Waste exports alone won’t drive resource recovery
25 November 2019
Waste export bans won’t deliver the National Waste Policy Action Plan resource recovery targets unless recycled materials are used in packaging, products and infrastructure, writes Rose Read CEO of the NWRIC.
Led by the Federal Environment Minister the Hon. Sussan Ley MP, State and Territory Environment Ministers agreed at their recent meeting on a timeline for COAG’s waste export bans and signed off on the National Waste Policy Action Plan.
The proposed waste export bans in large are being introduced to reduce harm to human health and the environment overseas. But the likelihood of them delivering the 80% resource recovery target by 2030 agreed or the 70% plastics recovery rate by 2025 on their own is low.
To achieve these resource recovery targets, the demand to use recovered materials locally needs to be fast tracked. The Environment Ministers commitment on the 8th November to identify significant procurement opportunities such as major road projects that could use recycled material is a good start. As is prioritising work to develop specifications and standards for the use of recycled materials in building, construction and infrastructure development.
However, this will only increase demand for glass and crumbed tyres. It won’t increase the demand for recovered plastic, paper and cardboard locally.
What is needed to create markets for plastics, paper and cardboard is legally requiring packaging companies, manufacturers and retailers to increase the proportion of recovered materials in packaging put onto the Australian market, including imports, as most of these materials come from overseas.
Some may say that manufacturers have already committed to this. But evidence to date suggests this is limited to one or two global brands that cover less than 40% of the packaging market. Likewise, none of the major supermarkets have committed to increase the proportion of recycled content in the packaged products they sell. Nor is there any commitment to indicate the level of recycled content on packaging to give consumers the choice to buy recycled.
On the phased timings proposed to implement the export ban. The NWRIC considers the timeline for mixed plastics is insufficient for industry to purchase and install equipment especially as there are limited markets. The timeframe should be extended to match the 2025 APCO recycle content target. If the government wants this to progress more quickly than manufacturers should be required to meet specific plastic recycled content targets sooner.
The NWRIC also does not support the banning of single resin/polymer plastics that have not been processed (e.g. cleaned and baled PET) nor the banning of baled paper and cardboard. Both these recyclates have legitimate overseas markets, clearly demonstrating they are value added products that will not have a negative impact on human health or the environment.
To give government confidence that there will be no harm to human health and the environment overseas, exporters should be able to verify their downstream pathways and material recovery rates with the aid of third-party audits.
Submissions in response to the government’s discussion paper on implementing the banning exports of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres discussion paper are due by 3 December 2019.
This article first appeared in Waste Management Review November 2019.