From the CEO’s desk – Australia needs its own green deal

3 June 2022

And there we have it – a new government, hopefully marking the start of a new era for Australia. What does this mean for our essential WARR sector, the economy, environment, and community? It is still early days but I am optimistic about what our future holds.

For one, we can finally put the climate change debate (is it real? A hoax?) to rest, with the Labor government promising to put an end to the “climate wars” and become a “renewable energy superpower.” Perhaps Australia will soon be able to ditch its “climate laggard” reputation and take meaningful action on the climate, beyond simply relying on technology (not taxes), amidst an ongoing spate of droughts, fires, and floods. 

It is also heartening to see that the Labor government’s waste and recycling plan includes underwriting innovative manufacturing and supporting industry to increase the use of recycled content in government projects. Let’s hope this means real substantive change to the federal procurement policy, and actual numerical targets reinstated in the National Waste Plan. 

The conversation seems to have started shifting away from linear and end-of-pipe issues that will not shift the dial on circularity (bin lid colours for instance) to how we can improve the demand for Australian recycled content, as well as creating a genuine circular economy. Which, in turn, will be pivotal in our quest to move to a net zero society.

A circular economy is an indispensable component of our efforts to mitigate climate change and transition to a resource efficient, net zero emissions future. Given a circular economy is a big picture concept based on three (3) fundamental principles – designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems - with no straight-line solution and multiple feedback loops, there is a risk of greenwashing, which we are already beginning to see emerge in Australia. The changing conversations are great, but we need to ensure that Australia develops robust policies, regulations, incentives, and initiatives that wholly consider the triple bottom line – profit, people, and the planet, and focus on the start of the supply chain, that is the generator, as much as the remainder of the chain.

So, while I have no doubt that the intent to create a greener Australia is there, coupled by some understanding that we need a paradigm shift, industry still has its work cut out for it. We need to continue painting the full picture of just how significant our WARR industry is in this journey - with us doing the heavy lifting to-date by recycling what the economy and community sends us – so that the federal government can play a strong role over the next four (4) years in setting WARR and Australia up for success.

The sector is already punching above its weight in Australia’s transition to a net zero future. In 2021, 4.95 million of the 17 million Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) were issued to WARR projects, representing 29% of all ACCUs delivered to a total of 561 cross sector projects participating in the Emissions Reduction Fund. The industry can double the number of ACCUs we produce by mitigating our end-of-pipe emissions through landfill diversion, organics processing, and methane recovery. However, there’s more that can be done. We are well placed to assist the entire supply chain in reducing its carbon footprint through a regenerative economy that is supported by re-use, remanufacturing, and repair, where the reduced extraction of virgin materials for product manufacturing as well as extended product lifespan will enhance the reduction of indirect emissions.

On a policy and regulatory level, the former federal government took the first steps towards closing the loop by setting seven (7) National Waste Policy targets; however, what the policy hasn’t done yet is recognise the positive carbon mitigation impacts of WARR processes, nor have materials or funding been prioritised based on carbon impact, which is commonplace in Europe. The plan very much remains an end-of-pipe, closed loop policy that does not consider the first principle of a circular economy – designing out waste and pollution.

While WMRR has developed a comprehensive five (5)-point federal election plan, one that we believe can be achieved over the current government’s term, I believe an important step for the government to move Australia along this journey in a measured and considered way is to develop a green deal, just as the US and EU have done.

A green deal that adopts proposals to develop fit-for-purpose climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies to reduce our net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 43% by 2030 (which is Labor’s commitment) is essential if we want to protect the environment and human health, while safeguarding profits, growing the economy, and boosting jobs in Australia. In a sense, it is a growth strategy that transforms the way we live, work, produce, and consume. It must comprise a roadmap for all sectors that includes actions to enable the efficient use of resources and designs out waste and pollution, supported by an investment and financing plan to drive research and innovation as well as operationalise these actions in Australia’s circular economy. 

To inform this deal, we need a mandatory framework for all sectors to measure carbon emissions across all material streams used in the production process, so that we can then prioritise material streams for action – not only based on weight but also emissions reduction possibility. Simply put, we can start to think about ways to manage carbon emissions if we start by tracking the movement of materials. It is long past time that we focus on the upstream supply chain and think about how and what we produce, and how and what we consume.

Then, we need federal funding to develop carbon neutrality pathways and by incentivising WARR, the government can start to reduce Australia’s reliance on virgin materials and drive greater carbon emissions mitigation.

I believe that our current government has the appetite and fortitude to do this; plus, we have the benefit of learning from our European counterparts who started this process in 2019. But we need to get it done, and we need the government to roll up their sleeves and start the work today.