Waste and recycling sector contribution to Australia’s economy, society and environment – new report

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has just released the report From Waste to Value- The Australian Waste & Resource Recovery Industry 2020 which provides a snapshot of the industry and its economic, social and environmental contribution to Australia.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read said the report was instrumental in highlighting the value of the Australian waste and resource recovery industry in terms of its contribution to Australia’s GDP, job creation and helping to protect the environment.

“Waste and resource recovery is not only an essential service, it represents a significant resource sector, valued overall at $16 billion and directly contributing $4.8b per annum to the Australian economy and growing at an average annual rate of 6% for the last decade.

“The industry is also punching well above its weight in job creation, with jobs growth of 13% or 4000 jobs over five years and outperforming total jobs growth in the economy by ten percentage points over this same period.

“Made up of more than 5000 businesses that employ more than 100,000 people (36,000 directly and 70,500 indirectly), the industry is a significant employer in our cities and regional areas.”

Ms Read said the report confirmed the waste and resource recovery industry had enormous reach across Australia.

“In conjunction with local councils, 97% of Australian households have access to kerbside waste collection services.

“Further, the industry also supplies waste services to 95% of Australia’s 114 industries, and this is strategically important because they are necessary to almost every supply chain in Australia.”

While Australia generates around 76 million tonnes of waste annually, the industry helps recover more than 40 million tonnes locally, channelling more than half of waste volumes into productive use through recycling, composting and energy recovery.

“We know that $2.9 billion worth of materials are returned into productive circulation and as we move towards a circular economy this will only continue to grow.

“The industry will be a key driver of economic and environmental resilience and to deliver that we need to focus on developing waste and recycling infrastructure as well as markets for secondary raw materials and their products,” Ms Read said.

For a more in-depth discussion of NWRIC’s From Waste to Value report, listen to Rose as she is interviewed by Rick Ralph for his podcast Talking Garbology.


National Waste Report 2020 released

The National Waste Report for 2020 has been released, providing ‘data and information on Australia’s waste generation, recovery and fate for all waste streams and various material categories’.

National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read said the report, released every two years, was important because it enabled government, industry, business and the community to benchmark performance and track progress towards waste reduction targets.

“Australia is working towards an ambitious but important target of 80% average resource recovery rate (recycling and energy recovery) by 2030.

“However, the National Waste Report for 2020 shows that waste generated in 2018-19 was an estimated 74 Mt, an increase on the 69 Mt generated in 2016-17. With waste generated per capita increasing from 2.7 per capita to 2.94 per capita.

“The resource recovery rate for 2018-19 was 63%, up just 1 percent from 2017-18 at 62% and the recycling rate also increasing by only 1% between 2017-18 and 2018-19.

“If we continue on this current trajectory where waste generation is increasing and there are only minimal gains year on year in resource recovery, we will not reach the 80% target set out in the National Waste Policy Action Plan,” Ms Read said.

Ms Read said to hit this target the National Waste Policy Action Plan says we need to be recovering an additional 15Mt per annum, that’s around 58Mt to 60Mt every year.

“That is a 35% increase on the current 43.5Mt recovered in 2018-19. This is no small feat.

“NWRIC considers that for the sector to have any chance of achieving the 80% resource recovery target by 2030, governments must continue to fast track the construction of secondary material processing and energy recovery facilities.

“They must also give much more priority to government procurement of recycled materials and implement policy reforms that make secondary raw materials more cost effective than virgin materials and implement more extended producer schemes that reward better designed, more durable and recyclable products and packaging,” Ms Read said.


CSIRO’s Circular Economy Roadmap released

The CSIRO has released a National Circular Economy Roadmap for plastics, glass, paper and tyres highlighting the importance of innovation and potential job creation as Australia looks to recover more of these materials currently ending up in landfill.

The roadmap was commissioned by the Federal Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and developed in collaboration with 83 industry, research and government partners to shape a circular economy strategy for Australia to address fundamental environmental issues and foster regional employment.

The report comes as the Australian Government’s ban on export waste comes into effect, with a ban on export of glass already in place (1 January 2021) and mixed plastics from 1 July also this year. According to the report, Australia will need to increase its recycling capacity by 150% to process the mixed and unprocessed single type plastics that were previously exported.

The roadmap identifies six elements for moving towards a circular economy of plastics, paper, glass and tyres:

  1. Retain material through use and collection (improve collection and sorting)
  2. Upscale and innovate recycling technologies (increase capacity for plastics, paper and tyres and foster regional recycling)
  3. Innovate and collaborate in design and manufacture (eco-design of products and link to innovation programs)
  4. Develop markets for secondary materials and the products that use them (drive procurement policies and innovate business models)
  5. Streamline nationally consistent governance (harmonise governance and streamline compliance)
  6. Secure a national zero waste culture (culture change and support of industry participation)

Elements 1, 2 & 3 represent the broad stages in the circular economy and 4, 5 & 6 represent the primary enablers to achieve a circular economy.

The report further outlines several staged priorities for plastics, glass, paper and tyres, which if implemented will culminate in an 80% recovery rate by 2030 for all of these materials, except tyres which has a predicted 100% recovery rate by 2030 if the priorities are addressed.

The economic impact of increasing Australia’s resource recovery rate is also described, with the report quantifying that just a 5% increase in Australia’s resource recovery rate would add an estimated $1 billion to Australia’s GDP.


Tasmania’s Container Refund Scheme model announced

The Tasmanian Government has announced that a split responsibility Container Refund Scheme with a separate Scheme Coordinator and Network Operator is its preferred model for returning eligible drink containers.

Contracts for the roles of Scheme Coordinator and Network Operator will be awarded through an open tender process with the Scheme expected to be up and running in 2022.

National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) CEO Rose Read said of the container deposit schemes operating in Australia, the split responsibility model was the most desirable.

“For any scheme to be fair and equitable there needs to be strong governance, transparency and accountability.  The split responsibility model, similar to that applied in NSW and the ACT provides that.

“What will also be important is that the Scheme’s scope, targets, reporting, protocols and procedures are consistent with other State and Territory schemes.

“Harmonisation of state and territory schemes is critical to avoid administrative duplication, create cost efficiencies and drive innovation.

“The NWRIC’s preference has always been for nationally regulated Container Deposit Scheme rather than separate state and territory-based schemes,” Ms Read said.

Ms Read welcomed Tasmania’s aim to have the lowest litter rate in the country by 2023.

“If we are to reach our target of 80% resource recovery rate by 2030 every state and territory needs to look at how they are recovering materials and how they can increase recycling rates. Implementing a container refund scheme is a very good start,” Ms Read said.


Tasmania announces waste levy

The Tasmanian government has also announced it will phase in a waste levy from 1 November 2021 which will start at $20 per tonne and rise to $60 over four years.

The levy will be introduced through a Waste and Resource Recovery Bill now available in draft form for public comment.

NWRIC CEO Rose Read welcomed the establishment of the levy.

“It’s certainly good to have the levy in place, however it is starting off quite low.

“It is important to set the price at a sufficient level that will discourage disposal of recyclable materials into landfill and at the same time encourage the establishment of resource recovery facilities for construction and demolition, commercial and industrial and household waste”.

Ms Read said there was also a clear need for transparency on how much funds are collected and how they are spent each year.

“NWRIC considers all funds should be used to advance resource recovery within Tasmania by investing in community education, compliance, infrastructure, data collection and reporting,” said Ms Read.

The NWRIC undertook a detailed Review of waste levies in Australia 2019 and recommended that state and territory governments together with the federal government:

  1. Develop a National Levy Pricing Strategy through COAG that prevents the inappropriate disposal and movement of waste between regions and states and ensures the resource recovery industry remains viable and competitive by removing significant geographic levy differentials and providing recycling residual discounts or recycling rebates where justified.
  2. Develop National Waste Levy Protocols for which wastes should be levied (i.e. solid, liquid, hazardous and prescribed), where the liability for the levy sits (i.e. at point of generation and is portable across regions and states), how far waste can be moved (i.e. proximity within or across states) and how the levy is administered (e.g. payments, bad debts).
  3. Are more transparent and accountable for the total amount of levies collected by each jurisdiction by;
    1. setting up a separate Levy Trust Account (similar to Victoria’s MILL Trust Account) where all levies are retained;
    2. guaranteeing a minimum percentage of levies (suggested 50%) to be spent annually on activities to implement the jurisdiction’s waste avoidance and resource recovery strategies, resource recovery and remanufacturing industry development plans, market development initiatives and infrastructure plans; and
    3. reporting annually on the total amount of levy funds collected and spent (including non- waste and recycling related expenditure) and outcomes achieved.