Building Australia’s circular waste economy

Budget Review 2022–23 Index

Juli Tomaras

The Budget forecasts expenditure of $83.1 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to support Australia’s transition to a more circular waste economy (as detailed below). This reflects the widely accepted position that efforts to respond to climate change and the range of present and looming environmental challenges facing Australia and the rest of the world will necessitate a diversity of policy and implementation measures. These include cleaner energy, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, more efficient use of materials, extended producer responsibility, sustainably designed and longer-life products with an attendant robust right-to-repair policy. Recycling is recognised as another of the policy instruments that can be deployed as part of a strategically integrated approach to mitigate climate change and other environmental and resource issues, such as pollution from waste disposal, energy consumption and intergenerational resource availability (Technical summary in IPCC, Climate change 2022—mitigation of climate change: sixth assessment report, p. TS-10 and p. TS-102).

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

In its 2022 report, the IPCC stated that, among other measures, circular material flows can make an important contribution to the decarbonisation of most industrial processes, and that in this regard, there has been ‘renewed attention to end-use demand, material efficiency and more and better-quality recycling measures’ (Climate change 2022, p. 11-7).

Building on an existing vision for the future

This year’s Budget continues the Government’s explicit focus on reducing waste, transforming the recycling sector and the deliberate transition to a circular economy. In February 2022, the Government announced that it would push for a legally binding international plastic pollution treaty at the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi. At that meeting on 3 March 2022, nearly 200 nations, including Australia, unanimously agreed to create an intergovernmental committee to negotiate and finalise a legally binding plastics treaty by 2024. Negotiators were given a broad mandate in terms of the objectives of the treaty to, among other things, target plastic rubbish in all its forms, including microplastics polluting the air, soil and food chain. The scope of the treaty will cover the entire life cycle of plastic as this was a key demand of nations, businesses and environment groups. The treaty could also, for the first time, introduce rules on the production of new plastic (raw polymer). The agreement also provides for the negotiation of new rules around the design of plastic products—which are made from oil and gas—to make recycling easier, encourage sustainable use, and spur better waste disposal.

Australia has already signed the Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island (ANZPAC) Plastics Pact calling for national caps on plastic production. The Plastics Pact is a collaborative solution that brings together key players in the region behind a shared vision of a circular economy for plastic, in which plastic never becomes waste. Australia also joined the Clean Seas campaign in 2018, pledging to recycle or compost 70% of all plastic packaging by 2025. The Government has stated that it is ‘committed to stopping harmful plastics from entering our oceans, choking up our waterways and destroying our marine life’. The Prime Minister has stated that the same commitment has supported investment in state-of-the-art recycling technology across Australia to contribute to the protection of the environment, boost the economy and create jobs. In March 2021, the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, and the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, Trevor Evans, jointly announced the Government’s National Plastics Plan 2021. The plan was developed after the National Plastics Summit in March 2020 at which over 200 industry, government and community leaders and experts discussed the issue.

Budget measures

In Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2022–23, the Government announced expenditure of $83.1 million over 5 years from 2022–23 to support the enhancement and ‘transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling sector and expedite Australia’s transition to a more circular waste economy’ (p. 51). This funding includes:

  • $60.4 million over 4 years from 2022–23 to boost Australia’s plastics recycling capabilities through state-of-the-art technologies and advanced recycling solutions for ‘problematic plastics’ (such as soft plastics like bread bags, chip packets, takeaway food containers and cling film) under the Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF). The RMF was announced in mid-2020 and launched in January 2021 to co-fund recycling infrastructure projects for the sorting, processing and re-manufacturing of materials.

This funding was foreshadowed in a joint media release on 21 March 2022. Some $30.3 million of this funding will be directed to regional areas to support investment in the recycling of plastics, tyres, paper, and glass. This measure will boost the RMF to $250 million (building on the $190 million announced last year) and help the Government reach its target by 2025 of increasing the recycling or composting of plastic packaging from 16% in 2017–18 to 70%, and achieving an average of 50% recycled content in packaging (Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, APCO collective impact report, November 2021, p. 4).

This goal is consistent with the National Packaging Targets for Industry, established in 2018, and with a global push for improved waste management systems discussed in the United Nations 2018 report, Single-use plastics: a roadmap for sustainability (Executive summary, p. 18). This budget measure is also designed to help drive a $1 billion transformation of the waste and recycling sector to create new jobs through increased re-manufacturing.

  • $18.2 million over 5 years from 2021–22 to improve awareness of correct recycling techniques and to develop and promote a ‘ReMade in Australia’ brand and certification scheme. The scheme aims to give consumers confidence and pride in buying quality products that have been locally recycled and re-manufactured. The ReMade in Australia campaign was launched on 6 December 2021 in a joint media release by the Prime Minister, Minister for the Environment, and the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management.
  • $4.4 million over 2 years from 2022–23 to support the delivery of the Government’s waste export ban by reducing licence assessment timeframes and helping industry to meet regulatory requirements.

Part of the expenditure ($10 million) for this measure was provided in the 2021–22 Budget. It is therefore not a cost on the 2022–23 Budget. According to the Portfolio additional estimates statements 2021–22: Agriculture, Water and the Environment portfolio the department had a budget of $9.8 million in administered payments and $0.2 million in departmental payments for the National Recycling Campaign (p. 25).

Stakeholder and public commentary

The announcements on funding for waste management and recycling have been generally well-received by industry stakeholders. The CSIRO estimates that the developing waste plastics circular economy will add US$66.9 billion to the global economy by 2025 (p. 6).


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