Imitation, the sincerest form of learning
Another day, another story about an Asian nation sending (or threatening to send) Australian recyclables back. This time, it’s Indonesia, which returned a container originally marked “non-B3 mixed plastic scrap” (non-toxic) back to our shores. Arguably this type of material may have been acceptable prior to March 2018.
Asian nations including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam are cracking down on imported recyclables, and with good reason. They, like China, have looked inwards for materials to close the loop domestically and in doing so, have not just used the words “circular economy” in vain, but have acted on driving their nations towards that outcome.
Australia knew this was going to happen post-China, in fact a lot of people knew it was going to happen before then. However, we struggled to be heard by government until the shock waves of China reverberated globally and the world’s largest market was effectively closed to recyclable commodities. Indonesia also said some three months ago that it would commence inspections of all containers to ensure they met specification standards and quality claims because why should they take anything less?
This is the new norm. We need to move forward rapidly; the days of trading our recyclables are reaching a definite end – this is not a cyclical change but rather, a structural one. We should be remanufacturing recycled products right here in Australia, following in the footsteps of our neighbours and solving our waste and resource recovery puzzle on our own, which industry is committed to doing.
We all need to buy Australian recycled and we know WMRR sounds like a broken record however, it is true. As long as we continue as a nation to buy cheap overseas imports and not place emphasis on locally sourced recyclables, we will be unable to grow local remanufacturing and decrease exporting recycled commodities to our neighbours. As an industry, we cannot simply stop trading without building this remanufacturing capacity and market demand.
There are now green shoots of recovery, as you’ll see throughout this newsletter, and over the last three months, WMRR has been on the road, meeting with State Environment Ministers, including QLD, VIC, SA, and NSW, regulatory and government bodies, Departments of Environment, and more, advocating for a paradigm shift in thinking, and managing waste as a resource to be valued and demanded back in Australia as remanufactured goods. We’ve been banging on the drum for national harmonisation of policies and regulations, accurate data capture, and importantly, sustainable procurement of recycled content as well as growth of our remanufacturing capacity. And we’ve consistently pointed to Europe as a region to learn vital lessons from because where Australia has struggled, Europe has thrived (more in the CEO's full June/July 2019 report here.)
State Governments are starting to turn the corner as industry continues to invest and innovate, and we’ve seen the likes of companies like Downer and Boral taking the lead on using recycled content. But we need leadership from the Federal Government to pull it all together and move us forward.
Now, industry has for the first time, the attention of three Federal Ministers - Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Sussan Ley MP, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, the Hon. Angus Taylor MP, and an Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, the Hon. Trevor Evans MP – we must continue to rally and push our leaders to lead, to stop the talk and start to take action. We are moving forward but at too slow a pace. We need to close the 1.2 million-tonne gap now and start managing our recyclables right here on Australian soil. We know how, we just need our Government to step up and take the helm.
Developing market intelligence in VIC
WMRR is a quarter of the way through a 12-month Victorian market intelligence pilot project in partnership with Sustainability Victoria, aimed at informing industry, government, and the community up-to-date information on markets for recycled materials in the State in order to inform resource recovery decisions, particularly for materials such as glass, cardboard, metals, paper, and plastics.
Two bulletins have now been released, the most recent (April/May) featuring monthly flows to local and overseas markets, current commodity prices, changes to export markets for recyclables, and implications for kerbside recyclables markets. This bulletin and the first instalment (March), can be found here.
A Parliamentary Inquiry into the State’s recycling and waste management is also underway. WMRR’s submission, which discusses the need for a new paradigm in developing and implementing municipal contracts, can be downloaded here.
Never say never
Despite knocking back a state-wide levy and container refund scheme late last year, the Tasmanian Government has done a 180-degree turn, announcing both initiatives in June/July, which WMRR has welcomed.
Tasmania has also released a draft Waste Action Plan that aims to tackle waste through a more strategic approach. The plan, now out for consultation, includes several ambitious targets and identifies key priorities for the jurisdiction.
The Government has indicated that it is keen to work with industry as it designs its levy and WMRR looks forward to engaging with the State throughout this process.
A tale of two levies
1 July heralded a new era for Queensland with the reintroduction of a $75 per tonne levy. Now, WMRR acknowledges that there are still issues to be ironed out, particularly around the State’s grants program, extracting of recyclable materials from tipping areas, the impact on households situated on commercial sites, and more. However, the State Government and Minister for Environment, the Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP, must be acknowledged for their openness and willingness to listen industry’s concerns. For one, Queensland heeded the advice of stakeholders and provided time for industry and councils to make the necessary adjustments and prepare for the levy.
Ahead of the levy commencement, WMRR CEO, Ms Gayle Sloan, was in Brisbane at the invitation of the Minister to continue ongoing discussions aimed at ensuring a smooth and successful levy commencement. In other levy news, WMRR has expressed its disappointment at the timing of the recent announcement of a 1 January 2020 waste levy increase in SA. The complete lack of consultation or forewarning meant that industry and the community are simply not financially prepared for such a significant rise.
As the increase has not come with the requisite policy support, the concern is there will be a range of perverse outcomes, including illegal dumping and/or the unnecessary interstate transport of waste.
But it’s not just the waste and resource recovery industry that stands to lose. The 40% increase in the levy is a significant impost on construction projects; businesses will be disrupted (waste management and resource recovery affects everyone in the community, from small businesses to schools); and jobs within and beyond industry will be affected.
WMRR will be meeting with the SA Minister for Environment and Water, the Hon David Speirs in July.
Two down, two to go
If you’ve not joined us at any of our Women of Waste events in the first half of 2019, you only have two more opportunities to do so and you do not want to miss out.
At the most recent WoW, held on May 22 in Adelaide, attendees at the sold-out event heard from an outstanding line up of comedians industry experts – EPA SA’s Tiana Nairn, University of SA’s Dr Anne Sharp, and Tonkin Consulting’s Dr Melissa Salt. Comments received after the event included:
WoW was designed to recognise women who are driving change in industry, and in doing so, are breaking down barriers and creating new career prospects for the next generation. But this is not an event exclusive to women… Men are more than welcome to attend as well!
The next WoW will be held in Brisbane on 24 July and will feature DES’ Kylie Hughes, Brisbane Tool Library’s Sabrina Chakori, and Mandalay Technologies’ Lacey Webb. More here.
(L-R: Dr Anne Sharp, Ms Gayle Sloan, Ms Tiana Nairn, Dr Melissa Salt, and Zero Waste SA's Dr Marcia Kreinhold)
View WMRR's national submissions here.
View WMRR's VIC submissions here.
View WMRR's QLD submissions here.
View WMRR's SA submissions here.
View WMRR's WA submissions here.
24 July 2019 – Women of Waste Leadership Breakfast QLD (Brisbane)
The third in the WoW series, this event will be held at Blackbird and will feature Kylie Hughes from the Department of Environment and Science, Brisbane Tool Library’s Sabrina Chakori, and Mandalay Technologies’ Lacey Webb.
31 July 2019 – NSW EfW FAQs launch (Sydney)
Save the date! WMRR and Bioenergy Australia will be launching the first of a series of EfW FAQs. Networking drinks to follow.
5 August 2019 – Breakfast with the NSW Minister (Sydney)
Save the date! The NSW Branch is hosting the newly elected NSW Minister for Energy and Environment for an industry breakfast, providing industry with the first opportunity to meet the Minster and hear him present his preliminary thoughts in relation to the waste and resource recovery industry and the opportunities that exist in NSW.
26-28 August 2019 – 2019 Energy from Waste Conference (Canberra)
Under the theme of 'Powering Change', this leading industry conference will bring together international and local experts to discuss and debate all aspects of Energy from Waste (EfW), with the goal of understanding what the barriers to acceptance are and how we can ensure that EfW can be established in Australia while supporting an emerging circular economy.
25-26 September - Waste & Recycle Conference (Perth)
The Conference theme this year is ‘Whose WARR is it anyway?’ Hosted by WMRR, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER), and Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA), Waste & Recycle is the leading waste and resource recovery event in Western Australia.
15-17 October 2019 - WasteQ (Toowoomba)
Planning for WasteQ, which will be held in Toowoomba, has commenced. The theme for this year is, ‘Change, Opportunity, Innovation’ and registration is now open.
23 October 2019 – Women of Waste Leadership Breakfast NSW (Sydney)
Registrations are open for the Sydney installation of WMRR’s popular Women of Waste leadership breakfast. Further details to follow.