A Review of standards and specifications for recycled content products released by the Department of Environment and Energy highlights a diverse range of issues. The Review includes details on current documentation for the use of recycled materials in product manufacturing, buildings and infrastructure work.
Equilibrium, an environment and sustainability strategy and management company, prepared the Review and consulted with key stakeholders. The Review found that the absence of any particular standards or specifications may be obstructing the take-up of recycled materials.
Equilibrium researchers said that they communicated with relevant industries and sectors as opposed to specific professional roles and disciplines. Those who gave feedback included professionals and managers across several key disciplines including engineering and applied technology, environment and sustainability, policy procurement, commercial and business development.
The Review stated that key parties haven’t always communicated effectively, with stakeholders being very dispersed. A significant lack of national leadership and harmonisation by government was seen as a major barrier. Slow pace, intangible outcomes and soft targets challenged the industry’s ability to progress the development and uptake of standards.
Stakeholders felt that the lack of certainty in markets and regulatory environment prevented investment by the waste and recycling industry in facilities that refine recovered materials into raw materials or recyclate. The lack of demand in Australia for manufactured finished product due to the decline of the local manufacturing industry and minimal consumer demand for products using recycled materials along with no regulated requirement were considered significant issues delaying ongoing development of relevant and widely adopted standards and specifications.
A significant barrier identified within the Review was manufacturers having access to cheaper virgin alternatives resulting in them bypassing recyclate.
Meanwhile, peak bodies agreed on some standards and specifications, while individual engineers and professionals were deemed to be typically risk averse and reluctant to immediately embrace the value and potential of recycled content products when price is the only consideration.
Although the stakeholders who were consulted stated that there is a place for mandatory instruments to ensure higher levels of recycled content in products, buildings, and infrastructure, these need to be identified and assessed on their individual merits and performance. The procurement process was also considered a priority and needs to be taken seriously by all potential stakeholders along the entire supply chain.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO Gayle Sloan expressed her disappointment with the arrival of another review, pointing to a lack of recommendations, timelines, or targets.
However, Sloan added that WMRR was pleased that at least the National Waste Policy Action Plan called repeatedly for standards, specifications and procurement targets to be in place by this year.
“But instead of getting started with the job, industry is now forced to hear that government agencies believe ‘reputational and organisational risk’ are the major hindrances to using recycled content,” she said.
“We need real leadership and willingness to tackle these vital issues. It all starts with design: designing for repair and reuse, design for material minimisation, designing out waste and designing for stewardship. That way we are not dealing with waste but are recognising resources.”