The waste and recycling industry welcomes COAG intervention in waste issues

Bales of stacked PET bottles. Source: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, 29 May 2019

MRA Consulting Group welcomes the involvement of the Prime Minister and Premiers at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to resolve the many difficulties facing the recycling and waste management sector.

At its meeting of 9 August, COAG announced that Australia should establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated demand.

Mike Ritchie, Managing Director of MRA, welcomed the involvement of COAG. Since the China National Sword restrictions on imports of Australian recyclables emerged over 2 years ago, the recycling industry has been calling for government intervention to support domestic recycling activities.

Mr Ritchie said “According to the 2018 National Waste Report, Australians generate 54.5 million tonnes (Mt) of waste per year and we successfully recycle over 31.7Mt of that or 58%. Of that 4.3Mt is exported, primarily fibre and plastic. This 4.3Mt is now subject to greater import restrictions by the Asian manufacturing nations, as they grow their own domestic recycling industries.”

“To avoid our fibre and plastic going to landfill we need to rebuild our own on-shore reprocessing capacity” Mr Ritchie said. “That means plastic reprocessing facilities to turn used bottles into plastic pellets and reusing fibre in recycled paper here in Australia. We know how to do it but the economics have always favoured export”.

“To close the loop in Australia we will need governments and businesses to preferentially purchase materials with recycled content. That means Government will need to introduce recycled content rules for domestic manufacturers and to have purchasing policies in place that require recycled content.”

“The most obvious are converting glass bottles into sand for use in road base and asphalt and reprocessing plastic bottles into asphalt, furniture and fuel. Governments need to mandate the use of recycled paper” Mr Ritchie said.

“Recycling doesn’t stop at putting the bin out on the kerb, it stops when a product using recycled material is sold back into the economy. If we want to truly close the loop then we need to purchase and reuse products with recycled content.”

The Australian Council of Recyclers (ACOR) and MRA have estimated that at a one-off cost of $150m we could de-risk and on-shore Australia’s recycling sector through three straight forward actions:

  1. $90m to retrofit Australia’s Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) which sort out household and kerbside recyclables to improve quality; plus new investment in glass, plastic and fibre reprocessing equipment.
  2. Positive Procurement Policy to ensure products with recycled content are preferentially purchased here in Australia.
  3. Community education to reduce contamination in recycling systems.

Mr Ritchie also welcomed the COAG decision to ask Environment Ministers to consult with industry and other stakeholders to develop a new strategy: “Industry knows what to do and what is needed. The pathway is known and documented but we need political leadership to tread it.”