Senate report slams government inaction on waste

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee has released its report on waste and recycling in Australia, finding that the industry in crisis both as a result of the change in Chinese import policy and of failure across all levels of government to make the policy decisions required to put the industry on a solid footing.

It concluded that while the community was willing to 'do the right thing' and participate in recycling and waste reduction initiatives, this willingness to participate has not been matched by the implementation of comprehensive waste management policies, a sustainable domestic recycling industry, or a reduction in the generation of waste and consumption of raw materials.

It observed that the Australian Government has done little to implement the strategies set out in the 2009 National Waste Policy (National Waste Policy: Less Waste, More Resources ), which presented 16 key strategies that were agreed to by all state and territory governments.

“The committee is of the view that the failure to progress the implementation of the National Waste Policy has exacerbated the effects of changes in the global market for recycled material. It provides benchmarks for the states and territories and provides an overarching policy framework. The committee accepts the evidence that if strategies established under the National Waste Policy had been implemented then the Australian recycling industry would not be in the depth of crisis that it currently is in as it would not be as reliant on global trading markets, and would have an established an approach that more closely resembles a circular economy.

“The committee is of the view that the Australian Government must act urgently to transition away from a linear economy to a circular economy which prioritises the collection, recovery and re-use of products, including within Australia. This transition must include a suite of regulatory and policy changes aimed at influencing behaviour, as well as investments in infrastructure and technology.”

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • establishment of a circular economy in which materials are used, collected, recovered, and re-used, including within Australia.

  • urgent implementation of the 16 strategies established under the National Waste Policy.

  • a phase out of petroleum-based single-use plastics by 2023, to be agreed by Australian, state and territory governments.

  • establishment of a Plastics Co-Operative Research Centre (CRC) to lead Australia's research efforts into reducing plastic waste, cleaning up our oceans and finding end-markets for recovered plastic.

  • mandatory targets for all government departments in relation to the recycled content of materials bought directly or provided by private contractors.

  • the National Waste Report be published at least biennially.

  • a national container deposit scheme.

  • product stewardship schemes established under the Product Stewardship Act 2011 be mandatory schemes, and mandatory product stewardship schemes be established for tyres, mattresses, e-waste, and photovoltaic panels.

  • the Product Stewardship Advisory Committee be re-established and that they be tasked with recommending products for listing under the Product Stewardship Act.

  • landfill levies in proximate jurisdictions are such that there is a no incentive to transport waste for levy avoidance purposes.

The report is available here

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