Why waste and recycling is key to Australia’s economic future: NWRIC

waste and recycling in Australia

Rick Ralph, Chief Executive Officer of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC), lays bare the need for industry to be recognised as a major player in Australia’s social and economic future.

In terms of government engagement with our industry, when the subject starts with the word/s waste, recycling or resource recovery, it seems everyone has an opinion. 

As I begin my 44th year working in the industry, it’s fascinating to look back where one’s journey started – in the early 1980s – to observe how fundamentally things have changed in terms of industry advocacy and government engagement.

Significantly, the advocacy landscape couldn’t be more disparate from times of past, with what has now become policy interference practiced by all tiers of government – local state and federal. A crevasse so large even modern-day engineering solutions would be challenged linking the two sides equitably. 

I reflect on times where government would provide its stakeholders with written feedback on why an option couldn’t be implemented, but often offered an alternative. Where on occasions, following meetings with government departments and / or elected representatives or the exchange of detailed industry submissions and reports, a written government response was provided in a timely manner. Now, responses are being ignored or kept hidden from public view. If you are lucky to get a response, it usually takes months, and most are so sanitised by bureaucratic wordsmithing its hardly worthy of consideration.

While no one level of government is better or worse at it, the disconnect in terms of policy alignment for our industry is fundamentally broken. 

Take as just one example, from the many I can immediately put on paper, the 2019 export ban decision by the Federal Government. 

After years in the wilderness in terms of it leading any kind of conversation on waste and recycling policy, and having cut in real terms the environmental agency budget year on year, suddenly Canberra becomes an expert, telling us commercially, we have had it all wrong, and they must now legislate in order to save the planet from the international environmental harm occurring, resulted by industry sending its “waste” overseas.

Export bans on secondary paper and cardboard traded commodities are one area of concern. Image: Siwakorn1933/stock.adobe.com

The Federal Government, despite repeated requests from myself that it provide evidence of the international environmental harm occurring from Australian businesses trading their secondary mixed paper and cardboard commodities to legitimate international end users, continues to perpetrate that our industry is exporting “waste” not secondary commodities, as justification for its regulatory intervention.

Further, it has failed to explain how secondary paper and cardboard traded commodities somehow become a ‘“waste with contamination” after those same products have been separated at either a home or business, are placed into a specialty container, to be collected by a specialised recycling vehicle, delivered to dedicated recycling facility where the product is processed to a contract specification and exported. 

Over the past two years I have consistently and repeatedly provided the evidence and facts that demonstrate that there is no need for the introduction of this government regulatory disruption to the industry’s trading market of its secondary mixed paper and cardboard commodities, particularly as the proposed “Rule” only applies to international trades.

The “Rules”, currently understood as I write this piece, are anti-competitive, and only serve to unfairly place a burden on critically important secondary exports that would otherwise be landfilled in Australia.

To add further insult into the debate. It was confirmed by government representatives at a November senate estimate hearing that July 1, 2024, is the scheduled time frame for its Regulation of Waste Exports: Cost Recovery mechanism.

Read as, “Australia’s Recycling Boomerang Tax”. For every tonne of commodity our industry exports from July 1, 2024, it will pay the Federal Government an annual registration fee, plus a tax of $3.98 per tonne (without industry costs added) for trading internationally. 

Why a Boomerang Tax? It’s the tax that keeps coming back. 

As industry must pass these additional business costs through to everyone, all Australians will pay the tax on all yellow-top bin recyclables and on recycled tyre products, that are exported and sold internationally. Only for the products to again be used as valuable feedstocks internationally, which in turn are returned to Australian consumers and the export cycle continues over, and over again … unless of course we choose to just landfill and avoid the tax. In the case of used tyres, some of these are being used as fuels, displacing coal as a fuel source internationally.

As we head into 2024, faced with a Queensland state election and a short time later a federal election, it’s timely that we shift our advocacy narrative to a new order. No longer can our industry be shackled to what I consider are outdated policy owners where we are lost in an environmental quagmire, competing against government’s broader environmental priorities with little alignment to the sector’s real social or economic business opportunities.

Waste, recycling, resource recovery and all its subject matters are no longer the environmental levers of old. Our industry is being denied its rightful place to one that recognises this essential industry as being a major sectoral player in terms of its genuine economic and energy influence to all Australians.

Only when the industry’s policy levers and ownership reside within government industry portfolios, will we see an end to the policy interference by being shackled to environmental portfolios across the nation. 

I hope one day the advocacy lessons of old are returned, where real reforms can be delivered by a more transparent and candidness advocacy approach between government and our industry. 

Send this to a friend