WMRR Calls on National Framework for Circular Economy

 There is a lot of talk of a resource and energy transition. But we shouldn’t just be referring to those resources you dig out of the ground or limit the energy options. And, whilst talking about something makes people feel good and in many respects is worthwhile, it should not be confused with action.

We aim to create a circular economy in Australia by 2030, but what does that mean and how are we going to get there?

In Australia, I really feel that we have not yet joined the dots with the link between natural environment, energy, the ‘waste sector’ and carbon.  But WMRR remains hopeful that policymakers soon will.

Both Europe and America have a ‘Green Deal’. The United States also has the Inflation Reduction Act - all are clear attempts to address the current planetary challenges and they cleverly link them to economic tools and outcomes.

To date, Australia has no such framework. We desperately need one. We (the community and business) need to know the rules so we can all work to achieve and prosper together in what is increasingly called a ‘just transition’.

While we do have pieces of the puzzle like the Safeguard Mechanism, and a rather uninspiring National Waste Action Plan, what is missing is that National Framework similar to what we see in the European Union (EU).

WMRR continues to call for this framework- to create that necessary common vision and level playing field.  In the absence of that clear and agreed framework, when you try and put all the puzzle pieces together, they may not fit - or worse still, there are massive gaps and years wasted (this risk is real!)

When we first started calling for this years ago, the EU relied heavily on the Waste Directives. This is now augmented by the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Green Deal. They have put their framework in place, and even better, they keep building on it, ensuring that it is not only material fit, but future economy and carbon fit.

It’s not too late for Australia to do that either, but we must move, and we must move quickly.

At the moment, it feels a bit like death by consultation, with multiple plans, schemes and issues papers all with lovely pictures and motherhood statements being put to us.  However, has anyone else noticed they are not joined up, let alone talk to each other or have common language or a common vision? And none that I have found to date consider the sector or the system as a whole, let alone understand it!

In almost all these current consultations, whilst the words and ambitions of Environment Ministers and EMM are high, the departmental documents we drown in have the aspiration to do no more than necessary. For example, e-waste product stewardship proposes a collection scheme (no design, repair or reuse to date), the mixed paper export rules consultation is almost six months late, and let’s be real - the domestic infrastructure and markets promised have not eventuated and with a real risk that the packaging regulation being considered will be simply giving BAU more powers.

There will simply be more cost and risk on councils and the WARR industry. The PFAS consultation does no more than deal with three (3) out of 4,000 and catches up on what Europe commenced in 2001!  And that's before we talk about carbon consultations!

 All too often the government operates in silos (Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water in name only it would appear) and these are simply some of the examples.

Seriously, at this pace we will be circular in 3030 not 2030. For now, we go in circles.

The Federal Government may point to the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act – the only piece of national legislation related to the sector as a whole. But the reality is – again - while it contains some really nice words and sentiments, it’s a toothless tiger with limited power.

Changing this requires courage. Not in the Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes, Minister! sense, but in a real leadership sense. 

 We are at real risk of codifying practices and approaches from early 2000s with current powers and approaches because it’s the easy option rather than creating a future fit and ambitious regime where avoiding waste is a given, extending the life of resources is a given and taking responsibility for their impact is a given.

It is time for a strong and powerful national framework that follows the format of the waste directives and uses the knowledge of the Circular Economy Action Plan, so all states and territories can be clear on how we manage the end of waste, producers design out hazardous substances and focus on agreed priority materials consistently and nationally, and investors can develop systems and innovate to extend life – reuse and repair options. Plus, all the above create new green, low carbon jobs in Australia. What is not to love?

 This way we can get on with achieving the 80% resource recovery target and delivering the necessary infrastructure by 2030 getting us close to that elusive circular economy nirvana.