Federal, state and local government ministers have agreed to work on a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, to improve Australia’s recycling capacity.
The agreement was made at the 9 August Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison arguing more needed to be done to deal with rising amounts of recyclable waste.
Environment Ministers will advise a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.
COAG agreed the strategy should draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.
Australia exported roughly 4.5 million tonnes of waste last year, with the majority sent to Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
Indonesia, India and Malaysia have since begun to review their waste import policies.
“It’s our waste, and it’s our responsibility,” Mr Morrison said in a post-meeting press conference, according to an ABC report.
“That’s why I think setting a clear path forward as leaders — that we don’t want to see this going into the ocean, that we don’t want to see this go into waterways, and we’ll do everything in our remit to achieve that goal — is a very important outcome.”
Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said the COAG announcement aligned with domestic sustainability goals.
“The best route to COAG’s vision of recycling sovereignty and security is for governments to now match very big deeds and dollars to their discussions. This great leadership by COAG must be followed by great investment that matches industries own,” Mr Shmigel said.
“As part of the Environment Ministers’ upcoming plan, that means: major scale support for reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure; unprecedented public sector purchasing of recycled content products and other bold incentives for domestic use of recyclate, such as tax credits for manufacturers, removal of ridiculous regulatory barriers and indeed proposed bans for recycled content products in some states.”
Mr Shmigel said material export bans needed to be implemented over a clear timetable with consultation and care to avoid unintended consequences.
“If there are no new and sustainable markets established for the 4.5m tonnes of currently exported material, there will only be the option of domestic disposal – which is highly undesirable,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Ministers must also remain open to alternative waste treatment and waste to energy where Australia only uses some 2 per cent of its waste, which is massively below European countries, who also have much higher recycling rates.”
Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said the meeting represents a step in the right direction towards building a sustainable domestic remanufacturing industry.
“Waste management and resource recovery were firmly on the table at the COAG meeting in Cairns, and leaders agreed to develop a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass, and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand,” Ms Sloan said.
“This is a significant and positive commitment – industry has always advocated that Australia should be processing our own waste and recyclables. Industry can, and is keen, to build capacity and the fact that we’re on the agenda and we have the Prime Minister’s and Premiers’ attention means we can finally move forward.”
Ms Sloan said WMRR support the task given to environment ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.
“As part of this exercise, leaders agreed the strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste,” Ms Sloan said.
“We also look forward to Meeting of Environment Ministers convening sooner rather than later to progress what we all know we need – and what is now clearly in everyone’s sights – market signals that will enable industry to invest and all stakeholders to support onshore remanufacturing and markets for domestic recycled products.”