WARR in Victoria – a misguided race

 2 November 2021

There has been a flurry of recent activity in Victoria, from the introduction of the Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill into Parliament last week to the release of the waste to energy (WtE) framework yesterday. If it’s all about looking busy, then Victoria is certainly winning the race, though questionable, ill-considered and interventionist action is really not what the Victorian waste and resource recovery (WARR) industry needs from government right now.

The Bill will enable the roll-out of the state’s highly anticipated container deposit scheme (CDS) and while this shows that the government does comprehend the importance of product stewardship, that is where the understanding of our essential industry seems to end. For one, it has been highlighted on several occasions over the last two (2) years that it is simply unnecessary, illogical, and unsustainable to have both a fourth recycling bin for glass paid for by ratepayers and a functioning CDS.

The fourth bin is not the only point of contention, the government will also introduce another fourth – a new Waste Authority – because apparently an EPA, a Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), and Sustainability Victoria are simply insufficient to govern waste and resource recovery (WARR) in the state. Most other Australian states have two (2) agencies, but not Victoria, which has doubled down and gone to four (4)!

“We now have four (4) bodies paid for with monies collected from the landfill levy that will only serve to over govern and overregulate the already highly regulated WARR industry in Victoria, which incidentally, contradicts the intent of the new EP Act that came into force this year to enable a practical approach to enforcement and support voluntary compliance,” WMRR CEO, Ms Gayle Sloan, said. 

“Victoria was arguably the hardest hit by the China waste import ban, and in some ways, it was their approach to industry’s regulatory settings that contributed to these challenges. It is evident that there are far more important priorities that urgently need to be met following the collapse of SKM in 2019, including growing market demand for recyclables, advancing significant procurement tenders and contracts that have been delayed, and building essential and much-needed WARR capacity to drive existing and grow new domestic industries. In doing so, Victoria can maximise environmental benefits such as landfill diversion and carbon emissions mitigation, as well as create jobs and boost local economies, which are even more critical in our post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

“Instead, we are seeing ongoing market intervention and uncertainty, as well as monies being channeled to fund more bureaucrats who simply have no clear understanding of how the WARR industry can work or how to create a circular economy – case in point, it’s called a Circular Economy (Waste Reduction and Recycling) Bill when they are not one and the same. A circular economy designs out waste and pollution, a point that we have been at pains to explain over the years.”

Further, this new body will only commence from 1 July 2022, and given it has ownership of licensing WtE facilities, proponents will not be able to apply for a license till then, leaving a void that has not been filled in almost two (2) years since the government released its WtE policy and cutting it close to a legislated review of the framework in 2023.

“In addition to the lengthy WtE delays that have now been exacerbated, the government has indicated that it will conduct a call for expressions of interest to seek applications from operators interested in accessing the cap, and priority access will be given to local governments in the south-east,” Ms Sloan said.

“What is becoming increasingly clear is that, despite the Victorian government having been proactive in rolling out funding and policies over the last two (2) years, these policies do not reflect intelligent decision-making and the state appears to be losing its way.

“WMRR has always had strong engagement with the Victorian government, and it is appreciated. While industry engagement on the Authority was extremely limited, it is hoped that the government will engage and consult with industry to truly understand what is required in Victoria to drive WARR, build a genuine circular economy and create the investment Victoria so desperately needs in its post-pandemic recovery,” Ms. Sloan concluded.