Councils must band together to foster a viable domestic recycling market, writes Helen Sloan, Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils Program Manager.
Reading the article by NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean in December’s Waste Management Review, it was very gratifying to find him so supportive of the drive to take the waste sector into a new era of sustainability.
The 11 member councils of Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC) have supported this concept for many years and have now gone beyond support to action.
Each council has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), undertaking to work together to develop a framework for regional procurement of recycled material, and drive investment in new remanufacturing infrastructure.
Australia’s current domestic market for recycled materials, and the infrastructure needed to process them into a clean, usable form, is woefully inadequate.
With the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of some recyclable materials, we need to develop our own recycling industry with some urgency. And domestic markets for the outputs and new products will be critical to the growth of that industry.
While councils conduct a lot of procurement, individually they may not need to purchase the large volumes of goods that might drive the development of an efficient, cost-effective and competitive industry.
By working together through their regional organisation, councils will send a powerful signal to potential suppliers that they are serious about products with recycled content, as well as demonstrating long-term demand.
The first procurement to be conducted under the new MoU is for materials for use in councils’ civil works – road maintenance, footpaths, bike paths and the like.
Given the 11 SSROC member councils – from the City of Sydney, inner west and eastern suburbs, to Sutherland Shire and Canterbury Bankstown – cover around 700 square kilometres, with a population of 1.7 million, that represents a lot of local roads and paths.
That is enough for the councils to set themselves a new annual target of recycling 45 million glass bottles.
Following the signing of the MoU late last year, Minister Kean praised the commitment from the SSROC, saying: We need all levels of government and industry working together and embracing initiatives like this to tackle waste in NSW.
“We look forward to working closely with councils and industry, so together we safeguard the future of NSW.”
Councils will first focus on introducing more recycled content in road-making materials, including recycled crushed glass and reclaimed asphalt pavement. SSROC demand for recycled glass in civil works is estimated at over 10,000 tonnes per year.
Since 2018, SSROC has led a series of workshops and collaborations with engineers, procurement experts and standards specification organisation NatSpec to develop the recognised performance standards for adopting a range of recycled materials in civil works.
The next phase of the project will investigate applications for a range of other recycled materials, such as plastic, tyre crumb and textiles.
Mayor of Burwood Council and SSROC President, Councillor John Faker said: “This is a significant step towards solving the recycling crisis. We know how important recycling is to the community, which is why our councils are taking the lead to ensure our recyclables are put to good use and kept out of landfill. This is a win-win for everyone.”
Councils cannot do this in isolation. With the Australian Government in November targeting significant increases in government procurement of recycled materials, it makes sense to liaise with other agencies and organisations, as well as working together.
So SSROC is inviting other councils and regional and joint organisations to consider joining the initiative. SSROC is also liaising with NSW Government agencies, particularly Transport for New South Wales, to ensure that the procurement process will deliver products that meet their specifications and are effective and safe for workers to use.
This pioneering approach to joint regional procurement, in collaboration with key players in industry, government and academia, is intended to generate sufficient demand to influence market development beyond what councils might do alone.
It will allow councils to procure safe, affordable and high-quality materials, and will demonstrate that the model can be applied throughout the Sydney metropolitan area and indeed the entire state.
SSROC procurement services focus on large and complex goods and services, driven by our member councils’ priorities.
They are generally part of the delivery of a broader program of change involving multiple different stakeholders and specialist technical expertise.
The plan is that procurement of recycled materials for civil works will be just the first of many projects under the Procure Recycled program. Watch this space!