Local government calls for waste levies to support recycling industry

Local government and industry associations have highlighted the need for assistance for and national coordination of Australia's recycling industry at the current Senate Environment and Communications References Committee Inquiry into waste and recycling.

The inquiry was initiated in response to the transportation of waste to Queensland, but has been affected by China’s decision to more strictly enforce rules on the acceptance of foreign waste.

President of Local Government NSW, Linda Scott, told the inquiry that many councils are facing disruption of the kerbside collection of recyclables following the introduction of China’s National Sword Policy on the acceptance of foreign waste materials.

However, she said, there are opportunities, with State and Federal Government support, to develop new regional jobs in a local environmental and recycling industry.

“Councils in NSW are already seeking support to develop markets for recycled glass, paper and plastics; working proactively to improve the quality of what’s in the recycling bin, and reducing recycling contamination levels.

“But that’s not enough, and councils alone can’t be asked to save the recycling industry in this state.

“There is an immediate need for financial assistance and fast tracking of approvals for on-shore reprocessing and remanufacturing.

“There is also an immediate need for market development such as requiring recycled content in certain products: glass sand for pipe bedding, road base and asphalt, for example.

“But most important is the need to ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars in waste levies collected from the community each year are fully reinvested to support recycling.”

Clr Scott said the NSW Government had collected $659 million in waste levies in 2016/17.

“Yet our research shows only 18% of the waste levies paid by local government are returned to local government,” she said.

“That’s an enormous limitation on the ability of councils to invest in waste and recycling infrastructure, and it has made NSW tremendously vulnerable to this decision by China."

LGNSW is calling for:

  • the NSW Government to dedicate more of the waste levy to the cause for which it was collected – the safe, environmental disposal of waste

  • all spheres of government to work together to ensure waste levies across Australia are implemented equitably and consistently.

The Local Government Association of South Australia said it was supportive of a waste levy and its use to improve recycling and waste management outcomes. However, it stated, the levy rate in South Australia is now such that it imposes a huge cost on councils and communities.

“Since 2001, the waste levy has increased by nearly 1,450%. Independent research commissioned in South Australia suggests that a waste levy rate above $50 per tonne is a net economic cost to the community. It is now $87 per tonne and rising to $103.”

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council called for the establishment of a simple, integrated national system for the identification, classification, treatment, disposal and monitoring of waste materials. It stated that the national harmonisation of landfill levies is essential in order to prevent unnecessary waste transportation (market distortions) and to provide regulatory certainty for investors.

More information about the Senate inquiry into the waste and recycling industry in Australia is here

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