Significant work still to be done ahead of waste export ban

28 January 2020

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) recognises that the federal government is working hard to understand the reality of the Australian market ahead of the impending waste export ban, however it queries the usefulness and purpose of yet another report that does not offer any new economic analysis to aid decision-making or forward planning, instead simply summarises and pulls information from a selection of existing reports.

While WMRR agrees with some of the observations made in the recently released Recycling market situation summary review, these are neither new nor surprising and have been widely advocated by WMRR and industry over the years. Also, while the Association acknowledges the intent behind the research, it is important that we move beyond consultants reviewing the work of other consultants, and instead talk with those at the coalface – the operators of the waste and resource recovery industry who manage these materials daily and directly and will directly bear the impact (cost and market access) of the ban!

“What is disappointing is that to date, as again evidenced in this report, there is a complete absence of emphasis on product design by manufacturers and the fact that end markets remain lacking. These are major barriers to the effective operating of the waste export bans and overall success of any circular economy. Urgent government action is required not just to ban, but to develop robust policy, regulation and funding frameworks that address these market failures and create demand for recycled materials in Australia. We need real funded solutions that close the loop,” WMRR CEO, Ms Gayle Sloan, said.

“These include interventions by way of national standards for design and specifications, incentives, taxation reform, mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes, and enforceable targets including the use of recycled material. Importantly, the federal government needs to take the lead by committing to procurement of recycled material now. Without these levers, there will continue to be a lack of market demand which begs the question, where do you think materials will end up?

“Now is certainly not the time to start adding other low value material such as soft plastics to the yellow bin rather, we need to standardise nationally what can go in the yellow bin and if producers wish to produce packaging outside of this standard and accepted suite, they need to meet the costs of collecting and recycling those materials. That said, now is absolutely the time to have an open conversation about who should be funding these systems as we cannot continue to expect councils and householders to continue to go it alone; those who produce these materials must be required to contribute as they already do overseas.”

“There is also another part of this equation and that is, Australia is part of a global economy. This means we import and will continue to import a substantial volume of materials, and we do have established export markets for some products that are valued as material inputs into remanufacturing. The bans must be considered against this backdrop and in consideration of the current material flows and potential opportunities in Australia,” Ms Sloan added.

“We must be realistic about Australia’s ability and capacity to utilise all materials domestically and WMRR’s position is that the federal government needs to clarify which streams can and should be exempted if there are export markets and these materials meet internationally recognised export standards and specifications.

“As we inch closer to the July 2020 commencement of the ban on waste glass, we need to recognise that there is still so much work to be done. To put it bluntly, WMRR does not think the bans can be effectively met within the current proposed timeframe – developing necessary infrastructure alone will take years - and if this lack of emphasis on, and intervention in, the rest of the supply chain continues, the concern is that the bans will very likely result in perverse outcomes, including increasing volumes of materials sent to landfill.

"WMRR will continue to work and engage with the federal government, urging our leaders to take crucial immediate next steps and develop a set of levers to grow end markets as well as a mandatory product stewardship scheme for packaging," Ms Sloan concluded.