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Australia’s ban on export of recyclables could be implemented as early as next year

The Federal government anticipates that a ban on the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres could be implemented from as early as next year.

Led by Australia’s Environment Minister Sussan Ley, all of Australia’s Environment Ministers will meet in Adelaide on November 8 to discuss the implementation of a timetable to ban the export of these materials.

The meeting follows a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in August, in which ministers agreed on the ban, with a commitment to building a sustainable domestic remanufacturing industry in Australia.

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans said the days of Australia sending its recyclable waste to other countries for reprocessing are over.

“We will build the capacity of Australia’s domestic recycling industry, so that we can do it ourselves. This is a huge opportunity for Australia to seize.

“In the longer-term, instead of exporting our paper and plastic waste, we want to see Australia exporting our Australian technology and our recycling know-how – to help other countries, especially those in our region here in the south-west Pacific, to better manage their waste, thereby helping to tackle the global problem of waste and pollution,” Evans said.

“This can not only help grow a multi-billion-dollar industry in Australia, and create the jobs that we want to see right across this country, but will also help to improve the environment across the planet in practical and meaningful ways. It’s a clear example of where good policy for the environment is also good economics, it’s a win-win,” he said.

Ley said the National Meeting of Environment Ministers in Adelaide will hear a clear challenge from the waste industry for all levels of government to step up and be part of a national recycling solution.

She visited a mixed recycling facility in the Southern Hemisphere in Perth in early October, followed by a roundtable with West Australian industry leaders, which she said highlighted both the shared and the and unique issues being faced around the country.

“WA has achieved consistency across local government areas when it comes to what goes into recycling and what doesn’t, but [it] faces challenges due to its small population and vast expanse. The state’s proximity to Asia has also led to a heavy reliance on export markets.

“It is a reminder of the differing challenges we face across the country,” Ley said.

She said that meeting underlined the industry’s view that there is a way forward and investment is available to build necessary onshore recycling capacity.

“Governments need to work together and to look for opportunities within the current infrastructure boom to grow our remanufacturing capability.”

In the October/November edition of Inside Waste, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, Gayle Sloan, said that there is no doubt that Australia’s waste and resource recovery (WARR) industry has long preferred to manage its waste and resources domestically, as relying on overseas markets is simply not sustainable, given countries are governed independently and have their own policies, adding to general uncertainty in global export markets.

“However, today, industry is still hamstrung by Australia’s linear culture (we take, use, and dispose), and we cannot change the national paradigm or grow demand and use of recovered resources alone.

“We need assistance and leadership from stakeholders who have responsibility for other aspects of the manufacturing supply chain, as well as our governments (at all levels),” Sloan said.

She agreed that Australia needs a long-term remanufacturing sector – just as it needed when the China National Sword policy came into effect.

“We need more manufacturers to buy our materials previously demanded overseas, right here in Australia.

“We need mandated government (at all levels) procurement, we need to move now to buying recycled materials. We know that right now – today – we can put recycled glass into roads, recycled plastics into street furniture, recycled tyres into playgrounds – all of which reduces the need for new materials and creates viable markets for more of our recycled materials. We just need government to mandate this, creating market certainty and Australian jobs,” Sloan said.

The Federal government is exploring a mandate, but there are no secure plans to do so.

Ley said markets are critical and the principle of state, local and Federal governments mandating the inclusion of recycled, or more correctly remanufactured materials, is something the government needs “to look at very seriously”.

Driving a circular economy

As part of keeping goods onshore, the Australian government has committed $167 million to an Australian Recycling Investment Plan that will support moves towards a more circular economy.

Furthermore, in October, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between officials from Holland and Australia to boost commitments towards a more circular economy.

The agreement between Holland Circular Hotspot and Planet Ark’s Australian Circular Economy Hub aims to help create a new online tool to boost recycling and reuse efforts.

Evans, who witnessed the signing of the MoU, said the Circular Economy Hub will create an online marketplace to match buyers and sellers of waste resources – like an eBay for waste resources.

“Having healthy markets for recycled goods and commodities avoids stockpiles of materials just growing and growing, which could then become a problem in itself.”

The agreement forms the basis for future cooperation and sharing of knowledge between Australia and the Netherlands about best-practices on the circular economy, sharing technology, research and science, and sharing practical insights about how a commercially-led transition to a more circular economy can be achieved worldwide.