Turbo charging WARR requires further and faster action

 6 July 2020

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) welcomes today’s announcement by the federal government of a commitment of significant new funds to our essential industry, including the centerpiece – a new $190 million Commonwealth Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF).

“Our sector remains firmly on the agenda with today’s announcement, and we genuinely appreciate the federal government’s continued focus on, and interest in, our waste and resource recovery industry. Ministers Sussan Ley and Trevor Evans have done a terrific job, along with their state counterparts, in keeping us squarely on the agenda and we are very grateful for that,” WMRR CEO, Ms Gayle Sloan, said.

The RMF seeks to “turbo charge” Australia’s recycling capacity, which WMRR welcomed, noting that to do so, several other elements had to be driven now, and driven at high throttle too.

“Key to the success of the RMF will be states matching with new funds as well - not rebadged existing monies - as industry faces significant pressure, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. WMRR absolutely welcomes this funding; however, the reality is that Australia has changed significantly since the August 2019 announcement of the export bans and may face difficulties in co-investing while continuing to face the significant impacts of the pandemic. It is going to be vital that government takes a flexible and robust approach towards co-investment, one that is focused on long-term outcomes and end goals,” Ms Sloan said.

“We will also need strategic projects fast-tracked, so that we can see the impact on the ground sooner rather than later. To help with this we also need markets developed now for this material.

“We must also turbo charge policy in this area - governments must urgently mandate the use of recycled material now in all government infrastructure projects, in order to drive market development of these products so that we can sustain a viable remanufacturing base,” Ms Sloan added.  

These are amongst the missing elements that must work hand-in-hand for any investment to grow, which will be a boon for local jobs and economies, and it is disappointing to see that the one significant piece of the circular economy puzzle continues to fly under the radar.

“All of these actions continue to encourage at best, a closed loop system. If we are serious about transitioning Australia to a circular economy, then emphasis must be given to the design of products in the first instance… Yet, to-date, no consideration has been given to mandatory extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes,” Ms Sloan said.

“Genuine product stewardship legislation that makes producers responsible for managing what they bring to market is required and we look forward to seeing this legislation. We should not be allowing packaging, for example, to be downcycled when we have viable packaging remanufacturing operations in Australia. We need government to require producers to use this Australian material and not import from overseas - now is the time to be creating Australian jobs and this is a path towards that.

“Packaging is the one significant area primed for mandatory EPR and it is no secret that the Australian Packaging Covenant has failed. It is time for generational change – we must recognise the value of the materials that we are extracting and the fact that the design of packaging to enable continued reuse of these materials is a job multiplier. But, if the government continues to look the other way, giving packagers a free pass to continue using virgin materials, to not take responsibility for the materials they design and produce, then Australia will struggle to transition to a circular economy.”