Just what will it take for the Federal Government to step up to the task it’s been elected to do (lead) and steer the country out of a waste management and resource recovery challenge that has all the makings of an economic and environmental opportunity?
It’s been more than a year since China rolled out its strict import restrictions. “National Sword” is now part of the Australian vernacular and yet, we’ve seen no real action out of the Federal Government (convening meetings does not count). The warnings were loud and clear, act now to build and grow a domestic remanufacturing industry that will create jobs and boost the economy before this happens again. More importantly, let’s do the rebuilding and reshaping work now so that Australia has a secure, sustainable, and future-proof industry for a long time to come. A whole lot of talk, a weak National Waste Policy, and two Meetings of Environment Ministers later and are we anywhere close to commissioning additional remanufacturing capacity? No.
In March, India shut its doors to plastic waste imports while Indonesia announced a requirement to inspect 100% of scrap paper imports before shipment (previously 10%), adding further strain to an industry that wants to grow its domestic processing capacity but is struggling without Federal Government leadership in setting a real course for a circular economy and driving market demand for recycled products.
We’re now at a point where the struggles of our essential industry appear in the news on a weekly, if not daily basis. Yet, the Federal Government has not risen from its slumber but is continuing to hit the snooze button and we all know, you snooze, you lose!
Australia has a Federal Election coming up and it is incredibly important that we continue to call on the Federal Government to stop snoozing and get on with the job. The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) will continue to advocate for the key positions we have been consistently calling for – our five-point plan that needs to be actioned now:
- Leadership in sustainable procurement and market development, including the creation of a strong remanufacturing sector.
- Strengthening product stewardship and extended producer responsibility schemes.
- A national proximity principle.
- A common approach to levies and industry development (with a minimum 50% reinvestment).
- A whole-of-government approach to circular economy, including considering tax reform and import restrictions to support the sector.
WMRR will be writing to, and meeting with, key politicians including the Federal Environment Minister and we are asking members to join us in our call for action by downloading and co-signing WMRR’s five-point plan letter
that can be found on www.wmrr.asn.au and sending this to the MPs in your electorate as well as to both the Federal Minister and the Opposition. WMRR will also develop a suite of educational materials that will highlight the value of our essential industry, correct the misinformation, home in on the efforts of stakeholders, and turn the spotlight on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a remanufacturing industry that will offer thousands of jobs to everyday Australians.
Together, we can push for change. As we have seen on a State level where WMRR works closely and effectively with the various EPAs and Departments of Environment, this can be achieved.
Take NSW for example. Over the last two months, WMRR’s NSW C&D working group and the NSW EPA have been working positively towards resolving the C&D Facility Guideline, meeting with the EPA team and organising site visits to provide insight into the operational realities of resource recovery sites. WMRR is pleased to report that the EPA has shown a strong willingness to work with industry and changes to the guideline are imminent.
Over in Victoria, the Victorian EPA’s ban on SKM receiving materials at its MRFs unsurprisingly caused numerous challenges, what with 45% of the Victorian market and 30-40% of the SA market going to SKM. Sustainability Victoria and the EPA are continuing to consult with WMRR on potential permanent solutions while Visy and the Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority have stepped in to take SKM’s tonnages in SA – proving once again that the industry is a committed and tireless worker.
WMRR is also working with Sustainability Victoria on a recyclable commodities market intelligence pilot, which commenced in March. The aim of the project is to identify opportunities to manage recovered cardboard, glass, metals, paper, and plastics across the value chain.
Turning to Queensland, the State Government’s support for industry is evident, with the Department of Environment and Science sponsoring WMRR’s 2019 Australian Landfill and Transfer Stations Conference at the end of March, and Minister for Environment, the Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP, officially opening the event. The Minister reiterated the Government’s commitment to the waste management and resource recovery industry and while she was speaking in relation to Queensland, her comments accurately capture the current landscape when she told attendees: “There is a groundswell of community support for changing our attitude towards waste… We are at an important moment in time to grow as we move into the future of waste management and resource recovery.”
It is now up to the Federal Government to nurture that growth and not stunt it.