As we round out 2023 it's important that we reflect on how far we have come and not always focus on what we haven’t achieved (as yet) as Phil Carbins reminded me this week!!  

As a sector we have come a long way, we are firmly in the national conscience with policy and legislation being developed at all levels of government at rates far greater than we have ever seen. Investment continues both with and without government assistance and the community remains committed to ‘doing the right thing’ with increasing conversations about not just ‘recycling’ but also ‘avoidance’, ‘repair’ and re-use'.

In both the cut and thrust of the daily grind and the intensity of some of the challenges, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that our collective efforts are paying off (possibly just not quickly enough, LOL).  If you can, please take time to celebrate the awesome work that you all do in making Australia a better place.

However, it would not be me, if I didn’t have one more wish from Santa for our essential industry. The UN Emissions Report released last month told us what we all know- we are not on track to meet its climate or resource recovery targets, regrettably we are not the only ones. The report found that under current Paris Agreement pledges, the world is on track for a 2.5 degree temperature rise above pre-industrial levels – well above the 1.5 degree pathway. 

I will say it one more time - we cannot continue with business as usual and hope the bin fairies will magically solve this. 

As an industry, we know that we cannot keep extracting more from our planet - hence we recycle and create secondary raw materials that can be used as inputs into Australian manufacturing! We know that Australia needs to stop using virgin materials - use less, and use over and over - isn't that what the national waste policy action plan targets are intended to do? 

So here is my Christmas wish to Santa - let’s imagine this… fast forward to May 2024 and the Australian Environment Ministers’ Meeting has just wrapped up and issued its Communique. I am looking for something like this:

Australia’s Environment Ministers met today agreeing to take strong, practical and decisive action to set the country on a path to a circular economy by 2030. Ministers acknowledged that on current trajectories Australia would not hit targets and that the country need to take urgent action on a suite of measures.

National Framework 

Ministers agreed to adopt a national framework for waste and resource recovery (WARR) to be implemented from 1 January 2025. This framework will be based on the European Union Waste Directives and utilising the knowledge from the Circular Economy Action Plan. The Federal Government will lead the development of this framework and coordination across the states and territories. Ministers agreed that all material has value and that those bringing it to market are responsible for extending life and end of life.

This framework will include design standards to ensure all material can be safely recovered. Non-recoverable materials will be banned from 1 September 2024 to allow businesses time to adjust and runout existing material.

Ministers agreed to harmonise and streamline planning and approval processes for WARR facilities to ensure the timely delivery of the essential infrastructure required for this framework. Ministers noted this framework and harmonisation would create certainty for businesses to invest in new and upgraded WARR infrastructure to grow domestic remanufacturing and create green jobs. The Federal Government will lead a working group based on best practice and Ministers agreed to legislate the changes during the last sitting period of 2024 with a start date of 1 January 2025. 

Ministers noted there has been an increase in recovery of only one (1) million tonnes over the last two (2) reporting years, whereas Australia needs over ten (10) million additional tonnes recovered over the next seven (7) years (excluding ash recovery) according to the latest data.

Landfill Levy

Ministers endorsed a consistent framework for the application of the state-based landfill levy. Individual states will retain the right to set the rate of the levy. It was also agreed all states and territories would legislate both a proximity principle and a portability requirement to assist in preventing the long-distance transportation of material (to enable investment certainty) and a minimum 50% hypothecation rate of the levies return to the WARR industry for new investment. 

Product Stewardship 

At the last meeting in November 2023, Ministers agreed to accelerate product stewardship by better coordination across government. All industry was placed on notice that if voluntary product stewardship schemes were not working, governments would regulate. Following that, Ministers have agreed to introduce mandatory product stewardship for the following items from 1 October 2024:

  • Batteries – we acknowledge the interim expansion of the existing B-cycle scheme that has been occurring since 1 January 2024 and will be urgently formalising this expanded scheme to include all battery and battery powered products including (but not limited to) vapes, power tools, small electrical items and toys. Membership of the scheme will be mandatory for all importers and producers of batteries and items containing batteries. Federal government will also contribute to funding for vape collection, given the importance of these being disposed of safely. This is a priority action for all governments based on the safety risk posed particularly by the incorrect disposal lithium-ion batteries and fires in WARR trucks and facilities. 
  • Container Deposit Schemes – expanded to all states and territories and to align with the Queensland model which includes wine and spirit bottles. This will make compliance easier for business, reduce confusion for the community, provide high quality input for our manufacturing facilities, create Australian green jobs and deliver a better environmental outcome.

These national schemes are to begin no later than 1 July 2025.  

Ministers again put business and industry on notice that more action is required and if voluntary product stewardship schemes do not work, government will regulate. 

Behaviour Change

Ministers agreed to a fully funded nationwide community education campaign educating on the Waste Management Hierarchy and its operation, and the impact that continued consumption and not following the hierarchy and driving resource efficiency affects climate change. This campaign will be modelled on the WRAP UK: Net Zero Why  Resource Efficiency Holds Answers. Ministers noted that business and community participation and cooperation is vital to the success of reaching Australia’s circular economy targets, including the delivery high quality material streams.  

National Packaging Laws 

At the previous EMM meeting in November 2023, it was agreed the Federal Government would step up as the regulator of packaging standards. This will begin on 1 July 2024 with the introduction of comprehensive new regulations. The Federal Government will mandate the following:

  • Packaging design 
  • Labelling so consumers know what is in the packaging
  • Mandatory Australian recycled content requirements
  • Ban on all 4,000 types of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) including PFAS and replacements

Independent oversight body, with the packaging ‘system’ funded by producers of packaging.

This will empower consumers to make informed choices when they purchase a product and help prevent so-called ‘greenwashing’. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will be given additional powers under Australian Consumer Law to enforce its ‘Environmental and Sustainability Claims’ guidance for business. Consumers need to be able to trust the claims made by businesses about their products and the ACCC will be the tough cop on the beat. 

Minimum Recycled Content 

Ministers have endorsed a plan to introduce a minimum Australian recycled material content in Australian manufacturing. This standard will be developed in consultation with business and the WARR industry with an implementation date of 1 July 2026 to allow businesses time to adjust and for the remanufacturing sector to scale up operations to accommodate the sharp increase in demand for its material. 

This will include a fully funded nationwide education campaign showcasing to business and the community that recycled material is equal or superior in quality to virgin material.

Ministers also committed to a review of government procurement rules to prioritise Australian recycled content in 2024 in order to establish real targets by 2025 to report publicly on.

Over to you Ministers. 

Let’s hope that Santa (and Environment Ministers) get the letter!  

From all of us at WMRR, have a very merry Christmas and a safe and sustainable new year. See you all in 2024 and thanks again for all your bloody hard work!