President’s Column: 7 December

The nation’s environment ministers will meet today at Parliament House in Canberra to review the proposed updated National Waste Policy and discuss other national environmental issues. I’m looking forward to attending in my official capacity as ALGA President and ensuring the issues important to our sector get some traction at this influential forum.

In particular, it’s essential that, as governments, we can drive demand for products that support a circular economy; this includes thinking about how our own sector can contribute to this effort. As part of this discussion, it will be important to ensure the recommended targets and milestones proposed in the updated policy receive adequate financial resources and commitment for implementation in all states and territories.

Unlocking the more than $1 billion still held in state waste funds will be crucial to this end.

This funding is vital to educate consumers, expand council collection systems, invest in industry innovation and efficiencies, and support research and development of new products made entirely or partly from recycled materials. This includes helping fund pilot projects and financially supporting transitions from virgin product feedstock to recycled feedstock.

The secret to accessing higher value for our recyclables is to create market demand for them. If there’s no demand, there’s no market and all we will have is large stockpiles of carefully sorted recycled material – as we do now!

It was impressive to see and hear so much interest from the delegates at the recent ALGA Roads and Transport Congress about emerging road construction materials, such as Downer’s Reconophalt, asphalt made with toner cartridges and plastic bags, and Tyre Stewardships Australia’s evidence on spray seal incorporating used tyre rubber. Better, stronger and more reliable at same price or better. It makes sense to use them. In fact the audience at the Congress was left in no doubt it makes no sense not to use them!

Industry is ready. But are we ready? Are we serious about recycling? Or are we just collectors, transporters and resellers? If we are serious – as surveying tells us 90% of our community want us to be – then have you directed your staff to change your procurement policy? Or change your standard specifications? Or allow alternatives to be accepted during tender assessment? Are you purchasing any new products that incorporate recycled materials? Industry tells us these steps and more are vital if you really want to ‘hand in heart’ tell your community your council is recycling, not just collecting local waste.

ALGA will be working hard over the coming months to see how it can best support ‘circular economy’ procurement in the local government sector and help contribute towards agreed national goals for more sustainable resource recovery which will lead to lower use of virgin resources and, if the road seal examples are any guide, lower costs for communities.

In the meantime, we are hopeful for an endorsement of the National Waste Policy – ALGA will keep you updated on this.

Although change can be difficult to achieve, many hands will make light work of it if we are all working in the same direction.

Let’s stop talking rubbish, and start walking the recycling talk.

Mayor David O’Loughlin

 ALGA President