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Australian recycling capacity magnified by $190m

The Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) created by the federal government and shored up with $190 million is geared to generate another $600 million of industry recycling investment and drive a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said that the RMF will produce more than 10,000 jobs and divert more than 10 million tonnes of waste from landfill to the creation of “useful products”. Her office has also advised Inside Waste that the various states will shortly make statements about their involvement.

The RMF will achieve its purpose by supporting innovative investment in new infrastructure to sort, process and remanufacture materials such as mixed plastic, paper, tyres and glass. The funding is reliant on co-funding from industry, states and territories.

Additional funds are also being committed:
• $35 million to implement Commonwealth commitments under Australia’s National Waste Policy Action Plan, which sets the direction for waste management and recycling in Australia until 2030,
• $24.6 million on Commonwealth commitments to improve our national waste data so it can measure recycling outcomes and track progress against our national waste targets,
• The introduction of new Commonwealth waste legislation to formally enact the Government’s waste export ban and encourage companies to take greater responsibility for the waste they generate, from product design through to recycling, remanufacture or disposal (Product Stewardship).

Transforming the waste paradigm
This move has been long-awaited by the WARR industry and, as Ley has previously told Inside Waste, are part of a national strategy to change the way Australia looks at waste, grows the economy, protects the environment and reaches a national resource recovery target of 80% by 2030.

“As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy,” Ley said. “Australians need to have faith that the items they place in their kerbside recycling bins will be re-used in roads, carpet, building materials and a range of other essential items.

“At the same time, we need to stop throwing away tonnes of electronic waste and batteries each year and develop new ways to recycle valuable resources. As we pursue National Waste Policy Action Plan targets, we need manufacturers and industry to take a genuine stewardship role that helps create a sustainable circular economy. This is a once in a generation opportunity to remodel waste management, reduce pressure on our environment and create economic opportunity,” she said.

Unparalleled expansion

Assistant minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, Trevor Evans, who has been working closely with the industry since his appointment last year, said that the unparalleled expansion of Australia’s recycling capacity followed close consultation with industry.

“Our targeted investment will grow Australia’s circular economy, create more jobs and build a stronger onshore recycling industry. Australian companies are turning plastics and household waste into furniture, decking, fencing and clothing, and we are developing new domestic markets for recycled materials. By setting national standards for recycled content in roads and making recycled products a focus of procurement for infrastructure, defence estate management and general government purchasing we can develop these markets.

“Our targeted investment will grow Australia’s circular economy, create more jobs and build a stronger onshore recycling industry. Companies are already advancing with The Pact Group announcing a $500 million investment in facilities, research and technology, Coca-Cola Amatil committing to new recycling targets, and Pact, Cleanaway and Asahi Beverages establishing a $30 million recycling facility in Albury,” he said.

This expansion of Australia’s recycling capacity follows the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan, Australia’s government ban on exports of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, and this year’s first-ever National Plastics Summit.

Opposition says funding overdue

Although the Labor Opposition described the announcement as “long-overdue” shadow assistant minister for the environment,  Josh Wilson acknowledged that it will help address a major gap in local reprocessing capacity at a time when investing in sustainable jobs is key.

“We look forward to further detail about the funding and especially the timelines, considering it is 6 months until the ban on glass exports and 12 months until the ban on plastic exports. Let’s be clear, recycling and reprocessing infrastructure is only one part of the major reform needed to deal with Australia’s waste crisis.  Recycled material needs a commercial end-user and it is folly to think the market is ready to deal with the anticipated volume.”

Wilson said that the government knows we need action across the full waste-to-resource-to-manufacturing cycle.

“That requires innovation to design-out waste and design-in re-use and recycling; it requires product stewardship reform so that producers take responsibility for the life cycle of their products; it requires further improvements to collection and sorting, and infrastructure for recycling and reprocessing infrastructure; and it requires procurement to support demand at a necessary scale to kick-off what should be a job-creating surge in Australian manufacturing.

“Unfortunately this announcement is belated action on one part of that integrated picture. It does not address the critical area of regulatory reform, indeed after two years we are still waiting on the completion of a review of the Product Stewardship Act.  And there is still no detail on how demand for recycled content will be supported through meaningful procurement targets and related mechanisms.”

He added that the Government has commissioned an independent analysis that shows Australia may require a 400% increase in recycling infrastructure capacity to cope with the additional waste from the export ban, and a Plastic Waste Summit at which no clear policy or funding was announced.

“Labor has always said that direct funding for the strengthening of Australia’s waste industry is vital, which is why we promised $60 million for a national recycling fund during the 2019 election. Until today, all Scott Morrison was willing to offer was repackaged funding that was already available in the form of loans through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.  And only last month we learned that not one cent from this fund had yet been allocated,” he concluded.