CEO Report: Inside Waste February - March 19 Issue

If 2018 is described as the year Australia’s waste and resource recovery industry was thrown into disarray, then let 2019 be known as the year of real and measurable action.

Over the last 12 months and on various stakeholder levels, much has been discussed about the need for Australia to develop and grow its recycled remanufacturing capacity as well as drive market demand for domestic remanufactured product. But if we take stock of the year that’s passed, have we as a country made great strides forward? Sadly, the answer is no.

2018 has put our essential industry in the spotlight and on our politicians’ agenda, and community has reaffirmed what we’ve long known – they want and support resource recovery. But the responses, initiatives, and measures largely developed by State governments are only short-term solutions. We are still nowhere close to where we need to be to both resolve our waste and resource recovery challenges and develop a sustainable remanufacturing sector.

Industry has been working on building capacity and is poised for growth, but the slow pace at which the Government at all levels is moving, coupled with several State-based policies that go against our shared vision of building a truly circular economy in Australia, means that operators continue to face significant, and in some cases, increased pressure.

Industry is working hard to find homes for resources that were previously exported; I believe we all want to grow our processing abilities to manage the 68 million tonnes of waste generated annually in Australia. But market demand for domestic recycled products is still sorely lacking - we are continuing to export materials only to later import recycled content - and this is where the Federal Government needs to step in, and step in quickly to address this market failure, because it can and must use different levers to grow both the demand and local market for Australian-made recycled products. Proper funding and implementation of the National Waste Policy is key to moving forward but disappointingly, and in fact alarmingly, Environment Ministers failed to adopt the policy at the December Meeting of Environment Ministers.

Ministers said at the time that while they agreed with approaches of the policy, further work needed to be done on the roadmap and as such, implementation has been delayed. What is worse is that even though our essential industry contributes $15.5 billion to the Australian economy, not to mention the significant levy reserves and payments made to most states, there was no funding committed to support the policy.

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has been at the table from the outset and will continued to engage with the all Environment Ministers over the coming months. For Australia to grow its remanufacturing capacity, investors and industry require long-term certainty that comes from a commitment by Governments to collaborate and develop onshore markets, and importantly, to support and work with our essential industry.

WMRR will continue to call on the Federal Government quicken its pace and get on with the job, and to act on key positions that WMRR has consistently advocated for:

  1. A national proximity principle, which will go a long way in providing certainty around material flows, in turn encouraging investment.
  2. A level playing field, including a common approach to levies, resource recovery orders and exemptions, as well as market development.
  3. Product stewardship and extended producer responsibility schemes - strengthening regulatory settings being the way forward, particularly for packaging where a strong product stewardship model must be adopted.
  4. Procurement and market development - the Federal Government has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership by developing specifications that utilise Australian-made recycled products as well as procuring Australian recycled products.
  5. A whole-of-government approach, including the use of levers such as tax incentives. WMRR is urging the Federal Government to consider how taxation and importation incentives and/or disincentives can be used to encourage the use of domestic recycled materials.

China’s National Sword policy highlighted the gaping hole in Australia’s resource recovery system and offered a rare opportunity to exponentially grow our onshore processing capacity, and along with that Australian jobs! We’ve lost 12 months with little to no action, but we have 2019 to turn this around because at our doorstep sits a 68 million tonne per annum opportunity where 9.2 jobs can be created for every 10,000 tonnes of materials recycled (compared to 2.8 jobs for export).

WMRR is determined to make 2019 a year of action and we can only do what we do through the support and contribution of our members. To our members, thank you.

Looking ahead, there is little doubt that we are on the cusp of change and this year, we have changed our name to the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia to better reflect and represent the needs of our growing and diverse membership base.

Over the next 12 months, we will continue to promote and advocate for our essential industry to drive investment, economic and job growth as well as protect the community and environment. WMRR hopes you will join in the conversation and continue to support the association in our important work. Membership renewal is now open so please ring the WMRR national office on (02) 8746 5000 for more information.

Gayle Sloan
Chief Executive Officer