Waste and Recycling Industry Association of Western Australia President Mike Harper reviews the state’s Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 and the impact of export bans.
The Waste and Recycling Industry Association of WA (WRIWA) is entering its sixth year with a constantly increasing membership and a growing role in policy development at both state and federal levels.
Mike Harper, who was recently re-elected for his fifth term as WRIWA President, says representing members in WA is a little different from the experience on the eastern seaboard, and that became more obvious and important through the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“The WA waste and recycling industry is very self-dependent. Problems have to be solved here on the ground, a fly in fly out (FIFO) approach to waste policy doesn’t work here,” Mike says.
The WA Government’s Waste Avoidance & Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 has been the bedrock of waste policy in WA since its inception. The strategy has wide support from WRIWA as it has provided strategic certainty for industry in WA; and industry in turn has invested extensively based on that certainty. A recent WRIWA analysis shows that members have contributed $283 million in waste and recycling infrastructure to support the strategy.
With its first targets due in 2025, the strategy is now under review. Mike says to date, most of the targets have not yet been delivered.
Overall, so far, the state is achieving 60 per cent resource recovery, against the 2025 target of 70 per cent and the 2030 target of 75 per cent.
“Clearly time is running out to ramp up the recovery rate in order to meet the stated 2025 target,” Mike says.
WRIWA has questioned the 60 per cent figure, with industry reporting that levy avoidance is still exceeding one million tonnes per annum.
It’s an ongoing issue, Mike says. The levy in WA is restricted to the metropolitan area, so to avoid the levy, it is anecdotally recognised that C&D material is being sent to rural landfills, to unlicensed landfills that are operating illegally and not paying the levy; and to landfills that are fraudulently not reporting leviable material. The missing material distorts the claimed recovery figure.
WRIWA met with Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Reece Whitby, and the Waste Authority Board to explore the opportunities and challenges it sees as necessary to deliver the objectives of the strategy.
“One of the strongest proposals by WRIWA is that the State Government include more specific target areas in the strategy,” Mike says.
“The more we know about how each area is performing, the more effectively resources can be applied to remedy underperformance and directed away from areas that are already performing well.
“The strategy depends on the levy, and while levy fraud continues the strategy is continually undermined. WRIWA has proposed that the levy rate be doubled, and the levy be extended statewide”.
Mike says WRIWA has expanded its advocacy into the federal arena, as it has witnessed a dramatic downturn in the value of recyclables in WA as a result of the implementation of the national export bans.
He says WA is not part of the east coast waste and recycling network, and distance precludes WRIWA members from accessing the synergies available there. Recycling tonnages in WA are small; while WA is 33 per cent of the total land area, it has only 10 per cent of Australia’s population with a commensurately smaller percentage of recycling volume.
“WA has always leveraged its natural advantages which are its proximity to Asian markets and a uniquely ‘get it done here’ work ethos,” Mike says. “A one-size-fits-all approach to the export bans is not going to work in WA and there is considerable concern that the Recycling Modernization Fund (RMF) process may be producing industries that are not viable and likely to require continuous funding”.
WRIWA is seeking broader involvement by WA waste and recycling operators in any future RMF funding rounds, to ensure that operations will have long-term financial viability.
Mike says WA industry is pioneering recycling advances that address recycling in different ways, not conceived of by the draftees of the export bans.
Following a fire that destroyed the Cleanaway MRF, in November 2019, the company opened a rebuilt MRF in 2021. The $26 million facility has the capacity to process more than half of commingled recycling from residents and customers across the state, while delivering up to 90 per cent recovery of reusable products.
It includes optical sorting and screening configurations that deliver an output of up to 99.5 per cent purity across all fibre and plastic outputs. This is Australia’s first MRF post China National Sword and export bans. REMONDIS has just announced the importation of a soft plastics pelletising plant that can process up to 5000 tonnes per annum. This is a WA-based solution to supermarket and industry generated soft plastics and produces a product that can be sold locally and internationally.
Mike says neither of these operations attracted any form of government funding.
“Secondary waste processing is going to be challenging here in WA. We have lobbied advisors of Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, to at least take a pause before charging ahead with the export bans without considering that the industry may not need more regulation,” he says. “What we want is recognition and support for WA-based solutions”.