NWRIC discusses waste export bans with Federal Environment Minister

29 November 2019

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (the ‘Council’) met with Commonwealth Environment Minister, the Honourable Sussan Ley MP at its quarterly meeting in Canberra on 27 November 2019, and held discussions including how to best implement the waste export bans.

At the meeting members of the NWRIC indicated their support for the ban’s intent; for Australia to manage its waste at home. The Council welcomed the strong leadership now being taken by the federal government.

“At last we have a federal government that recognises the importance and value of the waste and resource recovery industry,” said NWRIC CEO Ms Rose Read. “An industry that not only provides essential services to the community and contributes significantly to Australia’s economy, but also has the potential through greater resource recovery to create more jobs, decarbonise our economy, provide renewable energy and drought proof our soils,” she added.

Members discussed with the Minister the implications of the proposed timetable, as well as the list of waste materials to be banned from export.

Specifically, the NWRIC requested that banning of ‘whole bale tyres’ be brought forward to July 2020, in parallel with glass. The potential harm to humans and the environment by exporting whole baled tyres is significant, and there is ample capacity domestically to process these into value added products including rubber crumb and clean fuels.

In regard to mixed plastics, the NWRIC advised that more time is required for industry to purchase equipment, scaling up its processing capacity, as well as the need to fast track more local demand for plastics into packaging.

The NWRIC also advised that banning the export of baled paper and cardboard was illogical, as local demand is limited and there are strong overseas markets where this material is going straight into paper mills. This also applies to the export of single resin polymer plastics, such as clean bales of PET and HDPE. This vast majority of this resource is going to legitimate licensed overseas manufacturers.

A key point of discussion was how to build local demand for recovered materials for packaging, products, and infrastructure. The Minister emphasised the government’s commitment to increase the uptake of recovered materials by changing their procurement practices. She also stressed that businesses must step up too, especially the packaging industry, manufacturers and retailers by ramping up the use of recycled materials. This program is especially needed in plastic packaging and products.

Members also requested the Minister consider banning the export of whole crushed car bodies, white goods and waste motor oils. All of these products, when exported unprocessed, are causing serious harm to human health and the environment in locations across Asia.

The NWRIC also argued that; for the ban to be successful, new obligations must extend beyond the waste and resource recovery sector, to include organisations importing products to Australia. A circular economy requires all parts of the supply chain participate. This also includes consumers who must buy recycled, along with households plus businesses sorting recycling better.

Importantly, the Minister acknowledged that Australia is a net importer of plastics and paper, so this needs to be considered in implementing the export ban. 

Progress of the review of the Product Stewardship Act was discussed, specifically the urgent need for a whole of industry funded national battery recycling scheme. There is an urgent need to get batteries out of the yellow and red bins where they are causing fires and contaminating plastics, paper and glass being collected for recycling. The Minister advised that she had written to the major brands Duracell and Energizer asking them to join the rest of the battery industry in delivering a national product stewardship scheme.

The challenges of diverting organics from landfill to compost for soils was also discussed, including how best to bring the agriculture and composting sectors together to solve these challenges. The minister expressed a great interest in improving Australia’s soils through the use of compost.

The need for consistency in landfill levies across states and territories in delivering better resource recovery outcomes was discussed. Along with the need for greater transparency and investment of these levies back into developing recovered materials markets, community education, compliance activities, research and data collection. As well as the importance of these state investments being matched by the Commonwealth.

Also attending the meeting were representatives from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, who will administer the soon to be released $100 million ‘Recycling Investment Fund’ promised by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the election. Industry are ready to participate in the ‘green loans’ provided by this fund, which will help to build the infrastructure we need for domestic recycling.

Image caption: The NWRIC is formed from a group of executives and companies who are committed to building better waste and recycling services for all Australians. At the 27 November NWRIC meeting was: Duncan Van Der Merwe (CEO; Tellus), David Clancy (NSW Manager; Cleanaway), Anthony Johnston (MD; URM), Rose Read (CEO, NWRIC), Peter Murphy (CEO, Alex Fraser Group), Bjoern Becker (CEO, Remondis Australia), The Hon. Susan Ley – (Minister for the Environment), John Glyde (CEO Australia & NZ, Sims Metal Management), Danny Conlon (CEO, Veolia ANZ), Mark Venhoek (CEO, SUEZ ANZ), Paul Smith (CEO, KS Environmental), Mark Dekker (GM, BMI Group), Mike Harper (Manager, Waste Stream Management), and Peter Wadewitz (MD, Peats Soil & Garden Supplies).