CEO Report: Inside Waste June - July 19 Issue

If the 2019 Federal Election has shown us anything, it would be this: waste and resource recovery is a sexy, on-trend portfolio.

I’d be preaching to the choir by saying our industry is not only essential, its impact and opportunities extend far beyond environmental; we create jobs for every day Australians, we boost the economy, and we could return to Australia a thriving manufacturing industry. We even preserve the natural environment! We know that, and now it seems our politicians are finally seeing the light.

While it is positive that waste and resource recovery were on the minds of the major parties, with the ALP, LNP, and the Greens developing policies ahead of the 2019 Federal election to drive our sector, we need to hold the ruling party of the day accountable, ensuring that our elected Government follows through on its commitments and stops putting on hold the much-needed changes, investment, and above all else, Federal leadership required to create a circular economy and develop a local remanufacturing industry.

Now that the Federal election is over, it’s time for the all governments to stop playing politics and get on with the job. While WMRR has been advocating consistently for our five-point plan, and the solutions to industry’s challenges have been advocated for, promoted, and highlighted almost daily in the media, seeing is believing. So, perhaps the first thing our next Federal Environment Minister should do is embark on a study trip to Europe to learn a thing or two from our European counterparts and how they have responded to going circular, including the balancing act of managing resources and carbon emissions. 

Now, while most developed nations were impacted by China’s National Sword policy, China’s move is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are many factors that have created the challenges Australia is facing today, including the lack of understanding that we need to manage waste as a resource that ought to be valued and demanded back in Australia as remanufactured goods. This paradigm shift has been sorely hampered in Australia by the lack of harmonised and robust regulations and policy that support waste becoming a resource, adequate infrastructure planning, over-reliance on global markets, and lack of processing capacity and demand for local recycled material, to name just a few things holding us back.

Where Australia has struggled, Europe has thrived and today, the EU has a booming waste and resource recovery industry, as well as many new industries supporting both circularity and disruption - a vastly different picture to Australia’s current landscape.

The first thing the Federal Government needs is to do is shift its thinking. Waste and resource recovery is not just about protecting the environment – as important as this is – it is also about jobs and business, and the EU has successfully made that link between environment and the economy. Likewise, in Australia, our industry should not simply be viewed as an environment portfolio but a business one with viable economic opportunities. After all, a circular economy is one that links production, consumption, waste management, resource recovery and remanufacturing together in a continuous loop, and if one part of this circle is already viewed as a business and economic entity, so too should the remaining part of that circle which comprises our essential industry.

World Economic Forum estimates are a compelling reason to start thinking about our industry in a different light - a circular economy could add A$26 billion to our economy by 2025; a shift to a circular economy would also add an additional A$9.3 billion to Australian business through a collaborative economy.

The next lesson out of Europe is collaboration between Government departments. Working in silos clearly does not work. The European Union has embraced a whole-of-government approach and waste and resource recovery no longer falls neatly into one portfolio or department.

Australia can do the same and we are beginning see first roots of a collaborative approach in NSW where the new leadership team at the Department of Planning and Environment has indicated that work will be done within and across clusters in a matrix fashion. But it’s not just about inter-department collaboration. The Federal Government must also drive collaboration between jurisdictions. Australia is one country with one common market, with numerous companies (not to mention our community) operating and thinking nationally. Without certainty in regulations and policies, businesses will not only struggle to operate, they will be less compelled to invest. The Federal Government has a key role to play in bringing companies and States to the table.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Australia should adopt a similar strategy to the EU’s 2015 Circular Economy plan, which comprised:

  • Five key areas: production, consumption, waste management, and secondary raw materials.
  • Five priority sectors: biomass and bio-based products, plastics, food waste, critical raw materials, and construction and demolition.

54 actions sat under the action plan, including the development of standards for secondary raw materials, to be completed between 2015 and 2019. Three years after its adoption and the plan is now fully completed with all 54 actions delivered. Three years – that’s all it took. These three years have reportedly put the EU back on a path of job creation, with sectors relevant to the circular economy employing more than four million people in 2016 – a 6% increase compared to 2012. According to the EU Monitoring Framework for the Circular Economy, additional jobs will be created in the coming years to meet the demand generated by fully functioning markets for secondary raw materials.

By following this plan, the EU has now created new business opportunities, including new business models and new markets, both domestically and outside the EU. It is reported that in 2016 – only one year after adopting the plan - circular activities such as repair, reuse or recycling generated almost €147 billion (A$240 billion) in value added, and around €17.5 billion (A$28.4 billion) worth of investments.

Think of where we’d be if Australia had started charting its circular economy course three years ago! But there is no time like the present to get on with the job and industry needs to continue to advocate and urge our leaders to lead, even at the risk of sounding like a broken record. National Waste Policy anyone?