Ministerial Meeting Response

30 April 2018

WMAA welcomes that possibly for the first time the waste and resource recovery industry led the agenda at last week’s Meeting of Australian Environment Ministers (MEM). This clearly demonstrates the nationwide importance of this essential industry, which employs 50,000 people and generates $15.5 billion of economic activity annually. We look forward to our industry remaining at the top of the MEM Agenda.

The waste industry appreciates that Ministers have been listening and are proposing to pull some of the policy levers needed to assist with transitioning the management of waste in Australia towards a sustainable “circular economy” solution. “It is extremely pleasing that the National Waste Strategy will be updated by the end of this year, WMAA looks forward to participating in this”, said Ms Gayle Sloan, CEO of WMAA.

“Friday’s announcement is a step in the right direction and signals the right intent. That said, what we need now is strong policies and market interventions to actually make it happen – and fast.” said Ms Sloan. “WMAA and its members are really keen to work with government to help develop and implement what is required to move forward in what is now a very different world in terms of how we view materials that ultimately generate waste and resources.”

“The endorsement by Ministers of a target of 100 percent of Australian packaging being recyclable or reusable by 2025 is heartening, and we look forward to working with Government to develop meaningful targets from at least 2020 to ensure that this actually achieved” said Ms Sloan. “Industry recalls targets set previously under the National Packaging Covenant that were never monitored or achieved, and once this failure was recognised it was just too late.” “We need action now that ensures APCO will be held accountable from now, and not in 2025, as only this step will begin to deliver local demand for recycled materials and help Australia reduce the sovereign risks associated with over-dependence on off-shore markets.”

“Whilst there was no new funding for recycling in Friday’s announcement, one thing WMAA will advocate to start immediately is government at all levels spending existing funds differently.” said Ms Sloan. “Ministers must go much further than simply advocating for increased use of recycled materials in the goods that government and industry buy. With over 90% of the community supporting recycling and the purchase of recycled products by government, government needs to hold itself to account and if it does not prioritise the use of recycled material, to report to the community why it does not, this should be the norm going forward, not the exception”, said Ms Sloan.

Government must show leadership in this space and act now to grow demand for recycled products that can develop markets and jobs in both metropolitan and regional areas. For example, Commonwealth Federal Assistance Grants to Local Government should be predicated on Councils using more recycled glass sand and not virgin sand.

The Federal Energy Minister needs to recognise that this is primarily an environmental issue not an energy issue. “Industry absolutely recognises that there is a place for waste to energy in Australia as an alternate to landfill, and we support this technology. However, it cannot replace recycling and remanufacturing.

“We need to always act in accordance with the Waste Management Hierarchy and keep commodities at their highest and best use level for as long as possible. Recovering energy is a higher order outcome than burying material in landfill, but it is certainly not a replacement for recycling. What Australia needs is to deliver a sustainable recycling system that decouples itself from the global commodity market, and creates related industry jobs and investment in Australia.”

“We support the Federal Minister’s funding for Energy from Waste, which can play an important part of the future for Australia, and deliver better outcomes than disposal to landfill for many materials.

“Industry’s believes funding also needs to be urgently directed further up the supply chain towards increasing recycling ability and growing the sectors capacity in Australia, decoupling Australia from its reliance on fossil fuel,” said Ms Sloan. “We genuinely hope we will get an opportunity in the not too distant future to discuss this directly with the Federal Minister.”