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Urgent Action Needed To Protect Recycling Contracts

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has said that without urgent action to address market changes – recycling contracts across Australia could face default.

In July 2017 China notified the World Trade Organisation that it planned to reduce the imports of many recycled materials – meaning recycling contracts in Australia are now under threat. This latest action is called the ‘National Sword’, and is a continuation of the ‘Green Fence’ program which has slowly been tightening standards on import contamination.

China has said it intends to enforce the policy by limiting which businesses can obtain scrap import licences. In essence, the ‘National Sword’ means significantly lower contamination levels on imported recycled materials will apply from 2018, and fewer import licences will be issued.

On February 6 the NWRIC met to discuss this matter, and now are warning that without significant market changes, kerbside and commercial recycling contracts could be cancelled. This includes the collection and recycling of paper, mixed plastics and some metal products. Preliminary solutions which may assist include;

  1. The renegotiation of contracts between local governments and recycling providers to improve risk sharing and lower contamination.
  2. Increasing stockpiling allowances where environmentally safe.
  3. Commonwealth assistance could be used to open new export markets.
  4. The reinvigoration of domestic re-manufacturing capacity is the best long term solution to this challenge.

Where recycling markets have shortfalls, the Council notes that it is important this does not result in the improper stockpiling of recyclable materials. Large stockpiles of paper and plastics can become a fire hazard, and therefore, should be sent to landfill to protect public safety.

“The NWRIC is urging all customers, including local government and commercial waste generators, to meet with their recycling supplier to plan for these sudden and unforeseen changes,” said Mr Phil Richards, Chairman of the NWRIC.