WMRR statement on 9th MEM

 8 November 2019

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery of Association of Australia (WMRR) acknowledges that our essential industry remains high on the agenda of the Meeting of Environment Ministers and welcomes the statement released on the outcomes of today’s meeting held in Adelaide. WMRR notes that Ministers are listening and recognising the opportunity for significant reforms in our sector, as well as acknowledging there are no easy fixes in our complex industry.

“WMRR supports the Ministers’ decision to roll out the export bans in a phased approach and to test this timetable with industry and local government while developing response strategies and undertaking independent market analysis. We also welcome the announcement of increased national leadership by the federal government,” WMRR CEO, Ms Gayle Sloan, said.

“The intention here is absolutely correct and strongly supported, although the devil will be in the details for this to be a success. There is still a real and imminent risk that the ban will do nothing more than mandate landfilling as there continues to be a significant lack of focus and funding for remanufacturing and procurement of post-consumer recyclate, particularly for packaging,” she warned.

“While we acknowledge that Ministers have also agreed to a new National Waste Policy Action Plan, we continue to question how Australia can meet this new norm without developing stronger, enforceable requirements around, and commitments to, market development, investment in post-consumer recyclate, and ensuring manufacturers of products are made responsible for their materials at end-of-life.

“Add to this the requirement that Australia must now develop significant reprocessing manufacturing facilities for paper and plastic within the next 18 months (when this has not materialised in the last 18 months since China), without commensurate certainty around demand, let alone the challenges of planning approvals, and we still have a very difficult path to travel.”

The next few months are crucial and WMRR is committed to continuing to engage with Ministers as they work through the details of the ban, including timetables and strategies. WMRR cautions that business as usual where there is no focus on market development would simply mean we would be mandating landfilling as these materials would have no home.

“It is also disappointing that despite the writing being on the wall, Ministers did not explicitly recognise the significance and necessity of a mandated product stewardship scheme for packaging. With the majority of exports in COAG’s sites being packaging, it is now time to accept that the current voluntary scheme has not worked.” Ms Sloan said.

WMRR looks forward to the proposed “significant increases” in government procurement of recycled materials ideally becoming a reality in early 2020 with the announcement of real projects and funding, as this will support market development. However, WMRR also calls for government procurement to have mandated targets in order that industry can invest with certainty knowing that this demand will remain in place long term.

“As this plan is being developed, WMRR urges Ministers to consider how to ensure these targets will be enforced and what systemic changes need to be made to allow all jurisdictions to meet them. Otherwise, these targets are at best meaningless and at worst, will lead to perverse outcomes such as increased landfilling,” Ms Sloan said.