By Sarah Brugler
Australians think that when they place their recyclable household items in their yellow bins, it is being recycled and turned into new products. This used to happen primarily in China or other southeastern Asian nations. But these countries are increasingly refusing to accept our waste. While the contractors still collect our recycled waste, they are finding it difficult to export and we don’t yet have the recycling facilities in Australia to process it. So large amounts of our recycling is currently being piled up.
Not only does this mean that recycling is not occurring like we think it is, as the stockpiles of recyclable materials in Australia continue to grow, so too does the fire risk. In Melbourne last year, residents had to endure a toxic fire in a recycling facility for almost a week.
Consistent national action is needed urgently.
The Australian Government recently consulted on introducing new targets into the National Waste Policy. While some of the targets were ok, the policy proposals to achieve them were woefully inadequate and fail to address the leadership void that currently exists in Australia regarding waste management.
Here at EJA, we are particularly concerned about the environmental disaster that is plastic pollution. Of the 322 million tonnes of plastic produced globally, 12.7 million tonnes of this ends up in the world’s oceans each year. Much of the plastic we produce is designed to be thrown away after only being used once – such as shopping bags, food packaging and containers, bottles, straws, cups and cutlery. Australians also produce more waste per capita than other comparable OECD nation – except for the UK – and most plastic rubbish found on Aussie beaches, comes from Australian sources, with the most polluted areas near cities.
It’s time for the Commonwealth Government to accept responsibility for the problem and work with the States and Territories to introduced nationally consistent and effective measures. Here are the key points we made to the Government’s proposal to update the National Waste Policy:
- Businesses cannot be expected to ‘self-regulate’ when it comes to matters of plastic pollution and waste generation because most private businesses simply do not have the incentives to do so.
- A national waste policy has potential to create a streamlined national approach, however targets must be mandatory for States and Territories and a national legislative framework is required to establish the right incentives, rules and regulations. Such a framework should include:
- bans on problematic single-use plastic materials (where suitable alternatives exist);
- Commonwealth product stewardship schemes that include extended producer responsibility to become mandatory;
- a national container deposit scheme;
- standardisation of landfill levies across Australia (with possible exemptions for accredited or audited recycling residuals);
- national recycling content standards and specifications must be developed;
- tax incentives for companies who use recycled materials and levies for use of virgin plastic products;
- investment in the development of alternative biodegradable products;
- and a ban on incineration of plastic in waste to energy projects (due to the health and environmental risks).
We believe that if the Government made a commitment to do the above, then we’d have much less plastic in the ocean, and a much better recycling system.