Today I attended the Meeting of Environment Ministers where the topical issue of waste and recycling was discussed at length. The meeting was chaired by the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Energy, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, who expressed immediate support for more sustainable solutions.
In opening the meeting, Minister Frydenberg invited me to speak about the impact of the China Sword import restrictions on local councils – some immediately, most over coming months or at their next pricing cycle.
The critical issues go well beyond short-term funding relief, as welcome as it has been from the Victorian and NSW Governments. What matters more is the creation of profitable uses and products for recycled materials, preferably onshore, if we are to lift the price points for plastics back to viable levels.
Local government’s perspectives on this issue were of great interest to all environment ministers. As a key service provider in waste collection and recycling, councils are shouldering much of the financial impact as a consequence of China’s decision and this is unsustainable for many councils and their rate-paying residents. With many more councils likely to experience problems in the short and medium-to-long term as contracts are due for re-tendering, a solution must be found soon.
In saying this, there will need to be a range of solutions and responses implemented and there was broad support for the following:
- reducing waste at source and making it easier for products to be recycled
- making all packaging 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025
- striving for lower contamination levels through greater awareness and consumer education
- increasing domestic recycling capacity and capability, and
- increasing demand for products made from recycled materials, through government and industry procurement programs, and creating new markets.
Waste to energy or biofuels were also discussed as needing further evaluation. However, a clear priority was expressed for reducing, reusing or recycling materials before considering destruction or conversion as options.
I commend the progress and efforts made by the states and Commonwealth in this area in a relatively short period of time as this is a complex and multi-faceted issue. Effort from all three tiers of government will ensure that we get a solution that not just responds to this immediate crisis but provides a long-term sustainable outcome.
Mayor David O’Loughlin