A ban on exporting waste glass will be implemented by July 2020, with mixed waste plastic to follow by July 2021 and remaining waste product bans coming into play by mid-2022.
The timetable was proposed at a Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM) held in Adelaide on November 8.
The ninth meeting of Australia’s environment ministers put forward the progressive phase out of problem waste exports, while also committing to ambitious waste reduction targets for all states and territories under a New National Waste Action plan.
The federal, state and territory ministers reaffirmed their commitment to working together to deliver practical environmental outcomes that address the range of challenges facing our environment.
The ministers agreed that the phase out should be completed by the following dates:
- All waste glass by July 2020;
- Mixed waste plastics by July 2021;
- All whole tyres including baled tyres by December 2021; and
- Remaining waste products, including mixed paper and cardboard, by no later than 30 June 2022.
A joint statement from the environment ministers after the meeting explained that the timetable reflects the unique challenges of each jurisdiction, and the preparedness of some jurisdictions to complete the phase out ahead of schedule.
The ministers will further test the timetable with industry and local government, while also developing response strategies and undertaking independent market analysis.
The decision follows the August 2019 Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) charging environment ministers with the development of a time-table for banning the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.
All jurisdictions acknowledged that resourcing, from the Federal government, states and territories, and industry will be required to effectively implement the ban.
In early 2020, ministers will provide further advice on final timetables, definitions and response strategies to first ministers for their confirmation.
In a statement, Waste Management and Resource Recovery of Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan said that WMRR supports the ministers’ decision to roll out the export bans in a phased approach and to test this timetable with industry and local government while developing response strategies and undertaking independent market analysis.
“We also welcome the announcement of increased national leadership by the Federal government.
“The intention here is absolutely correct and strongly supported, although the devil will be in the details for this to be a success. There is still a real and imminent risk that the ban will do nothing more than mandate landfilling as there continues to be a significant lack of focus and funding for remanufacturing and procurement of post- consumer recyclate, particularly for packaging,” she said.
Further discussions at MEM included an agreement by environment ministers to a new National Waste Policy Action Plan that will drive the implementation of Australia’s National Waste Policy.
It includes a target to achieve an 80 per cent recovery rate of material across all waste streams, as well as significant increases to government procurement of recycled materials. The ministers also agreed on a target to halve the amount of organic waste sent to landfill.
Sloan said that while WMRR acknowledges that ministers have also agreed to a new National Waste Policy Action Plan, the association continues to question how Australia can meet this new norm without developing stronger, enforceable requirements around, and commitments to, market development, investment in post-consumer recyclate, and ensuring manufacturers of products are made responsible for their materials at end-of-life.
“Add to this the requirement that Australia must now develop significant reprocessing manufacturing facilities for paper and plastic within the next 18 months (when this has not materialised in the last 18 months since China), without commensurate certainty around demand, let alone the challenges of planning approvals, and we still have a very difficult path to travel,” Sloan explained.
Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly said applauded the federal and state environment ministers for agreeing on the National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019, which she highlighted as a positive step forward for Australia’s waste management and resource recovery system.
“APCO was involved closely during the consultation and evolution of this approach and is proud to be identified as a key delivery partner for a range of actions moving forward. In particular, we look forward to working with Planet Ark to develop and launch the Circular Economy Hub online platform and marketplace.
“We acknowledge the support of ministers as we strive to be more ambitious, and in particular work with industry and key stakeholders to develop a revised target for the use of recycled content in all packaging. In practical terms, today’s announcement reinforces the collective efforts of the entire supply chain, including APCO’s members, to deliver a truly sustainable packaging system for Australia, as we continue the transition to a circular economy,” Donnelly said.
All ministers committed to identifying any significant procurement opportunities over coming months such as major road projects that could use significant amounts of recycled material, with the Federal government agreeing to take a lead.
The Federal government will prioritise work with states and territories and relevant industry and standards bodies to develop engineering specifications and standards to support the use of recycled materials in building, construction and infrastructure development, for use across all jurisdictions. The government will then report back on progress at the next MEM.
A cross-sector reference group involving government, non-government organisations, industry groups and business representatives will also be established to review progress on the Action Plan’s implementation. To support the delivery of strategies within the Action Plan, ministers also agreed to encourage major battery manufacturers to participate in a new Battery Stewardship Scheme to improve the rate of battery recycling.
Additionally, container deposit schemes (CDS) will be harmonised. Ministers for those states and territories with a CDS agreed to expand and harmonise the scope and alignment of schemes and product labelling for beverage manufacturers. Ministers agreed to write to APCO to set out their expectations with respect to new packaging targets.
Greater access to data is also on the cards with ministers agreeing to work together to digitally transform environmental assessment systems – providing greater access to shared environmental data, less duplication and greater transparency. Frustrations with current inaccessibility to both proponents and environmental groups has been identified as a key area to address within the review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which is currently taking place.
While WMRR was optimistic about many of the outcomes of MEM, Sloan said it is “disappointing that despite the writing being on the wall, ministers did not explicitly recognise the significance and necessity of a mandated product stewardship scheme for packaging”.
She said that current voluntary schemes have not worked. WMRR also called for government procurement to have mandated targets so that the industry can invest with certainty knowing that this demand will remain in place long term.
“As this plan is being developed, WMRR urges ministers to consider how to ensure these targets will be enforced and what systemic changes need to be made to allow all jurisdictions to meet them. Otherwise, these targets are at best meaningless and at worst, will lead to perverse outcomes such as increased landfilling,” Sloan said.
As well as waste management and resource recovery issues, the environment ministers discussed climate change, costal erosion and the protection of heritage sites among other environmental issues.