Victoria’s Parliamentary Inquiry – five critical actions

The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry has made 45 recommendations to advance Victoria’s waste management and resource recovery system. NWRIC CEO Rose Read outlines which of these recommendations are critical to setting the State on the pathway to a circular economy.

For the past four years Victoria’s waste and recycling system has been beset with a number of setbacks. From fires at material recycling facilities, illegal tyre and construction waste stockpiles to hazardous chemicals illegally buried or gone up in flames. The factors driving these setbacks are many. From criminal activity and substandard business practices, to unevenly policed regulations and China shutting its doors to poorly sorted materials.

In response to these challenges the Victorian Parliament’s Environment and Planning Committee initiated an inquiry into waste management, receiving more than 90 submissions and presentations. The result, over 45 sweeping recommendations touching on many elements of waste and resource recovery; from chemical and hazardous waste management, landfill levies, waste to energy infrastructure needs to organics recovery, product stewardship, household waste, kerbside services and community education.

The challenge now for the Victorian government is to determine which recommendations are mission critical. From a waste and recycling service provider perspective, the NWRIC is calling on the Victorian government to progress the following actions first.

Grow domestic markets

Create stronger market pull for recovered plastics, organics, paper, glass and tyres by requiring greater use of recovered materials in products, packaging and construction as well as compost to soils. This should be approached from three different angles.

Firstly, introduce recycled content requirements for state and local government procurement and an obligation for agencies to publicly report on compliance with these requirements. As well as support manufacturers to streamline the testing and standards development processes for products containing recycled materials, especially products purchased by government.

Secondly, require minimum recycled content level in new packaging produced in Victoria and work with manufacturers to reduce their use of virgin plastics.

Thirdly, advocate for the Commonwealth Government to introduce import requirements for products to have packaging that contains recycled materials.

Improve source separation

Making it easier for the community and businesses to source separate by ensuring all local councils are compliant with Standards Australia policy on bin lid colours within 12 months and improving the capacity of multi-unit developments to collect, sort and recycle household waste.

Introducing a container deposit scheme to supplement improved municipal kerbside recycling services is critical. As is rolling out a consistent FOGO collection scheme state-wide. Where appropriate also consider adopting a fourth glass bin or removing glass from the yellow bin and provide drop off points.

Increasing funding of state-wide recycling education is essential as is supporting the widespread adoption of the Australasian Recycling Label in Victoria.

Advocating to the Commonwealth Government for both a national battery and solar PV system product stewardship schemes urgently to remove dangerous and flammable items form the current collection systems.

Integrate local and state planning

Embed waste and recycling infrastructure plans into local and state planning regulations and plans. Planning for waste and recycling facilities has been a national challenge, and Victoria is no different. Even though Victoria has a SWRRIP and Regional WRRIPs in place, a leading recycling facility owned by Alex Fraser Group in Clarinda is facing eviction. This facility processes close to one million tonnes, representing approximately 10% of Victoria’s recycling capacity.

This example illustrates the disconnect between waste and recycling infrastructure planning and local and state planning regulations and plans. Without strategically located dedicated sites for waste and recycling facilities, appropriate buffer zones, security of tenure industry cannot provide efficient and competitive resource recovery and waste management services to the community and businesses.

Expedite energy recovery

Implement energy recovery technologies in Victoria, to complement existing landfills and to better manage those materials that cannot be recycled.

While we all want to recover and recycle as much as possible there are some products and materials that are not suitable for recycling. Well-developed energy recovery facilities that meet all environmental and health outcomes have a role to play in optimising the recovery of embodied energy from those non-recyclable materials as well as dealing with contaminated biosolids currently being stockpiled in Victoria.

Reform landfill levies

Adjust the Municipal and Industrial Landfill Levy (MILL) and increase share of funds invested back into the sector. Any financial incentive to transport materials from or to other jurisdiction’s landfills should be removed. The NWRIC White Paper on State Waste and Landfill Levies highlighted how interstate price differentials in levies has created a levy avoidance industry where potentially recyclable materials are ending up in landfill or illegal stockpiles.

The whitepaper also highlighted the lack of transparency, accountability and investment of levy funds back into the sector. As illustrated in Victoria where in excess of $500 million is sitting in the Sustainability Fund and the majority of expenditure from this fund has been on climate change activities rather than waste management and recycling initiatives.

The reporting of how the MILL funds are invested is also overly complex with little assessment of the effectiveness of investment on waste and recycling outcomes.

The NWRIC, looks forward to seeing how the soon to be released Victorian Circular Economy Policy and government budgets incorporate and fund the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry and the outcomes from the Infrastructure and Landfill Levy reviews. If we are not reusing materials in products, packaging or construction or compost on soils we are not recycling let alone going circular.

This article first appeared in Waste Management Review.