Long-term solutions required to solve recycling crisis, says VWMA
Long-term solutions are required to manage Victoria’s growing pollution and its growing waste and commingled recycling streams, according to the Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA).
An extensive system supports Victorians through the collection, transport, sorting, processing, recycling recovery, exporting of commodities, green waste and organic recycling and landfilling of waste. This system has worked effectively due to the collaboration and strategic investments made into the waste and recycling system by the private sector (including many VWMA members) and state and local government.
China was Australia’s largest market for the export of recyclable materials. However, it has progressively tightened inspection efforts to reduce the amount of contaminated materials entering the country — a policy known as Green Fence.
National Sword is an extension of this policy, and is part of an inspection program that will target (for Australia’s purposes) recyclable materials (such as paper and various grades of post-consumer plastics) that are being imported into China. China flagged its intent to global markets in 2017. The problem that exists with materials that Australia sends to China (and materials that may be caught up in the inspection program) is that streams can be highly contaminated due to poor recycling practices and sorting, which can originate back to the household (or point of generation).
The VWMA does not comment on commercial contracts in place between organisations. However, it says the current situation can be attributed to a range of factors that contracting parties have knowingly entered into — this includes fixed priced collection in a commodity sensitive environment and dependencies on export markets.
The VWMA does not support compensation or bailouts as an appropriate response to the current situation. The association is focused on medium- and long-term sustainable solutions for our members and Victorians, and is engaged with the Victorian Government and other related organisations and associations as required to advocate for these medium- and longer-term solutions.
Commitment to long-term solutions for Victoria
On 20 February the VWMA executive met to discuss National Sword and its impacts to Victoria. They found there is a range of factors that have created the current recycling issue in Victoria, including:
- the export of recyclable material and global (fluctuating) commodity markets;
- contractual models that favour one party over another and that do not distribute risk;
- public awareness and appropriate waste and recycling disposal practice by households;
- public confidence in the waste and recycling system;
- essentialness of maintaining waste and recycling services for Victorians.
The VWMA acknowledges that with Australia’s (and the world’s) largest importer of post-consumer recyclables increasing importing requirements a global market reset is currently being experienced and no-one knows what this reset will mean or how long ambiguity around recycling markets may exist.
The VWMA advocates and collaborative approach between industry and government on this matter with the following areas to be priorities by state and local government:
1. Contractual models for waste and resource recovery contracts
Review the contractual models for waste and resource recovery contracts which may include splitting contracts, linking contracts to an indexed commodity price and a greater distribution of risk between all parties.
2. Unlocking the Sustainability Fund
Increased state government investment (via low-interest loans and grants) to the private sector and local government (which could include public-private partnerships for larger investments) targeted at all aspects of Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system including waste collection/transports, processing facilities and other infrastructure. The intent of this investment would be to create self-sustainable outcomes (in line with the Sustainability Fund’s objectives) through value-added product created in Victoria from the materials consumers throw out. This investment would also stimulate jobs in construction and manufacturing.
3. Stimulating local markets
Where appropriate, all levels of government (including federal) should seek to stimulate markets for recovery through minimum requirements in procurement contracts. This would drive local demand for value-added product and support broader government initiative around the concepts of circular economy. Options should also consider waste to energy as a viable option for Victoria.
4. Engaging community to help them understand the essential nature of the service provided to them
Victoria’s waste and resource recovery system exists to support Victorians and all Victorians have a civil responsibility to engage in appropriate waste disposal practices (this includes things such as recycling correctly, not throwing dangerous goods into the bin, littering). State government should begin to have this conversation with the community and involve industry.
“Victoria’s success in kerbside collection can in large part be attributed to the collaboration between government and industry,” said VWMA Executive Officer Mark Smith. “The VWMA supports continued engagement with all levels of industry on this matter.
“The Victorian waste and resource recovery system exists to support a prosperous and healthy Victoria. We all generate waste and this waste needs to be managed. Communities need to be brought in on the conversation so they understand their role in generating waste and disposing of that waste correctly.”
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