What needs to change, across government and industry, to curb the roughly 1.4 million tonnes of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres that we export every year?
With the waste export ban drawing nearer – in less than six months for glass and just over a year for mixed plastics – we need practical solutions now.
At the National Plastics Summit in Canberra on Monday, attended by government, industry, researchers and waste stakeholders, I laid out some of the essential strategies we need to implement for Australia, as well as our sector, to be successful in shifting from waste crisis to waste breakthroughs. And I made it clear that without action, our kerbside recycling may well be at risk.
One of the strategies, which I believe is absolutely vital, is for state governments to free up access to waste levies. This money has already been collected from households and should be used for investment in waste and resource recovery. The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council estimates that, nationally, more than $1.5 billion of waste levies will be collected in 2019-20; we need access to these funds to be able to deliver the infrastructure needed for positive waste outcomes for our communities.
Another critical strategy is to create thriving markets for products with recycled content. What we need are purchasers, and with a collective operational expenditure of $37 billion, local government can certainly play a part here. There are already numerous excellent examples of councils adopting or trialling innovative solutions to the waste crisis, from prioritising the purchase of products made from recycled materials to nurturing partnerships that facilitate the use of plastics, recycled glass and printer toner in the construction of new roads.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison reinforced these strategies in his speech. The Prime Minister recognised that waste levies aren’t finding their way to recycling infrastructure and technology, and he called for that to change. He indicated that he would have more to say on this closer to the upcoming Federal Budget, which sounded promising.
It was also encouraging to hear of the Commonwealth’s plans to build demand for recycled products by ensuring every procurement undertaken by a Commonwealth agency considers environmental sustainability and the use of recycled content as a factor in determining value for money.
There is still a lot of work ahead us all and as the waste conversation evolves, and momentum is built towards creating a circular economy, we will keep you updated at every step of the way.
And ahead of International Women’s Day this Sunday, I would like to thank all the incredible women in local government and beyond who help transform and improve our communities every single day. Although it’s encouraging that the local government sector is actively supporting women’s participation in councils, I challenge each council to find more ways to reject stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions and celebrate women’s achievements. Together, we can help advance our goal for a gender equal world.
Mayor David O’Loughlin