National Waste Policy discussion paper released

Wednesday, 12 September, 2018

National Waste Policy discussion paper released

The Department of Environment and Energy has released the discussion paper ‘Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources’, in an effort to seek input on priority issues to be considered in future Australian waste management and resource recovery.

On 27 April 2018, Commonwealth, state and territory environment ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) committed to set a sustainable path for Australia’s recyclable waste. Ministers agreed to work together to better manage waste, including updating the 2009 National Waste Policy by the end of 2018.

Preparation of the discussion paper was coordinated by the Australian Government, with input from state and territory government officials, the ALGA, business and industry associations and non-government organisations. Feedback will inform updates to the 2009 National Waste Policy for consideration by environment ministers later this year.

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has congratulated the Department of Environment and Energy for developing the discussion paper within a short time frame and acknowledges the department’s willingness to accept feedback and input from the working group. The paper unveils several untapped opportunities, according to the WMAA, including the Commonwealth leading the national dialogue and importantly, driving economic outcomes.

The WMAA said the discussion paper goes some way in reflecting circular economy principles and includes a range of targets; however, these targets should be steered towards key national goals. According to CEO Gayle Sloan, “The targets set out in the discussion paper must focus on growing jobs and the economy, and ensure that the industry can stand on its own two feet. Setting strong interim targets and providing clarity around how these targets will be enforced are a good way to start.

“For instance, the federal government can exert its import powers to ensure everything that comes to market adheres to extended producer responsibility best practice. It can also grant tax incentives to organisations that actively work towards the targets set in the paper.”

The WMAA is also urging the government to think outside of the environment box, taking on a whole-of-government approach to drive the circular economy and follow in the footsteps of Europe to develop a far more sophisticated system. The hurdle at present is the lack of robust data across the entire supply chain.

But therein lies the opportunity, the WMAA said, given the government is in a position to fill that gap by bringing all stakeholders to the table, ensuring that accurate data is received and compiled, and keeping all players engaged every step of the way.

“In the paper, the department discusses opportunities to apply circular economy principles to the whole management system, across each stage of the cycle, which includes design, product remanufacturing, distribution, consumption, use, re-use and repair, as well as collection and recycling,” said Sloan. “However, there is a real knowledge gap, particularly in the first four stages of this cycle and the federal government is in a position to collate this data through the policy and national engagement.

“There is value in looking to the EU as they have shown how this can be done by effectively producing 54 clearly defined measures, all with responsibilities allocated. Further, the Commonwealth needs to set up a third-party organisation, similar to WRAP UK, which sits uniquely in the space between government, business and community to collate data and aid in the forging of partnerships to drive a sustainable economy.”

WRAP UK CEO Dr Marcus Gover pointed to the success the organisation has had in the last decade, noting, “We know that what gets measured gets managed, and this is as true for waste as it is for anything else.

“Over the past 10 years, WRAP has proven that measuring and reporting on waste in whole supply chains helps us to identify the hotspots and take action on them. It is only when you take this whole supply chain view that you can address these systemic problems instead of simply pushing the waste somewhere else.”

An example is WRAP UK’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, launched in 2007 in response to research on the scale and types of food waste by UK homes. Since it commenced, avoidable household food waste in the UK has been cut by 21%, in large part due to WRAP’s ability to draw on its data and evidence base to design effective initiatives and collaborate with the nation’s largest food retailers.

“This goes to show that it is all well and good to set targets and milestones but if we do not have accurate data and the ability to track progress, we cannot possibly succeed,” said Sloan.

“For the update to the 2009 National Waste Policy to truly matter, we need everyone to adhere to the policy and move forward as one. That is why it is so important that the federal government shows leadership in this regard.”

You can provide feedback on the discussion paper by filling out a simple online survey, sending an email or posting a written submission. Feedback must be received by 5 October 2018 at 5 pm AEST.

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