Learned academy warns of need ‘to design for waste avoidance’

Leading scientists and engineers have warned that National Waste Policy Action Plan goals will be “difficult to achieve without focusing on avoidance”.

A new report from the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, Towards a Waste-Free Future, has found that while the plan prioritises avoidance in principle, its “measures are heavily weighted towards waste collection and recycling, rather than avoidance, reuse, repair of remanufacture”.

The report’s authors also said the stakeholders they had consulted were “overwhelmingly” of the view that the availability of new and suitable technology in the waste and resource recovery sector was not the core barrier to technology uptake.

“Nor is workforce availability or skills, or societal readiness for change.

“The main challenge appears to be that Australia does not have the right economic, policy and regulatory frameworks to provide certainty and incentivise investment and innovation in a thriving waste and resource recovery sector.”

The report recommends a “paradigm shift to design for waste avoidance” – which it says the Commonwealth could accelerate by:

  • Targeting manufacturing grant programs and tax incentives toward innovative design for waste avoidance or minimisation (eg, product as a service, and reusable products), and sustainable use of recycled content;
  • Creating standards and certification systems for reused and remanufactured goods to build consumer confidence and promote the design of products with reuse and refurbishment in mind;
  • Creating a legislated consumer right to repair products, starting with electronics; and
  • Ensuring all costs and regulations apply equally to imports and Australian products to disincentivise “free rider’ or dumping behaviour.

Other recommendations include a systems approach to increase resource productivity and recovery, and improved information quality, quantity, timeliness, and transparency to inform decision-making by policymakers, businesses, and consumers.