Policy vacuum, lack of systemic approach leading to exodus of businesses from NSW

2 June 2021

NSW’s non-existent policy and problematic regulatory approach towards material management is resulting in a haemorrhaging of investment from the state, the NSW Parliamentary planning and environment committee was told this week.

The Legislative Council is conducting an inquiry into the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Amendment (Plastics Reduction) Bill 2021 and the committee heard from industry associations yesterday, including the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) and the Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA).

Both WMRR and WCRA provided in-principle support for the bill, but noted that its scope should be broadened.

“The focus must extend beyond single-use plastics and capture single-use products more broadly in order to improve material management from the start of a product’s lifecycle. Anything that cannot be reused qualifies as single-use and should be considered for inclusion in the bill.” WMRR CEO, Ms Gayle Sloan said.

“Importantly, states must ensure that there is national harmonisation in their single-use policies; for example, WMRR supports the inclusion of oxo-biodegradable materials and PLA – a compostable bioplastic derived from plant sugars – in any single-use ban. This is consistent across all states with the exception of Queensland and is captured in the National Waste Action Plan.

“We also do not support the bill’s proposal to establish a commission for single-use plastics as it is too narrow an approach. What NSW needs is a state market development agency, much like Green Industries SA and Sustainability Victoria, that is tasked with tackling infrastructure, policy frameworks, funding, and market development across material streams in a systematic manner. This approach will allow government to determine what is needed across each material stream - whether it’s a ban, which will influence product design, or increased processing and reprocessing – as well as the market demand required to sustain our waste and resource recovery initiatives,” Ms Sloan said.

Unfortunately, NSW trails SA by miles with no overarching long-term strategy to provide pathways that will assist the state in meeting its environmental objectives, as highlighted by WCRA executive director, Mr Tony Khoury, who told the committee that “for at least the last three (3) years, the industry has patiently been waiting for the NSW 20-Year Waste Strategy and for the last two (2) years, we have repeatedly been advised that dealing with NSW energy issues are a greater priority than dealing with the issues of the NSW waste management sector.”

“NSW requires a seismic shift in its thinking towards our essential industry, valuing material, complying with the waste management hierarchy and moving rapidly towards a circular economy – unfortunately, we are missing out on the ability to reduce carbon and create jobs by the policy vacuum we continue to operate within in NSW,” Ms Sloan added.

“With no policy and regulatory certainty, industry is being forced to invest in other states, taking jobs, innovation, money, and environmental benefits such as mitigating carbon emissions away from NSW. It is our hope that the government will release this strategy in the coming weeks and that the paper encompasses a holistic and robust review and rethink of our state’s policy and regulatory frameworks,” Ms Sloan concluded.