Commonwealth Action on Waste and Recycling Welcome

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (the ‘Council’) welcomes the April 27 announcement from Minister Frydenberg committing to improve Australia’s waste and recycling capacity.

Following the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on April 27, the Ministers released six action points designed to address China’s recent import restrictions on recycled materials, and improve our recycling capacity more broadly.

In summary, these six action points are; 1) ensuring all of Australia’s packaging is suitable for recycling by 2025, 2) working with the States to find a market for the material no longer salable to China, 3) advocating for government procurement of recycled materials, 4) improved product stewardship, 5) advancing the review of Australia’s National Waste Policy, and 6) prioritising energy recovery projects through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This release will address these six actions in detail.

In the last two decades, packaging has become more complex, making it more difficult to recycle. This has resulted in public confusion over what packaging and materials should be directed to recycling. To assist with this challenge, the Council supports the rollout of the Australiasian Recycling Label (ARL). This label provides clear guidance on which materials should be directed to material recovery facilities.

In regard to the approximately 1.25 million tonnes of material previously sold to China, the Council has released near and long term action plans to address this challenge. In the short term, it is essential that local governments renegotiate contracts to ensure that recycling services continue despite the sudden drop in commodity prices. In the long term, action will be needed to reduce contamination in bins and new infrastructure will be needed to improve the quality of material destined for export.

Government procurement of recycled materials is welcome, and could be implemented at every level of government. Mixed plastics are currently the most difficult material to bring to market, while largest export challenge is contaminated paper, with approximately 900,000 tonnes per year currently blocked from export. The key solution is the export of clean material, and effective government led procurement of recycled product in Australia.

Improved product stewardship is also a welcome outcome, and the Council notes this is the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. The Council calls for mandatory product stewardship across all priority products including; e-waste plus batteries, tyres, used machine lubricating oils, paint and chemical drums. Only mandatory product stewardship will give investors the confidence to build the capital intensive infrastructure necessary to process and recover these complex and hazardous products.

A review of the National Waste Policy provides a new opportunity to harmonise waste and recycling regulations. Jurisdictional distortions in landfill levies have incentivised the unnecessary interstate transport of waste. Other regulatory disparities between States and Territories create a cost to businesswithout any economic, social or environmental dividend. Through COAG and the Heads of EPAs (HEPA) group, these anomalies can be resolved.

The manufacture of fuel from unrecyclable materials is also a useful step forward. This technology is used and recognised globally by countries with more sophisticated recycling systems than Australia. The Council welcomes investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation into fuel recovery.

“Kerbside recycling is an important service that all Australians value,” said Mr Phil Richards, Chairman of the NWRIC. “We welcome the State Government assistance offered to protect this critical service, and we are ready to work proactively with all levels of government to maintain and enhance this service into the future.”