What the Federal Budget means for the waste sector

What the Federal Budget means for the waste sector

Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister, speaks with Brittany Coles about the Federal Government’s agenda to remodel waste management.

“If you combine the budget funding along with recent initiatives, co-funding from states and industry, it totals to a billion-dollar investment into the transformation of our nation’s recycling and waste management capacity. Quite simply, that’s a game changer,” Trevor Evans, Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister, told Waste Management Review days following the release of the 2020-21 Federal Budget.

Evans sat down in Canberra to discuss the Morrison Government’s investment in the waste and recycling sector with a cup of tea following a day in parliament.

“It’s taken hours to get the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 and associated bills through the house of representatives today, but they are through. It took some effort to be passed but they’re done,” he says proudly.

Evans explains that these laws will become Australia’s first-ever national recycling act.

“These are significant bills which I’ve had the privilege of helping to develop alongside my friend and colleague the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, and alongside the recycling sector, environmental groups, industry and experts,” he told the House of Representatives.

According to Evans, these bills will give Australia, for the first time, a comprehensive and national framework to improve recycling, reduce waste and achieve better resource recovery.

When prompted about how the 2020-21 Budget will deliver key outcomes in transforming the nation’s waste industry, Evans notes that for most of Australia’s history, Federal Governments were not especially involved in waste and recycling.

“I’m very confident those involved in the sector for a long time will welcome how involved the government is in waste and recycling, especially in terms of the rate and pace of change we’ve been shepherding,” he says.

“When Australians put their bins out on the kerb, what happens next has always been – and remains – a key responsibility of state governments, who, in turn, have often devolved it down to their local councils.

“Yet there are many reasons why our government is the first Federal Government in Australia’s history to step so heavily into waste and recycling policy.

“Recent events have proven that there are, increasingly, national and international aspects to waste and recycling.”

THE FEDERAL BUDGET’S WASTE AGENDA

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed a $249 million boost for the waste and recycling industry as part of the 2020-21 Federal Budget announcement on Tuesday 6 October, in the hopes of stopping more than 600,000 tonnes of waste ending up in landfill and also creating industry jobs.

The highly anticipated Federal Budget document laid out the Morrison Government’s investment in the sector as part of Australia’s Economic Recovery Plan in response to COVID-19.

“This Budget builds on the investments we made in last year’s Budget, with an additional $1.8 billion in funding for the environment,” Frydenberg said in his Budget speech.

“Mr Speaker, by recycling more waste we can also create jobs.”

Frydenberg highlighted the a key sector priority is the government’s 250 million investment to “modernise our recycling infrastructure, stop more than 600,000 tonnes of waste ending up in landfill and by doing so, help to create a further 10,000 jobs”.

In the words of Prime Minister Scott Morrison: it’s our waste, it’s our responsibility.

Ahead of the Budget announcement, Morrison announced that $1.5 billion in new funding would be invested over the next four years in the Modern Manufacturing Strategy.

Recycling and clean energy manufacturing is recognised as a National Manufacturing Priority “which reflects Australia’s established competitive advantages or emerging areas of priority,” Morrison said.

Frydenberg noted in his Budget speech that this plan is built on the JobMaker platform of enabling manufacturing businesses to be globally competitive through cheaper and more reliable energy. Waste and recycling businesses that hire unemployed young people will be given access to wage subsidies from the Federal Government.

The JobMaker hiring credit will be payable for up to twelve months and immediately available to employers who hire those on JobSeeker aged 16-35.

It will be paid at the rate of $200 per week for those aged under 30, and $100 per week for those aged between 30-35.

Treasury estimates that this will support around 450,000 jobs for young people and contribute to filling the 10,000 jobs created within the waste and recycling industry over the next 10 years due to initiatives such as the new Recycling Modernisation Fund.

ACTIONING THE AGENDA

The agenda is outlined loud and clear, but what is next in terms of actioning key priority areas?

“I need to make the point that the Budget announcements and investment capacity is only one of many policy areas that the government is trying to significantly move the dial,” Evans says.

He agrees that demand needs to be increased to ensure an ecosystem is built in Australia that lets potential supply and demand find each other, when there has been limited market potential for waste streams in previous years.

According to Evans, the Federal Government is focused on four main areas for building demand.

“In relation to recycling content, the first is to use our own Federal Government’s purchasing power. We’re working from the top down and the bottom up,” he says.

The other areas of demand include procurement policy and intensive projects that can be used to showcase the successful nature of recycled content within iconic national projects.

“We’re also encouraging states to take a similar approach through agreements and their own intensive projects that are going on. It’s linked with the turbocharged approach we’re taking with product stewardship,” he says.

However, Evans says the most significant step being taken to action demand is the establishment of new national guidelines and standards for the use of recycling content in roads and construction projects.

“This is particularly important in the regions of Australia as there is not always the scale of the value in some of the waste streams,” he says.

“We can move the dial through our leadership and through our engagement with the community, with industry and with other levels of government.

“That’s why it was an important foundational step last year when the Environment Minister and I worked together with the states and territories and local government to agree on the National Waste Policy Action Plan.”

Evans says there is plenty to get on with before the end of the year to get the ball rolling with achieving ambitious targets.

“The sector can expect more announcements in relation to the Federal Government’s procurement policy, the new national waste report, successful recipients under the product stewardship investment fund and hopefully that will include some very exciting news about new schemes to be established here in Australia,” Evans confirms.

However, he highlights the ‘talk of the town’ being the sector’s preparation ahead of the waste export ban that is on track to commence from January 1st, 2021.

“I’ve been engaging very closely with the sector and industry associations over the past year or so and I have to say, I’ve really relied on the expertise and relationships from so many passionate people,” Evans says.

He notes that it’s been a lengthy consultation period and is conscious that the Federal Government is stepping heavily into a space where it’s not traditionally involved.

“That’s why we shouldn’t assume all the answers lie here in Canberra and being able to engage effectively with industry helps us craft the very best targeted laws and helps us to avoid any unintended consequences.”

HONOURING COMMITMENT

As Evans highlights, industry is passionate to boast transformation and advocate for sharper focus on key priority areas in the waste and recycling sector.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read says while there was no new funding for waste and recycling initiatives announced within the Federal Budget itself, there’s plenty of opportunity for the sector to take advantage of manufacturing priorities and tax change.

The announcement of a $52.8 million expansion of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund will further focus small and medium manufacturing businesses on opportunities to innovate, adopt new technologies, invest in transformative manufacturing processes and both reskill and upskill the workforce.

“There is real potential for businesses to grow – small to become medium and medium to become large, by looking for potential market opportunities through manufacturing. For example, investigating the different types of plastics that can be recycled into locally manufactured medical, defence and space products, food and beverage packaging and infrastructure projects – going further than just putting recycled content into roads,” Read says.

Prior to the budget announcement, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) had been working closely with all governments to support secondary end-markets.

“The resource recovery industry can play a crucial role in driving economic recovery post-pandemic. This continued commitment to our industry will have multiple positive touch points for a long time to come,” WMRR CEO, Gayle Sloan said in October.

Jeff Olling, Chief of Stakeholder Relations at iguis Australia told Waste Management Review that while the government’s $250 million dollar funding boost to modernise Australia’s recycling infrastructure is welcome, it’s concerning that food waste was not called out specifically in the budget, given the government’s commitment to halve food waste in Australia by 2030.

“What we would like to see is a similar framework to the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill that is currently before the parliament. If passed, this will establish a national industry standard in a bid to transform Australia’s export waste management and recycling sector,” Olling says.

Evans says we can expect to see the successful establishment of the food waste voluntarily commitment program on the government’s agenda.

“I understand it’s the prerogative of opposition and other parties to say they’d do more or something different, but I’m very confident for those involved in the sector and who have been paying close attention for quite a while, they welcome how involved the Federal Government now is in waste and recycling as we continue to work closely with the sector,” he says.

“To anyone who runs a business, invests, innovates or is involved in resource recovery, the Federal Government is elevating the sector and there is a lot of opportunity and challenges. What we’ve done so far is not the end of the story, this is only the start.”

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