Export ban timelines unrealistic without mandated recycled content in packaging

Last Friday’s Meeting of Environment Ministers’ export ban announcement is in need of urgent adjustment to ensure the timelines are realistic. Its intent is noteworthy however its achievability is seriously constrained unless markets and infrastructure are established in parallel.

The National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is concerned the COAG proposed waste export bans will fail unless markets for recovered plastics and paper are developed rapidly. Perverse impacts from the ban must be avoided as Australia seeks to address its waste and recycling challenges.

The NWRIC, which represents commercial waste and recycling operators across Australia welcomes federal and state governments commitment to ramp-up the resource recovery industry locally.

“Our members are keen to work with all agencies and the packaging and manufacturing industry to make this happen”, CEO NWRIC Ms Rose Read said. “However, we are very concerned that the regulatory focus is being crudely placed at the end-of-pipe and not at the source of the issue i.e. brands and producers.”

Ms Read added “it is unrealistic to have export bans enforced for plastics by July 2021 and paper by June 2022, when the packaging industry and manufacturers are only working to achieve 30% recycled content and 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

“Currently, there is no regulation requiring manufacturers or the packaging industry to achieve these targets or penalties if they don’t. This is far from being equitable.

“It also seems counterintuitive for MEM to give more time for the banning of waste tyres (December 2021) than plastics (June 2021). Especially as the volume of waste tyres affected is relatively small, there are local and overseas markets and there is plenty of processing capacity in Australia.

“You really have to question the performance of the industry led voluntary National Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme established six years ago in 2013 specifically set up to promote the development of viable markets for end-of-life tyres,” she added

The NWRIC applauds federal, state and local government commitment to put more crushed glass into roads. “This will go a long way towards addressing the current crushed glass stockpiles and future excess recovered glass that won’t be taken up by local glass manufacturers, Ms Read said.

“The key to success will be government procurement contracts specifying crushed glass and finalising as a matter of urgency national and local guidelines for recovered materials into roads and pavements.

“This will incentivise industry to build infrastructure to meet demand and create jobs in regions as councils commit to reuse locally produced crushed glass.”

The Environment Ministers have also committed to further test the proposed export ban timetable with industry and local government prior to finalising them to present to First Ministers early in 2020 which is welcomed.

The NWRIC is calling on the federal Environment Minister, to bring together as soon as practical a round table of industry leaders from the manufacturing, packaging, waste and resource recovery sectors to commit to both minimum recycled content levels in plastic and paper packaging and scaling up reprocessing capacity within mutually agreed and realistic timeframes.

If the Environment Ministers do not prioritise minimum recycled content levels in plastic and paper packaging, there will be no markets for recovered plastic and paper, stockpiles will grow increasing fire risk, resources will be sent to landfill, people may lose their jobs and currently viable businesses will cease.

“The proposed export bans have the potential to address Australia’s packaging waste and recycling challenges, but only if supported by appropriately targeted product stewardship regulation and effective government procurement policies that create new home markets for used packaging”, Ms Read said.

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