Call for action on recycling

The Federal Government should send a clear message that the challenge facing the recycling industry is a priority issue needing a national response, ALGA and other peak bodies told a workshop in Canberra on Thursday.

The workshop was called to consider the impact of China’s ban on certain recycling materials.

Federal and State Government, ALGA and banking and investment representatives attended the workshop along with representatives from the National Waste and Recycling Council, Waste Management Association of Australia, Australian Council of Recycling, Packaging Covenant and Sustainable Business Australia.

Since 1 January China has implemented a new policy called National Sword which applies increasingly more stringent contamination standards on imported waste and recycled materials. As a result many Australian materials previously accepted have been blocked, causing some severe waste management problems for some councils, particularly in Victoria.

The imports China accept need to have very low contamination rates, in most cases 0.5 per cent or less. An ALGA briefing paper says current Australian contamination levels are often 6 per cent or more.  

The Canberra workshop heard that China’s tighter restrictions probably affects about 40 Material Recycling Facilities and about 8 companies but given the small number of operators in the industry, should it collapse the impact would be significant on the future of recycling in Australia.

Workshop participants thought that the Federal Government was best placed to focus on medium and long-term goals. Greater industry certainty to encourage investment; consumer confidence and choices to encourage recycling and selection of more sustainably designed/made products; and diversification for products and markets, were some ideas to support better medium to long-term outcomes.

Participants agreed there was an opportunity for change which could provide economic benefits and a range of potential uses should be considered. As well as the creation of a “circular” processing economy, the use of some waste materials to create energy was also an area of interest.

The local government sector (ALGA, State/Territory Associations and Councils) can assist by:

  • Sharing and helping collect information such as promotion of surveys which industry is preparing to run on community perceptions of the recycling industry.
  • Keeping communities informed on local recycling programs and any changes, encouraging people to keep up, or even improve on, their recycling habits (such as encouraging cleaner waste streams).
  • Advising of any local issues arising with MRFs, collectors etc regarding contractual arrangements and re-negotiations – such as through their State/Territory Association.
  • Seeking assistance when required when negotiating contracts that include more accurate values of recycling processing in contracts and managing costs to ratepayers.

The ALGA board discussed this issue on Thursday and will be developing policy positions in the next few months to feed into the national response. 

On Wednesday LGNSW President Linda Scott appeared before the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee inquiry into waste and recycling. She urged financial support for the recycling industry and said China’s ban could create local opportunities. “With State and Federal Government support we could develop new regional jobs in a home-grown environmental and recycling industry.”

“But most important is the need to ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars in waste levies collected from the community each year are fully reinvested to support recycling.” She said the NSW Government had collected $659 million from Local Governments in waste levies in 2016-17 but only 18 per cent of that money was returned to Local Government.”

LGNSW is calling for "the NSW Government to dedicate more of the waste levy to the cause for which it was collected – the safe, environmental disposal of waste and all spheres of government to work together to ensure waste levies across Australia are implemented equitably and consistently.”