Australia’s recycling industry has said the “nice words” of a government agreement on recycling must be backed up with funding and action to be “transformative” to the sector.
The Australian Council of Recycling welcomed a Council of Australian Governments deal to end recycling exports, but warned the 4.5m tonnes of waste could instead end up in domestic landfill without major public investment in the recyclables industry.
“If we can actually achieve the vision of zero exports, then that is actually transformative in terms of recycling in Australia,” ACOR’s chief executive, Pete Shmigel, told Guardian Australia.
“[But] we have bugger all, we have zilch, other than some nice words at the moment.”
“The only route to Coag’s vision of recycling sovereignty and security is governments now matching very big deeds and dollars to their discussions. This great leadership by Coag must be followed by great investment.”
Shmigel said that if the 4.5m tonnes currently sent overseas by Australia could be integrated into a domestic circular economy, it would create an estimated 5,000 extra jobs, a 10% increase on current numbers.
But he said environment ministers still needed to map out a timetable and back up the agreement with major scale support for reprocessing and remanufacturing infrastructure. Procurement targets for government spending on recycled materials were also crucial for the agreement to be meaningful.
State governments said they supported the commitment to work towards an export ban. Most said they would like it introduced as soon as possible, though some privately acknowledged it was little more than a headline pledge at this stage.
Queensland’s environment minister, Leeanne Enoch, called on the prime minister to spell out what funding support would be available to deliver reform.
She said any export ban would need to be coordinated by the federal government and negotiated through the states and territories to ensure there was the necessary infrastructure and processing capacity to support it.
“We look forward to seeing how the commonwealth will provide support to implement long-term and sustainable options that will create more opportunities to grow the resource recovery sector in Queensland,” she said.
“Discussion about national harmonisation of waste levies is an option that the commonwealth could be doing more about.”
New South Wales’s Matt Kean said an export ban would open up new opportunities in the waste industry and deliver a better, cleaner environment.
“I’m extremely supportive of Coag’s decision to fast-track work on better managing our own waste here in Australia rather than sending it offshore,” he said. “Managing our waste is one of the major environmental challenges of our time and the community expect solutions.”
Victoria’s Lily D’Ambrosio said the Labor state government had always believed fixing Australia’s waste issues required action and coordination across all levels of government.
She announced the Victorian government would spend $11.3m to provide financial relief to councils in the wake of the collapse of SKM Recycling, which had taken about half of Victoria’s kerbside recycling.
D’Ambrosio said SKM had been significantly undercutting the prices of other recycling companies. Since it stopped accepting waste many councils were paying double what they had previously been as they diverted to other recyclers. The funding would help cover the additional cost and go towards new infrastructure, she said.