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Australian state and Federal governments agree to develop a timetable to ban waste exports

Australian state governments and the Federal government have agreed to develop a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, as Southeast Asian countries continue to crack down on waste imports.

The outcome from a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, on August 9, shows a big step in continuing Australia’s journey to build a sustainable domestic remanufacturing industry, while ensuring the environment and human health are protected.

At the COAG meeting, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, explained the agreement made with environment ministers from states across Australia, is a step in recognising that Australia’s waste is Australia’s responsibility.

“We’re laying it out very clearly that there will be no export of plastics and paper and glass to other countries where it runs the risk of ending up floating around in our oceans.

“By making that clear and agreeing to work together with a plan as to when that ban can take effect, working with industry to ensure and consulting them closely to ensure that we have the capacity in place of our waste and recycling sector to reuse, to collect, and also to reduce our waste in these areas as well, with the consumer activity, then that means we can have a very serious impact on this outcome,” Morrison said.

Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) president, David O’Loughlin, said he was delighted to have Morrison put plastics and reducing waste and recycling on the national agenda.

“Certainly, councils across the country have been asking for national leadership for some time on this topic and it is a great example of how three levels of government can work together to really make a difference.

Local government is at the coalface of collecting and sorting waste. We’ve got households right across the nation who do their best to make sure that they sort their waste out at home, put it in the right bin, and their confidence of late has been dented when they found out that their recycling is not being recycled as well as they’d hoped. So we’re hoping that this measure puts it firmly on the environment minister’s and the states and ourselves as well as a national government that we need to do better and we must do better,” O’Loughlin said.

He explained that there are many opportunities to grow the waste sector in Australia, which is best done with all three levels of government playing a part,” O’Loughlin said.

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, Gayle Sloan, said the outcomes of the COAG meeting signal a significant and positive commitment.

“Industry has always advocated that Australia should be processing our own waste and recyclables. Industry can, and is keen, to build capacity and the fact that we’re on the agenda and we have the prime minister’s and premiers’ attention means we can finally move forward.

“The meeting today highlighted numerous opportunities that go above and beyond waste and resource recovery to develop an Australia we all want to live in and be a part of above. However, it is evident that our essential industry checks all these boxes in the communiqué as building and strengthening local processing and remanufacturing will create jobs, positively add to the economy, develop and promote key skills for Australia, and positively add to the infrastructure work that’s going on around the country including across regional Australia,” Sloan said.

WMRR also supports the task given to environment ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

As part of this exercise, leaders agreed the strategy “must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste”.

“It is heartening to see that ministers must now work on a firm timetable because that would equate to real action, which is what Australia needs. WMRR looks forward to continuing its strong, collaborative engagement with the Federal and all state and territory governments,” Sloan said.

“We also look forward to Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM) convening sooner rather than later to progress what we all know we need – and what is now clearly in everyone’s sights – market signals that will enable industry to invest and all stakeholders to support onshore remanufacturing and markets for domestic recycled products.

“We’ve been spinning our wheels for 18 months so MEM must finalise this timetable at its next meeting. Globally, we’ve seen other nations like China, Europe, and Canada push through and establish the mechanisms to develop a circular economy in two to three years and we need to follow suit. MEM needs to be the point where we determine what action needs to happen and by when.

“We need to keep abreast with what’s happening in other developed nations when it comes to green, domestic remanufacturing. Today is an important day as one and all are recognising that waste and resource recovery is a shared responsibility. These are challenging but exciting times and industry is excited about the strong outcomes and impacts these decisions will have on not just industry, but the economy, environment, and community,” Sloan explained.

Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO, Pete Shmigel, said the plans from the COAG meeting aligned with domestic sustainability goals.

“The best route to COAG’s vision of recycling sovereignty and security is for governments to now match very big deeds and dollars to their discussions. This great leadership by COAG must be followed by great investment that matches industries own,” Shmigel said.

“As part of the Environment Ministers’ upcoming plan, that means: major scale support for reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure; unprecedented public sector purchasing of recycled content products and other bold incentives for domestic use of recyclate, such as tax credits for manufacturers, and; removal of ridiculous regulatory barriers and indeed proposed bans for recycled content products in some states,” he said.

Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) executive officer, Mark Smith, said the government’s pledge to ban the export of waste will help create market certainty amongst the private sector, which is the biggest investor in Victoria’s waste management.

“It’s promising to see the Council of Australian Governments agree on the urgent need for a new approach.

“In order to successfully manage our waste needs, now and into the future, we need appropriate investment in the people, system, processes and education and engagement to drive sustainable change – and business has an integral role to play in that as the primary employer, purchasers and manager of waste and recycling assets across Victoria and Australia,” Smith said.

He explained that COAG’s agreement to build the sector’s capacity to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste serves as a catalyst for investment and innovation.

“While it’s still very early days, this announcement is definitely a big step in the right direction. The VWMA looks forward to continuing to work with local and state government, as well as councils and other expert bodies, to arrive at a solution that benefits all Australians,” Smith said.