Industry News

Public projects may kickstart domestic recycling solution

In a solution aimed at tackling Australia’s escalating waste problem, the Federal Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environment Management Trevor Evans has suggested infrastructure projects could hold the key to reducing mounting stockpiles of recyclable material.

Since China’s decision in 2017 to no longer import contaminated plastic recyclables from Australia, the country’s waste sector has been searching for new solutions and investment to invigorate the domestic recycling market.

The withdrawal of such a major market has had a major impact, particularly in Victoria where it has contributed to the collapse of recycling giant SKM Recycling, leading to fears that hundreds of tonnes of kerbside recycling products will now head for the landfill.

Evans told Guardian Australia the government was preparing to unveil “ambitious” new targets that would require all states and territories to spend a portion of their procurement budgets on recycled materials for public infrastructure projects. 

With the government set to undertake a $100 billion infrastructure program over the next 10 years, he planned to confirm an agreement from state and territory environment ministers for the new targets at some point this year.

“I would like to see all of the states and the Commonwealth agree that by X date, X percentage of their significant procurement programs will be made of recycled materials,” he said.

“We need a critical mass of demand in order to help business and innovators come up with the supply solution.

“There are some significant stockpiling problems around Australia, where I think if we can create markets for demand, that would be our best possible chance of realising the value of those stockpiles.”

Industry and government meet

On 6 August, Evans joined the Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D'Ambrosio to meet with the National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) in Melbourne.

The meeting focused on measures to solve recycling challenges, strengthening markets for recycled materials, new infrastructure capacity and the manner in which waste levies should be managed and reinvested into the future.

{{quote-A:R-W:175-I:2-Q:“We need a critical mass of demand in order to help business and innovators come up with the supply solution” -who:Trevor Evans, Federal MP}}“With recycling services under threat in Victoria, growing stockpiles across the country, exemptions revoked for the recovery of organics from mixed waste in New South Wales, now has never been a more important time for industry and government to work closely together,” NWRIC chair Phil Richards said.

The NWRIC leadership emphasised the importance of long term infrastructure planning co-ordination across all levels of government, as well as consistent, regular community education campaigns to rebuild confidence in recycling.??

The NWRIC also suggested local procurement of recycled materials and setting appropriate recycled content levels for packaging and civil construction could “revitalise domestic recycling”.

Additionally, a national levy pricing strategy through the Council of Australian Governments could prevent the inappropriate disposal and movement of waste, stop levy avoidance activities, and ensure the resource recovery industry is viable and competitive.

“Essential to advancing industry is removing inconsistencies between states and territories on what waste is levied, where the liability for the waste levy sits, how far waste can be moved, and how the levy is administered through a mutually agreed Waste Levy Protocol,” the industry body stated.

“Finally, the NWRIC calls for all state governments to be more transparent and accountable for the total amount of levies collected annually, what proportion of the levies are invested back into the waste and recycling sector, and what outcomes are achieved.”

Backing innovative solutions

In further efforts to energise domestic recycling, the Federal Government last week committed $20 million to innovative recycling projects, including encouraging new ways of recycling glass and crumbed tyres. Such materials can already be used as substitutes for conventional construction materials in roadworks.

Available through the Co-operative Research Centre grants program, which opened on 13 August, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the funding was part of the government’s plan to work with the states to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

“We are committed to protecting our nation’s environment while also building our capacity to turn recycling into products that people want and need,” he said.

The Australian Industry Group (AIG) called on some state governments to do their part to help mobilise the sector.

“The [Victorian] State Government is sitting on a Sustainability Fund of hundreds of millions of dollars. At least some of this should be used to encourage the development of recycling capabilities and to create systems to recover waste to overcome the crisis in this essential service area,” AIG Victorian head Tim Piper said.

“This should be done in partnership with industry. There are companies willing to invest in new processes. They need certainty of policy, certainty of contracts and government assurance that planning processes can be pursued quickly.

“In the meantime, in the interests of public health and until new facilities are available, the waste should go to controlled landfill rather than to have accumulating piles of uncontrolled waste.”


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