Gear up for 2020 because the wheels are in motion

18 December 2019

As we wrap up 2019, staring down the barrel of an unprecedented bushfire season, impending export bans, and the ongoing waste “crisis”, I’m more optimistic and energised than at any time in the past few years about our essential industry’s future.

Now, more than ever, the task is clearly laid out for the upper echelon of government. We need to build our economy and produce solutions that work for society by reducing our reliance on the global market, virgin materials and mindless consumerism, all while continuing to preserve our environment and protect human health.

Our economy in Australia today is founded largely on digging virgin materials out of a hole; repurchasing them as value-added finished products; and throwing them away. It continues to be a very linear system, one that I hope will not last very much longer in Australia…And I truly believe that as a nation, we are ready to make a fundamental shift.

Why? Well, it has no doubt been a challenging year in Australia as we continue to grapple with not just the issues that exist, but the pace at which solutions are rolled out. Sure, there has been some progress, albeit at a painfully slow pace, but this year, our industry has really put in the hard yards, worked (and fought) tirelessly to rebuild a solid groundwork after the turmoil and uncertainty, continued to invest and innovate in spite of the turmoil and uncertainty, and we’ve spent considerable time and effort communicating with and educating governments and community. It seems the penny is finally dropping.

We have our task set out for us in 2020 as we continue to genuinely measure and communicate the value we create, including jobs, investment and products, but also what we do not create (or can avoid the creation of) in particular carbon and methane emissions. As a sector, we need to do better at communicating what we do and do not do, and how we contribute to the economy, environment, and community. We certainly must not be shy about blowing our own trumpet because we are a well-oiled machine and we must always take time to champion the good work that we do!

At the same time, the hope is that in 2020, Australia moves beyond weak policy statements (other than the export ban, which is simply a massive stick at the end of the supply chain) into a genuine vision for Australia that is supported by hard schedules, targets, funding and action.

Collectively – industry, governments, community, and manufacturers/producers – have got to get this right and get it right quickly. Even without the impending waste export ban, markets are not being developed fast enough, the value of using recycled materials is not recognised and as a result, we are depleting our natural capital and our positioning in the global economy is precarious (not so clean and green!).

For the first time in a long time, we may just have the right attitude, or at least sustained attention at a Commonwealth level, with the federal government finally at least acknowledging that waste is not merely ‘a matter for the states’. But still, we are not seeing leadership on longstanding thorny issues like mandated product stewardship, committing real monies to recycled procurement, and creating a true circular economy by placing greater emphasis on polluters and design.

WMRR has been actively advocating for members on both a state and federal level and this will continue in 2020. For one, we’ll continue to engage on the very average (to put it kindly) National Waste Policy Action Plan (NWPAP) to both improve this and implement the actions within it, and we’ll continue to call on the federal government to make the $100 million Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) funding more accessible than the normal funding under the CEFC and waiving the requirement for a fair market return on this loan.

However, we could not do all this without the input of our members, through our state and territory branches, national divisions, and of course, the backbone of WMRR – our state/territory working groups. Your input into our policies, submissions, conferences, events, research, reports, whitepapers, fact sheets and more cannot and will not be understated. WMRR is the peak national body because of your contribution and we thank you. In fact, our position has been further cemented this year, with WMRR at the table in all state/territory and federal industry reference groups, and with our advice taken and followed at MEM and evidenced in redrafted policies across jurisdictions. This is why I’m optimistic and together, we will go from strength to strength.

Looking ahead, and despite the challenges in our way, I’m very excited about our program of work for 2020. Our view, based on the experience of similar economies, is that the next two or three years can see a huge paradigm shift in Australia’s waste and resource recovery sector and drive our country towards a true circular economy. After years of lobbying, advocating, and agitating for action, we’ve now got the right conditions to make some real progress – and we’re raring to go and we hope you are too.

On behalf of the Board and the WMRR team, we thank you for your contribution and efforts in 2019. I personally look forward to working with you for the next three (3) years (details in the Board communique below) and look forward to that being a period where we not only achieve the policy goals we are advocating for but also creating a professional development and training scheme for industry that we can all be part of and proud of.

Stay safe and have both a relaxing and very merry Christmas.