Australia, Industry News, News

Historic COAG Waste Response Strategy sets the stage for immediate action

The first target of the Waste Response Strategy issued by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) last week is to ban the export of plastic, paper, tyres and glass waste between July 2020 and December 2024.

All waste glass will be banned 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.

COAG clearly stated that the Commonwealth has committed to improving the quality of waste streams, driving demand, supporting investment and leading by example in projects to significantly increase Australia’s recycling rates. It has also committed to collaborating with states and territories that do the same.

It said that our domestic waste and recycling sector needs to be futureproofed and resourced to deliver the waste reduction and recycling outcomes that the community expects.

“Without changes driven by all Australian governments, there is an ongoing risk of stockpiling and illegal waste dumping, rising landfill rates and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions, and business closures as trading markets and the value of materials change,” the statement said.

COAG said that the response strategy is intended to do two things: the first is to explain what the export ban involves, which materials are affected, and the timeframes for implementation.

The second is to set out the system-level and material-specific challenges and complementary actions needed by all levels of government and industry to support transition to the ban and drive broader long-term change in Australia’s waste and recycling sector. Based on the challenges and opportunities outlined in this document, Commonwealth, state and territory governments will announce specific commitments in the lead up to the ban’s commencement.

 Developing markets

According to the strategy, market analysis demonstrates that a key benefit of the export ban is the certainty that it creates for industry. It said that a predictable phased ban, rather than sudden and unpredictable changes in export markets, can assist to reduce further shocks to the waste and recycling sector.

Already there has been a flurry of federal and state initiatives released in the past month and the strategy also stated that, based on the challenges and opportunities outlined in this document, Commonwealth, state and territory governments would announce specific commitments in the lead up to the ban’s commencement.

Historic change

Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley described the strategy as representing an historic change for the environment and the recycling industry. She said that the ban signaled a generational transformation of the recycling industry that could generate $1.5 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years and more than 2000 jobs.

Ley added that the ban was the result of months of consultation with industry, state and local governments, and it represents a fundamental change that recognises waste as resource instead of a problem.

“This is about waking up to an issue that has been buried in landfill for too long,” Ley said.

“Most importantly, it is about Australia saying it is our waste and our responsibility and it is about industry and government being prepared to invest in change,” she added.

The strategy was also clear regarding the challenges facing the waste industry, the governments and the community in pivoting to a new paradigm. It has detailed initial steps in mapping out what all jurisdictions (Inside Waste will detail these in our April/May magazine) must do to tackle these challenges:

  •  Address waste origins and generation

There are opportunities for industry and governments to contribute to changing the materials we use in everyday products, in order to reduce the total volume of low-value or hard to recycle material in the waste stream. Where possible, the best outcome is for waste to be managed, processed and returned to productive economic use close to its point of generation.

  • Kerbside waste collection

This is a significant issue which impacts on the sustainability of collection systems, the value of recycled materials, and the ability for materials to go to their highest value use.

Despite strong community interest and willingness to support strong recycling outcomes, consumer awareness of the ‘right’ way to recycle is limited and there is no consistent approach to labelling to assist the community to determine whether a product is recyclable in Australia.

Additionally, it said that households face mixed messages about what materials can be recycled, as requirements are often local government specific based on which materials recovery facility receives the recycling.

  • Drive domestic demand for recycled products

Increased demand for recyclable materials as inputs for processing, and for products manufactured from these materials, is needed to make new recycling capacity cost effective. Consistent quality and performance standards and specifications can assist in driving industry and household confidence in the use of recycled content and the value of recycled products.

  • Understand resource volumes, value and movement

Governments have been working collaboratively for several years to improve the availability, consistency and specificity of waste data collection and information, including through the National Waste Report and National Waste Account. The movement of waste through metropolitan and regional areas and states and territories and reporting on imports and exports have been identified as a data gap by all Australian governments.

  • Invest in new technologies and infrastructure

Market research to assess national infrastructure capacity has identified significant processing gaps for some materials and new capacity coming online for others. There is a substantial capacity gap in Western Australia, particularly for paper processing.

For high value plastics such as HDPE and PET, there has been investment in new facilities in the past two years and some of these facilities appear to have spare capacity.7 The need to fill existing processing gaps should guide investment decisions in all jurisdictions.

A significant challenge raised in industry consultation is the ability for businesses to secure investment for facilities and equipment upgrades, and to develop and test new technologies for creating value-added products from waste.

  • Coordinate regional recycling capacity

Cross-jurisdictional actions are needed to address the particular waste and recycling challenges associated with remote and regional areas, such as Northern Australia. The transport costs involved in moving waste long distances from its source to processing facilities can significantly increase the total cost of recycling. Dispersed populations can also reduce the cost-effectiveness of collection services.

  • Drive international cooperation

Marine plastic pollution is an issue which goes beyond national borders. Coordination and alignment across the Indo-Pacific region is needed to prevent products like single-use plastic bags from entering the marine environment, and to manage marine plastic debris.

  • Streamline approval processes and requirements

For investment in waste and recycling infrastructure to occur in response to material supply generated from the export ban, state, territory and local government approval processes need to be timely, transparent and fit-for-purpose. Industry has raised the length of time for approval processes as a barrier to investing in major infrastructure projects. Planning approval, community consultation, financing and building takes time. It can take several years to meet requirements and construct a new recycling facility. This can represent a significant cost for business, particularly small businesses.

  • Consider waste levy settings

Waste levies are currently collected in five states (NSW, Victoria, Qld, SA and WA) and aim to reduce the amount of waste being landfilled and promote recycling and resource recovery. States and territories invest a share of this funding in programs and initiatives to support enhanced waste and resource recovery outcomes. Industry, however, has called for a greater proportion of waste levy revenue to be committed to these programs and initiatives.