The majority of evidence received by the Committee related to current impediments to innovation and what is required to better support the sector; that is, to upscale and expand existing operations. The Committee heard that technology and solutions are not really the missing link in developing Australia’s waste management and recycling industries, particularly as there are already technological solutions available domestically and overseas.
Rather, what is needed is a national framework within which regulation, incentive-based actions, taxes and levies, and long-term policy certainty are key features. For example, Mr Danny Conlon, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Veolia Australia and New Zealand, stated:
…when it comes to treating waste, diverting waste, recovering recyclables and recovering energy from particular materials, I don't think technology is the risk. Whether it's a group like Veolia or others in our industry, the technology, the solutions and the recovery techniques have been established elsewhere in the world. So technology is not the risk and the solution is not the risk; it's really about making sure that we have the framework in place to facilitate a good solution and a good framework all round.
Similarly, the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) said:
The key challenges facing the waste and recycling industry is not so much the lack of technological innovation, but instead the need for systemic innovation that will create confidence and certainty across the sector to invest in advance solutions.
The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), who is undertaking a major research project examining the technological readiness of the Australian waste management and resource recovery sector over the next decade, came to the same conclusion. Mr Philip Butler, Co-chair of the Expert Working Group for this project, told the Committee:
This is a key statement: the core issue appears to be that Australia doesn't have the right frameworks to support investment and innovation in the waste and resource recovery sector. It's clear that economic and commercial feasibility and policy and regulatory readiness are the areas for greatest improvement to enable the uptake and deployment of new technology. There is a little bit of work to be done on infrastructure but this is not the game changer. This is not the block which is going to stop progress. We need a national framework — it's a very important point —which includes regulation, incentive based actions and longer-term certainty. Of course, we also need to support research and development applications in that technology by defining what skill sets are still needed.
Ms Gayle Sloan, Chief Executive Officer of the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) stated that ‘technology and innovation are not in fact our challenges in Australia; rather it’s about policy and approach’.
The Commonwealth Government has a crucial role in developing this framework, most importantly in leading and coordinating national approaches, and removing the impediments to innovation. In addition to shifting to a circular economy, key areas identified for reform include:
Markets and end users of recycled products;
These key areas for reform are similar to those identified by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) as being characteristic of ‘top-performing’ countries when it comes to waste management and recycling.
The DAWE identified countries such Germany, South Korea, Slovenia and Austria as being strong performers in their management of municipal waste and recycling. Other countries cited included Japan, Wales, England, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
When considering ‘what makes these countries top performers’, the DAWE listed the following factors:
started a circular economy on waste materials and placed a high value on waste;
made infrastructure improvements and developed facilities;
built product stewardship and formed a culture of shared responsibility with manufacturers;
encouraged a change in consumer behaviour implementing container deposit schemes, food and organics recovery systems and other incentives to recycle;
invested in research and development and waste technologies; and
harmonised national waste policies between their underlying jurisdictions (for example, states and territories, and provinces etc).
Similar evidence was received by the Committee, calling for Australia to adopt the same strategies.
Product stewardship is described as ‘an approach to reducing the environmental and other impacts of products by encouraging or requiring manufacturers, importers, distributors and other persons to take responsibility for those products.’ Based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the aim of product stewardship is to shift waste management costs to those who benefit from the production and consumption of products that cause waste.
In Australia, product stewardship is governed by the Product Stewardship Act 2011 (Cth) which provides for three types of schemes: mandatory, co-regulatory and voluntary accredited. The Committee notes that the majority of schemes currently operating in Australia are not covered by this Act and fall into a separate category of ‘voluntary unaccredited schemes’ (see Table 1).
The Product Stewardship Act will soon be replaced by the Government’s Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020, which is currently before the Parliament. The bill essentially retains the same product stewardship framework, while updating some of the details of how it operates.
The Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 (Cth) governs the compulsory Product Stewardship for Oil Scheme, while the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011 (Cth) and the Product Stewardship (Televisions and Computers) Regulations 2011 (Cth) support two co-regulated schemes — the Australian Packaging Covenant and the National Computer and Television Recycling Scheme (NCTRS) respectively.
Table 4.1 provides a breakdown of active product stewardship schemes in Australia as of June 2020.
Table 4.1: Product Stewardship Schemes in Australia
National mandatory regulated
The Product Stewardship for Oil Scheme.
Container deposit schemes
ACT, NSW, NT, Queensland, SA and WA
Australian Packaging Covenant, NCTRS
For full list with brief descriptions see the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Review of the Product Stewardship 2011, pp. 29–31
Source: DAWE, Review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011, June 2020, pp. 28-32.
In addition to the active schemes there are 13 schemes in development, including container deposit schemes for the two states that do not already have them. On 4 September 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) granted approval for the Battery Stewardship Council’s proposed Battery Stewardship Scheme, which will be a voluntary national scheme.
In recent years, the Commonwealth Government’s role in product stewardship has been closely scrutinised. The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee considered the issue in its 2018 report Never Waste a Crisis: the Waste and Recycling Industry in Australia and recommended significant changes to Australia’s regime including that:
schemes under the Product Stewardship Act 2011 (Cth) be mandatory;
mandatory schemes be established for tyres, mattresses, e-waste and photovoltaic panels;
the Product Stewardship Advisory Committee be re-established to recommend the listing of products under the Product Stewardship Act 2011 (Cth); and
a national container deposit scheme be established.
Most recently, the DAWE released its first Review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011. The review made 26 recommendations, 13 of which related to the National Computer and Television Recycling Scheme.
The review largely supports the current operation of the Act, including the role of voluntary schemes within the current framework, and recommended relatively minor adjustments, with the most noteworthy being more use of co-regulatory schemes ‘where significant free-rider problems exist’ (Recommendation 5) and consideration of the creation of an industry-led ‘central clearinghouse’ to manage product stewardship as a whole under government oversight (Recommendation 7). In response, the Commonwealth Government supported all 26 recommendations.
Evidence to inquiry
Evidence to the Committee’s inquiry was received before the findings of the Commonwealth’s review were released. The Committee heard strong support for product stewardship schemes in Australia. In particular, it was asserted that product stewardship should play a central role in Australia’s approach to waste management and that the Commonwealth is best placed to take the lead on this. For example, the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) stated:
Ensuring effective national product stewardship schemes are in place, governed by the Product Stewardship Act, is a role which only the Federal Government can undertake. The Association considers it vital that the Federal Government act to ensure effective Schemes are in place for key products including packaging and tyres.
The role of government in these schemes was the key issue addressed in submissions. Broadly, three views emerged: maintaining the status quo, encouraging more industry-led programs, and establishing more mandatory schemes.
Some stakeholders favoured the current framework to product stewardship, primarily for its flexibility. The most comprehensive defence of the status quo came from CropLife Australia, the national body for the agricultural chemical and biotechnology industry, which operates two voluntary unaccredited schemes – drumMUSTER and ChemClear – for disposing of, and recycling farm chemical waste.
Specifically, CropLife Australia argued:
The voluntary, industry-led approach to the stewardship of waste management facilitates a proactive environment in which the programs can be updated and improved without requiring government oversight, which can be costly and move at a very slow pace.
CropLife Australia asserted that flexibility in these programs is important as there is ‘not one ‘correct’ approach to product stewardship’. Furthermore, if regulatory compliance were to be imposed on its voluntary stewardship programs it may have a number of perverse consequences. These include:
diverting collections from rural and remote areas where containers and unwanted chemicals could accumulate to more urban areas;
diverting resources from actual waste management and resource recovery to complying with ‘rigid, bureaucratic monitoring and reporting provisions’; and
potential withdrawal of ACCC program authorisation, if the benefits to the community are outweighed by the compliance costs.
Finally, CropLife argues that its schemes are already sufficiently regulated as the industry levy by which they are funded is regulated by the ACCC.
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) which was established to administer the Australian Packaging Covenant – a compulsory, co-regulatory product stewardship framework – is supportive of the current arrangements. In its submission, APCO states that its co-regulatory model for managing sustainable packaging gives it:
a unique insight, ability and responsibility to support the objectives of governments, industry and the community on packaging waste. The ability of the Covenant to engage industry in designing more sustainable packaging and support better waste management and the transition to a circular economy is unique amongst product stewardship approaches.
However, the Committee heard specific criticism of the Australian Packaging Covenant and subsequent calls for greater government involvement and regulation. For example the WMRR told the Committee that it will:
continue to advocate for a genuine mandatory and enforceable packaging product stewardship scheme to be introduced in Australia, that moves from an ethic of shared responsibility, to a mandated responsibility and financial obligation for end‐of‐life of a product, including minimising its impact on the environment.
The WMRR argued that the current scheme is ‘not really a polluter or a generator pays model’ when compared to overseas schemes such as those operating in Europe and England, with the costs of collecting and recycling waste still falling to councils, the waste industry and the community.
Some submitters advocated a middle road of industry-led schemes. For example, the Victorian Government suggested that the Commonwealth should encourage ‘industry-initiated product stewardship arrangements’ but that it should consider ‘mandatory schemes or providing stronger incentives for participation, where voluntary approaches are not effective in delivering a net community benefit’.
The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative suggested the introduction of ‘a new “industry-led scheme” category that require[s] industry to act by addressing the free-rider issue but allow[s] industry to then have full responsibility for scheme design, operation, performance management and reporting.’
There was strong support for significant increases in mandatory product stewardship in Australia. This could be achieved by creating more schemes, bringing more products into existing schemes, and introducing clear and binding targets. In particular, it was argued that voluntary and sometimes even co-regulatory schemes are ineffective because they make it too easy for some businesses within an industry to escape the costs of the scheme, which in turn puts those businesses that are funding it at a competitive disadvantage.
It was further argued that mandatory schemes are needed to create a ‘level playing field’. This problem is illustrated by an example cited in the recent review of the Product Stewardship Act 2011. Here, the former Used Oil Bottle Collection and Recycling Scheme, operated by the Australian Institute of Petroleum, became caught in a downward spiral of member withdrawals driving up costs for remaining members. This increase in costs contributed to more withdrawals, leading to the collapse of the scheme in 2016 after 12 years of operation.
At a public hearing in Canberra, Dr Heinz Schandl, Research Group Leader, CSIRO noted that product stewardship works better when the schemes are ‘not just voluntary’. Dr Schandl told the Committee:
We have a very positive experience with product stewardship schemes. They work better when they're not just voluntary and there is a higher level of commitment around them. In our consultation with industry, there was a sense that we need to move from voluntary schemes to finding solutions. People are also bringing up the other concept of extended producer responsibility, which would ensure that products or materials are designed in such a way that they can more easily be disassembled and recycled when they come to the end of their life. I think there's a really good opportunity here for combining product stewardship with extended producer responsibility and thereby contributing to innovation in the marketplace.
The ATSE drew the Committee’s attention to the product stewardship scheme that operates in the UK, describing it as ‘pretty close to best practice’. It highlighted that the scheme requires manufacturers or importers — at the end of a product’s life — to recycle it within a certain period of time. The advantage of this (soon to be) mandatory regulation is that it enables manufacturers to ‘rejig their formulations and rejig their processes and produce materials where they have a social responsibility to ensure that they can be recycled’. In other words, the regulation forces change on the part of manufacturers.
Among those stakeholders who supported the expansion of mandatory schemes, there was a broad range of views as to which products should be included, from only a handful to ‘all products’. Several submitters proposed extensive lists of products which they believed should be captured by new or expanded schemes. Plastics in general and packaging in particular were the most popular suggestions, while there was substantial support for mandatory schemes for tyres, e-waste, photovoltaic panels and mattresses, and for aligning product stewardship arrangements with the bans on export waste (plastics, paper and cardboard, glass and tyres).
Other suggestions put forward for improving product stewardship in Australia included:
having a ‘user-centred approach’;
putting more emphasis in scheme design on avoiding waste in the first place, including a ban on planned obsolescence and legislation requiring products to be easy to disassemble and repair;
improving dialogue between manufacturers and recyclers;
raising community awareness of both the general concept of product stewardship and specific schemes, with the aim of improving their functioning and boosting confidence in the recycling system as a whole;
improving certification and labelling in relation to product stewardship schemes;
improving monitoring of existing schemes;
ensuring that there are appropriate ‘resource utilisation facilities and technologies’ in place to process the products collected through the schemes, so they do not just all end up in landfill anyway;
excluding energy from waste and incineration as options to achieve targets for product stewardship schemes;
adapting schemes to ensure that they cover ‘parallel imports’ (products that are imported into Australia without the specific permission of the manufacturer, typically through online shopping); and
introducing a ‘packaging deposit scheme’ similar to the container deposit scheme on all packaged items.
RMIT recommended a number of policy and legislative changes to remove barriers to innovation and support product stewardship and the circular economy. Some of these recommendations included:
enact product stewardship for a wider range of materials;
reclassify waste materials to enable better product stewardship handling processes; and
monitor for compliance in transport and tracking use back into new materials to ensure that product stewardship and material return works efficiently.
Finally, there were calls to better define the roles and responsibilities of each layer of government when it comes to product stewardship. For example, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) noted that ‘even for federal and state initiatives such as product stewardship and container deposit schemes, there is high community expectation for local government to provide education on and facilitate these’. The City of Adelaide also submitted that the roles of respective governments be clarified.
Container deposit schemes (CDS) are a specific type of product stewardship scheme. Typically, these are industry-funded schemes in which the public can return used beverage containers for a small refund. The returned containers are then collected and recycled. Container deposit schemes are currently operating in all states and territories except Tasmania and Victoria, which both have plans to introduce them in the near future.
The Moreland City Council described the benefits of container deposit schemes in its submission:
CDS has multiple benefits, it shifts the cost to manage beverage container waste back to the producers; it provides an incentive to consumers to recycle beverage containers thereby reducing litter and increasing recovery of this material; and it ensures a clean, source separated waste stream with higher value to manufacturers.
There was overwhelming support for container deposit schemes from stakeholders. Several submitters called for the expansion of these schemes, particularly to cover other forms of plastic packaging or glass, and for these schemes to be combined into a national scheme or at least be nationally harmonised.
In contrast, Australian Grape and Wine called for wine containers (principally glass bottles) to remain exempt from such schemes. It argued that container deposit schemes are designed to reduce litter and very few wine containers end up as litter, the rate of recycling of wine containers is already high, and the cost to the industry that would result from including wine containers in the scheme would be out of proportion to any benefit gained.
Markets and end users
A fundamental component of innovative waste management is ensuring that there is a market for recycled and recovered products. Without such a market, the recovery and value of waste is lost, generally to landfill.
The Committee heard that the lack of markets is a current impediment to innovation. As described by the NWRIC:
There is a lack of markets for recovered materials — plastics, glass, paper, aggregate, organic material and so on — locally and overseas. There's a real lack of those markets. Where there are markets, these materials are recovered and add value and create more jobs. Where there are no markets, you get poor practice and loss of materials to landfill.
Similarly, Ms Clare Sullivan, Chief Executive, Local Government Professionals Australia stated:
Again it goes to the market for the output — if there’s a viable price that you can get for your recycled pellets, whatever grade they are, then you can attract the money to invest in the processing plant or set up various modes of public-private partnerships, however you do it. But at the moment there are just not viable markets to sell the output.
The importance of markets for recycled products was a key focus of AIEN’s submission to the inquiry. It noted that ‘Australia has afforded insufficient attention to recycled product markets’. In particular, AIEN said:
the entire concept of creating a circular economy is dependent upon the preparedness of industry to utilise recyclates as their raw materials. In turn, the appetite of industry for change will be governed by consumer acceptance regarding the aesthetics and efficacy of the products they produce.
Furthermore, AIEN asserted that this all relies on recycled material values remaining competitive with virgin raw material equivalents. To address these challenges, AIEN recommends investment in resource recovery infrastructure and product manufacture, and the marketing of recycled content products within Australia.
Similar issues were discussed in the University of Tasmania’s submission which highlighted market failure compounding the limited capacity of Australia to recycle plastic. Recycled plastic is more expensive than new plastic therefore there is no incentive for manufacturers to use recycled materials. In this situation, the market and circular economy is undermined by the availability of cheaper virgin products.
Government procurement policies and the development of national standards for recycled products were promoted as two ways to improve recycled markets in Australia.
Box 4.1: CSIRO Advisory System for Process innovation and Resource Exchange (ASPIRE)
Developed by the CSIRO and Data61, ASPIRE is ‘an online marketplace which intelligently matches businesses with potential remanufacturers, purchasers or recyclers of waste resources’. It adopted a commercial operating model in 2019 and launched its current platform in March 2020.
ASPIRE offers subscriptions to businesses and councils. Subscribers receive access to its online marketplaces for waste and (in the case of businesses) products containing recycled materials, as well as a number of other benefits including statistical analysis of their activity and marketing and networking opportunities.
Procurement policies and standards
All Commonwealth Government procurement is governed by the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, issued by the Department of Finance, which include two general references to waste and recycling: officials conducting procurement must consider environmental sustainability (including energy efficiency, environmental impact and use of recycled products) and waste should be avoided where possible.
The DAWE publishes a non-binding Sustainable Procurement Guide, which was last updated in 2018 to correspond with the National Waste Policy: Less Waste, More Resources. The Guide does not include targets for use of recycled products or similar specific measures.
The significance of Commonwealth procurement in creating markets for recycled products was highlighted by Mr Peter Rimmer, Waste Service Coordinator, Campbelltown City Council:
I think government at all levels has a role to play in their procurement policies as well. They can absolutely address the market demand issue in a lot of areas using recycled organics, using crushed glass sand, rubber crumb in tyres and those sorts of things. The technology is there to produce those products. The question is those products entering the markets.
The standards are there to ensure that they can be used in construction works, but there appears not to be a strong demand from the government sector, which would certainly address a lot of those issues. We think that the government has a role to play in that as well and that there should definitely be a focus on the community and consumer choice areas as well in terms of promoting buying recycled and buying local products.
The WMMR made a similar point regarding the significance of government procurement to drive recycled markets and create jobs. Specifically it stated:
We know that, when we purchase local Australian product, we're creating 9.2 jobs for every 10,000 tonnes compared with 2.8 if we landfill that. So I think the Commonwealth and all levels of government should be required to utilise local Australian recycled materials—be it white paper that goes in photocopiers that is made from recycled or water bottles that are made from Australian recycled PET. We should be preferencing that because they are jobs that are going to be grown in Australia.
Lake Macquarie Council put its support behind ensuring all levels of government are equipped to provide base level procurement to help de-risk the forthcoming export ban. For example, by providing a base level of procurement of recycled glass and plastics content in civil construction materials and supporting the development of end markets for recycled organic compost products and recyclate recovered through kerbside recycling systems. Bingo Industries advocated for government to ‘identify a number of major shovel-ready projects upon which they can mandate the use of recycled products’.
Mr Victor Bivell from Eco Investor suggested an examination of the types of products that can be commercially manufactured from Australia’s plastic waste and the potential of state and federal governments to purchase these products. As Mr Bivell explained:
Significant and perhaps complete uptake of recycled plastics could be achieved if state and local governments favoured the purchase of suitable recycled plastic products. Among these, state governments and utilities may be able to utilize sign posts and power poles, and local governments utilize footpaths, walkways, bollards, park fences, park benches and other products.
The study could examine how targeted government procurement for specific products would work in practise if widely adopted across Australia and provide a better understanding of the environmental and economic costs and benefits.
In his evidence, Mr Cory McArdle, Manager, Waste and City Presentation, Camden Council flagged the idea of a national framework to generate and find markets for recycled products. This is in contrast to the pockets of available markets across states and territories, and the general inconsistency across the country. In particular, Mr McArdle said:
I think what an opportunity would be is to see a national framework to generate and find markets that want the product and want to pull that product into the sector…
…definitely something at the national level that would ensure consistency. I think we heard from South Australia saying that those pull markets already exist, whereas in New South Wales probably not as much. We're looking for markets to take the product. I think ensuring that we had markets nationally to pull those products would be a great positive outcome.
Closely tied to markets for recycled products, are the standards to which these products are made. As explained by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA):
The development of a broad range of new standards for products with recycled content is needed to support new markets for recovered material. For example, using tyre crumbs, soft plastics, printer cartridges and glass in new road bases, pavements and construction is hampered by a lack of standards. Without standards, concerns around safety and liability impede innovation.
The ALGA noted that ‘new standards take time and funds to develop’ and called for greater investment in the development of standards to expedite the process.
Auditing and accreditation
Some submissions to the inquiry considered auditing and accreditation of reprocessed waste and recycled products as an important means to improve transparency, accountability and confidence in the content of recycled products. For example, the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA) recommended the introduction of a national accreditation system for circular products to improve consistency and transparency in government procurement. In particular, the Association stated:
a consistent approach through a credible national accreditation system would enable all levels of government and industry to undertake the evaluation of social and environmental impacts of goods, services and materials with confidence. The accreditation system could require, for example, verification of claims of recycled content contained in goods/products and verification of the location of where that recycled content was sourced from. This would enable the meeting of any targets set to be independently verified. This would also help increase transparency in the industry and provide confidence to businesses in their investment and decision making.
Bingo Industries advocated for ‘third party auditing of recovery rates and regulating minimum standards of recovery’ to help promote greater scrutiny and the production of better quality recovered materials.
As noted in Chapter 3, the Commonwealth Government has announced it will update its procurement policy with the aim of generating demand and markets for recycled products and addressing some of the concerns raised by industry. The Committee was advised at its public hearing on 5 August 2020 that the Commonwealth Government is also undertaking a body of work on developing standards and specifications for recycled content in products.
With the imminent introduction of the national waste export bans, the Committee heard that greater investment in waste management and recycling infrastructure is critical to process the waste and resources that will now remain onshore.
In particular, it was identified that there is a need to fund gaps in our existing infrastructure capacity, and for reform of current funding programs to adequately capture the type of technology and innovation being developed in Australia. This is to prevent such technology from being lost to other countries.
The need for long term policy and regulatory certainty to drive confidence in infrastructure investment was another consistent theme.
Infrastructure gaps and capacity short-falls
There was general agreement that Australia does not currently have the infrastructure capacity to process and recycle waste, and that this problem will be compounded with the introduction of the waste export bans. For example, in its submission, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) stated:
The national ban on waste exports and the ambitious resource recovery targets included in the National Waste Policy Action Plan means that we will be recovering more materials and will need to process more in Australia. Australia currently lacks the infrastructure to reprocess all our recovered materials domestically.
The WMRR highlighted shortcomings in Australia’s capacity to process waste. It said:
China's National Sword policy in 2018 highlighted a number of issues to the broader community governance that, to be fair, we knew about as industry. However, we've had real challenges getting necessary change and support to address these. Specifically, it's Australia's linear approach to material management and the lack of onshore domestic market demand for recycled materials. As a result there is a lack of onshore remanufacturing capacity.
The LGASA also noted the implications of the waste export bans on resource recovery citing:
The impacts of the China Sword Policy present a significant opportunity to re-shape Australia’s recycling industry by developing local markets for recyclable materials and establishing a truly circular economy. However, this industry transition is a complex process and it will require both investment in reprocessing/remanufacturing infrastructure and action to develop local end market demand.
The WSROC modelled waste and resource recovery growth for its region and found that not only is waste generation currently increasing at a rate outstripping population growth, but the amount of waste generated in Western Sydney is projected to double in 30 years. Furthermore, the WSROC cited research which estimates that by 2021, Sydney will need an additional 16 waste processing facilities to cope with an additional 1.4 million tonnes of waste. This includes two energy recovery facilities to service metropolitan Sydney, (totalling four facilities for the state) and three additional alternate waste treatment facilities for mixed waste treatment.
In its submission, Project 24 noted the ‘significant lack of processing infrastructure capacity and limited waste management solutions available to the Sydney metropolitan area’.
The WSROC argued that without additional waste processing and resource recovery capacity, even more landfill space will be required. However, this issue itself is compounded by difficulties securing landfill sites. As explained by the WSROC:
Added to this issue are the challenges arising from the lack of suitable lands available for waste processing infrastructure, due to encroaching urban development and strict planning requirements for such sensitive infrastructure.
WSROC called on the federal and state governments to work together to plan for and deliver essential waste and resource recovery infrastructure to address population growth and drive innovation and resource recovery outcomes.
Some stakeholders who expressed concern about current infrastructure capacity called for a national assessment of the current situation to determine what is needed in the future. For example, the WMRR told the Committee that:
… a robust assessment of current material flows across jurisdictions and a corresponding review of present and future infrastructure needs must be done in order to accurately ascertain both the market capacity required to process additional materials as well as the type and location of infrastructure needed.
The WALGA, Zero Waste Victoria, the DEWLP, Mike Ritchie and Associates and Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils made similar recommendations.
Difficulties accessing Commonwealth funding and investment was an early theme in the Committee’s inquiry. In short, the Committee was told that challenges to commercialising innovative technologies arise when the innovation does not meet the criteria for Commonwealth funding, and ‘falls through the cracks’. Furthermore, problems with accessing adequate funding have contributed to a ‘valley of death’ in Australia, resulting in companies seeking opportunities and support overseas.
Licella Holdings shared with the Committee its experience of trying to commercialise its Cat-HTR technology which processes mixed and multilayer plastic to high quality oil:
As an Australian company that has gratefully received support from the Federal Government, which has helped us to progress through our R&D phase, we are indeed at that “Valley of Death”. By this we mean, having proved the technology at pilot scale, we now need to make the leap to commercial scale. To do this, we need to commission a so called “Pioneer Plant” (a first of its kind facility that typically cannot be financed using traditional capital markets) so that we can deliver this solution to the Australian market. To get a Pioneer Plant built in Australia will cost in the order of $40M-$50M. The support we are seeking from the Government is half of this.
To date, ARENA [has] supported Licella’s pilot scale Cat-HTR development activities for biomass. The challenge Licella faces is that we cannot access ARENA funding for the commercial scale pioneer plant for plastic, as ARENA [is] governed by the ARENA Act and plastics are not classified within “renewable energy”.
Licella [has] received support through DIIS’s Accelerating Commercialisation Program to help prove the technology for non-recyclable plastics, but the maximum funding available is $1M.
…The CEFC (Clean Energy Finance Corporation)…[is] able to support low emission technologies but [isn’t] able to assist Licella, as under the existing CEFC mandate [it has] a requirement that the technology must be commercial somewhere (i.e. a reference facility using the same technology at a similar scale and with a similar feedstock). As our Cat-HTR technology is a first-of-kind technology within a new category (hydrothermal liquefaction), we are unable to satisfy this application criteria.
In its submission, Licella sets out the potential benefits of its technology to Australia which includes diverting 20,000 tonnes of plastic from landfill and oceans, producing 17,000 tonnes of recycled oil which is a direct substitute for fossil oil in many applications, and generating 45 per cent less carbon emissions compared to incineration based energy-from-waste technology. Furthermore, Licella estimates that with 40 of its plants, Australia can become ‘plastic neutral’ and create at least 720 jobs.
Licella identified two ways in which the Commonwealth can better support it to bring its technology to the Australian market:
By aligning the ARENA and CEFC mandate. This would enable ARENA to support and assist companies with low emission technological innovation to move through R&D, pre-commercial demonstration activities and to market in Australia. This would also provide a pipeline for other CEFC projects.
By ensuring the investment mandate given to the CEFC for the Australian Recycling Investment Fund also includes support for innovative technologies.
Lake Macquarie Council cited the example of Licella’s Cat-HTR technology and called for the removal of barriers within the CEFC Australian Recycling Investment Fund for innovative recycling technology. Regarding CEFC eligibility criteria, Lake Macquarie Council stated:
This criterion, while well-intended to reduce risks, is actually undermining innovation. The CEFC needs a Recycling Innovation stream within the Australian Recycling Investment Fund that has an investment mandate to bridge the gap between technologies with a proven research and development history but that are not yet proven at a commercial-scale. Alternatively the CEFC funding criteria could be amended to exempt proponents from having a commercialised reference facility.
The Committee notes that a new CEFC Mandate was issued in May 2020, after these submissions were received.
Full Cycle Bioplastics Australia shared its vision for building its first commercial-scale facility which converts organic waste into bioplastic material. After acquiring the patent for technology developed in the United States, Full Cycle Bioplastics is attempting to build a plant in Australia. Its submission explains:
Our primary challenge and roadblock to innovation at this stage is the need for Full Cycle Bioplastics Australia to build its first commercial-scale facility to demonstrate the ability to deliver material to meet the demand.
The company noted that ‘development of a commercial-scale facility requires alignment across a number of stakeholders, including the Australian Government who can provide essential capacity building for the commissioning of a stand-alone Full Cycle Bioplastics Australian facility operating at commercial scale’. It is seeking at least $22 million of Commonwealth funding to construct this facility.
Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT Centre) gave evidence to the Committee about the challenges facing the commercialisation of the ‘green steel’ technology she has developed. This technology, formally known as Polymer Injection Technology, allows for the partial replacement of coking coal with waste tyres and plastics in electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking. Professor Sahajwalla explained that the SMaRT Centre has provided an exclusive global license for this technology to Molycop, a steelmaker with operations in Newcastle. However, Professor Sahajwalla noted that Molycop would struggle with the scale of the investment required to commercialise the technology. She stated:
But the challenge is going to be: how would a company like that have enough money to invest and take that risk on its own to be able to set up a piece of infrastructure that can create some of these new technological advances into a commercially viable solution.
The Committee acknowledges a number of infrastructure proposals set out in submissions to the inquiry. For example the construction of an energy from waste plant using the ‘Entherm Energy from Waste System’ put forward by retired engineers Dr John Smeed and Mr Roger Wilkinson. Their submission explains in detail the operation of that system and the specifics of their proposal, which they suggest ‘…offers a cost-effective and environmentally-acceptable solution for municipal solid waste management, both in capital cost and total annual cost terms compared with alternative solutions.’ The authors are seeking ‘a younger generation team’ to take their concept and develop it into an operational plant.
One of the most commonly cited impediments to innovation in the waste management and resource recovery sectors is the regulatory inconsistency across state and territory governments. Evidence to the inquiry called on the Commonwealth Government to use its leadership and coordination capacity to harmonise relevant regulation, legislation, standards and specifications.
The importance of this consistency was highlighted by the NWRIC:
Where federal, state and local regulations are clear, consistent and enforced, waste is better managed, quality resources are recovered and reused, and industry is more confident to invest in advance solutions.
The ATSE encouraged the Committee to consider the waste and resource recovery industry as a national industry that requires better coordination.
Key areas singled out for greater consistency and coordination across states and territories include:
Kerbside recycling collection and processing;
Container deposit schemes;
Standards for recycled content in products;
Planning, approval and processing requirements for infrastructure; and
Solid waste or landfill levy fees.
Lake Macquarie City Council argued that the lack of centrally harmonised policies and regulations pose significant impediments to innovation and investment in the recycling sector in three major ways. It:
discourages and undermines investment in the recovery and value-adding of recycled materials due to the risk of rapidly changing regulatory goal posts;
increases compliance costs and risk for producers and consumers thereby undermining consumer and institutional confidence in buying and using recycled products; and
creates negative externalities, like transporting waste between jurisdictions to avoid paying levies, costs to store/stockpile material, exporting contaminated recyclate to developing countries, and orphaned recyclate stockpiles that often fall to government to clean up (typically with poor waste management outcomes).
These views were shared by other submissions to the inquiry.
Many of the inconsistencies identified across states and territories are related to inconsistencies across local council areas. As described above, local councils are responsible for managing a broad range of waste management services, programs and infrastructure. They are on the front line in dealing with the ill effects of waste, such as the dumping of hazardous waste, the illegal dumping of other waste materials and public litter.
Keeping waste streams clean is fundamental to resource recovery and the quality of the product that follows. For local councils, crucial points in this process are source separation prior to domestic waste collection and the processing of waste. The effectiveness of these waste flows is largely shaped by the cost of managing waste, and local council service contracts with waste management providers.
Differences in geographic areas, population, revenue, and access to economically-viable waste management and recycling infrastructure all contribute to service disparity between local government areas. In addition, differences in consumer behavior, the provision of domestic bins, the types of waste that can be disposed of in each bin, and how this waste is ultimately managed by service providers contribute to disparity in the quality of waste resources and how it can be recovered and processed, if at all.
The difference in operating costs associated with collecting municipal solid waste across local government areas was shared by Local Government Professionals Australia. Its benchmarking work showed that in South Australia, the median annual operating expense per resident for collecting waste is $120. In Western Australia, this increases to $142, while in New South Wales it rises to $195. As a comparison, for the City of Gosnells in Western Australia, it is $92.
The ALGA described the increasing financial pressure placed on local councils to manage waste, which is estimated to be $3.5 billion a year. Specifically, the ALGA said:
Local government must bear the cost within the context of greatly diminished general funding from the Commonwealth, rate capping in some jurisdictions and the need to provide a plethora of other local, community services and infrastructure. Furthermore, the waste levies that local government are charged by the states (which are aimed at making recycling more cost effective) amount to over $800 million per annum nationally. Next to none of this sum, however, is reinvested in the capacity and capability of recycling infrastructure, which would assist local government in avoiding the levies. Waste levies, as they are currently managed, have little potential to drive further improvements to the recycling rate.
Landfill levies and the limited use of these funds for waste management and recycling initiatives were raised as problematic areas for local councils.
Landfill levies are paid to dispose of waste. These levies, which are set by respective state and territory governments, are usually based on the weight of waste disposed at a landfill site. The main objective of landfill levies is to divert waste from landfill and encourage resource recovery and recycling of waste.
The WMRR noted that the landfill levy system offers enormous benefits to the waste and resource recovery sector including financially underpinning ‘market development, evolution and continual improvement in processes, programs, education, and more’. However the Committee heard that the increasing cost of landfill levies is putting pressure on local councils. For example, the City of Adelaide shared its experience of rising costs:
The Solid Waste Levy is costly to councils. In 2015–2016, the City of Adelaide sent over 5,946 tonnes of kerbside collection waste to landfill which would equal to about $369,000 in levy fees. In 2018–2019, although there was a slight decrease in tonnage sent to landfill, the Solid Waste Levy increased, costing the city about $549,000. This cost excludes the collection and other associated costs of delivering this essential public health service to our community. If the city assumes a similar amount of waste sent to landfill in 2019–2020, the cost to send waste to landfill would increase to $745,000 for the Solid Waste Levy alone. Council would either need to absorb this fee or pass it on to ratepayers.
Given the current capacity shortfalls of MRFs, the ALGA noted that it is likely that Australia’s impending waste export bans will result in more waste going to landfill and even greater landfill management costs. The ALGA cited research which estimates that this cost could amount to $416 million per year nationally.
In addition to the increasing cost of disposing waste at landfill, the Committee was told that landfill levels vary across jurisdictions resulting in perverse outcomes and impeding innovation. As stated by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC):
The wide variations in landfill levies, hypothecation rates and state storage conditions can cause increased transportation of waste and variations in recycling infrastructure and services between the states.
The AFGC provided two examples to support its argument. One, a lack of composting infrastructure or a common timeline to introduce composting services nationally, impedes a brand owners’ ability to plan transitions to compostable packaging solutions. Two, stricter recyclate storage controls in NSW has resulted in glass being transported to, stored and beneficiated in Victoria.
The Environment and Planning Law Group of the Law Council of Australia acknowledged that ‘inconsistency in landfill levies and over-aggressive waste management regulations can create increases in illegal and environmentally irresponsible activities’.
Not surprisingly, stakeholders called for uniformity across state and territory landfill levies. In addition, stakeholders advocated for greater hypothecation of these fees. That is, more funds raised through the landfill levy being used to fund waste management, recycling and resource recovery initiatives, rather than general government revenue.
The Committee was told that less than 20 per cent of the levy moneys collected is reinvested into waste mitigation. In its submission, the Local Government Association of South Australia specifically advocated for greater hypothecation of these levies to local councils:
The LGASA is advocating for a freeze to the solid waste levy at the 2018/19 rate and for at least half of the total levy paid by local government to be made available to councils for worthwhile waste and recycling initiatives. In particular, investment in waste and recycling infrastructure is required to respond to the current industry transition and to reduce Australia’s reliance on overseas markets.
The AFGC estimated that if landfill levies were harmonised nationally the incremental levy revenue would increase by almost $1 billion. The WMRR asserted however that a national approach to landfill levies does not necessarily mean that each state and territory must implement the same levy rate. Rather, it recommended that:
a levy portability element be introduced across all jurisdictions to stop waste being transported across states and territories;
levy rates should be upwards of $100/tonne to maximise the benefits of having a levy in the first place; and
a minimum of 50 per cent of landfill levy revenue should be hypothecated back to the waste management and resource recovery industry to support investment and improvements.
In its 2019 white paper, Review of Waste Levies in Australia, the NWRIC recommended that a national levy pricing strategy and national waste levy protocols be developed, as well as more transparency and accountability around the levies collected by each state and territory, how they are spent, and the outcomes achieved.
Waste management contracts
As set out in Chapter 2, local councils generally contract private companies to deliver waste management and recycling services. Submissions to the inquiry called for greater flexibility and transparency in these arrangements, with many suggesting that these contractual arrangements can contribute to consumer confusion, source contamination, and inhibit innovation.
For example, the Moreland City Council stated:
…the few large operators we have in Victoria operate under a veil of secrecy. Reform is desperately needed to improve transparency and accountability within the industry. Access to robust and credible data on market conditions, and costs and revenue within the recycling sector is essential to achieve best value for the community. More transparency on destinations for material streams, reprocessing and recyclability of products and reasons for non-acceptance of certain items is necessary for credible communication from local government to residents.
… Changing the rules of recycling across council boundaries, mid contract or even between contracts is confusing for residents. It causes uncertainty and reduces confidence in the system which results in increased recycling contamination and resource loss.
The SMaRT Centre identified the need to reconsider how waste management services are currently procured by local councils. In particular, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Director of the SMaRT Centre emphasized the need for flexibility and for councils to be able to take advantage of innovation as it arises:
Procurement of waste management services needs to be done in a way that allows sufficient flexibility for councils to pursue new and innovative solutions when they are developed. At present, councils are locked into lengthy contracts with waste management businesses with no scope to consider new waste management solutions to recycle waste during the term of those contracts.
On the other hand, the Committee heard from the Project 24 Working Group, a collaboration of five South Western Sydney and Southern Highlands councils formed to procure waste management services for their region for the next 15 to 20 years. It pointed out that councils need long term certainty in contracts in order to build innovative infrastructure, and commented:
In aiming to meet landfill reduction targets, councils enter long-term contracts with waste processors who, as a condition of their contracts, are required to construct and operate expensive technology-specific infrastructure over the contract term….a change of government policy during the term of a waste processing contract can render an entire waste processing facility’s operation redundant.
In its submission, the WMRR proposed the introduction of an independent national body, similar to WRAP UK (Waste Resource Action Plan), to lead the national development and implementation of strategies to address priority waste management and resource recovery areas.
WRAP UK is a non-government organisation established in 2000 and works with governments, businesses and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency. It aims to ‘accelerate the move to a sustainable, resource-efficient economy’ by re-inventing how products are designed, produced and sold; re-thinking how products are used and consumed, and re-defining what is possible through re-use and recycling. The work of WRAP is focused on research, brokering voluntary agreements with organisations and community groups regarding sustainable practises, and consumer campaigns designed to change behaviours.
The WMRR suggested that an equivalent agency could be established in Australia to merge a number of existing bodies and schemes, bring the ‘right players across the whole value chain to the table’ and develop a national plan. In particular, the WMRR stated:
Having that independent body that's supported and trusted by the entire supply chain and working across all those material streams would give Australia a real opportunity to look at everything from food waste avoidance right through to recycling, back through to design to actually start to solve some of these material streams that we know we've got real challenges in and to move a lot faster, I think, towards that 10 per cent avoidance of waste per head by 2030 and 80 per cent diversion by 2030, which is in the national waste action plan.
WMRR identified the following responsibilities for the agency:
national research and development;
national recycling programs and projects, including in areas such as infrastructure;
mandated National Extended Producer Responsibility schemes;
consumer campaigns and education;
grants and financial support;
national specifications and certification to use recycled content; and
sustainable design of products.
Research and data
The Committee received a number of submissions from research organisations and institutions currently examining waste management and recycling. These include the CSIRO, the University of Tasmania, RMIT University, the UNSW SMaRT, the ATSE and the AIEN. Each submission set out an impressive program of research and inquiry.
As noted, the ATSE is undertaking a major research project examining the ‘readiness of the Australian waste management and resource recovery sector to adapt, adopt, or develop technologies that will enable it to meet three key challenges’ over the next decade. These challenges include:
Using waste as a resource;
The domestic capacity to process core waste; and
Preliminary findings shared with the Committee identified four key solutions to these emerging challenges. They include improved product stewardship, products designed for disassembly, smart waste management systems, and advanced resource recovery solutions – that is, using technology to recover energy from waste. A final report was released in November 2020.
Box 4.2: RMIT University — The Transformation of Reclaimed Waste into Engineered Materials and Solutions (TREMS)
Researchers from RMIT University, the University of Melbourne and other Australian and international universities have taken advantage of their industry connections to form the TREMS network. The network explores new ways to engineer materials from recycled waste, and is a forum to attract research funding into solutions that can be commercialised by industry partners.
The network has five focus areas:
Separation at source and behavioural change
Treatment and processing technologies and biofuels
Products incorporating reclaimed materials and smart manufacturing
Commercialisation, procurement decisions, standards and market drivers.
Examples of RMIT’s research and collaborations are set out in its submission.
The Committee received evidence which highlighted the need for more research, development and data collection to support innovation. Two central themes emerged:
Greater investment in research and development regarding waste management and recycling innovation and technology; and
Centralised coordination and management of waste sector data.
Fundamental to each was the need for more research and data to inform policy and investment decision making by government, industry and stakeholders.
Investment in research and development
In its submission, Veolia set out two ways the Commonwealth can better support industry-led research and development (R&D); by providing direct research grants to industry, and through a revised R&D tax incentive.
Specifically, Veolia advocated for the direct funding of industry to facilitate industry-led R&D, rather than the current approach which is to fund research organisations. It argued that funding industry directly:
… would support more industry-focussed research which will translate more easily into commercial scale adaptation and ultimately a more attractive return profile for speculative research that will drive more long-term outcomes for business and the economy.
While Veolia supports partnerships with specialised research initiatives targeting specific environmental challenges, it emphasized that the research should be governed by industry bodies and working groups rather than be led by the research industry.
Research and development tax incentives are available to large entities to help offset some of the costs invested into R&D. Veolia argued that the tax incentive program ‘puts a significant burden of evidence gathering and reporting on the claimant’. In particular, it stated:
The administrative burden, paired with consultant fees [to collate the requisite information and prepare and submit the tax reports] and the marginal benefit gained from the tax offset itself can ultimately act as a disincentive for many prospective R&D projects where return outcomes may be perceived as already marginal or uncertain at the outset.
To combat this, Veolia suggested increasing the R&D offset and reducing the administrative burden on claimants to increase the impact of the incentive program and drive R&D. As an example of how to reduce the administrative burden, Veolia suggested that AusIndustry could provide a series of customisable tools and templates that facilitate organisations creating their own R&D activity reports and expenditure documentation.
Industry growth centre
The Western Australian Government noted that the Commonwealth Government currently operates six industry growth centres for priority sectors under its Industry Growth Centres Initiative. It suggested that the addition of an industry growth centre for waste and recycling technology would enable Western Australia to utilise its existing waste and recycling capability as effectively as possible, and to take the greatest possible advantage of emerging opportunities.
The Committee notes that the Commonwealth Government’s 2020–21 Budget announced on 6 October 2020 included the Modern Manufacturing Strategy with $1.5 billion in attached funding. The Strategy focuses on six national manufacturing priorities, one of which is recycling and clean energy. The centrepiece of the Strategy is the $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which ‘will provide co-funding for large manufacturing projects that have broad sectoral benefits across the national manufacturing priorities.’
Centralised data coordination and management
Improving the quality and availability of waste data is Target 7 of the National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019 and various steps have been taken towards this goal in recent years. As noted in Chapter 3, the Government has recently committed $24 million to improve data collection. This national waste data will be used to measure recycling outcomes and track the progress of the national waste targets.
Several submissions to the inquiry highlighted the importance of centralised and coordinated waste data for planning purposes, particularly to inform infrastructure investment. For example, the WSROC told the Committee that:
The federal government is best placed to facilitate a centrally coordinated and consistent approach (for example, the former National Waste Account compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics) that captures data from the public as well as private sector to understand baseline waste and recycling infrastructure capacity constraints, improve planning for increased population growth and resource recovery, and accelerate necessary infrastructure to support recycling and resource recovery markets.
The WSROC further noted that timely and reliable data is essential for fostering community trust and social licence in technologies, and can provide the context for necessary collaboration.
The ALGA made a similar point, highlighting the advantage of research and data to appreciate the bigger picture when it comes to infrastructure needs. It stated:
Research into the costs and benefits of new infrastructure and its most appropriate location is fundamental. Research can give confidence to the recycling industry’s willingness to invest in new plant. National coordination and planning, based on hard data and sound peer-reviewed analysis, would ensure that there is no duplication of resources and that benefits flow equitably to both metropolitan and regional populations.
The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) highlighted the importance of accurate, consistent and reliable waste data across government and the sector. In particular, the LGAQ advocated for data sharing arrangements across the three levels of government in order to:
reduce the burden of waste reporting;
improve performance monitoring and benchmarking;
enable waste data aggregation at both a regional and local level;
better target education campaigns; and
promote infrastructure investment and waste value through evidence-based insights.
Furthermore, the LGAQ called on the Commonwealth to ‘investigate the harmonisation of waste data across all jurisdictions’ to develop a national waste data framework.
In its submission, Everledger provided an overview of its innovative digital traceability solution to bring more accountability to waste management and recycling practices. In particular, Everledger provided an example of how the use of data is used to prove the recycled content of plastic products:
Under this CE labs’project recycled PET plastic sourced from the Queensland container refund scheme was digitally traced, and data gathered at each stage was lodged to the block chain. Data was captured as the plastic material was transported and transformed from bales of crushed containers into bags of processed flake, and finally into a batch of food trays that were returned to the Queensland marketplace. This data provided a fundamental foundation for any proof claims around the recycled content of the food trays and evidence around the chain of custody.
According to Everledger, governments in Australia and internationally have a role in promoting efficient waste management through sponsorship and green procurement practices, incentivising data sharing from government agencies to support waste management practices and material traceability, and supporting the creation of industry relevant data capture and sharing standards to enable transparency across all industry participants.
Box 4.3: Trax – Data management system
The ACT uses a waste regulatory management system called Trax that collects and reports data on waste transporters.
Trax consists of an online portal and smartphone app that allow users to enter data while in the field. It allows users to report on the types, volumes and locations of waste being collected, and to meet their reporting obligations under the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Act 2016 (ACT).
The data collected by data is used to inform policy and process decision making by government. It is expected that the system will be rolled out to waste management facilities in the future.
The ACT is the only jurisdiction that requires all waste transporters to be registered and to report regularly on the movement of waste.
Education and awareness
Fundamental to all efforts to stimulate innovation within the waste management and recycling industries is consumer education and awareness. Submissions to the inquiry suggested that social norms related to waste management and recycling need to be reset. This includes rethinking the product choices we make, the way we use our goods, and the way we ultimately dispose of goods or preferably, give them a new lease of life.
State and territory governments are engaged to varying degrees in conducting education and awareness campaigns, as are local governments. Nonetheless, the Committee heard repeated calls for the Commonwealth to develop and fund a national consumer education and behaviour change campaign targeting attitudes and perceptions of waste, to minimise packaging consumption and to boost demand for recycled products.
Professor Steven D’Alessandro and his colleagues discussed behaviour change as a solution to landfill issues. In particular, they noted that ‘landfill waste problems are rooted in human behaviour’ and asserted it is the consumer who has a fundamental role in instigating change. Specifically, it was stated:
Waste management solutions, however, often overlook the essential role that households’ behaviour play, tending to focus instead on technological breakthroughs and structural changes within our society.
The authors explained that policies to bring about behaviour change can be based on price or behavioural insights. The former utilises traditional market-based instruments, such as taxes and subsidies to induce economically rational changes in behaviour. The latter applies behavioural insights to address behaviours that deviate from rational economic predictions.
A range of practical solutions, grounded in behavioural economic theory, are suggested to encourage behaviour change by consumers and ultimately reduce waste in landfill. Some of these solutions include:
changing the physical environment to make recycling convenient and salient, for example placing recycling bins in busy places with heavy traffic or designing eye-catching recycling bins;
changing people’s cognition so that they automatically associate waste with negative mental pictures such as overflowing landfills;
providing feedback to households on the amount of waste they produce, particularly relative to a meaningful benchmark;
providing feedback on the externalities and consequences of households’ behaviours in a vivid, tangible and relatable manner;
using labels such as ‘landfill’ on bins to make clear where the rubbish will end up;
using labels to signal the expected lifespan of a given product to influence purchasing decisions; and
incentivising immediate acts of reducing, reusing and recycling, to offset the upfront costs of these actions. For example, discounts on council rates for households who have generated less waste or subsiding the purchase of longer-life products or modular products.
Behaviour change was a central theme of a set of submissions received by the Committee. These submissions are discussed in Chapter 9.
The consistency of evidence presented to the Committee is worth noting. While the focus of this inquiry was innovative approaches to waste management and resource recovery, the Committee overwhelming heard that what needs greater attention is the policy and regulatory framework to support innovation. Evidence to the Committee suggested that this is inhibiting innovation. Stakeholders emphasised the importance of changing the policy and regulatory settings to provide industry with confidence and certainty to invest, to innovate and to expand operations.
The Committee acknowledges that the issues considered to be stifling innovation by industry are largely the same issues being addressed through the National Waste Policy Action Plan, the Response Strategy to implement the waste export bans, and recent Government funding announcements. The Committee supports the principles underpinning these actions, initiatives and investment decisions.
Product stewardship schemes are necessary to drive change and shift the responsibility for waste to manufacturers, importers and producers. Markets for — and end users of — recycled products are fundamental to strengthening the value of waste. Accessible funding and greater investment in infrastructure will not only diversify onshore operations and markets but allow recycled products to be exported overseas. Available information and investment in research and development will drive innovation and inform policy and investment decisions. Finally, community awareness and education will help reset social norms regarding how we avoid, manage and value waste.
Notwithstanding that state and territory and local governments are primarily responsible for waste management and resource recovery in Australia – in particular waste collection services, waste processing, and landfill management – the Commonwealth has an important leadership and coordination role. Essentially, it must bring together and harmonise eight different jurisdictions to create a more seamless waste management and resource recovery industry as well as a competitive domestic and international market for recycled products.
It was suggested that the Committee consider the introduction of a specific national agency to address waste management and resource recovery in Australia. The Committee does not support this proposal. The Committee considers that these issues can be effectively coordinated and managed within existing Commonwealth departments and agencies.
The Committee makes the following recommendations to support the work currently underway by the Commonwealth.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, in consultation with industry, identify and consider the inclusion of additional waste streams under the Product Stewardship Act 2011, particularly emerging or complex waste streams such as e-waste, solar panels, medical waste and textiles.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government undertake stakeholder consultations to better align the existing waste management and recycling funding and investment programs with industry’s needs.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government undertake an assessment of Australia’s current and future waste management and resource recovery infrastructure capacity, with particular emphasis on the volume of waste to be managed and potential markets.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, in consultation with the state and territory governments work towards identifying and harmonising relevant waste management and resource recovery policies and legislation to enable a seamless, coordinated and integrated industry across the country.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government work with state and territory governments to improve access to container deposit facilities and collection points, particularly for people who use these facilities to earn extra money or fundraise.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government design and implement a national public education and awareness campaign that emphasises avoiding waste, the impact of waste, and how it can be better managed by consumers.