Fed Govt releases Product Stewardship Act Review

The Federal Government’s long-awaited Product Stewardship Act 2011 review recommends expanding the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) to include all electrical and electronic products with a plug or battery.

The review, which was first announced in 2017 and closed consultation in June 2018, makes 26 recommendations to improve product stewardship outcomes, all of which are supported by the Federal Government.

In addition to expanding the NTCRS, the review recommends calling out manufacturers and importers that are “letting consumers and their industry down,” by not participating in a product stewardship scheme.

Free-riding is a key challenge for many product stewardship approaches, the review states, and should be addressed through appropriate measures to enable better outcomes.

“Companies face being named and shamed, and consumers could enjoy more options for recycling electronic goods under proposed changes to product stewardship legislation,” Environment Minister Sussan Ley said.

Additional recommendations include establishing a new Centre of Excellence to mentor and drive best practice product stewardship schemes, and shifting the emphasis from stand-alone products to entire material streams.

The review also suggests strengthening the Minister’s priority products list to encourage brands to work together towards an industry-led scheme by adding clear timeframes.

“Manufacturers, industry groups and individual businesses are encouraged to consider how they can collaborate to establish new product stewardship schemes,” Ley said.

Shadow Assistant Environment Minister Josh Wilson welcomed the review’s findings, however, highlighted that its release is two years late.

“In essence, the PSA review makes recommendations that the industry has identified for some time,” he said.

“While the government’s response suggests that problematic waste producers will be put ‘on the clock’ to take voluntary action before additional co-regulatory schemes are implemented, the details of this staged and timetabled approach will be crucial.”

Introduced by the Labor Government in 2011, Wilson said the Product Stewardship Act was a major step forward in developing a regulatory framework to ensure responsible waste management in partnership with industry.

“It created a structure through which the producers of difficult waste products would take responsibility for their ‘life cycle’, including the recycling and proper disposal of resources and waste,” he said.

“We are glad to note this review confirms the fundamental value of Labor’s policy, particularly in relation to the NTCRS. But further improvements to compliance and outcomes under the NTCRS are both necessary and welcome.”

Labor will consider the report and consult with stakeholders before coming to a final position on the proposed changes.

“The PSA review has made it clear that significant free-rider issues exist and that without an expansion of co-regulatory mechanisms, there may be little improvement in current outcomes,” Wilson said.

“There should be no further delay in providing certainty to Australia’s resource recovery sector and in providing support for Australia’s nascent re-manufacturing operators and innovators.”

PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP INVESTMENT FUND 

The Federal Government has also launched the first round of grants under the $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund, which seeks to ensure manufacturers, retailers and industry groups take greater responsibility for the entire lifecycle of the products they produce and sell.

Grants of up to $1 million will be available for individual applicants to expand existing schemes or develop new ones.

According to Ley, the fund is a critical part of the Federal Government’s billion-dollar recycling strategy.

“We are building more capacity in our recycling sector and we need industry and brands to take greater responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts,” she said.

The fund will have an initial e-waste focus, Ley added, to ensure that anything with a plug or a battery is subject to an industry scheme.

“Solar panels, batteries and even non-electronic items like child car seats all have recyclable components which shouldn’t be wasted in landfill,” she said.

“As part of this game-changing investment, we will recognise those industries that get on board and call out those that don’t participate.”

Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans said product stewardship schemes would reduce the impact of products on the environment and create new job opportunities for Australians.

“This funding will shift the dial in Australia as we change our mindsets to thinking about waste as a resource,” he said.

“Whether it’s an old computer, half a tin of paint or an old mobile phone, we want to provide the incentives for manufacturers and organisations to turbo-charge product stewardship schemes operating across Australia.”

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly said Australia is fortunate to have two proactive leaders in Minister Ley and Minister Evans.

According to Donnelly, both Ley and Evans are committed to highlighting the product stewardship issue, and supporting and driving the change that is needed for Australia to make the transition to a circular economy.

“Under their guidance, Australia has delivered a comprehensive, three-year consultation and analysis of the Product Stewardship Act to ensure Australia has the right product stewardship model for the job at hand,” she said.

“We now have to trust that process has delivered the right outcome – and then collaborate with the whole value chain to deliver it.”

Donnelly added that regulation is a complex topic, and all systems – whether voluntary, co-regulatory or mandatory – bring both benefits and challenges.

“As a co-regulatory organisation, APCO’s role is to work with government and industry to focus on the solutions that will deliver the most effective model for change possible,” she said.

“Those solutions will need to be systemic and transformative. Responsibility for change of this magnitude is not owned by a single entity, actor or stakeholder.

“Rather, its effectiveness relies on action from a diverse range of stakeholders, sometimes in the thousands, and in the case of consumers, the millions. Effective regulation in this context is a worthy debate in which all models need to be considered.”

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APCO report details steps to deliver National Packaging Targets

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has increased the National Packaging Target for recycled content levels from 30 to 50 per cent, as outlined in its new Our Packaging Future report.

“As Australia has already met the original 30 per cent recycled content target, a new all packaging average target of 50 per cent has been co-developed with key stakeholders in the packaging supply chain in order to drive increased demand and end-markets for post-consumer material collected in Australia,” the report reads.

“This increased target will encourage the use of an additional 1.3 million tonnes of material in packaging, from both local and imported sources.”

The report, which outlines critical steps required to deliver Australia’s National Packaging Targets, was unveiled by Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans and APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly at an industry webinar on 31 March.

According to Ms Donnelly, of the 5.5 million tonnes of packaging material placed on the market annually, 88 per cent is currently recyclable, yet just 49 per cent is recovered for use in future applications, with the remainder ending up as landfill or litter.

“Our Packaging Future combines data and insights from more than 200 authors and contributors, to identify the current critical challenges contributing to this gap. It then maps the strategies required to move away from our current take, make and waste approach to managing packaging,” Ms Donnelly said. 

“The strategies address issues of packaging design, improved collection and recycling systems and expanded markets for used packaging, and provides a systemic, whole of environment approach to building Australia’s sustainable packaging future.”

Key recommendations include launching a National Consumer Education Campaign, APCO convening a CDS National Working Group as a collaborative forum to facilitate consistency and alignment of future closed-loop schemes, and developing new reuse models for consumer and B2B packaging.

According to Mr Evans, governments around Australia are relying on APCO and its members to bring about a more sustainable approach to packaging.

“This report shows that about half of all packaging in Australia is not currently being recovered, and that is the gap we need to bridge to achieve the National Packaging Targets by 2025,” he said. 

Further recommendations include exploring and facilitating waste collection partnerships in regional and remote areas, including potential collaboration with other product stewardship schemes where kerbside collection is not feasible, and developing a traceability and verification program for recycled content in packaging and products.

“Our planet has finite resources to meet our ever-increasing consumption. Business as usual is simply not going to sustain our communities into the future. We will not accept a future defined by waste stockpiles, inefficient waste recovery economies, self-interest and fragmented regulation and policy approaches,” Ms Donnelly said. 

“The vision for this report is clear: building a packaging value chain that collaborates to keep packaging materials out of landfill and maximise the circular value of the materials, energy and labour within the local economy.” 

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COAG releases export ban Waste Response Strategy

Appropriately sorted paper and cardboard will be exempt from the Federal Government’s forthcoming waste export ban, as announced by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). 

According to COAG’s Waste Response Strategy, export ban timelines and material definitions were tested with industry between late 2019 and early 2020, following the ban’s initial November 2019 announcement. 

“Through responses to the COAG waste export ban discussion paper and roundtables, stakeholders provided input on their concerns, manufacturing and export practices, and other information which guided the development of specific material definitions,” the strategy reads.

“Paper and cardboard that is sorted to one type with low contamination levels can be exported. This reflects the role that these materials play in supporting kerbside recycling viability and that these do not require further processing to be ready for manufacturing into new products.”

Additional definition changes include removing the requirement that glass cullet for export be washed and colour sorted. This reflects, the strategy notes, industry feedback that glass cullet does not need to be washed and/or of a single colour to be ready for remanufacturing.

Bus, truck, and aviation tyres that are legitimately exported for re-treading can also continue to be exported, “as this practice represents a higher-order end use than destruction via crumbing or shredding.”

According to Environment Minister Sussan Ley, the ban signals a once in a generation transformation of the recycling industry, which could generate $1.5 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years.

“This is about waking up to an issue that has been buried in landfill for too long. Most importantly, it is about Australia saying it is our waste and our responsibility, and it is about industry and government being prepared to invest in change,” she said. 

The strategy highlights the need for system-level changes to Australia’s waste and resource management practices to support the ban.

As such, the Federal Government has committed to supporting upgrades to material recovery facilities, building demand for recycled product through purchasing goods and services at scale and co-investing to support commercially viable waste and recycling facilities.

The Federal Government, in collaboration with state governments and industry, will also consider targeted stewardship interventions for packaging, plastic, paper, tyres and glass products.

“While there is support from the waste and recycling industry for new product stewardship schemes which place mandatory requirements on businesses, groups representing manufacturers have a range of views about mandatory schemes depending on the maturity of their respective schemes,” the strategy reads.

“Finalisation of the review of the Product Stewardship Act in 2020 will provide opportunities to reform stewardship arrangements, including opportunities for mandatory schemes where they support implementation of the export ban.”

Furthermore, the Federal and state governments will investigate opportunities for regional micro-factories, and establish regional recycling hubs in strategic locations across Australia.

Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans said the ban’s confirmation is the result of strong cooperation between states, territories and industry.

“We now have the opportunity to create jobs, grow the economy, transform the waste industry and significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill,” he said.

“We know that for every 10,000 tonnes of waste sent to landfill, there are approximately 2.8 direct jobs created. If we recycle the same waste, 9.2 direct jobs are created.”

According to Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan, the strategy shows a recognition of what is needed to build a sustainable waste and recovery industry in Australia.

“It is evident that the Federal Government is prepared to remain at the table and work with all other Australian governments, in order that we can future proof and resource our essential industry as we respond to the waste export bans, and achieve the waste reduction and recycling outcomes that the Australian community rightly expects,” she said.

The strategy not only acknowledges that waste plastic is a significant and complex issue, Ms Sloan said, but also takes positive initial steps in mapping out what all jurisdictions must do to tackle the challenge.

According to Ms Sloan, these range from harmonising policies and programs to phasing out single-use and hard to recycle plastics. The Federal Government is also supporting industry to invest in new plastics processing capacity, Ms Sloan said, through competitive grant funding and commercial and concessional loans.

“Of note however will be the need to fast track infrastructure, because with only two years till the roll-out of the plastics ban and the significant volume of waste plastic that needs to be managed, Australia needs to start building processing facilities now, for them to be up and running ahead of 2022,” Ms Sloan said.

Export ban timeline: 

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Export ban exemptions

Despite the export ban commencing July 2020, the Federal Government could allow trade to continue under certain strict conditions. We speak to Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister.

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 government would allocate further funding in the May budget.

“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 with governments and with industry on a 1-to-1-to-1 basis,” he said, according to a pre-released speech given to media.

The announcement came just three months ahead of the first round of export bans – with glass waste set to be banned by July 2020 – and serves as a sign that government has listened to industry calls for market intervention.

Since late 2019, the Federal Government has been undertaking extensive industry consultation, as required by COAG Regulation Impact Guidelines. As per the export ban Regulation Impact Statement (RIS), the aim of consultation is to determine the relative costs and benefits of regulatory and non-regulatory options under consideration.

Under proposed regulatory options, the ban’s implementation could take two forms: federal legislation or export restrictions. While federal legislation is conceptually straightforward, option two is more complex, with exports operating under permit systems and accreditation or supply chain assurance.

Exemptions to the ban could be considered, the RIS suggests, where continued export promotes circular economy principals, or materials have established industrial uses and end markets. Moreover, the RIS highlights materials originating from clean, well sorted steams, such as container deposit schemes or single source separation, as possible candidates for exemption.

While it could seem like a loophole to some, according to the RIS, allowing materials that meet certain standards to be exported reflects the variability of challenges facing each waste stream, as well as differences in infrastructure across states and territories.

According to Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister, material stream complexity, paired with an understanding of the challenges associated with broad policy decisions, has been a central focus of ban consultation.

“While we use the language of export bans, in essence, what we’re really interested in doing is allowing trade to continue if it meets certain strict criteria,” Trevor says.

“These aren’t clunky blanket bans; they are very targeted. The Federal Government is interested in the quality of material that might go offshore, and if certain quality conditions and eligibility criteria are met, operators may be granted permission via permits.”

While the exemption eligibility criteria is largely finalised, Trevor says discussion is still taking place around specific material definitions.

“The intention of government is to target these bans at mixed or contaminated streams, especially plastics. And that is actually quite a detailed conversation when it comes to individual polymer types, or different types of carboard, paper and pulp,” he says.

According to Trevor, under the restriction system, the Federal Government would have the ability to permit, audit and inspect all operators engaging in export. Once the ban is officially in force, he says policing responsibility will likely fall on the Federal Environment Department.

“Assuming the permitting process is indeed the model that’s followed, the exact drafting of the scheme would then be finalised inside parliament, and it’s likely that the Department of Environment could be in charge of that permitting process,” he says.

MATERIAL PRIORITIES

In January, the National Waste & Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) called for a ban exemption for clean, high grade paper and cardboard.

Citing an export market worth more than $230 million annually, Rose Read, NWRIC CEO, said recycling services could fail without export capacity. Ms Read also noted that Australia does not currently have the capacity to locally remanufacture all the paper and cardboard it generates.

Ms Read’s comments reflect a common industry concern that material definitions are too broad, and that while banning some products, such as whole baled tyres, is appropriate, banning others, could be counterproductive.

When asked about these concerns, Trevor notes that significant refinements have been made to the definitions initially proposed at the November 2019 Meeting of Environment Ministers.

“The changes have been around paper and pulp, and really targeting the bans at where we believe the true issues and challenges lie, and not to get in the way of other export streams that are well sorted and pose no environmental threat,” he says.

At the next COAG meeting on 13 March, Trevor expects the government will announce final definition and timeframe decisions. He adds that details around how the government plans to co-invest in new facilities is also likely to be announced, a view already alluded to at the National Plastic Summit.

“There are very big challenges across some of these product streams, and one of the biggest is that in some areas, such as mixed paper and plastics, there aren’t many facilities or onshore capacity at the moment,” Trevor says.

“That’s the main reason the bans are staged in their implementation. The timeframes are tight mind you, but they’re deliberately tight because we want to bring the bans in as soon as we practically can.”

Responding to Sustainable Resource Use’s January Recycling Market Situation Summary Review, Trevor suggests that in some cases, Australia’s onshore reprocessing capacity will need to increase by “many multiples”.

The review, which suggests Australia may need a 400 per cent increase in plastic throughput to sustain domestic markets, highlights global markets for recyclable materials as volatile.

“One of the main motivations for the Federal Government being willing to co-invest and create better policy frameworks, is that we want to see a huge onshoring of recycling capacity,” Trevor says.

“We want to see that as soon as possible because of the great environmental and economic impacts and quite frankly, because it’s going to create jobs, especially in areas of Australia where we need them most, and that’s in regional cities and outer suburban areas.”

SHADOW BAN

Since the ban was announced, the appropriate level of government investment has been hotly debated. Multiple stakeholders, including Ms Read, have cautioned that in the absence of robust infrastructure investment, the regulatory measure is likely to fail.

Trevor’s Labor counterpart, Shadow Assistant Environment Minister Josh Wilson, shares similar sentiments, telling Waste Management Review that the Federal Government is not doing enough to deal with the reality Australia faces. It should be noted that Josh spoke to Waste Management Review prior to Mr Morrison’s plastic summit announcement.

“All the government has done so far is essentially put out a timetable, and it’s not clear at all how we’re going to meet that timetable,” he says.

“If you take mixed plastics, which we are supposed to stop exporting by the middle of next year, it’s very hard to see how that can be achieved when the level of plastic recycling and reprocessing is lower in Australia now than it was in 2005.”

In regard to infrastructure investment, Josh describes the Federal Government’s current approach as “hands off, help yourself.” The Australian Recycling Investment Fund, he adds, is insufficient, with new policy measures and resources needed to ensure the ban’s success.

“The Australian Recycling Investment Fund is not new or additional money, it’s $100 million dollars earmarked in the Clean Energy Finance envelope,” Josh says.

“The money was already being applied for recycling projects, and its loan funds, not direct funds. So, the idea that it’s direct funding that will change and improve the situation for infrastructure investment just isn’t true.”

When asked to respond to the Shadow Minister’s comments, Trevor notes that as part of the Federal Government’s plan to tackle plastic waste and halve food waste by 2030, the Recycling Investment Fund addresses broader issues than those of the ban.

The fund is designed to finance eligible large-scale commercial and industrial projects, typically requiring $10 million or more of Clean Energy Finance Corporation debt or equity capital. As opposed to general infrastructure investment, the Australian Recycling Investment Fund is focused on emerging technology.

“The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has existed for many years. Part of the reason why we’ve given them responsibility for administering the Recycling Investment Fund is their proven track record of making very sound business investment decisions in new facilities and new technologies,” Trevor says.

He adds that he expects the Australian Recycling Investment Fund to be entirely spent. Another concern for Josh is Australia’s tyranny of distance, and whether investment decisions will consider the needs of the entire country.

“I have portfolio responsibility for Australia as a whole in the waste space, but I am a Western Australian,” he says.

“If there’s additional reprocessing capacity located in the eastern states, what happens to a jurisdiction like Western Australia that would face the transport costs of taking our mixed plastics and other recyclables to those centres?”

Trevor explains that all the states and territories have been invited to approach the Federal Government with ideas and solutions.

“As you’d expect, each of the states are in a different position in terms of what their present offerings are. And each of them has natural views about the direction they’d like to take industry,” he says.

“We’ve received a lot of those proposals already and are going through the process of seeing where we can co-invest. But we’re also mindful that we need to have a national solution and will go through a common sense checking process to make sure there isn’t any duplications, or indeed any gaps.”

You can read the full article in the May edition of Waste Management Review. 

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Pact Group announces $500M investment in plastics recovery

Pact Group, one of Australia’s largest rigid plastic product manufacturers, will invest $500 million into plastics recovery infrastructure, research and technology over the next five years.

Pact Group Non-Executive Chairman Raphael Geminder made the pledge at the first National Plastics Summit at Parliament House this week, following news the company plan to develop a plastic pelletising facility with Cleanaway and Asahi.

According to Mr Geminder, the company will partner with government and industry to invest in new facilities for sustainable packaging, reuse and recycling initiatives.

“Our stated vision is to include 30 per cent recycled content across our product portfolio by 2025. Across our business, this would be the equivalent of keeping nearly two billion plastic containers out of landfill,” Mr Geminder said.

“Just as importantly, we will be creating jobs for Australians in the circular economy – a new and growing sector where we believe Australia can lead the world.”

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the commitment was encouraging, with industry leadership to reduce plastic waste, increase recycling and create jobs a critical outcome of the summit.

“Pact’s announcement at the National Plastics Summit follows announcements from major brands McDonald’s and Nestlé, with McDonald’s committing to phase out plastic cutlery by the end of 2020, removing 585 tonnes of plastic waste per annum,” Ms Ley said.

“This adds to McDonald’s previous commitment to phase out 500 million straws every year and takes the total annual plastic reduction to 860 tonnes.”

Furthermore, Nestlé will partner with waste management company IQ Renew on a soft plastics collection trial, to be tested at 100,000 homes.

“The recycling economy starts here, this is where we take what are now seen as problems and turn them into assets that create remanufactured products, which create jobs and which grow our economy,” Ms Ley said.

Additional commitments include $650,000 from PepsiCo to support Greening the Green, a program aimed at educating consumers on soft plastics, and Unilever announcing it will halve its use of virgin plastic in production and packaging by 2025.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation announced it would lead the development of the ANZPAC Plastic Pact, a new program within the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Plastics Pact Network.

“ANZPAC will provide the significant intervention required to meet Australia’s national plastic packaging target – that 70 per cent of all plastic packaging will be recycled or composted by 2025,” Ms Ley said.

According to Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans, the summit was an important step in working with industry to drive long-term practical outcomes, such as increasing Australia’s recycling rates and domestic reprocessing capabilities.

“We are looking towards fundamentally changing the way we think about and manage our waste, and creating new markets for recycled products,” he said.

“This transformation towards a circular economy will both create jobs and help our environment.”

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Trevor Evans to open AORA Annual Conference

Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans will open the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) 2020 Annual Conference.

AORA National Chair Peter Wadewitz said Mr Evans’ confirmation is another strong addition to an outstanding lineup of national and international experts.

Held 1 to 3 April in the Hunter Valley NSW, the conference will feature practical demonstrations, social events and plenary sessions focused on different aspects of the organics industry.

“The Annual AORA Conference features workshops, presentations, a gala dinner, networking functions and an equipment demonstration day. This is the prime opportunity of 2020 to network with industry leaders and gain insights into the latest opportunities in the organics recycling industry,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“Plenary sessions will cover a common vision for the future of the industry, community engagement and informed opinion sessions on food organics and garden organics, carbon, in the field and what’s next.”

The conference will also feature keynote presentations from Teaming series author Jeff Lowenfels and Aurel Lübke of Compost Systems Austria.

For more information click here.

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Simply Cups reaches 10 million milestone

Simply Cups, a coffee cup recycling program, has officially collected 10 million cups, with Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans depositing the milestone cup at an event in Sydney.

According to Mr Evans, the recycling scheme, founded by Closed Loop, collects almost one million cups every month, with nearly 1000 collection points at 7-Eleven stores, cafes, hotels, hospitals and universities across Australia.

“Australians love their coffee, so it’s vital that they can easily and reliably recycle their disposable coffee cup and reduce the huge number of takeaway cups that currently end up in landfill each year,” Mr Evans said.

“Rather than just being put into the rubbish bin and ending in landfill, Simply Cups collect and then reprocess the used coffee cups, transforming them into new items like outdoor furniture, coffee cup trays and even traffic solutions like roadside kerbing.”

By disposing coffee cups at designated collection points, Mr Evans said consumers could do their part to increase recycling.

“This is a great practical example of Australia’s growing circular economy in action, and shows how we will all benefit from an invigorated waste and recycling industry,” he said.

Closed Loop Managing Director Rob Pascoe said Simply Cups aims to recycle 100 million cups every year.

“It’s a practical solution that increases recycling rates and reduces waste, while creating supply and demand for products made from recycled material,” he said.

“Our circular economy will grow quickly if people choose Australian-made and recycled over other alternatives. After all, recycling doesn’t actually happen when you put an item in a bin, it only happens when that item is given a second life.”

7-Eleven Chief Executive Officer Angus McKay said that while saving 10 million coffee cups from landfill is a fantastic achievement, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“We encourage customers to up the ante and deliver any brand of used coffee cup or straw to our cup collection points at store, and we’ll make sure they get recycled via Simply Cups,” he said.

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Federal Government funds community environment projects

More than 900 local environment projects have received funding through the Federal Government’s $22.65 million Communities Environment Program.

Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans said he welcomed the significant proportion of waste reduction and recycling initiatives receiving funding.

“The Federal Government is strongly committed to increasing our recycling rates, turning our waste back into valuable products and encouraging innovation, so that resources are not lost to landfill,” Mr Evans said.

“It’s great to see that this commitment is shared by many in our communities, judging by the amount of applications seeking funding to deliver waste reduction, recycling and litter clean-up activities.”

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the government was pleased to see strong community interest in the program.

“People want to play a role in helping our environment, and it is fantastic to see such a wide range of not-for-profit community organisations, schools and local governing bodies engaged in identifying local priorities and opportunities,” Ms Ley said.

“Many are being encouraged to get involved for the first time in delivering small grant projects in particular, and we are also seeing how a number of individual projects can help address wider issues.”

Up to $150,000 was made available to each federal electorate during the 2019-20 financial year.

According to Ms Ley, applicants could apply for grants ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 per project, with each electorate eligible for up to 20 community-led projects that address local environmental priorities in their jurisdiction.

Examples of funded projects include a new community recycling station for light globes and batteries in Aberfoyle, South Australia, and a Pumicestone, Queensland project that seeks to recreate lost shellfish reefs using old oyster shells.

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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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APCO hosts annual sustainable packaging awards

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans has reaffirmed the Federal Government’s commitment to drive the delivery of the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

Speaking to an audience of 180 at this year’s Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) Awards in Melbourne, Mr Evans congratulated APCO on its progress thus far.

Going “off script” Mr Evans told attendees that before entering politics he served as the National Retail Association’s CEO.

“It’s fair to say that all those years ago, APCO had a mixed reputation, as it looked to take the next steps in its journey,” Mr Evans said.

“I think I can be blunt in saying that under Sam and Brooke’s Leadership it has found direction and all of the passion and drive that it needs to take APCO into the future.”

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly expressed similar sentiments, telling the crowd that over the covenant’s 20 years there had been both good and bad moments.

“Especially over the last two or three years, it’s been a very challenging time. There was a time where we weren’t sure we would be here this evening, that we wouldn’t be able to continue to do the work that we do,” Ms Donnelly said.

“But we’ve managed to come back from that and find a way forward – a way that is so much more progressive, that is acknowledging the contribution that industry can make, and how industry and government can work together collectively in this space.”

Ms Donnelly added that much of that work came to fruition with the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

“We went to the MEM meeting in April 2018, and got asked a very big question: we’ve got this problem, it’s called the China National Sword, what can we do about that?” Ms Donnelly said.

Ms Donnelly said National Sword represents a tipping point and a time where APCO as an organisation, and Australia as a country, had rethink its approach to waste and resource recovery.

“Kudos to the Australian Government for agreeing on a target – just one guiding light to get us where we need to be, and to empower and endorse APCO to be able to do the work to get us there,” she said.

This year’s APCO Annual Awards took place on the organisations 20th anniversary and showcased businesses leading the way in sustainable packaging design and innovation across 18 separate categories.

“Tonight marks the 20th anniversary of APCO, and reflecting on the importance of the organisation’s work, it might just be the time to put our heads together this evening and think about a more exciting name for your awards night,” Mr Evans joked.

The assistant minister said that if politics had taught him anything, it was the importance of selling your message. He then made two suggestions, the “Pulitzer Prize for Packaging” and the “Walkley’s for Waste”.

According to Ms Donnelly, finalists and winners were selected based on their performance in sustainable packaging design, recycling initiatives and product stewardship programs to develop sustainable supply chains.

The event’s premier award, Sustainable Packaging Excellence, went to supply chain specialists CHEP, for their work delivering a global reusable packaging model.

BioPak took out the Outstanding Achievement in Leadership Award for its commitment to sustainability initiatives, including the development of compostable packaging for single-use food service items.

This year’s event also featured two new categories – High Performing New Member, which went to Marechal Australia, and the APCO Sustainability Champion Award, a category recognising individual achievement.

The Sustainability Champion Award went to Endeavour Drinks Quality and Sustainability Manager Diarmaid O’Mordha.

Mr O’Mordha was recognised for his commitment to improving packaging sustainability across the wine industry supply chain, and working in partnership with APCO to develop the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines for the beverage industry.

“All of tonight’s winners and finalists have demonstrated industry leadership and excellence in sustainable packaging,” Ms Donnelly said.

“While these initiatives represent different approaches to this challenge – research, design, innovation or collaboration – what they collectively demonstrate is that Australian industry is driving forward with the positive business case for sustainable packaging.”

In his keynote address, Mr Evan’s also touched on the Federal Government’s plans and policy priorities in the wider waste and resource recovery space.

“This is an area of policy that has very quickly gone from zero to hero, and in a short period of time we are seeing that rapid transition. These issues take centre stage in the national conversation,” he said.

Mr Evans added that for too long, government’s across Australia have not be sufficiently forward thinking when it comes to waste.

“It is defiantly the case that the policies that have been brought to the table in the last few years have been diverging in all sorts of directions,” Mr Evans said.

“I’m sure many of you in this room wouldn’t need convincing about the need for harmonisation and national leadership across all of the jurisdictions and all the levels of government.”

In reference to the COAG export ban, Mr Evans said that while the phased ban represents a significant step forward, it needs to be backed up by a series of simultaneous policy changes.

“We need appropriate funding that will drive the investments that we need to see in Australia, to create confidence and certainty to help industry make those investments,” he said.

“The achievements on show tonight demonstrate the strength of Australian industry’s leadership on the sustainable packaging issue.”

The 2019 APCO Awards winners are:

• Sustainable Packaging Excellence- CHEP Australia
• Outstanding Achievement in Industry Leadership- BioPak
• Outstanding Achievement in Packaging Design- Panasonic Australia
• Outstanding Achievement in Sustainable Packaging Operations- Amgen Australia
• APCO Sustainability Champion- Diarmaid O’Mordha
• High Performing New Member- Marechal Australia
• Chemicals & Agriculture Sector- LyondellBasell Australia
• Clothing, Footwear & Fashion Sector- Hugo Boss Australia
• Electronics Sector- Dell Australia
• Food & Beverage Sector- Red Rooster Foods
• Homewares Sector- LEGO Australia
• Large Retailer Sector- Coles Supermarkets Australia
• Logistics Sector- CHEP Australia
• Machinery & Hardware Sector- RYCO Group
• Packaging Manufacturer Sector- Detmold Packaging
• Personal Care Sector- ABC Tissue Products
• Pharmaceuticals Sector- Amgen Australia
• Telecommunications Sector- SingTel Optus

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