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.”

Related stories:

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

Related stories:

MobileMuster releases 2019 Annual Report

Mobile telecommunication product stewardship scheme MobileMuster has released its 2019 Annual Report, to coincide with its 21st anniversary.

MobileMuster celebrated its 21st anniversary at The Mint in Sydney, with Telstra Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association Chair Jane van Beelen and Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans.

MobileMuster Manager Spyro Kalos said the report examines the schemes performance in 2019, as well as the significant progress of the organisation over the last 21 years.

After 21 years of operation, MobileMuster is Australia’s oldest product stewardship scheme.

“The success of the program to date demonstrates how the industry can work together voluntarily to deliver social and environmental outcomes,” Mr Kalos said.

“We are committed to continuing to invest in the next generation of mobile phone users, educating them about the impact of their mobiles and how to act for a sustainable future.”

Since 1998, the program has collected and recycled nearly 1500 tonnes of mobile phones and accessories, including over 14 million handsets and batteries.

“Further, in this year alone, MobileMuster collected and recycled 84.1 tonnes of mobiles, their batteries, chargers and accessories and through the process, recovered metals, glass and plastics, averting 188 tonnes of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of planting 4840 trees,” Mr Kalos said.

Through the program’s recycling processes, over 95 per cent of the material from mobile phones and accessories is recovered and used to manufacture new products.

“With an estimated 25 million mobiles being stored by Australians, we hope to get more Australians recycling,” Mr Kalos said.

“In addition, we are working towards zero waste to landfill, that means no mobiles will be disposed of in the general waste stream.”

According to the report, MobileMuster has an industry participation level of 92 per cent, including Alcatel, Apple, Google, HMD Global (Nokia), HTC, Huawei, Microsoft, Motorola and Oppo.

To read the report click here.

Related stories:

Dutch and Australian foundations sign circular economy MOU

The Holland Circular Hotspot Foundation and the National Circular Economy Hub, an initiative of Planet Ark, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a new online tool that encourages recycling.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in the presence of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans and Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp.

Planet Ark CEO Paul Klymenko said that under the agreement, the Holland Circular Hotspot will provide experience and knowledge to Planet Ark, with the aim of accelerating bilateral cooperation in the circular economy space.

“Planet Ark will promote dialogue and collaboration between Australian universities, businesses and governments to move Australia towards a circular economy,” Mr Klymenko said.

According to Mr Evans, the partnership will form the basis of future cooperation and knowledge sharing between Australia and the Netherlands on how to achieve a commercially-led circular economy transition.

The Circular Economy Hub will create an online marketplace to match buyers and sellers of waste resources.

“Having healthy markets for recycled goods and commodities avoids stockpiles of materials just growing and growing, which could then become a problem in itself,” Mr Evans said.

“With government, industry and communities working together to boost recycling, there is a tremendous opportunity to create a more sustainable future for Australia.”

Holland Circular Hotspot Foundation Director Freek van Eijk said the foundation hopes to accelerate the circular economy movement in Australia.

“European and Australian authorities agree that a new and circular model is needed, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible, have the maximum value extracted from them whilst in use, and are recovered and regenerated into new products at their end-of-life,” Mr van Eijk said.

Related stories:

 

Trevor Evans inspects NAWMA

Federal Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans has visited the Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority (NAWMA) to observe best practice waste diversion and recycling processes.

According to a NAWMA statement, Mr Evans inspected NAWMA’s material recovery facility in Edinburgh, which received funding from Green Industries SA to expand its separating and regeneration processes.

NAWMA Chair Brian Cunningham said the visit was an important recognition of the authority’s commitment to 100 per cent onshore kerbside recyclables processing by 2020.

“We welcome the recent announcement from the Council of Australian Governments where Prime Minister Scott Morrison effectively endorsed NAWMA’s 100 per cent onshore model, along with the proposal to ban the exportation of recyclables as soon as practicable,” Mr Cunningham said.

“NAWMA was the first local government jurisdiction to publicly commit to keeping yellow bin recyclables in Australia in order to create new markets and jobs, and a secondary remanufacturing industry right here in South Australia.”

Mr Cunningham said NAWMA separates 21,000 tonnes of recyclables from northern Adelaide and a further 30,000 tonnes from the broader South Australian community.

“Importantly, NAWMA is working with its owner councils to develop policies to encourage the buy back of at least 50 per cent of recyclables for processing into content for roads, street furniture and other items in the northern region,” Mr Cunningham said.

“This will pull through demand for goods made from recycled content and further boost jobs and economic activity in the region, while simultaneously reducing costs for ratepayers.”

Related stories:

Collaborating with confidence: APCO

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Brooke Donnelly talks about the Collective Action Group and systemic models for action on packaging resource recovery.

A lack of policy centralisation has been a concern for the waste and resource recovery industry since the 2009 National Waste Policy stalemate. In response, following the 2018 Meeting of Environment Ministers, the Federal Government announced it would shift its policy direction by taking an increasing role in waste reduction and recycling policy.

The then-Environment Minister Melissa Price announced that in order to facilitate a unified direction on waste and recycling, a new National Waste Policy would be developed. Current Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans said an action plan would be devised through interjurisdictional collaboration later this year.

As part of this change in direction, the Federal Government also formally committed to the National Packaging Targets.

The National Packaging Targets aim to have 100 per cent of Australian packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier. Its an ambitious goal, given only 56 per cent of Australian packaging was recovered for recycling in 2017-18, according to a UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures study.

Additionally, the study shows of that 56 per cent, 34 per cent was exported overseas.

Endorsed by the Australian Local Government Association in 2018, the targets also seek to achieve a 30 per cent average recycled content rate by 2025, and have 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packaging be recycled or composted by the same year.

Phasing out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives is the final target.

Despite the bold goals, Australian Packagaing Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly is confident the targets can be meet.

“We’re in a position where we need to drive change while we have the opportunity, hitting the ground running,” Brooke says.

“Australian industry is vibrant, proactive and really driving the activity towards a circular economy transition, which will help us all achieve the targets.”

APCO, which has been tasked with leading the implementation process, has recently established the Collective Action Group (CAG) to oversee strategic delivery of the targets.

The group is comprised of 12 leading representatives from across industry and government, including Coles, Nestle, Coca Cola Amatil, Planet Ark, the Australian Council of Recycling, SUEZ and Visy.

Additionally, representatives from the Queensland Department of Environment and the Federal Department of Environment and Energy are members.

“We have two representatives from each sector of the packaging supply chain, such as brands, community, resource and recovery and retail and manufacturing,” Brooke says.

Managing multiple high-level stakeholders with potentially competing interests can be challenging, which is why APCO employs a best-practice model of governance for all CAG meetings.

“We have a really great chair, Dr Anne Astin, an independent chair with experience in product stewardship and co-regulatory organisations,” Brooke says.

“Dr Astin understands and appreciates getting the best from member diversity and is implementing a very structured approach.”

The first meeting of CAG was officially opened by Trevor Evans, the Federal Government’s Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management in June.

“It was really great to have Minister Evans with us – it’s wonderful to see his appointment and also his energy and engagement with supporting the industry,” Brooke says.

“It’s difficult to get such senior executives in one room at the same time, so it was a really lively and informed discussion, which is fantastic.”

Brooke says CAG’s first job will be developing a set of agreed definitions for key terms such as “problematic” and “unnecessary”.

“While agreeing on definitions might appear simple, it can be quite challenging and is a critical part of the process,” she says.

“Developing a full and shared picture of the packaging landscape is the only way to achieve effective change.”

The CAG will then work to establish baseline metrics for each of the four targets, before developing and endorsing the Sustainable Packaging Pathway white paper.

To create the white paper, Brooke says the CAG will co-design a systemic model for how Australia can transition to an advanced sustainable packaging ecosystem. The white paper will then outline the steps towards making the 2025 packaging targets a reality.

“The CAG will provide advice and guidance to support the outcomes, which are the results of the 22 priority project areas in 2019,” she says.

Project areas include consumption and recycling data, materiality testing, economic analysis of system interventions and sectorial circularity project delivery.

According to Brooke, project areas are managed through six APCO advisory groups that sit under the CAG. She says all APCO research flows up to the advisory groups for analysis, before it again flows up to the CAG.

The CAG will also oversee the results of comprehensive infrastructure mapping of the current resource recovery sector for packaging and explore alternative models.

“By the time we get to the white paper, which builds on the 2018 work APCO did on problematic material issues, we will have worked with over 200 organisations and every level of government,” Brooke says.

“A huge and diverse group of people will have participated in the development of the eventual roadmap.”

Brooke says while the targets are complex and challenging, cooperation is the key to achieving them.

“It’s our job and everybody’s job to contribute. If we all just do a little bit better today we can get there,” Brooke says.

“It’s all about creating a collaborative space so we can get to the targets.”

Related stories:

Pacific Environment Ministers meet in Samoa

Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Assistant Minister Trevor Evans has meet with representatives from 21 Pacific Island Nations, New Zealand, the United States, France and the United Kingdom, to discuss key environmental issues facing the region.

Mr Evans attended the Talanoa Dialogue in Samoa, which is designed to facilitate participatory conversations about complex issues, as part of the 29th Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

SPREP Ministers called for urgent action to support the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter 2018-2025, and urged members to accelerate policies and actions that embrace sustainable materials management and drive sustainable practices to reduce plastic pollution.

“A healthy and clean Pacific Ocean is essential to the quality of life and economic security of all Pacific Island Nations, and Australia is working with our Pacific family to make this happen, including investing $16 million to fund the Pacific Ocean Litter Project to tackle plastics polluting the region’s marine environment,” Mr Evans said.

“There are some tough and critical issues and no easy answers. But reaching shared solutions means having the conversation and mapping out agreed practical actions.”

According to Mr Evans, an Australia minister has not attended the biennial meeting in over a decade.

“Australia’s presence here builds on the outcomes of the recent Pacific Islands Forum, and reinforces Prime Minister Morrison’s message that Australia appreciates the issues faced by the Pacific are real and immediate,” Mr Evans said.

“Australia is fully engaged and strongly committed to working through these shared challenges in our region.”

Related stories:

Reviewing the PSA

Waste Management Review explores the Product Stewardship Act review and industry expectations for the final report. 

Since the Federal Government Product Stewardship Act (PSA) was introduced in 2011, the dynamics of the waste and recycling sector have changed dramatically locally and overseas.

Waste management and resource recovery businesses have been forced to adapt and so has legislation and state and territory policy.

Product stewardship is a waste management strategy designed to ensure shared responsibility for the health and environmental impacts of a product through all stages of its lifecycle.

The PSA outlines three levels of regulation: mandatory, co-regulatory – joint industry and government delivery and voluntary.

There are currently no mandatory schemes under the PSA and just one co-regulatory scheme, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS).

When the act commenced, two voluntary schemes were accredited, MobileMuster and Flurocycle. MobileMuster has recently renewed its accreditation for a further five years.

Outside of the act there are a number of industry-run national product stewardship schemes with Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approval including Paintback, Tyre Stewardship Australia and DrumMUSTER.

The act was required to be reviewed by the Department of the Environment and Energy five years after commencement and in 2017 that time came. Waste Management Review talks to industry stakeholders about gaps in the present scheme and the potential for improvement.

THE REVIEW

Following submissions from interested parties, the Department of Environment and Energy’s official consultation paper, released in March 2018, outlined five areas of reference.

First, the review would attempt to assess the extent to which the PSA’s objectives were being met and whether they remained relevant. Second, it would address the effectiveness of voluntary scheme accreditation and the minister’s annual product list, followed by an evaluation of the operation and scope of the NTCRS.

Additionally, the paper highlights an assessment of how the PSA interacts with other federal, state and territory policies and how international and domestic experiences of product stewardship could inform more effective legislation.

“If the review finds legislative changes are warranted, work to implement the changes, including refinement of options, regulatory impact analysis and development of regulatory amendments would be undertaken in 2018-19, subject to the minister’s agreement,” the paper reads.

According to National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read, problems stem not from the legislation, but from a lack of federal and departmental leadership.

“The lack of leadership in implementing the act has resulted in five, and soon to be seven, different container deposit schemes rather than a single national policy – plus inconsistent state bans on plastic shopping bags,” Rose says.

“The failure to address these two product groups at a national level under the PSA has increased implementation and compliance costs for all involved governments, producers, retailers and service providers.”

Additionally, Rose says government has provided little encouragement to companies seeking accreditation or promotion of existing schemes.

“The continued belief by the previous Federal Government that schemes should be voluntary reflects a lack of commitment or understanding of what is required to deliver an effective product stewardship scheme,” Rose says.

“Very few industries can implement these schemes without some basic regulation to ensure a level playing field for these companies.”

Rose says following the review, the NWRIC would like to see amendments to voluntary clauses, to enable a clearer pathway to accreditation. She adds the NWRIC would also like to see more government support and promotion for participating organisations. Rose hopes the Federal Government’s $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund will be adequately resourced to put appropriate regulatory frameworks in place.

TELEVISION AND COMPUTERS

The NTCRS was established alongside the PSA in 2011, with the aim of granting households and small businesses access to free industry-funded collection and recycling services.

According to Rose, over 94 per cent of importers contribute to the program, which covers more than 140 companies. She adds the collection rate for televisions and computers has jumped from 18 per cent in 2011 to over 62 per cent in 2018 as a result of the scheme.

“The companies involved in the program are investing an estimated $25 million a year to provide this service,” Rose says.

“On average, around 35 million products within the scope of the scheme are imported each year. That translates to an estimated average cost of $0.70 per unit imported.”

In 2017, the government engaged the Australian Continuous Improvement Group to undertake an evaluation of the NTCRS. It was designed to inform the official statutory review, and at the time of print, is the only published outcome.

The evaluation deemed the scheme largely efficient, but raised concerns over industry pricing and scaling factors.

“NTCRS was designed to allow multiple co-regulatory arrangements, so liable parties and recyclers are able to shop around for the best commercial deal,” the evaluation reads.

“In the opinion of stakeholders, prices have dropped, at least partially, as a result – raising concerns that services and standards are being compromised, particularly when it comes to downstream services.”

Ewaste Watch director and co-founder John Gertsakis says the NTCRS, which has recycled approximately 230,000 tonnes of electronic waste since it began, is one of the more successful elements of the PSA.

John says while the scheme is successful, there is still significant scope for improvement in the areas of community awareness and education, improved access in regional areas, and better collaboration between the co-regulatory arrangements.

According to John, several stakeholders have asked for the NTCRS to be expanded to include batteries and a range of additional electronic products.

“The community is absolutely ready for effective regulation where there are no industry funded schemes,” he says.

“The solution for batteries, in my opinion, is a regulated scheme under the PSA.”

Rose and the NWRIC agree and have called for a regulated scheme for batteries by 2020.

“The NWRIC would like to see the scope of the NTCRS broadened to include all products with a cord or battery, consistent with the recent Victorian e-waste ban and a separate regulation for batteries,” Rose says.

John suggests the NTCRS could be also be useful mechanism for sustainable solar photovoltaic panel (PV) management.

In 2016 PV systems were added to the PSA’s priority list, meaning they were being considered for scheme design. Sustainability Victoria is conducting research into the viability of a system of shared responsibility.

Sustainability Victoria’s Director of Resource Recovery Matt Genever says work on assessing stewardship options for PV systems is well underway.

“We’ve consulted broadly across industry and government and there is genuine support for a stewardship approach that will build a sustainable PV recycling market in Australia,” Matt says.

Matt says that the delays in reviewing the PSA by the Federal Government have caused some issues.

“This is an area of waste policy that absolutely needs strong leadership from the Commonwealth, as it can’t just work on a state-by-state basis. Product stewardship is one of the few areas that has national legislation and it’s clear that in its current state, the act isn’t delivering to its full potential.”

BATTERIES

Battery Stewardship Council (BSC) CEO Libby Chaplin highlights independent research that shows a voluntary scheme with light regulation to address free riders would be the most effective and viable option for batteries.

According to Libby, a proposed battery stewardship scheme is currently out for public consultation. She adds that in December 2018 all state, territory and federal ministers agreed all batteries must be included in the proposed scheme.

“We are keen to see a rapid improvement of this unacceptably low battery collection rate and have proposed a different approach to other schemes,” Libby says.

Libby says BSC’s proposal would run on an importer levy of four cents per equivalent battery (24 grams) and leverage existing collection channels.

“We are working on a rebate model, whereby members commit to a number of quality, environmental and safety requirements and then eligible for scheme funded rebates,” she says.

“This approach will now be the focus of consultation beyond BSC members, with an application for Australian Competition and Consumer Commission authorisation scheduled later this year.”

Libby says that establishing a battery stewardship scheme is essential, whether voluntary or regulated.

PRIORITY PRODUCTS

One of the PSA’s key devices is the annual product list, which outlines goods that might come up for scheme consideration the following year.

According to the PSA review consultation paper, publishing the list serves two purposes. First, it provides certainty to community and the business sector about what is being considered for coverage. Second, the act requires a 12-month notification for a class of products to be considered for accreditation or regulation.

Despite this, the list provides no promise of action and while the PSA requires an explanation of why a product has been added, it does not require an explanation for why a product has been removed.

Soft Landing Mattress Product Stewardship General Manager Janelle Wallace says the accreditation process is a good concept. However, she doesn’t believe it has been well marketed.

Janelle says the act doesn’t acknowledge the costs to local government of managing more complex and often hazardous waste streams, including mattresses, at landfill.

Soft Landing’s submission to the review made multiple recommendations, including a greater focus on durability during product design and wider consideration for the extended supply chain, from raw materials to consumers.

According to Janelle, Soft Landing would also like to see more consideration of bulky and inconvenient waste.

As a voluntary scheme, Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) has committed $4 million towards market development initiatives. It performs an accreditation and compliance program which focuses on the verification of the scheme across its 1700 participants. However TSA CEO Lina Goodman believes there needs to be more intervention from government.

“Whilst TSA has made significant in-roads within its verification, accreditation and market development programs, the heavy lifting associated with waste tyres remains in the hands of eight tyre importers,” Lina says.

She says the scheme can go only so far without government support or intervention, encouraging government to consider addressing the issue of free riders.

“The time is now for regulatory intervention that will address free riders. Some tyre importers are enjoying the benefits of the scheme without taking responsibility for the product they distribute to market.”

She says that this will have a positive impact and assist in switching the focus on local innovation that will drive greater consumption of material for domestically engineered products.

When speaking with Waste Management Review, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia CEO Gayle Sloan called the current PSA a “toothless tiger”.

“There are not enough schemes in operation and developing models for products such as batteries takes far too long,” Gayle says.

“The Federal Government needs to step up, lean in and drive change – there is a lot of opportunity to improve.”

Gayle says an issue with the current PSA is a lack of extended producer responsibility. She adds the system places problematic waste accountability squarely on the resource recovery industry.

“When a product enters the market, it needs to be recyclable, repairable or reusable,” Gayle says.

“Anything that doesn’t fall within those definitions via readily available structures needs its own source separation system, which needs to be funded by those who brought it to market.”

Additionally, Gayle says there needs to be a complete paradigm shift on voluntary schemes.

“The industry needs to be really honest with itself about what is working and what isn’t. Structural change will not occur by funding individual organisations.”

Equilibrium conducted an analysis of the cost of mandatory product stewardship schemes on consumers for the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

The analysis made approximations based on standard product unit types and estimated that mandatory schemes would cost consumers up to $1.85 for e-waste, $16.50 for mattresses and $4.00 for tyres.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel says the new data shows consumers can recycle products and items affordably.

“In all cases, the cost of recycling these items is likely to be lower than two per cent of their consumer price. Therefore, cost concerns should not be a key barrier to action by our policy-makers,” he says.

Brooke Donnelly, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO, says the Product Stewardship Act review is an important and timely piece of work, and APCO supports the Federal Government’s efforts. Brooke says APCO believes all organisations must ultimately take responsibility for the products they create. However, there are a range of ways these systems can be delivered.

“To move forward, we need to take an agile approach that explores a range of alternative models that are best suited to fix specific material/product challenges and the external environment in which they operate,” Brooke says.

“We must look beyond the populist rhetoric and really test the value and impact various approaches can provide in a systemic and considered way. Fundamental to effective product stewardship is to ensure equality, accountability and transparency across the various approaches.”

THE MINISTER’S PERSPECTIVE

Drawing on his experience as President of the National Retail Association, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans says industry is best placed to understand the complexities of product stewardship.

When asked by Waste Management Review whether government was in a position to reveal whether it was looking into developing more mandatory schemes, Trevor said not yet.

“There is always a debate around the nature of the scheme, in terms of whether they are industry-led, voluntary or mandatory. It is very much a ‘horses for courses’ approach,” Trevor says.

“Mandatory schemes are one option, but they are not the only policy tool that government has in its arsenal.”

Trevor says the final report with recommendations is expected to be presented to the meeting of environment ministers towards the end of the year.

Related stories: 

NWRIC meets with ministers

Ministers met with the waste and recycling industry in Melbourne to discuss recycling challenges, developing markets for recycled materials, new infrastructure capacity and how waste levies should be managed and reinvested into the sector.

Federal Waste Reduction Assistant Minister Trevor Evans and Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio meet with National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) members and affiliated representatives on 6 August.

NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards said active collaboration between government and the waste and recycling industry was crucial to an effective sector.

“With recycling services under threat in Victoria, growing stockpiles across the country, exemptions revoked for the recovery of organics from mixed waste in NSW, now has never been a more important time for industry and government to work closely together,” Mr Richards said.

“Topics of discussion included the critical importance of long term infrastructure planning coordinated across all levels of government, as well as consistent, regular community education campaigns to rebuild community confidence in recycling.”

NWRIC Secretary Alex Serpo said NWRIC members suggested local procurement of recycled materials, and setting appropriate recycled content levels for packaging and civil construction, could revitalise domestic recycling.

Fuel manufacture and energy recovery projects were also discussed, with industry ready to deliver projects that recover embodied energy from unrecyclable materials, reduce greenhouse emissions and extend the life of landfills.

The role of waste levies in addressing current challenges was another topic of conversation.

“This included the need for states, territories and the Federal Government to develop a national levy pricing strategy through the Council of Australian Governments,” Mr Serpo said.

“This pricing strategy could prevent the inappropriate disposal and movement of waste, stop levy avoidance activities, and ensure the resource recovery industry is viable and competitive.”

NWRIC is calling on all state governments to be more transparent and accountable for the total amount of levies collected annually, what proportion of the levies are invested back into the waste and recycling sector and what outcomes are achieved.

Waste of the nation

Waste Management Review speaks to Australia’s first Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans about his future priorities.

The Liberal Government’s May re-election saw a shakeup of the Department of Environment and Energy. While Energy Minister Angus Taylor retained his position, Melissa Price, who served as Environment Minister from August 2018, was replaced with Sussan Ley.

Cabinet shakeups aren’t uncommon following an election, and as such, the appointment of a new Environment Minister was not particularly noteworthy on its own. What was significant, however, was the introduction of an entirely new parliamentary portfolio, the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management.

The role was awarded to Queensland Member of Parliament Trevor Evans, who has held the seat of Brisbane since 2016. He is one of the youngest MPs elected to the House of Representatives.

Waste Management Review spoke to Trevor in June.

According to Trevor, Minister Ley will still hold final responsibility for all matters inside the portfolio. His role as assistant minister will be to assist in the fulfilment of waste targets and policy drafting.

“As my title suggests, I have a particular focus on the government’s initiatives and funding around waste reduction and recycling, and some of our environmental management,” Trevor explains.

“This new role is a really exciting one for me personally, as I’ve always been an incredibly passionate advocate for Australia’s unique environment.”

As a child, Trevor says he wanted to be a zookeeper because of his love of Australian animals.

“Instead, I find myself in the house of animals that is Parliament House,” he jokes.

“I’m taking the passion that I’ve always had for our local environment, building on a lot of local work I’ve done in my Brisbane electorate on conservation and bringing those passions to this role.”

Highlighting the importance of industry led initiatives was a common thread throughout Waste Management Review’s conversation with Trevor, who before entering politics served as National Retail Association President.

“I’ve done a lot of work at the coalface when industry meets consumer demand,” Trevor says.

“I was there at quite an interesting time, where industry and the retail sector were starting to react and plan for the first product stewardship schemes.”

Trevor says it’s this background that informs his belief that private sector is best placed to deal with the complexities of individual product areas and international supply chains.

Trevor plans to use his new position to grow conversations around waste reduction and recycling.

“I believe there is a huge information and awareness gap at present, where many members of the public are incredibly passionate and want to be as involved as they possibly can,” he says.

“I think one of the key aspects of the role will be helping to bridge that gap. I’ll be doing everything I can to help everyone have the best information at their fingertips.”

In the lead-up to the federal election, the waste industry saw unprecedented bi-partisan support.

An ‘election score card’ created by multiple industry associations showed that both major parties had outlined substantive commitments to recycling infrastructure, establishing local markets for recycled content and developing solutions for plastic waste.

So after the election, the waste industry was not asking, ‘what policies will the Liberal Party propose?’ but rather, ‘will they make good on their promises?’

Trevor says the central responsibility of the assistant minister portfolio will be the rollout of the government’s $167 million package of initiatives and funding programs.

Programs include the $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund, $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund and $20 million for plastic recycling through Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) grants.

“On top of that, I have responsibility for the Federal Government’s role in the new National Waste Policy,” Trevor says.

“The first priority in that space is to work with the states and territories on the action plan.”

The National Waste Policy, which provides a framework for collective action on waste by industry, government and communities, was updated in 2018 after the failure of the 2009 policy.

The policy highlights the importance of interjurisdictional collaboration and proposes targets such as reducing total waste generation by 10 per cent by 2030. Other targets include an 80 per cent average recovery rate from all resource recovery streams by 2030, 30 per cent recycled content across all goods and infrastructure procurement by 2030 and phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2030.

During the election cycle, the Labor Party proposed mandatory targets for all government departments to purchase products made from recyclable material.

When asked by Waste Management Review whether the Liberal Party has plans to implement similar measures, Trevor says the biggest opportunity for government to pursue that idea would be through the National Waste Policy.

“Different states and territories and different levels of government will bring different things to the table there,” he says.

“You can expect that governments’ own procurement processes will be a big part of the negotiations in terms of how all levels of government come to the table to achieve the National Waste Policy.”

While Trevor didn’t confirm specific procurement figures, government has committed to working with state, territory and local government on getting more recycling content in road construction – building on the $2.6 million 2019 budget allocation to the Australian Road Research Board.

Trevor says developing the National Waste Policy implementation plan, securing appropriate funding and setting robust targets will be his core concerns over the coming year. He adds that the policy is still in the planning stage.

“The most important priority in that space is to work with the states and territories on the action plan to underpin the strategy.”

LOCAL INDUSTRY

According to Trevor, the Federal Government is heavily invested in improving recycling rates and growing the local recycling industry.

“For us, the centrepiece for our efforts to grow a local recycling industry is the $100 million in funding we are proving to support proposals and more local industry in the recycling chain,” he says.   

The Australian Recycling Investment Fund is a new initiative, which Trevor says is designed to support the manufacturing of low-emission and energy-efficient recycled content products, including recycled content plastics, paper and pulp.

The fund will be administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which according to Trevor, will receive guidelines from government about the mandate and how to best invest in new industry.

Whether there were any specific projects in the investment fund pipeline, Trevor says not yet.

“There will be a period of time where we will ensure that scheme is set up and properly instructed with key criteria from government. Then there will no doubt be invitations put to industry to participate in that process,” he says.

Trevor says government have also provided a further $20 million to the pre-existing CRC grants program, to support plastics innovation and research.

“CRCs are a place where the tertiary education and research sector come together with government and business to look at challenges in a shared way, and collaborate when it comes to ideas and innovation,” Trevor says.

“The grants are already delivering great results in many key industries to Australia’s future, so funding CRC work specifically to encourage research, in and around plastics, will lead to some really world-leading solutions here in Australia.”

Trevor says growing industry will be a central priority for his government, particularly given stresses caused by changes to international import regulations.

China’s National Sword policy is the obvious cornerstone. Other restrictions have taken place in India, which banned solid plastic imports in March, and Malaysia, which launched an investigation into international plastic imports in June.

“It is important to note that Australians want, and should expect, that our country supports international recycling supply chains,” he says.

According to Trevor, it is beneficial for Australia to be involved in international recycling chains, both on an economic and environmental level.

“What we have to be conscious of is that there are strict rules around the quality of waste streams being traded around the world,” he says.

“Where companies do the wrong thing, it’s very reasonable for us to expect there to be appropriate compliance and enforcement efforts. Companies that do the wrong thing let down not just their industry, but all Australians that want to see those recycling chains succeed.”

HARMONISATION

Talking about challenges that arise from a lack of centralised policy, specifically around waste levies and interstate transport, Trevor says harmonisation was one of many competing policy goals.

Additionally, Trevor says he will address considerations of the proximity principle at the meeting of environment ministers later this year.

“I can say – at this stage – I do see a case for harmonisation, or increased harmonisation, in many aspects of the waste and recycling industries,” Trevor says.

“There is a case to be made there, however, at this stage, while we are negotiating with the states and territories on the action plan, I’m not going to get too prescriptive about where that needs to be.”

In reference to the effectiveness of banning problematic waste streams, Trevor says state level initiatives have seen positive benefits.

He adds that changing consumer behaviours requires cooperation between government and industry, along with awareness at the small business level.

“I think blanket bans are a clunky policy tool. What’s better is to look at proactive ideas around true cost and substitution,” he says.

“There is certainly some scope for harmonisation between the different approaches between states and territories, and that’s something I hope to influence.”

Trevor makes notes of early state actions around single-use plastics. He adds rather than straight out banning plastic bags, which would come up against genuine questions of consumer convenience, commercial industry worked closely with consumers and government to move towards substitutes.    

“Now the attention, rightly, focuses on some of the heavyweight plastic bag substitutes that have come in, along with some of the definitions of compostability and biodegradability.”

In reference to the Product Stewardship Act review, Trevor says the act is very important piece of work.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity for government to work more closely with industry and look forward to finding ways to achieve real tangible outcomes for something that is very complex and serious,” he says.

Trevor says that while government is not in a position to reveal whether it is looking to introduce more mandatory schemes, it has put $20 million on the table to support the creation of new schemes via the Product Stewardship Investment Fund.

“There is always a debate around the nature of a scheme, in terms of whether they are industry-led, voluntary or mandatory. It is very much a ‘horses for courses’ approach,” Trevor says.

This article was published in the August edition of Waste Management Review. 

Related stories:

X