It’s time to bring out the big guns

It is a known fact that the Europeans take waste management and resource recovery very seriously and with good reason – the industry is a protector of human health and the environment, as well as being an economic growth engine. The Europeans get it and Australia is beginning to, albeit slowly.

It is unfortunate that it took China’s National Sword policy to open the eyes of our politicians to why we need to move from a ‘take, make, dispose’ economy to a circular one and why Australia has to drive domestic processing of materials, despite industry banging on this for years. However kudos to our Environment Ministers for their willingness to listen earlier this year and for updating the 2009 National Waste Policy.

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) supports the election-winning programs like plastic bag bans however, it is time for politicians to look beyond the media-friendly initiatives and towards the policies, regulations and frameworks required to catch us up to the rest of the developed world. Importantly, it is time for the Federal Government to take ownership of its important role in driving industry forward and start using the tools and levers only it has to turn Australia’s circular economy aspirations into reality.

“The one thing we all know about waste is, it just keeps coming. The role of Ministers at this meeting must be to start pulling the right levers for Australia, to leverage demand for these resources to meet this ongoing supply,” WMAA CEO Ms Gayle Sloan said.

“Take the GST as an example. This is not payable on second hand products so why couldn’t the same exemption be applied to recyclate? There are other levers such as R&D incentives, import bans, tax disincentives… All of which can go a long way in incentivising the use of recycled material in Australia.”

Then, there is packaging and the failure to date of the current voluntary product stewardship approach and co regulatory Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, which has seen little to none recyclate used in packaging by brand owners over its 10 years of existence. What we need is a mandatory scheme that includes mandated percentages of recycled content and Australia would be wise to take a leaf out of Germany’s book.

“Next year, Germany will have a new packaging law requiring all manufacturers, importers, distributors and even online retailers to meet strict material generation targets or face hefty fines. Packaging producers must also licence their packaging and all businesses will have to register with a central packaging registry to ensure compliance and maintain market access. Australia can draw lessons from Germany because it is time for our Federal Government to take our Extended Producer Responsibility laws and frameworks seriously if Australia i s genuine about creating jobs and investment,” Ms Sloan said.

Of course, each State and Territory must focus on particular policies but there is value in developing some commonality across key regulation and policies or further exacerbate what is now a highly uneven playing field and continue to create confusion and uncertainty among businesses that operate nationally.

Environment Ministers will gather on 7 December for the final Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM)for the year and WMAA is calling on the Federal Government to take the lead and drive a common approach – from finalising a national proximity principle, to developing minimum standards across policies, to driving collaboration between jurisdictions to develop meaningful national data.

“When we harmonise policies and regulations, when we collaborate on schemes and market development on a national level, what we are essentially doing is ensuring that each jurisdiction has the certainty of volumes to build infrastructure, create jobs, and grow domestic processing,” Ms Sloan said.

“The Federal Government is the key to our nation’s success in building a circular economy. It is in the position to coordinate the national policies that Australia desperately needs, and draw all members of the supply chain to the table.

“The Federal Government must begin to act like the European Union and drive a coordinated approach to both policy and business. It needs to deliver the updated National Waste Policy and not let it suffer the same fate as the 2009 policy, which simply fizzled out. State Environment Ministers need to hold the Federal Government to account,”Ms Sloan said.

WMAA has written to Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price ahead of the 7 December MEM, detailing five (5) key policies that the Government should drive.

WMAA letter to Federal Minister - The Hon. Melissa Price MP

WMAA letter to ACT Minister - The Hon. Elise Archer MP

WMAA letter to NSW Minister - The Hon. Gabrielle Upton MP

WMAA letter to QLD Minister - The Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP

WMAA letter to SA Minister - The Hon David Spiers MP

WMAA letter to VIC Minister - The Hon. Lily D'Ambrosio MP

WMAA letter to WA Minister - The Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC