Inaugural plastics summit will address National Waste Policy

Australia’s first plastics summit opens on Monday March 2, with a specific focus on the progress of the 2018 National Waste Policy Action Plan which has a target of phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2025. Department of Agriculture, Water and The Environment Minister, Sussan Ley is hosting the Summit at Parliament House in Canberra.

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Review into Australia’s recycling standards calls for improved communications and leadership

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.”

 

Victorian government steps up with major recycling investment 

The Victorian government will invest $129 million through the state’s Sustainability Fund to support local councils to roll out a new system from 2021. The funding package includes a four-bin kerbside recycling scheme across the state to begin next year and the introduction of a container deposit scheme by 2023. 

Premier Daniel Andrews said that the investment will mean more local recycling, more jobs, and less waste going to landfill.

The funding commitment has been positively received by the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR). CEO, Gayle Sloan has described the Victorian Government as “leading the way”.

“Victoria’s government again leads the way by committing significant new funds towards our essential industry to help solve the challenges that we continue to face,” she said.

$49.5m will fund the strengthening of Victoria’s waste and recycling industry and infrastructure, to process more materials locally. This investment includes $28m in funding for businesses to invest in infrastructure through Recycling Victoria Infrastructure fund grants.

The Victorian government will also invest $30.5m to support local, and attract new, manufacturers make new products using recycled materials, through the Recycling Victoria Recycling Markets Acceleration package.

There will be also $10m in funding to help businesses improve resource efficiency, reduce waste, and increase recycling.

A new $7m Business Innovation Centre will be established to bring together industry, universities, and councils to develop new technologies and collaborate on creative solutions to waste challenges.

“We’ll roll out a behavioural change and education program to help Victorians waste less and recycle correctly. We’ll also regulate the waste and recycling sector, as an essential service with a new waste and recycling Act and a waste authority,” Andrews said.

Sloan said that WMRR was pleased that the Victorian government has flagged infrastructure investment as part of this package.

“This will be key to driving success as we work with government to continue to grow markets domestically for these valuable resources,” Sloan said.

By committing funding, the Victorian government gives industry confidence that they are at the table with us, working with us to solve these challenges. Our essential industry alone cannot solve these recent challenges. It is a shared responsibility that requires all parts of the supply chain including government and the community to work together to solve,” she added.

Sloan qualified her comments by stating that Australian market development and remanufacturing demand cannot be achieved by one state alone.

“As we head towards the COAG meeting next month and impending export bans, it is vital that there be national action on creating markets and demand for recycled products, this includes emphasis on design, a mandated product stewardship scheme for packaging and national specifications.”

Victoria has taken the lead in investing in industry, however we are at a cross roads nationally – do we head down the path that creates jobs, builds an Australian  remanufacturing sector, and reduces carbon emissions, or do we continue to act as if business as usual and a big stick will get us there?”

2020 could be an exciting time for our essential industry if all jurisdictions take the lead that Victoria has; commit new and real monies to infrastructure, research, technology, and markets. Let’s hope this happens and our essential industry gets the chance to create an onshore manufacturing industry and real jobs,” she concluded.