Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, has been in New South Wales meeting with waste industry leaders to work out the earliest possible time frame in banning the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.
On September 26, Ley met with the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) to discuss the Federal government’s commitment to the sector.
She said the government is determined to reduce waste and to increase Australia’s recycling capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand.
“The Prime Minister has agreed with all state and territory governments that a ban will be put in place and we want to establish a clear timetable and clear strategic priorities by working with both industry and the state environment ministers.
“The days of allowing plastic waste to gather in our oceans and landfills, or to be palmed off overseas are over,” Ley said.
She said a ban on plastic exports should not lead to higher levels of stockpiling in Australia.
“I will be challenging all parties, the states, the industry participants and the community to embark on genuine change in tackling waste.
“What is clear is that the ideas are certainly there but we need consistency across states, we need to give industry the confidence to invest in recycling and remanufacturing and an assurance that markets are being created for their products,” Ley said.
WMRR hosted a roundtable in Sydney to discuss the key elements that would give the export ban, announced at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in August, the greatest chance at success.
In a statement, WMRR described the meeting as a constructive and productive two-hour session.
WMRR CEO, Gayle Sloan, said Ley listened intently and said she had a clear idea of the current landscape and need for greater harmonisation, which WMRR appreciated.
“Whether you’re from SUEZ, Cleanaway, ResourceCo or Bingo, the message is the same, businesses need certainty to invest and thrive, and this is sorely lacking in Australia at the moment, in large part due to different policies, strategies, regulations, and specifications across jurisdictions, and the lack of markets. The Federal government is in a position to lead all of that being pulled together to provide a harmonised and consistent approach,” Sloan said.
“The goal posts are also constantly changing and often, our industry is a political football which exacerbates the challenges because it causes greater instability and uncertainty.”
The forthcoming export ban on waste paper, plastic, glass and tyres, will be discussed further at a Meeting of Environment Ministers on November 8.
WMRR cautioned that the ban must not be rushed, and the minister was advised that a considered approach towards its implementation must be front and centre of government’s mind.
“The ban will not work if we do not have markets for recycled materials. Sure, we can stop shipping these materials, and industry does not want to export – we absolutely want to reprocess and recycle right here in Australia – but if there’s no buyback or take up of the recycled products, where does that leave us? So, the ban must be supported first and foremost by sustainable and mandated procurement at all levels of government, with the commonwealth leading the way,” Sloan said.
“The ban must also be complemented by a structural shift in the way we design products and producers must start taking greater responsibility for what happens to the materials they manufacture, including possibly contributing to the cost of end-of-life; we need mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes, starting with packaging.
“The Federal government must also use its position and the levers it has to mandate a certain percentage of recycled material in products and to complement that, we urgently need national specifications for recycled content. The government may need to also consider tax incentives and grants as Australia develops these markets for recycled products.”
Sloan said there is no “quick fix” but it is encouraging to see that waste and resource recovery is now a priority.
“Industry thanks the minister for engaging with us and we are excited about the many opportunities that await Australia,” Sloan said.
The roundtable was attended by executives from SUEZ, Cleanaway, Veolia, JJ Richards, ResourceCo, Tyrecycle, Visy Industries, Re.Group, Bingo Industries, Alex Fraser, and O-I.
Ley is visiting two western Sydney waste facilities on September 27. She will visit the ResourceCo Recovery Facility at Wetherill Park, which is diverting thousands of tonnes of dry non-recyclable waste from landfill into re-usable aggregate, and the Villawood Electronic Waste company, which is partnering with UNSW’s SMaRT Research Centre in producing plastic Vitaket bricks for use in steel making.