Let’s talk Carbon and WARR (again)…..

It feels good, to finally be moving away from an almost learnt helplessness over action on climate change in Australia, towards openly talking about how we can transition to net zero.  We now even have a target set- quite unimaginable only six (6) months ago. In this vein, September was a big month for our essential sector, with two (2) key consultations from the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Mr Chris Bowen MP, aimed at assisting in mitigating carbon and emissions - the review of the Safeguard Mechanism and the Review of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs).  Whilst great to be having these conversations and these are good starting points on the journey to net zero, the dots do not appear to be joining up as yet.  Not only did these particular consultations appear to be done in isolation of each other, they also appear to have been done without consideration of the impact that material management has on carbon creation and mitigation- our sector’s core business!

As stated in the Circularity Gap Report 2022, the current global linear economy is firmly steering us towards a 3- to 6-degree temperature increase. If the world continues its business-as-usual approach, then it will emit 65 billion tonnes of GhGs in 2030.  In 2022 it was calculated that only 8.6% of materials globally were circular, 70% of emissions linked to material handling and use, including extraction, transportation, and processing for use of our phones, clothes, and meals.  We need to move the focus on emissions beyond just energy (scope 1 and 2 emissions) if we are serious about hitting Australia’s stated 2030 target of 43% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels.

 In order to support Australia’s stated emissions reduction target, it will in fact be necessary to create a roadmap for circularity in Australia which requires a complete re-think of how we extract and manage materials to mitigate GhG emissions.  To achieve this, we need to move beyond the current list of projects contained within the National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019 (NWPAP 2019) to an integrated and evidence led material strategy that focuses on addressing the five (5) priority materials that create the greatest emissions, these being extracted fossil fuels (plastics), organics, textiles, construction, and transportation.  In the absence of this, Australia will simply be tinkering with reporting methodologies and not driving towards a low emission future.  We need to significantly reduce our material footprint (by as much as 28% globally by 2032 according to the Circularity Gap) and create low- intensive systems, technology and thinking that supports this transition. 

 Given that the WARR sector is intertwined with all other industries, we have a huge opportunity to assist the entire supply chain in reducing its carbon footprint.  For example, in addition to mitigating our end-of-pipe emissions through landfill diversion, organics processing, and methane recovery, a regenerative economy that is bolstered by re-use, remanufacturing and repair will enhance the reduction of indirect emissions, e.g., through the reduced extraction of virgin materials for product manufacturing, extended product lifespan, and more. The success of creating a regenerative economy in Australia however is linked to the need discussed above of creating a circular roadmap for Australia, which includes carbon mitigation and impacts.

 The fact that we now have the Departments of Climate Change, Energy and Environment operating as one (1) Federal Department, presents the strategic opportunity that Australia requires to create a genuine national material strategy that looks at material lifecycle from extraction, design, consumption, and all steps towards ultimate disposal, through the lens of emissions reduction, to both reduce material footprint and genuinely cut emissions. WMRR is calling on this government to move away from the linear NWPAP 2019 and towards a genuine circular strategy that links all aspects of material management with carbon mitigation, like we see in Europe, if Australia is genuine about achieving the Paris Agreement targets.  We genuinely hope that the new Environment Minister, will take this opportunity.

The WARR sector has progressed significantly since 2018, when China’s National Sword policy put our industry in the national limelight, and it is no doubt through the concerted efforts and leadership of, as well as investment by, all governments in recent years that our essential industry remains on the agenda nationally. However, we cannot rest on our laurels; instead, we must continue to challenge the status quo and rethink our relationship with the planet and climate change. Why? Because we continue to see the devastating consequences of natural disasters in recent years, and we have consistently come in fourth globally to reach our Earth Overshoot Day. Australia is also the second highest generator of waste in the world, which means we have a responsibility and a significant challenge to shift the paradigm on material creation, consumption, and management.

You can read WMRR’s submissions to these reviews and don’t forget our Buy Recycled Expo in Adelaide next month, where we will showcase products that use secondary raw material as an alternative to virgin, making a genuine difference on GhG and climate!