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Waste takes precedence for Scott Morrison during MRF visit in New York

Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has reiterated a commitment to work closely with state governments and industry to insure Australia has long-term, sustainable recycling infrastructure.

Speaking from a Sims Metal Management materials recovery facility (MRF) in New York in late September, Morrison saw first-hand how a collaborative approach to resource recovery can be achieved.

Given the Federal and state governments in Australia agreed, in August, to develop a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, Morrison and environment ministers are now looking for the best way forward.

Morrison visited the Sims Metal Management MRF, which is an Australian listed company that is headquartered in the US, during a week-long visit to the US.

He said that Sims, which started 102 years ago in Sydney, has been leading the way in its field for a long time.

“What I get excited about when I come and see this is that this is the sort of technology, this is the sort of scale of operations which means that, if we can get this in place, as we’ve seen it in other, less scaled forms in Australia, then that promise of when you put that little plastic bottle or you put the other waste that you put in the recycling bins, that it actually gets recycled and that it doesn’t go to landfill.”

Morrison said the company is showing that improving the recycling sector with a partnership between the public and the private sectors is “truly achievable”.

“Up to about two thirds of the revenue that is generated here doesn’t come from the contracts they have with governments, it comes from the products and the revenue streams that are generated by selling that outside of this facility.”

Morrison said one of the challenges in Australia is getting the scale of operations.

“That is what we are going to have to work closely with state governments and the Commonwealth to ensure we can achieve this scale.”

Morrison said by ensuring there are clear directions about what can and can’t be put in landfill, it will create an incentive that will ignite the spark for commercial solutions to then have value.

“If you could just more cheaply, chuck it in the ocean or dig a hole and bury it under the ground, then, you know, people are going to do that. But if you can’t do that, then these solutions become very, very commercial,” Morrison said.

“Let’s not forget there are some things where we are leading in Australia. The way we collect waste in Australia is actually quite efficient. We have a lot of big private companies who do that in Australia, that’s not actually the case here, that’s something they can learn from us.”

Sims Metal Management CEO, Alistair Field, said any contractual arrangement with a city government has to be mutually beneficial.

“We work very closely with New York City and in the times that we have ebbs and flows and commodity cycles, there has to be an understanding of how our business can manage through those cycles. We have seen instances here in the US and throughout the world where that has not worked. So that’s a really key arrangement and our commercial arrangement with business and government,” Field said.

He said that councils and states need to be supportive, particularly in terms of land.

“New York City owns this land, but the actual infrastructure and the cost of the capital we provided, so I think that arrangement or that type of arrangement is really important if you want a sustainable operation going forward.”

Morrison said many of the levers are in the hands of the states when it comes to what they can access in terms of land, but also the energy costs in Australia are higher than they are in the US, and that needs to be addressed.

“One of the exciting things about waste management is that waste management can generate its own energy, and plants like this can potentially become – can become – fully energy self-sufficient through the recycling of the waste, and converting that through gasification and other processes into energy,” he said.

Morrison said facilities like the Sims plant, offer real scope and hope in terms of what can be achieved for circular economy in Australia.

“There are many environmental challenges that we face, and we need to take action on all of them, but this one for Australia, in a highly urbanised society, one where our waste is our responsibility, these are the commercial solutions that we need to have in place. And this will be a centrepiece of our focus, not only on our domestic environmental agenda, but on our international environmental agenda.”

In moving forward with improving Australia’s domestic recycling infrastructure, a Meeting of Environment Ministers is taking place on November 8.