Suzanne Toumbourou, CEO of the Australian Council of Recycling, reveals the organisation’s 2022 Strategy and why she wants to leave the word ‘waste’ behind.
The word ‘waste’ has not served the resource recovery or recycling industry well. It implies that resources once used, hold no further value. In reality, our industry and its manufacturing partners, have rapidly become more resourceful and innovative in the ways products and materials can be recovered and reused in the circular economy. And there is broad recognition of the potential for jobs, productivity and emissions reduction that this sector can deliver.
Last year, the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) began the process of renewing its strategic direction. Our vision is an Australian circular economy where resource recovery, remanufacturing and recycling are central to generating economic and social value while improving the health of our environment. Waste does not feature in this vision.
ACOR’s mission as the pre-eminent peak industry forum is to lead the transition to a circular economy through the resource recovery, remanufacturing and recycling supply chain. Governments, industry and the community need to stop thinking ‘waste’ and start seeing ‘resource potential’.
Supporting this goal are our four policy priorities: Strong end markets and an integrated supply chain to support a thriving competitive recycling market and embed recycled content in procurement; a supportive regulatory environment, with nationally harmonised alignment between environmental policies and circular economy principles; product stewardship to ensure distributors and producers are responsible for the end-of-life of the products brought into the Australian market; and consumers who know how to ‘recycle right’ and consumer confidence in how to recycle right.
Waste is not mentioned in ACOR’s mission statement or policy priorities. It must not define our industry.
Most governments across Australia have a steady goal of ‘diverting waste from landfill’. As genuine as this goal is, we need to begin framing it as ‘recovering valuable resources’, along with maximising jobs and growth. Strong end markets for recycled products are critical to the success of our industry, and rebranding the recycled materials from ‘waste’ to ‘resource’ helps to support business and consumer confidence. Wouldn’t we all prefer to think of our recycled coffee cups as made from recovered resources and not from waste?
The recent ‘Remade in Australia’ campaign launched by the Federal Government late last year was a move in the right direction, acknowledging that all end-of-life products and packaging have potential. At its core, recycling is about remanufacturing and creating great products with better environmental outcomes. The Remade campaign allows us to hope for a future where recovered resources are prioritised above virgin materials.
Businesses and governments now undeniably have an increased duty of care to use recycled materials in their products and infrastructure; whilst taking responsibility for the end-of-life outcomes of all production – from supermarket products to major projects. Recyclers stand ready to work with partners across the entire supply chain, to support resource recovery, recycling and remanufacturing.
With their eye to the future of remanufacturing Australian products, it is also time for the Australian Government to consider reframing the ‘Waste Reduction’ portfolio. While Minister Trevor Evans has excelled in the portfolio, a Minister for Resource Recovery and Circular Economy would be much more befitting of the role, industry, and circular economy goals. After all, our sector is about innovation and re-creation, rather than waste minimisation.
We make stuff! And the opportunities for remanufacturing are limitless. Right now, in Australia, recyclers are making things such as low carbon bricks and cement, asphalt additives for roads, mulch and compost, pool filtration mediums, outdoor furniture, street safety, and household items.
Other countries are increasingly pursuing this line of thinking and separating the policy areas of resource recovery and the circular economy from the increasingly broad portfolio of ‘Environment’. Last year, Scotland appointed its first Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity as a junior ministerial post in the Scottish Government. A Minister for Resource Recovery and Circular Economy would be a world-first and signal how serious Australia is about recycling our recoverable resources and evolving to a true closed-loop production cycle. A step-change in properly recognising the value of our recoverable resources and ensuring a holistic approach to resource efficiency, productivity and great outcomes for our economy and environment.