2009 National Waste Policy Update: Levers to drive economic and job growth
19 September 2018
In the past week, the
Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) congratulated the
Federal Department of Environment and Energy for developing the Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy
Discussion Paper within a short time frame, but also pointed out that
the paper fails to discuss several leadership opportunities for the
Commonwealth that will build economic strength and generate employment
in the waste and resource recovery industry in Australia as we forge
forward towards a circular economy.
A transition to a
circular economy will be a seismic shift in our economy, our
communities, and our environment. For instance, according to a MRA
Consulting Group report, domestic remanufacturing of just 50% of
material that was formerly sent to China would create approximately 500
new jobs. We know that we can create 9.2 direct full-time equivalent
jobs and 1.87 indirect jobs for every 10,000 tonnes of waste that is
recycled. In South Australia alone, a more circular economy is predicted
to create an additional 25,700 jobs (21,000 via actioning material
efficiency gains and 4,700 by actioning efficient and renewable energy
job creation, World Economic Forum estimates suggest a circular economy
could add A$26 billion to our economy by 2025. A shift to a circular
economy would also add an additional A$9.3 billion to Australian
business through a collaborative economy.
So let’s drill down on how we think the Commonwealth can support industry, boost jobs, and drive economic growth through the National Waste Policy, and reflect on learnings from the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU).
waste management and resource recovery industry is an essential
industry for our community and the economy. One might think that an
industry that turns over $15.5 billion per annum, directly employs more
than 50,000 Australians, and handles the volume of resource we do (see
Table 1) would not have to keep reminding Government that we are in fact
Table 1: Value of waste and recycling activity across the states (2014-15) - Inside Waste Industry Report 2014-15
The Commonwealth’s Role
To the Government’s
credit, the goals set in the discussion paper do not favour one State or
Territory over the other, nor are they prescriptive. However, what
would be useful would be an accompanying roadmap on how these goals can
The first step
forward would be for the Federal Government to actively collaborate with
State jurisdictions. There are numerous gaps that can be filled if we
achieve genuine collaboration between the State and Federal Governments
and end what in recent years has looked more like ”buck passing”.
In Australia, we have
a distinct issue with the lack of meaningful data that is at the
disposal of government and industry, specifically, the areas of
production, manufacturing, and distribution. We simply do not know how
much waste is being produced in these areas and when produced, where it
ends up. We cannot possibly make true assessments and plans without all
the data from throughout these supply chains.
The current form of the Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy
Discussion Paper seems to lean towards the management of municipal
waste (MSW) despite almost 80% of waste generated in Australia coming
from Commercial and Industrial (C&I) and Construction and Demolition
(C&D) streams. However, without accurate information regarding the
whereabouts and make-up of that waste, it becomes incredibly difficult
for government at all levels to formulate meaningful policy.
The data in Table 1,
from the Federal Government’s published waste generation and resource
recovery report, provides a snapshot of the amount of resource our
industry is managing. However,the current level of data does not
accurately represent the true benefit those resources are to our
remanufacturing industry, nor the impact China’s National Sword Policy will have on resource values, for example.
The UK and the EU’s
Circular Economy transitions both began with a true understanding of
data. WMAA advocates that the WRAP UK model is an excellent example of
commitment to gathering and utilising data for positive change. WRAP UK
works as an independent third party in the space between governments,
businesses, and communities, to collate and produce workable and
meaningful data and advice on action that needs to take place.
We need to be able to
accurately and consistently accrue and assess data to be able to
underpin the ‘waste management hierarchy’, agree on national diversion
targets (increasing towards zero waste in 2050, perhaps), and work
systemically towards a national transition to a circular economy. The
Federal Government must commit to funding ongoing independent data
capture that supports evidence-based policy development for our
• National Whole-of-Government Approach
The EU recognised
that waste could not be managed under one government portfolio
(environment). Australia should take a page from the EU’s playbook and
embrace a whole-of-government approach, utilising energy, climate,
agriculture, consumer protection, regional development, and research
departments. The policy framework that the EU setup was one of the
largest in the EU’s history, with more than 54 clearly defined measures,
all with responsibilities allocated.
Australia, like the
EU and Britain, has many companies that operate nationally, as well as
many multi-nationals. Many within our industry collaborate with these
companies to work towards common goals; however it is challenging to
gain real traction on state-based initiatives given the national and
global reach of these companies. The Commonwealth must play a key role
in bringing these companies to the national table with industry to share
their data and discuss their concerns, objectives, and insights to
drive collaboration on all fronts; to date there has been no process for
this. The voluntary UK Plastics Pact launched by WRAP UK is a perfect
example of how this can and must occur. 42 businesses, including major
food, drink and non-food brands, manufacturers, and retailer’s right
through to plastic reprocessors and packaging suppliers have made their
commitment to the Pact. These Pact members are responsible for over 80%
of the plastic packaging on products sold through UK supermarkets.
This powerful collective has committed to hit a series of ambitious
targets by 2025:
problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through
redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models.
- 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
- 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted.
- 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.
When one considers
the plastic stream in Australia (see Table below), it is instantly
apparent the power of having all stakeholders from throughout the supply
chain come to the table. To date in Australia, we have not been able
to consistently achieve this, as there is no body in existence that has
either the authority or the trust of all of industry.
The Federal Government must take a stronger role in delivering the updated Waste Policy,
by both using the levers that it has at its disposal and leading by
example. The EU acknowledged their responsibilities by increasing use
and trust in secondary materials and by ensuring that a standards and
testing framework was introduced and adhered to. This was interlaced
with strict safety standards, before incentivising organisations on
moving across to recycled content in manufacturing. This had the
economic knock-on effect of creating a domestic industry for recycled
The EU also set about introducing A New Deal for EU Consumers
which they launched in April of 2018. Effectively, this enforced
circular economy product guarantees for consumers, which included
independent testing of products for planned obsolescence. The final
step in this process was the introduction of circular economy labelling
with durability/recyability information so that consumers could make
informed decisions when making purchases. This, again, ensured economic
success by making consumers comfortable with the purchase of products
that included recycled content.
The introduction of a
polluter pays system that ensures manufacturers and waste generators
handle their waste correctly and have clear financial obligations for
not doing so, was made clear from the beginning of the process and was
not a surprise to generators – mainly because they were included in the
discussions from the beginning.
The EU’s directive on
waste could also offer a balanced approach to proximity/movement of
waste. Under the directive on waste, member states must take measures to
encourage options that deliver the best overall environmental outcome
and develop a network of waste disposal options that will enable waste
to be disposed of, or recovered, in one of the nearest appropriate
The EU Waste
Regulation provides for a process of notification and consent where
waste moved from one country to another is destined for disposal. Only
the Federal Government has the ability to clarify the issues surrounding
the NSW proximity principle and find a solution to proximity
nationally, so that waste does not move unnecessarily and we have
certainty of volumes to build necessary infrastructure and the jobs that
come with this.
Government also has in its armoury, a range of tools that it can use to
encourage best practice. For instance, tax and R&D incentives should
be offered to organisations that are actively working towards the
targets set in the Discussion Paper.
Federal levers, if
pulled well, have the ability to create a level playing field that
incentivises the use of recycled material, creates investment and jobs
in the remanufacturing industry, and creates local solutions to local
issues. The corollary to that is failure to do so will continue to
create an unlevel, uncompetitive playing field for the industry that
inhibits market development.
The update to the 2009 National Waste Policy
is an opportunity that cannot be wasted. The Federal Government has the
opportunity to develop the roadmap for real change for Australia, but
we can only do this by working together with a shared vision. Otherwise,
we will continue to do what we have always been doing, and it is simply