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Federal Government's inaction on recycling, a waste of time

Media Release
Peter Whish-Wilson 20 Feb 2019

Greens Waste & Recycling spokesperson, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, says urgent federal action is needed to end Australia’s recycling crisis and stop recycling going to landfill in Victoria.

Senator Whish-Wilson said, "Several years ago China announced it would stop taking Australia’s low-quality waste and the waste industry accepted it faced a major national crisis.

"Major stakeholders across the waste industry called for urgent action, immediate funding and Federal Government leadership, if this crisis was to be avoided.

"Sadly, this Government has chosen to sit on its hands, and almost two years later the states are now sending their recycled waste to landfill.

"Australians will be horrified it has come to this. The system is failing, the industry is in crisis and the Federal Government still has no plan after all these years.

"Of all the critical failures of this Government’s environmental legacy, this one rates among the worst.

"It was confirmed at Senate Estimates this week that the Federal Government is still working on a national waste plan, after years of inaction, and the detail could well be many months away from being released."

Senator Whish-Wilson chaired a Senate inquiry into the Waste and Recycling Industry in Australia that produced a report (available here) on how the nation should respond to the recycling crisis.

The Committee recommended that the Federal Government prioritise the establishment of a circular economy which Senator Whish-Wilson says, "would save resources, build local industries, employ Australians and clean up our oceans and communities."

"In a rare display of political consensus, all parties came together and produced a sensible set of recommendations that would see the urgent federal action needed to end the recycling crisis.

"It’s foolish for the Federal Government to ignore these recommendations, particularly when tonnes of Victorian waste is headed straight to landfill right now."

The Committee also recommended the Federal Government implement a national container deposit scheme. A similar Senate inquiry in 2016 into the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia (report available here) also recommended a national scheme and added that if all states and territories hadn’t introduced container deposit scheme legislation by 2020, the Federal Government should revisit the issue with the view to developing legislation for those jurisdictions.

"It’s not just national leadership that is lacking and fuelling the recycling crisis in Australia, state governments have just an important a role to play and can send a clear message to the Federal Government that they are willing to act.

"If Victoria wasn’t so opposed to a container deposit scheme, its kerbside recycling may not be under so much pressure right now."

The Greens’ plan (available here) to reboot recycling involves:

  • Investing $500 million over five years into infrastructure and programs to improve the quality of recycling. This will be administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and will require matching funding, dollar-for-dollar, from state governments.
  • Introduce mandatory product stewardship schemes, including a national container deposit scheme.
  • Distributing $10 million in grants to community groups and social enterprises to run high quality reuse and recycling centres.
  • Establish mandatory targets for the procurement of recycled material at all levels of government.
  • Recommit to and reinvigorate the National Waste Policy.
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