The ABC’s War on Waste is back for another season and the first episode drew over 700,000 viewers across Australia. That’s a lot of eyeballs and it’s fantastic because the program does a good job in raising awareness of our sector, the challenges we face, and the world class job we do in managing material.  

This year’s series is clearly aimed at practical measures households can take to reduce and manage their waste – whether that’s improving consumption choices, better managing their food wastage or encouraging participation in container deposit schemes.   

We absolutely applaud the discussions War on Waste continues to spark across the community. The more discussion, the better and more likely it is we are to get action from government.

 And while households increasing their composting or taking their street’s Coke cans to the CDS point is great, by itself it won’t change the fundamental challenges across our sector. Those things account for only a fraction of the 76 million tonnes of waste material generated and the 28 million tonnes disposed.  

 In order to get the sea change we need to go any substantial way to meeting the modest goals set by government, we need strong shifts in legislation, policy, funding and educative approaches. 

 The War on Waste program is probably doing more than any government program to shift consumer sentiment and change behaviour. Governments can’t expect or leave it to Craig Reucassel to do what they should be doing

 WMRR has consistently over many years called for a properly funded clear and simple education and behavioural change campaigns on how to avoid creating waste (particularly food waste), and mandating packaging design so we can clearly and consistently educate on what can and can’t go in household bins. We know households want to do their bit. Australians are very supportive of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra.

 We can’t allow good intentions to get in the way of good outcomes through misinformation or misunderstanding. So let’s deal with a few common misconceptions:

  •  Soft plastics cannot go in the kerbside recycling bin. It is simply not economically viable to separate the soft plastics from other forms of recyclable materials in particular paper, in the MRF. It is effectively a contaminant of a high-quality stream that has a market. Further the infrastructure to process and the market for the recyclate does not exist. We hope a replacement source separated generator funded program can be found as soon as possible to replace RedCycle; 
  •  Whilst the diversion of food and organic material from landfill is supported,  households (and businesses) are best to move up the hierarchy and reduce their food wastage through improved meal planning, shopping and ensuring leftover food is eaten first. Buy better and waste less – and for what remains put it in a compost bin where possible;  
  •  Consumers (like WARR facility operators) cannot see PFAS, which is another reason we should only be placing food and organic material in FOGO bins to make quality compost. Packaging is not necessary to make high quality compost and must be avoided; and, 
  • Small items (by weight and size) like blister packs (used for tablets, capsules and other medication) cannot go in the kerbside recycling bin and really must be part of product stewardship schemes.

Another necessity to reach government goals are more facilities across the entire WARR sector. It is vital they come on stream at a faster rate than ever before.

While WMRR acknowledges and welcomes the announcement last month from the Australian Government of a $60 million national grant program through the Recycling Modernisation Fund Plastics Technology Stream to boost existing recycling infrastructure and uncover new methods of processing plastics that are difficult to recycle, it is a mere soy fish in the sea of ocean plastics. 

As we’ve stated before, according to national waste report data, there has been an increase in recovery of only one (1) million tonnes over the last two (2) reporting years, whereas we need over ten (10) million additional tonnes recovered over the next seven (7) years (excluding ash recovery) - we cannot reach targets one storage room or bathtub at a time!

 This can only be achieved by the development of more world class facilities. Avoidance and mitigation alone doesn’t get us anywhere near close to that target. However, it will be key in achieving 10% reduction of waste per person (which is also off track).

 Another requirement is strong, sensible and consistent policy and regulation across all material streams. Policy needs to be designed for individual material streams but also needs to be co-ordinated, so it talks to each stream to ensure they are all pulling in the same direction.

 For example, consistent application of the landfill levy across the nation would be a good start. Carbon and methane policies would be another as we all must be focusing on 80% recovery and the economic and environmental benefits this brings! 

 Everyone has a role to play. Everyone wants to do the right thing. But as we’ve seen, the Australian Government’s goal of a circular economy by 2030 is not achievable on current trajectories. 

 The war on waste will continue and the ABC’s War on Waste advances the conversation and that is a great thing.