MWOO used on agricultural land requires that this issue be either further considered experimentally, or the risk avoided by more effective glass removal.”

The stakeholder questioned the carrot experiment’s inclusion in the report, given MWOO was already banned around crop harvesting. They also raised concerns over the anonymity of the technical advisory committee, and said industry had a right to know who was consulted on the decision.

When asked what the EPA could do to ease industry concerns, the stakeholder said that at a minimum, the EPA should revoke the material’s ban in mining rehabilitation.

They added that the EPA’s ability to change regulatory standards with a stroke of a pen had caused significant hesitation around private sector investments.

“If I had money to invest in resource recovery, I wouldn’t be spending it in NSW,” the stakeholder said.   

On 16 October, the NSW EPA opened public consultation on the future use of MWOO and a proposed $6.5 million AWT transition package.

In an associated position statement, the EPA reiterated its original MWOO position and stated further research had been undertaken to assess future controls.

Consultation closes 28 November.

RESOURCE RECOVERY EXEMPTIONS

The use of MWOO has been restricted since 2010, including processing and distribution regulations and limits on its use for urban and domestic purposes. Specifically, EPA regulations restrict the material’s use near crops harvested below the soil surface.

Within those restrictions however was a Resource Recovery Exemption Order allowed MWOO in some land applications under specific conditions, based on its then status as beneficial or fit-for-purpose.

In a statement released at the time, then EPA Acting Chair Anissa Levy said the MWOO exemption was made on the basis that the material provided a beneficial reuse solution for waste. The revocation was made in 2018 because the material no longer met those requirements, she said.

Resource Recovery Exemption Orders are made under clauses 91 and 92 of the 2014 Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation Act.

According to Ross Fox, accredited specialist in planning and environmental law and Principal Lawyer Fishburn Watson O’Brien, the act was constructed to ensure orders and exemptions can be made, changed and revoked easily. He says while this has benefits, namely the ability to act swiftly in the face of environmental hazards, it also lends itself to overreach.

“What is arguably one of the act’s strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses. It’s not clear why there is no specific testing process set out in the act, but it’s certainly a matter of concern for my clients and the industry generally,” Ross says.

He adds that there is no transparent framework for the revocation process when an order or exemption involves the waste industry.

“The sector is also concerned that decisions can be made without public access to the information the EPA has, and without the opportunity to raise concerns,” he says.

While the legislative framework for Resource Recovery Orders and Exemptions hasn’t changed significantly over the past 10 years, Ross says current conversation around the issue are a sign of a maturing waste industry.

He adds that while in some cases there may be cause to revoke or amend exemptions, the EPA should be required to establish, and in some cases publicise, their argument for revocation.

“Those who are operating pursuant to an order are entitled to a fair process, and a clear path to be followed by all parties to minimise the impact of that revocation to the extent that it’s possible.”

Mirroring the view of the anonymous stakeholder, Ross suggests the ease in which Resource Recovery Exemptions can be revoked has created a high degree of risk for investors.

“Operators are thinking: why should I invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a piece of equipment that can produce material up to today’s specifications, when Resource Recovery Exemption legislation allows those specifications to be changed tomorrow?” he says.

“If the degree of risk is too great then it will discourage investment in resource recovery, which will have a negative impact on NSW meeting its resource recovery targets.”

FLOW ON EFFECTS

Christopher Malan, ELB Equipment Managing Director, says the MWOO ban has had a negative effect on organic diversion rates, and increased the amount of material sent to landfill.

“In addition to the direct effects felt by NSW recyclers engaged in mixed waste organics recycling, processors from other states have expressed displeasure over the likelihood of similar measures in their state or territory,” Christopher says.

“This has created uncertainty in the segment and slowed investment in the sector.”

Christopher says that while ELB is committed to organics recycling, the MWOO issue far exceeds the capabilities of efficient processing.

“Given the breadth of the issue caused by the removal of the exemption relates to the source of the waste rather than the recycling methodology or output product, there is little that we have been able to offer from a technical perspective to assist the industry,” he says.

Despite this, Christopher is optimistic and says the NSW Government, EPA and local councils should work together to address the problem.

“All parties can agree that recyclable resources, such as organics, should not be going to landfill,” he says.

“It is our hope that a review of organic waste handling assists in eliminating organic waste sent to landfill.”

Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council CEO, says the MWOO ban has closed markets for five operating mechanical biological treatment facilities in NSW.

“Collectively, these facilities produce in excess of 150,000 tonnes of mixed waste derived organics per year. So far, the NSW EPA has provided landfill levy exemptions for these facilities,” she adds.

Furthermore, Rose says the MWOO ban has created uncertainty and confusion within both the processing industry and users of processed organics.

“It is critical that clear specifications are urgently agreed upon by regulators, processors and the final end users of the material on what is acceptable for the agriculture, forestry and site rehabilitation markets,” she says.

“These specifications should be based on best available science. Without this clarity, industry cannot develop infrastructure and technology to meet the user’s needs, and the state government will not be able to meet its recycling targets.”

According to Rose, industry is asking for an amended Mixed Waste Resource Recovery Order to be reinstated, that clearly defines outputs and applications.

“To deliver on these outputs, industry will need financial assistance to upgrade these facilities to deliver the required resource recovery outcomes,” Rose says.

“Industry will also need to transition these assets in the medium to long term, so they can continue to provide the desired resource recovery outcomes and market specifications for NSW.”

Rose says industry is also requesting that the NSW EPA insert a formal process within its waste regulations that ensures current and future Resource Recovery Orders and Exemptions cannot be amended or revoked without timely consultation and a detailed assessment with all relevant stakeholders.

Charlie Emery, Australian Organics Recycling Association Director and NSW Chair, urged similar action in a submission to the NSW Environment Minister, addressing the state’s proposed 20-year waste and resource recovery strategy.

In the submission, Charlie called for the creation and enforcement of consistent regulatory standards for organics processing.

“Waste cannot always be a waste. At some point after beneficial processing it must become a resource,” the submission reads.

This article was published in the November 2019 issue of Waste Management Review. 

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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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