The federal government introduced legislation last week that establishes a national industry framework for recycling and puts into effect an export ban for recyclable waste.

The Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 will phase in an end to the 645,000 tonnes of unprocessed plastic, paper, glass, and tyres that Australia ships overseas each year.

In a speech in Parliament last week, Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the bill implements the agreement by all of Australia’s governments to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

Sussan Ley, federal minister for the environment
Sussan Ley, federal minister for the environment

“[The bill] includes improvements to better regulate and encourage our businesses – those that design, manufacture, distribute, and use products – to take greater responsibility for their environmental impacts,” Ley said in her speech.

“The waste export ban is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform our waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse and convert waste into a resource. This reform is expected to see the Australian economy turn over an additional $3.6bn and potentially generate $1.5bn in economic activity over the next 20 years.”

Ley said the bill reflects a fundamental change in the way we collectively address waste.

“From an economic perspective, from an environmental perspective and from a moral perspective it is a resource that we need to manage effectively. Waste is not just an environmental problem to solve, it is an economic opportunity to create,” she said.

In her speech, Ley explained the bill establishes a framework, enabling the legislative instruments to “bring the waste export ban to life”.

In a media statement Ley said the bill is about tackling a national environmental issue that has been buried in landfill or shipped offshore for far too long. She said it was an opportunity to create economic opportunity with a strong market for recycled materials as the country moves toward a circular economy.

“We are introducing legislation; we are driving a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity and we are investing in new technologies and new ideas to transform recycling and reprocessing,” Ley said.

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans said the legislation will improve the existing framework for product stewardship by encouraging companies to take greater responsibility for the waste they generate through the products they design, manufacture or distribute.

“We are making it easier for industry to set up and join in product stewardship schemes,” he said.

“Yet where voluntary product stewardship schemes are not effective, or where they are not created in priority areas, the government will have new tools to intervene and regulate.”

Australian Food and Grocery Council Acting CEO Geoffrey Annison welcomed the bill as a leap in the right direction to reduce waste and increase access to high-quality packaging with high levels of recycled content.

“The bill balances the needs and responsibilities of all industry sectors to collaborate and improve their management of end-of-life material recovery and recycling,” Annison said.

Australian Council of Recycling CEO Pete Shmigel said the legislation, taken together with other reforms, marks a new era of environmental and economic achievement in recycling through government leadership and industry partnership and innovation.

“Our industry is making unprecedented investments in collecting, sorting, cleaning, and manufacturing from recyclate from homes, businesses and construction sites. Having the law, policy and governments backing that in is awesome and will unlock huge intergenerational value – whether it’s keeping stuff out of wasteful landfills or creating jobs in country towns,” Shmigel said.

“It’s especially good that the government is holding to account those who put products into the marketplace by ensuring their footprint is reduced including through recyclability and recycled content manufacture. That’s a key shift we need to make the system even more successful, and we would welcome further measures in this area consistent with achieving the National Waste Policy’s objectives.”

Shmigel acknowledged the government’s strong focus on achieving the targets of the policy, including for plastics and recycling.

“We are optimistic that government – with industry partnership – will continue to rise to the challenge and opportunity, including through large-scale infrastructure investment, massively increasing demand for RCPs including through public procurement of recyclate for ‘lighthouse projects’, and standardisation of operational and logistical aspects, and further incentives,” Shmigel said.

“Specific acknowledgement and positive vibes go to the PM, the Minister for Environment, and the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction for their personal leadership, initiative, and commitment to this highwater mark in recycling policy and future results.”

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