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Where to after the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020?

The Australian Government recently launched the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 which introduces the export bans and refreshes the national EPR legislation. But this is just a beginning.

The Bill addresses the 1MT of paper, plastic, tyres and glass that we export as well as the 3 MT of material currently covered by EPR schemes (mainly e-waste and packaging). Put another way that is about 7 per cent of Australia’s waste generation (54MT).

So, while I congratulate the Government and the Minister, Trevor Evans for stepping into the waste/recycling space, it is important to recognise that it is just that. A first step

And the Minister, to his credit, has recognised that.

As the R&WR 2020 Bill is likely to be passed into law, where should the Minister take his energies next?

Well, the obvious place is the National Waste Policy and Action Plan. It sets out the pathway to a sustainable and efficient waste/recycling system with a strong Circular Economy focus embedded in it.

The Minister is also correct in saying he has no Constitutional power over waste. That rests with the states. The Minister’s job is to lead, cajole, entice and fund the states to achieve the National Waste Policy targets.

OK so what are the National Waste Policy Targets? All of this by 2030 (that is in nine short years; except Plastic by 2025):

  1. Ban the export of plastic, paper, glass and tyres. (In train. As above.)
  2. Reduce waste generation per person by 10 per cent (Very difficult and other than Food waste (below) no other actions announced).
  3. 80 per cent average resource recovery rate in all waste streams. (That requires at least another 12MT of recycling/yr and is not possible with current policy settings).
  4. Increase use of recycled content by Government and industry. (Minister has foreshadowed a national revision to Commonwealth procurement rules; little from the States as yet).
  5. Phase out problematic plastic by 2025. (SA just banned single use plastic but little from the other States beyond plastic bag bans).
  6. Halve the amount of organics to landfill (FOGO bins now being rolled out in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne; no rules in the other capitals. Many regional councils going FOGO; but nothing like enough to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in 9 years. No serious actions around C&I or C&D organics and particularly commercial food).
  7. Make timely data available. (The Minister has funding available so expect some movement here).

Additional actions that the industry needs to see, to accelerate reform include at least:

  1. Export bans: Secondary reprocessing grant funding from landfill levy funds.
  2. Waste generation by 10 per cent: A national Circular Economy Strategy that promotes re-use, design for repair, mechanisms to prevent waste being generated (reduce).
  3. 80 per cent Resource Recovery: A National Waste Infrastructure Plan based on a gap analysis, infrastructure funding and planning reform.
  4. Recycled content: Recycled content rules. Mechanisms to grow the markets for recycled materials including State and Commonwealth procurement.
  5. Plastics: Plastic bans before 2025 in all States and Commonwealth.
  6. Organics: Pricing, regulatory and infrastructure actions to achieve the 50 per cent reduction in Food Waste by 2030.
  7. Data: As stated the Minister has some funding for this one. The States need to deliver up the data. All facilities should be licenced and required to supply data. (We do it for water, electricity, aged care, hospitals, schools, childcare facilities etc. But not waste/recycling).

Most importantly we need governments to commit to achieving the targets they set. Every government in Australia (Commonwealth, states, territories and local government) has agreed to the above targets. They now need to set the pricing and regulatory environment for business, community and stakeholders to deliver them. If governments do not reset the pricing mechanisms and/or regulatory settings, then these targets will definitely not be achieved.

Governments have three levers to pull to achieve these actions – price, regulation and education.

Minister Evans has already had a go at regulation. He can do a lot more with mandatory EPR schemes to require Advanced Disposal Fees to fund the recovery of EPR listed waste streams. But he will need the States to cooperate with price, particularly with respect to landfill levies and the infrastructure and services grants derived from it.

The Meeting of Environment Ministers must set their priorities based on their own agreed targets. We have no time to waste. As always, I welcome your feedback on this, or any other topic on ‘The Tipping Point’.

Dimitris Dimoliatis is a principal consultant with MRA Consulting.