Levy portability a useful step towards a circular economy

Enforcing landfill levies across State borders will prevent further unnecessary cross border transport of waste, says the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC).

Following the ABC’s Four Corners report on August 7, three Government reviews have been commissioned into the Australian waste and recycling industry – a review by a legal expert on behalf of the Queensland Premier, a NSW Upper House inquiry and a Commonwealth Senate review. The NWRIC is offering solutions to the problems addressed by these reviews.

Interstate waste transport

A key issue raised by the reviews is the use of lower cost landfills in South East Queensland for the disposal of NSW construction and demolition waste. The reviews will also address challenges in recycling markets, a better use for landfill levy revenue and illegal practises.

While the haulage of waste materials from Sydney to Brisbane is undesirable, it is not illegal. The trade has been created by regulatory disparity between NSW and Queensland. Private industry have been lobbying for a regulatory solution on this issue for more than three years.  

The regulatory disparity could be solved by either implementing a landfill levy in Queensland of $40 per tonne or more, or by reducing the landfill levy in NSW on construction and demolition material down to $100 per tonne or less. However, the NWRIC does not recommend either of these options as levies should stable and if introduced, should be carefully planned.  

The Council is proposing that State Governments make landfill levies ‘portable’ across State borders. This means that levies applicable should be based on where waste is generated, not where it is landfilled. If implemented by neighbouring states, this solution will also prevent unnecessary interstate waste movements between Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

The Council is currently liaising with the ‘Heads of EPAs’ taskforce to promote this effective interim solution. Over the longer term, the Council is calling for all States and jurisdictions to harmonise the regulations covering the Australian waste and recycling industry. Regulatory harmony will promote investor confidence and prevent future undesirable consequences.

Recycling Markets

The emerging ‘circular economy’ in Australia is subject to unpredictable price fluctuations in the global market. Currently, glass has a marginal value, and plastic prices are at a historic low. The stockpiling of materials prior to recycling is a normal process in the recycling market, and stockpiled glass from kerbside collection is neither a hazardous material nor a fire risk.

In order to stimulate recycling markets, the NWRIC is proposing that more landfill levy money be hypothecated back to industry. The Council advocates this revenue be used to support uniform and comprehensive regulatory enforcement, Statewide waste management and recycling infrastructure planning and the creation of viable, long term markets for recycled products.

Where levy revenue is to spent directly on infrastructure projects, the NWRIC proposes that funds be offered as loans rather than grants – as this structure ensures transparency, accountability and a level market. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation serves as an existing model for this type of program.

The Council also is concerned that Local Government owned waste businesses are deterring private investment. The recycling market can’t grow without private investment, and private capital will not flow into markets where investors are competing with government.

To assist governments in creating the regulatory conditions conducive to stimulating investment into the circular economy, the NWRIC has produced its ‘National Roadmap for a Circular Economy’. This document offers a range of regulatory solutions to improve the environmental, social and economic performance of Australia’s waste and recycling industry.