The Committee received 138 submissions from individuals. Nearly all of these submissions were similar in format and content, and advocated for a more sustainable approach to waste management.
The individual submissions predominantly listed a broad range of suggestions for improving domestic recycling, diverting waste from landfill, and changing the content of products. The submissions overwhelmingly called for a ban on single use plastics and stressed the need for alternatives to materials, products and practices that are harmful to the environment.
The most consistent suggestions arising from these submissions included:
Introduce national recycling schemes for containers, clothes and shoes, refillable bottles, and refillable packaging.
Extend producer responsibility where retailers and manufacturers are accountable for the waste created by their products. Furthermore, allow consumers to return product waste to the place of purchase.
Design products and parts for repair not obsolescence. Introduce national ‘right to repair’ laws, and a system of ‘stars’ to indicate how easily a product can be repaired to enable customers to make an informed choice.
Fund and support local community initiatives such as repair centres and cafes, Boomerang Bags groups, and sharing or lending platforms. For example, lending libraries for toys, tools, do-it-yourself equipment, clothes, household and kitchen items, and community vegetable gardens.
Make recycling more accessible to the community. For example, establish local drop off points that can receive and/or process targeted materials on a smaller scale. This could include e-waste, batteries, light bulbs, and ink cartridges. Improve recycling access by connecting people with waste recyclers. For example, phone applications such as ShareWaste that links waste items with people who can use it, or a national online hub to make it fast and easy to connect with recyclers at a community level.
Ban single-use plastic and products known to be harmful to the environment – for example, plastic cutlery, utensils, plates and bowls, polystyrene containers and packaging, disposable cups, single use straws, glow sticks, plastic glitter and microbead products, beer rings, commercial and industrial plastic wrapping and duct tape. Balloons and balloon releases should be banned to reduce litter in waterways, oceans and on land.
Ban single-use plastic bags and remove loopholes for retailers to provide sturdier (and destructive) plastic bags. Retailers should not provide plastic bags for free nor should they profit from the sale of thicker plastic bags. Only use bags made from natural or organic materials. Proceeds from the sale of plastic bags should be allocated to an environment fund. This fund should be used to support local clean-up, waste reduction and education initiatives.
Introduce consistent and clear legislation that allows customers to bring their own containers to all supermarkets, delis, butchers and other food retailers including takeaway and hospitality services, and provide incentives for business owners who encourage this. Supermarkets should have sections were people can buy in bulk or subsidise bulk food stores to encourage greater use. Make packaged fruit and vegetables more expensive than non-packaged goods, and ban plastic produce bags for fruit and vegetables as well as plastic wrapping for produce.
Greater focus on packaging. It should only be allowed if there is a facility in Australia to recycle it. Preference sustainable packaging such as cotton, hemp and hessian over plastic packaging.
Improve labelling through unambiguous and standardised labelling to ensure that all plastic products and packaging are clearly marked regarding how products should be correctly disposed. Labelling should provide information on the percentage of plastic and recycled content and accurate definitions and messaging around terms such as ‘compostable’ and ‘degradable’.
Introduce a target of 100 per cent recycling and accessible recycling for all Australians. Products should only be labelled as recyclable, if they can be recycled by everyone in Australia.
Ban ‘lock-in’ contracts between private companies and local councils that guarantee a supply of waste for feedstock or waste-to-energy facilities. These contracts potentially detract from efforts to divert organics and recyclables from landfill and other initiatives to reduce waste.
Place greater emphasis on diverting all organic and recyclable materials from landfill. Make composting available across all council areas, including public compost bins for food waste. In addition, allow imperfect fruit and vegetables to be sold in supermarkets, and introduce more systems to donate unwanted food to charities.
Improve kerbside recycling by standardising waste bins across the country to remove the confusion that arises from different councils having different policies – including bin lid colours, what goes in each bin and what can be recycled. There is a need to introduce more bins for different types of waste (hard/soft plastic, glass, paper, and food and organic waste) and provide better standardised guidance on which bin is used for each waste stream, for example by using consistent stickers and signage.
Greater public education and awareness regarding waste management and recycling including what happens to waste, how to live in a circular economy, and how to prioritise repair, reuse and recovery over recycling. School-based education is an important part of this process.
Other suggestions made in the individual submissions included focusing on materials to transition to a circular economy, subsidising cloth nappies, wipes and reusable sanitary items, financing state-of-the-art recycling facilities, heavily taxing companies that send waste to landfill, and imposing larger fines for people and corporations that break environmental protection rules.
The Committee is encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of interested stakeholders to contribute to this inquiry, and their genuine efforts to reduce, recycle and reuse waste resources. As noted in Chapter four, behaviour change – whether at the consumer, community, commercial or government level – is fundamental to changing the mindset and culture of communities, and managing waste resources more effectively.
The submissions received by the Committee advocated for more sustainable waste management and resource recovery practices consistent with the principles of a circular economy. Importantly, the submissions emphasised community; of working together to reuse, share and distribute resources to extend the life of products and their components for as long as possible.
Many of the suggestions and recommendations set out in the individual submissions are canvassed in this report, and are included in the Commonwealth Government’s National Waste Policy Action Plan.
Hon Barnaby Joyce MP
2 December 2020