Mixed reaction to environment ministers’ recycling agreement

Local government welcomes pledges to tackle waste but recycling industry says implementation detail and funding are missing.

Federal and state governments have agreed to cut Australia’s supply of waste and boost onshore recycling capability in response to China’s restrictions on recyclables that have exacerbated long-running issues in the domestic recycling sector.

At their meeting on Friday environment ministers also agreed to increase the demand for recyclable products in government procurement and purchasing.

Ministers endorsed a target for 100 per cent of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 or earlier to cut down on waste.

Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg said the Commonwealth would work with states and territory governments “to examine opportunities to further develop our recycling industry” to process the four per cent of recyclable waste that would have gone to China.

To help stimulate a so-called circular economy, as advocated for by the waste and recycling industries, ministers agreed to “advocate, where appropriate, to increase the recyclable materials in goods purchased by governments, such as paper, road base and construction materials.”

They also agreed to fast-track the development of new product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic solar panels and batteries and bring forward the review of Australia’s National Waste Policy to be completed within a year.

David O’Loughlin, president of the Australian Local Government Association, praised the progress made at the meeting.

“Effort from all three tiers of government will ensure that we get a solution that not just responds to this immediate crisis but provides a long-term sustainable outcome,” he said.

Similarly the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) welcomed the commitments on packaging and increasing Australia’s recycling capacity.

“This can only be achieved with further investment and the right policy settings by both Federal and State governments,” said Rob Spence, chief executive of MAV.

“We also welcome the proposal for new initiatives to increase consumer awareness and education. Reducing the current contamination rates is critical for the future success of our recycling industry.”

However, the recycling sector’s peak body said the ministers’ statement was lacking implementation detail and the necessary funding.

“The recycling industry welcomes commitments about ensuring recyclability of packaging products, buying recycled content products by governments, expanding domestic reprocessing capacity and developing a new national plan,” said Pete Shmigel, chief of the Australian Council on Recycling.

“Today’s ministerial announcement lacks comprehensive targets for all measures, and consequences for underperformance, that make practice from theory.

“Pro-recycling policy principles are welcome; pro-recycling positive action and investment is now to be expected,” Mr Shmigel said.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, which the ministers have charged with leading work on the packaging target, said it was “one of the most ambitious and decisive environmental targets to be supported in Australia.”

“We will support more innovative packaging design, enhance consumer education, as well as bolster the re-use and the incorporation of recycled content within end markets,” said Brooke Donnelly, chief executive of APOC, which represents 950 companies.

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