Time to stop the talk and start the action, as the trucks keep coming!

19 February 2019

As of 5p.m. Monday, 18 February, more than 20 councils in two states have been locked out of their Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs). Industry recognises this is an unacceptable situation, however it may be just the tip of the iceberg if we do not collectively take the steps that we know are needed to avoid these issues.

“There is simply no excuse for the lack of action in driving demand for recycled material in Australia, which we have a surplus of, considering industry and governments alike were well aware of the impacts China’s National Sword would have on the country from as early as 2017, and it has been more than 12 months since the National Sword policy commenced,” said Ms Gayle Sloan, CEO of the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR).

Yet, despite the glaringly obvious challenges and similarly glaringly obvious solutions, coupled with community’s push to support resource recovery and industry’s efforts to build capacity, there has been no additional remanufacturing capacity built and worse, not even a hint of development on the drawing board.

“Where is the planning support to actually enable these much-needed new facilities to be delivered in a timely manner? Where is the infrastructure funding support to bridge the gap between the cheapest possible short-term options, and the long-term options that deliver real value for the Australian community? Where is the commitment from our governments at every level to stop talking about the problems and move rapidly to delivering the solutions?,” said Ms Sloan.

China’s policy is but the tip of the iceberg. Industry has long known that Australia required processing and reprocessing infrastructure as well as long-term solutions to avoid lurching from crisis to crisis. And industry has been advocating for these solutions, including long-term strategic planning and market development agencies, as an example,” said Ms Sloan

Waste management and resource recovery is a shared responsibility, requiring the support and commitment from all levels of government, the community, and the private sector.

Governments, to their credit, have not all been silent. But talk is only good in the beginning and means next to nothing with no follow-up action. Australia has had not one but two Ministers of the Environment Meetings focused on this issue but to date, we have no national action plan, no roadmap to lead industry out of this situation, much less secure the future of our essential industry. What has sadly become obvious is that many people elected to lead have no clue on how to lead us out of this challenging position and worse, have not taken heed of the advice from those who do.

“If what is happening in Australia right now is not a clear example of market failure, we are at a loss to understand what is. It is time for governments to start acting; we need national coordinated action and we need it now; we urgently need infrastructure to process the materials we consume, and this essential infrastrucutre has to be devliered more quickly than it has been in the past,” said Ms Sloan.

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia is urgently calling on Ministers and Heads of EPA to get together now and resolve to do the following now, not after the Federal Election because by then, it will simply be too late. Our governments must adopt a five-point action plan immediately:

  1. Develop an Industry Development Fund specific for the remanufacturing industry to enable circular economy. This fund could focus on import replacement, local investment and business development. A commitment of $1B per annum for 10 years is achievable though funding from the significant amount of landfill levy funds that are sitting in consolidated revenue of many States. This plan would include an agreed remanufacturing plan for the sector (for all streams), which articulates a vision and how to get there across Australia. WMRR proposes that >$1M to <$2M over two years is also committed to planning which industry requires for remanufacturing, supply chain, and market demand.
  2. Setting National Standards. This encompasses both traditional product standards but also minimum regulatory standards, with funding to jurisdictions that don’t have the resources or are not up to the mark, e.g. Tasmania, NT etc. as a transition. Budget: $15M per annum for five years.
  3. Mandate procurement of recycled content goods and minimum content based on the Standards developed (see point 2).
  4. Tax reform/GST remissions on recycled content goods.
  5. Mandate product stewardship schemes for identified priority materials.

The time for talk is over. The public continues sorting recyclables in the hope that they will be recycled; trucks continue collecting and trying to transport materials to recycling facilities… But the fact is the vast majority of governments have not done one tangible thing to assist industry’s long-term outcomes as it transitions through this challenge; we can no longer simply hope it fixes itself, because it won’t.

We need to take a shared approach to an Australian-wide solution as no State is truly independent of all others and we are facing the same challenges - we need operators, councils, State Government, and the community to get serious about making the changes we’ve identified are needed, otherwise, we risk the failure of an essential industry. We have a responsibility to manage and extract resources from the waste that we generate and in doing so, create jobs and boost our economy. So really, why aren’t governments grabbing the bull by the horns?