President’s Column 16 August 2019

ALGA President David O'Loughlin gestures at a lectern

After over a year of calling for national leadership and months of arguing at various ministerial councils on your behalf, ALGA achieved a major breakthrough at COAG last Friday with Prime Minister Morrison and all First Ministers agreeing to join us in the fight against waste, to boost recycling, and to do it onshore. The first step agreed was to ban exports of plastics, glass and tyre waste as soon as practicable.

As outlined in the communiqué, COAG leaders “agreed 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.”

As Prime Minister Morrison told the post-meeting press conference, this was “our waste, our responsibility.”

On your behalf, I told the press conference that local councils had long sought national leadership on waste and recycling, and COAG’s decision was a great example of how the three layers of government can work together to address this issue.

I explained that households across Australia do their best to make sure that they sort their waste out at home and put it in the right bin, but their confidence of late has been dented when they’ve found out that their recycling was not being recycled as well as they’d hoped.

My contention has long been that national leadership was essential to restore confidence, and send a clear signal to the states and territories that they must end the excuses and seek to be part of the solution – by accessing their vast policy levers, procurement power and $1b in waste levy funds. We are very grateful that national leadership has finally arrived!

COAG tasked Environment Ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy for the export ban, following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

That strategy must “seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste,” the communiqué said.

It should also draw on the best science, research and commercial experience, including that of agencies like the CSIRO and the work of Cooperative Research Centres.

The COAG decision hopefully now puts the wood on the Environment Ministers, and through them the States, to lift their game and do more, much more, in this area. I will be putting the issue directly to the next Environment Ministers’ Meeting.

There is no doubt in my mind that a well-organised response to our recycling opportunities will create jobs and high-value products here in Australia. All we need are purchasers – and this is a crucial role for all levels of government, including ours.

A number of councils have for years worked with companies like Downer and Fulton Hogan to turn used plastic bags, recycled glass and printer toner into road and pavement materials. The products have been trialled and proven, with local government leading the way.

With this knowledge in hand, I advocated strongly at COAG for all governments to insist on minimum recycled content levels for plastics, rubber tyres, and glass fines for every new road surface we fund or build.

I’ve long argued that this one decision could create demand for over half of Australia’s domestic plastic waste stream, transforming the value of the supply chain overnight – including our kerbside collection value.

That’s why I was pleased to see that both Prime Minister Morrison and Federal Industry Karen Minister Andrews saw recycled road surface products for themselves when they visited one of Downer’s facilities in Sydney this week.

I’ll continue to keep you updated about the exports ban strategy, and other aspects of our recycling and waste management system, and continue pushing the States and Commonwealth to invest in research, industry development and procurement decisions that directly confront the problem.

In the interim, make sure you share your local achievements and challenges with your local federal member. As last week proved, you never know when your advocacy will pay off, it could go all the way to the top!

David O’Loughlin
ALGA President