Jurisdictional task forces needed to protect recycling

Following the onset of the Chinese National Sword Program, the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (‘the Council’) calls on each State and Territory to form a ‘recycling task force’ to review their current practices and establish sustainable recycling activities for the future.  

Taking effect from January 1, 2018, the Chinese ‘National Sword’ program imposes vastly higher contamination standards on recycled materials exported to China. Materials exported must now have 0.5% contamination or less – compared to 5% to 10% previously.

This program has caused an unforeseen and sudden crash in the price of recycled materials. It has also left a significant volume of material ‘stranded’, with no end market available. Preliminary Commonwealth figures suggested that 1.25 million tonnes of material was exported to China in 2016/17 – including 920 thousand tonnes of paper and cardboard, 203 thousand tonnes of metals and 125 thousand tonnes of plastics.

In this context, the Council is calling on each State and Territory to establish a ‘recycling task force’ to review and improve current practices and develop new processes to protect and advance domestic recycling. Challenges the ‘task forces’ could address include;

  1. Products to accept in household recycling bins,
  2. Education to reduced contamination,
  3. Recycling labelling,
  4. An approach to glass collection,
  5. Maximising value from container deposit programs,
  6. A review of packaging design and reuse,
  7. A review of how landfill levies effect recycling, and
  8. A review of contract conditions for recyclers.

The Council also believes this challenge creates an opportunity to establish a leading approach to container deposit programs that will support and protect material recovery facilities. Further investment and innovation can target a higher quality output for use in Australian remanufacturing.

An effective response on the Chinese National Sword program will require intergovernmental involvement  coupled with wide industry representation. Each task force should include representation from planning departments, EPAs and change management agencies such as Sustainability Victoria or the WA Waste Authority.

Further, the task forces should include state and national local government associations, state and national industry bodies, the Australian Packaging Covenant and remanufacturing companies. The NWRIC welcomes the opportunity to work with Government to protect and advance recycling.