How confident are you in recycling?

The Australian Council of Recycling has launched a new industry survey to provide an up-to-date measure of confidence in the sector and support better decision making. 

The recycling sector employs around 50,000 people. While this is indicative of the sector’s success to date, an unrivalled opportunity exists to increase that number exponentially.

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world per capita and with that affluence comes increased waste generation. Currently, the sector accounts for 0.5 per cent total employment, with Australia ranked 17th in the world in recycling.

But as a vital part of the economy, recycling can punch above its weight with the right support. The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has been supporting the businesses that collect, sort and remanufacture materials into value-added products.

These are the businesses getting their hands dirty to beneficially manage materials from the residential, commercial, industrial and infrastructure sectors.

The Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) ban on select waste exports, in addition the upcoming NSW Government’s 20-year waste strategy, national container deposit schemes and updated infrastructure recyclate specifications, highlight the regulators’ appetite for reform. Nevertheless, quality data is a barrier to understanding.

It’s why ACOR has explored the gaps and discovered that the missing piece of the data puzzle – an understanding of business confidence. While organisations such as NAB run monthly business confidence surveys, there has not in recent times been a measure of confidence for Australia’s recycling sector.

Such datasets would prove useful for federal, state and territory and local government regulators, and help inform decision-making to supercharge the recycling sector, instead of it being stymied by outdated regulation.

According to ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, understanding the recycling sector’s place in the overall economy is vital.

“We don’t do enough to gauge our own performance and trends and share that information with the public and decision-makers. Hopefully, the survey helps claim that opportunity,” Pete says.

He says the survey is a first of its kind.

“There’s lots of work about where the industry is at in terms of environmental performance, especially in ‘tonnage’ terms, for example how much we manage and various recycling rates. There’s less information about the economic side, such as business confidence going forward. That’s a key difference for this survey.”

Pete says that a schism between communications surrounding the so-called “waste crisis” and industry’s perceptions of the sector has created confusion.

“In all the media hype of the last few years, there’s been a fair bit of ‘blurring’ of different recycling markets. The reality is that while kerbside has its issues, we’ve been powering along in C&I and C&D with more than $500 million in investment in the last two years,” Pete says.

He says that interestingly, some businesses are integrated across these streams and have therefore been successfully hedging.

“Good decision-making requires a detailed understanding of the differences in our streams of activity.”

With COAG’s ban on waste exports and kerbside recycling undergoing dramatic changes, Pete says it’s important more now than ever that industry has the confidence to invest at scale and the right market signals.

“Domestic sustainability will require significant investment from many players, and that is assisted by industry insights.

“We’re literally only months away from the COAG ban being in place – on top of existing Asian pressures and in addition to further moves the Asians are likely to make. I’m hopeful that the survey gives us a better sense about how affected businesses and their supply chains are feeling about these very significant structural changes about to come down the pipe.”

The survey is broken down into MSW, C&I and C&D and allows respondents to answer various questions about whether they feel confident in their operations. Likewise, the survey covers government support and allows users to rank the issues most important to them.

To participate in this leading industry survey click here

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Australians believe recyclables going to landfill: research

Most Australians across all states and demographics believe the recyclables they put into their council bins are ending up in landfill, according to new research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The series of surveys has also found that 49 per cent of people believe that green and eco-friendly efforts will not have an effect in their lifetime, with 63.8 per cent of those older than 65 seeing no benefits being realised.

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Key findings also report that 72.4 per cent of people would recycle more of the material if it was reliably recycled.

Confusion also surround which level of government is responsible for residential waste and recycling services, with some people thinking industry instead of government is responsible for waste management.

UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Director Veena Sahajwalla said rising stockpiles and increasing use of landfill, in the absence of a coordinated government solution to a waste problem, had not been lost on consumers.

“Each council is fending for themselves right across Australia and while the meeting of federal and state environment ministers earlier this year made an important announcement about a new National Waste Policy stating that by 2025 all packaging will be re-usable, compostable or recyclable, we don’t have to wait another seven years for this decision to come into effect,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“It is clear on this issue that people want action, and they want governments to invest and do something now.

“A number of councils and private business are interested in our technology but unless there are incentives in place, Australia will be slow to capitalise on the potential to lead the world in reforming our waste into something valuable and reusable.”

UNSW’s SMaRT Centre launched a demonstration e-waste microfactory in April, which is able to recover the components of discarded electronic items for use in high value products.

UNSW is also finalising a second demonstration microfactory, which converts glass, plastics and other waste materials into engineered stone products, which look and perform as well as marble and granite.

“Rather than export our rubbish overseas and to do more landfill for waste, the microfactory technology has the potential for us to export valuable materials and newly manufactured products instead,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“Through the microfactory technology, we can enhance our economy and be part of the global supply chain by supplying more valuable materials around the world and stimulating manufacturing innovation in Australia.”

Planet Ark and HP release sustainability report

A new study from electronics manufacturer HP and Planet Ark has found 90 per cent of Australian consumers and businesses are concerned about environmental sustainability, with more than 70 per cent willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.

The HP Australia Environmental Sustainability Study 2018 was commissioned to discover the perceptions, value and behaviours of Australians toward environmental sustainability.

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It surveyed more than 1000 people aged 27 to 53 and more than 600 businesses ranging from one to four employees to 51 to 500.

According to the study, most consumers and businesses see marine plastic pollution, landfill waste and the impact on the natural environment as the three leading environmental sustainability concerns.

The study also found a lack of awareness about e-waste, reporting that half of Australian consumers and 44 per cent of businesses do not recycle printer ink and toner cartriages.

HP South Pacific Interim Managing Director Paul Gracey said Australians are starting to recognise the impact of their day to day behaviours.

“Through this research collaboration we aim to help Australian consumers uncover new ways to help the planet, while putting a spotlight on the need for businesses and brands to take meaningful action towards becoming more environmentally sustainable – both for the health of the planet and to future-proof their business,” Mr Gracey said.

Planet Ark Recycling Programs Manager Ryan Collins said it is no longer enough for companies to have environmentally sustainable practices and should encourage these behaviours in others.

“Today’s consumers have good intentions but look to brands to help them to make positive changes towards protecting the environment in their day to day. At Planet Ark, our focus is on enabling companies to be part of the solution and we’re proud to be working alongside HP to better educate Australian consumers and businesses,” Mr Collins said.

For more information on the report, click here.

Industry input sought for VWMA economic report

Victorian waste and recycling companies are being called on to contribute to an industry report on the economic and social contributions the sector provides.

The report, commissioned by the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA), aims to provide specific metrics the waste and recycling industry generates for local, regional and national communities.

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It will also aim to help improve communication between the industry, government and community to help build confidence and trust in the sector.

The VWMA aims to highlight the importance the environmental and health benefits of the sector to the community as well as the economic contributions from jobs and investment.

Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions Economist Nick Behrens is working with VWMA to complete the project, which is similar to work carried out in Queensland and currently in the Northern Territory.

A survey is currently open until 14 September to gather data to create anonymous, aggregated high level industry statistics which will be drawn upon to prepare various positions, communications and policy formation in the future.

The survey also includes questions about insurance to, general questions about government guidance and accessing government support.

VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith said it is important for the waste sector to come together and start to shape its own story for the government.

“An important element in that story involves the contribution made to the Victorian economy,” Mr Smith said.

“Most industry sectors publish their own data sets and reports into economic contribution and employee numbers to communicate and express their importance to local and state government and to the community. It is important our industry does the same.

“With an election this year and a new four year-term state government elected, this report will be a useful resource for our sector in advocating for industry support, regional development and regulatory and insurance challenges into the future.”

To complete the survey, click here. Results are anticipated to be released in the first week of October 2018.

Planning for national solar panel product stewardship underway

Research for a national product stewardship program for photovoltaic systems, which include solar panels, is underway.

Research for a national product stewardship program for photovoltaic systems, which include solar panels, is underway.

Sustainability Victoria has appointed product stewardship consultant Equilibrium to analyse and assess potential options for a national product stewardship to help manage end of life products.

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Photovoltaic (PV) panels and associated products and equipment have been identified as a rapidly growing e-waste stream in the future. For the project, “PV systems” have neem defined to include panels and PV system accessories such as inverter equipment and energy storage systems.

Equilibrium has opened an online survey to gather input and information form manufacturers, installers, project developers, the energy industry, and peak bodies.

The information gathered by the survey along with other evidence gathered will support the assessment of potential options.

Organisations and individuals interested in the project can complete the survey here.

Positive results for NT container deposit scheme

More than 75 per cent of Northern Territory residents have said they believe the container deposit scheme (CDS) has been a success, according to a recent survey.

The survey also showed 81 per cent of territorians participate in the CDS because they are environmentally conscious.

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NT’s CDS began in January 2012 and provides a 10 cent refund on beverage containers returned through collection depots.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Acting Director Leonie Cooper said the survey component of the review into the CDS received 714 responses, including 646 from community organisations and members of the public.

“The CDS has delivered many benefits to the Territory community, such as financial boosts to schools and community groups, as well as increased recycling rates and reduced litter in our environment,” Ms Cooper said.

“More than 90 million containers were collected by collection depots last financial year (2016-17) from territorians, the most collected in any 12 month period since the scheme began.

“Collection depots paid out more than $9 million to territorians during this time and this further demonstrates that territorians continue to support the CDS,” she said.

In addition, the survey also collected 68 responses from non-governmental organisations, government employees and the industry, including CDS coordinators, depot operators and supply approval holders.

“Participating in the survey gave territorians an opportunity to contribute to improvements in consumer experience with CDS, and the environmental and community benefits that could come from improving access and operations of the CDS,” Ms Cooper said.

“I thank everyone who participated in the survey and provided valuable suggestions on how the CDS can be improved. These suggestions are currently being considered by the independent CDS review team, with the final review report due for release in August,” she said.

Ms Cooper said CDS infrastructure grants have provided businesses and organisations with one-off funding to improve public access across the NT.

Survey shows support for Gov assistance towards recycling

A recent survey has shown 88 per cent of Australians support government action to assist the recycling sector.

The survey, conducted by polling firm Crosby|Textor, found groups most in favour of government action were older than 65, weekly recyclers and Coalition voters.

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It found 58 per cent of responses strongly support and 33 per cent supported specific measures to improve recycling through a national plan. Similar support was also found for government purchasing of recycled content products, compulsory changes for all packaging to be recyclable, national education to reduce kerbside recycling contamination, and compulsory recycled content in all packaging.

The survey found that 51 per cent of Queenslanders supported the introduction of waste levies in their state.

96 per cent responded they regularly participated in recycling and 50 per cent were aware of China’s restriction on Australian recyclate exports.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) Chief Executive Officer Pete Shmigel said the survey shows the Australian public overwhelmingly supports leadership by governments to reboot recycling.

“Across all states, age groups, city and country, and social and political lines, Australians are resoundingly saying to Ministers: act now for domestic recycling in Australia to survive and thrive,” Mr Shmigel said.

“Australians especially support: having a first-ever national plan for recycling; governments buying more recycled content products, and; making it compulsory for the packaging industry to produce goods that are both recyclable and contain recycled content.”

Crosby|Textor Chief Executive Officer Yaron Finkelstein it is uncommon to see very high figures of overwhelming support for policy changes like what was revealed on this issue.

The nationwide survey selected 1000 people at random of representative Australians from 16 to 18 April, and was commissioned by ACOR, with an margin of error of 3.1 per cent.

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