The COAG Waste Response Strategy has drawn mixed response from senior leaders who, on the whole welcome the strategy, but are concerned that the implementation is unclear and that fast-tracking of specific actions was essential.
The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) said it applauded the strategy, stating that it illustrated a depth of understanding and recognition of the needs of sustainable waste and resource recovery industry in Australia. WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan, said that members felt encouraged to see that governments were in it for the long haul.
Processing facilities needed now
However, she added that it was imperative to fast track infrastructure because there was only two years until the roll-out of the plastics ban and a significant volume of waste plastic to be managed. As a result, Australia needs to start building processing facilities now for them to be up and running ahead of 2022.
“The strategy not only acknowledges that waste plastic is a significant and complex issue, it also takes positive initial steps in mapping out what all jurisdictions must do to tackle this challenge.
Beginning with harmonising policies and programs to phase out single-use and hard to recycle plastics, to the Commonwealth supporting industry to invest in new plastics processing capacity through competitive grant funding, and commercial and concessional loans. These are all incredibly positive steps,” Sloan said.
She added that WMRR also welcomed the funding commitments by states, including WA’s $15 million provision to support local processing of plastics and tyres and $5 million for access to industrial zoned land, and ‘Recycling Victoria’ announced prior to the COAG meeting.
“WMRR appreciates that the federal, state and territory governments are listening and that our essential waste and resource recovery sector remains firmly on the agenda. As we work through the strategy, the industry is committed to working closely with all levels of government to ensure a smooth and successful implementation of the bans, and ultimately, to develop a strong re-manufacturing and reprocessing sector in Australia, driving the country towards a more circular economy,” Sloan said.
However, Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA), executive director Tony Khoury, was more circumspect. He told Inside Waste that he couldn’t find anything in the documentation that detailed how the export bans would be enforced.
Without proper enforcement, he explained, there was a high probability of non-compliance, with good recycling operators placed at a significant disadvantage.
Lack of reference
Khoury also pointed to a lack of reference or commitment to any specific form of funding, stating that as there are three levels of government involved, querying the funding for infrastructure, public education, consistency, and enforcement. He said that the document ignored the issues of existing contracts and, if these bans proceeded, collection and processing contracts could require variation and again, it was unclear who would fund the variations.
“Industry has long argued that a greater proportion of NSW waste levy revenue be committed to support recycling. WCRA recently presented DPIE and the NSW Government with recommendations on how NSW waste levy funds can be used to better support recycling, “Tony Khoury.
At this time, WCRA has not received a reply to these recommendations.
“The COAG documentation is silent on the impacts that these export bans will have on competition in the Australian recycling market. In some cases, the export bans will result in market control by one processor, for example mixed paper & cardboard. WCRA supports the referral by NWRIC to the ACCC for the competition watchdog to investigate this matter.
“There is no commitment in the documentation to government procurement policies that will give preference to Australian recycled content. On one-hand the COAG decision seeks to control what can or cannot be exported from Australia, whilst ignoring what is being imported into Australia.”
“WCRA supports the intent of COAG’s objectives and we also do not support the export of waste products. We applaud COAG for its decision in allowing the export of clean paper/cardboard and that bus, truck and aviation tyres be exported for re-treading to a verified re-treading facility.
But he concluded that the key answered question is which Government Department in Australia would be responsible for signing-off on whether a tyre re-treading facility is lawful, legitimate or otherwise?”
National Waste Recycling Council (NWRC) CEO Rose Read also told Inside Waste that the strategy was a positive move to bring all states together and align with national plans.
“The national response is a very positive initiative by COAG and it clearly puts waste into the category of an essential service. Waste recovery is now being viewed as a supply chain resource and this response acknowledges that business can get materials back into the stream which are delivering added value.
Read said that the national change in thinking about waste as a resource instead of a problem, was a significant paradigm shift that now needed to permeate all levels of government, councils, business and the community.
“Sequencing the demand for these resources in time for industry to use recycled products in construction is critical.”
Despite the funding challenges faced by the governments with the existing COVI-19 crisis, Read was confident that there was enough investment capability within the private sector and from the landfill levy that could underwrite the actions required to more the strategy forward.