Environment

‘Wasted opportunity’: Industry, states seek federal recycling funding

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Major states and the recycling industry say the Morrison government must allocate funding if it's serious about implementing a much-needed nationwide waste strategy to address mounting piles of refuse.

Melissa Price, the federal environment minister, will on Friday push for an agreement on a National Waste Policy at a meeting with state and territory counterparts in Canberra.

A National Waste Policy is taking shape - but will there be funding to support it?

A National Waste Policy is taking shape – but will there be funding to support it?Credit:Karleen Minney

"We hope to agree on some more ambitious and broader targets around products and packaging, and [Friday] presents an opportunity to formalise some of the goals weve set," Ms Price said.

Such an accord would be "a huge step forward when it comes to recycling and management of waste", she said.

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The two-hour summit aims to sign off on a range of policies including product stewardship guidelines for batteries and plastic bags, with photovoltaic panel recycling also to be discussed, Fairfax Media understands.

Ms Price, though, will come under pressure to demonstrate its financial bona fides with even the NSW Coalition government of Gladys Berejiklian demanding cash to support any national waste plan.

“If the Commonwealth is serious about tackling waste they will also need to put more money on the table so we can produce high-quality recycled materials," said NSW environment minister Gabrielle Upton.

These materials – and the funding to give companies the incentive to use them – would avoid unnecessary waste and boost the resource recovery industry, she said.

Australia's waste management system has been struggling to adjust to tighter Chinese import restrictions on waste imposed at the start of the year. These affected about 29 per cent of all paper and 36 per cent of all plastics gathered in kerbside collection points, according to researchers from the University of Technology Sydney.

In September, Fairfax Media revealed the draft of the national scheme, which included six targets aimed at reducing total waste per capita by 10 per cent by 2030. All packaging is to have an average of 30 per cent recycled content by 2025.

'On the run'

“These national recycling targets wont go anywhere because the Morrison government has no plan or funding to make them happen," Lily D'Ambrosio, Victoria's environment minister, said on Thursday.

“This is just more policy on the run from a chaotic government with no energy or environment policy, no plan for cutting waste or reducing emissions.”

Pete Shmigel, chief executive of the Australian Council of Recycling, said the federal government faced a "wasted opportunity" unless it moved from "good intentions to good outcomes".

"A policy without dollars is not a policy," he said.

"Once the policy has been formalised, the next stage will be the development of an action plan for all parties to meet the targets in the policy," Ms Price said. "We expect that all jurisdictions will make commitments to deliver the policy."

The public overwhelmingly supported more use of recycled material in their products to reduce waste but the industry would need appropriate support to get there, Mr Shmigel said.

"We can collect [waste] until the cows come home" but there won't be a national recycling market unless it ends up in a product, Mr Shmigal said.

Battery stewardship was an obvious area of opportunity, with just one recycler of digital products in the country, catering for just 3 per cent of such waste. This week, Europe said a goal of 45 per cent recycling, he said.

Also likely on Friday's agenda will be a discussion of climate change, with the federal government due to provide an "update", the meeting's schedule shows.

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.

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