2020 – an extraordinary year

By Gayle Sloan, WMRR CEO

What a difference 12 months make. This time last year, as I sat and reflected on 2019, we were in the thick of a severe bushfire season, mulling over the next steps that would drive Australia forward to make its circular aspirations a reality, and feeling a sense of excitement that 2020 would be a year of action.

Enter 2020 and what a whirlwind year it’s been. The last 12 months have been challenging for all, I suspect, kicking off with the clean-up of bushfire impacted areas, then with the COVID-19 pandemic thick on its heels. However, today, as I write this, I have never been prouder of our essential waste and resource recovery sector and all who work within it.

In what is a true testament of our industry’s resilience, the sector buckled down, pushing on with providing essential services and continued advice to governments on myriad issues throughout 2020, from the impending waste export bans to managing veritable mountains of clinical waste. We pivoted to meet ever-evolving needs and requirements during an uncertain time, and we continued to invest, innovate, and collaborate, keeping our sights firmly on bolstering and future-proofing our essential industry.

Today, there is strong evidence that progress continues to be made to move Australia from a linear economy to one that is more circular; 2021 is set to be a big year as we close off 2020 with the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 receiving Royal Assent, paving the way for the implementation of the waste export bans. The first ban (unprocessed glass) commences on 1 January 2021, followed by mixed plastics six months later and whole tyres eleven months later. Guides to help industry transition can be found here.

The Act also incorporates Product Stewardship and while it is disappointing that an amendment for a mandated packaging product stewardship scheme with mandated targets was only narrowly rejected in the Senate, it is evident that there is growing understanding, appetite, and support for such a scheme.

WMRR will continue to emphasise the need to design out waste and pollution in 2021, and areas where we can (and must) close the loop on material streams to maximise the opportunities to use recycled and create Australian jobs and investment in Australian remanufacturing. If we don’t achieve this in 2021, the export bans will simply bring a whole lot of pain! We must continue to find ways to draw all stakeholders in the supply chain to the table to find productive ways to reuse, repair, recycle, and remanufacture Australian products, making sure that as a nation, we continue to move up the hierarchy.

What has also become evident this year to our national leaders is the economic opportunity that our industry presents and as Australia heads into post-pandemic economic recovery, it is pleasing to see that recycling and clean energy are one of the federal government’s six priorities under its Modern Manufacturing Strategy. It seems being a broken record and harping on the fact that we should be seen through the lens of industry development is finally working!

On a jurisdictional level in 2021, there will be much work to be done as state/territory governments roll out legislative and policy initiatives and changes, from Victoria’s EP Act on 1 July 2021 to Tasmania’s CDS and landfill levy, and fingers crossed, NSW’s 20-year strategy. Through it all, WMRR will be at the forefront, continuing our deep engagement with Ministers and policy makers that has allowed the Association to maintain its peak national body status for the breadth and depth of the WARR sector.

In 2021, WMRR will continue to grow its pathways for learning, development, and knowledge-sharing. With members now Zoom experts, you can be sure that we’ll roll out plenty of online webinars and forums alongside the return of in-person events such as the beloved Australasian Landfill and Transfer Stations Conference, WasteQ, and the Energy from Waste conference. Professionalising the industry continues to be a priority for WMRR, and the aim is to roll out a pilot of the WARR industry accreditation and training program in late 2021 for the sector. Increasing engagement with our members will always be a focal point for WMRR and we will maximise the greater participation in, and close collaboration between working groups and State Committee Branches that we saw this year. 2021 will bring you new working groups and national divisions so keep your eyes peeled for these announcements.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that our resilient, collaborative, and considered approach - within and beyond industry - in all that we do has shone the light on the vast economic and environmental opportunities that exist in our sector and we will build on this in the coming year, including the development of a Buy Recycled directory to connect buyers and suppliers of Australian remanufactured products made from Australian recycled materials.

With your support, WMRR has been able to advocate for the right policy and regulatory conditions and landscapes to grow and safeguard our essential industry and today, we have made some real headway. Together, we can, and we will continue to go from strength to strength, working towards a true paradigm shift in Australia.

On behalf of the Board and the WMRR team, we thank you for your contribution and efforts in 2020 and we look forward to working with you next year. Stay safe and have a joyous and merry Christmas.