National leadership on waste crisis still missing

Published on Fri 11 September 2020 12:43pm

The current “leave it to the states” approach means that we aren’t protecting our environment or giving the waste industry the opportunity to expand and grow jobs to reach the scale needed for a modern recycling industry with matched manufacturing capacity.

The actions of Labor and Liberal State and Territory governments are in stark contrast to the Morrison Government’s inaction when it comes to coordinating a nationally consistent plan for the phase out of problematic plastic products. This is despite the fact that the National Waste Strategy includes targets to achieve 70% recycling of plastic packaging and the elimination of unnecessary and problematic plastic items by 2025.
 
The leadership shown by the South Australian, Queensland,  and ACT governments in moving to phase out certain harmful and unnecessary single-use plastic items is a big step forward. Just this week the South Australian Parliament passed a bill that will ban the sale of items including plastic cutlery and straws and polystyrene food containers.  Both Queensland and the ACT have similar bills before their parliaments.
  
Yet currently just 12 per cent of Australia’s plastic waste is recycled and only 16 per cent of plastic packaging. Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister Sussan Ley have made a song and dance about improving waste management and recycling in Australia, but after seven years we’re still waiting to see serious reform.
 
The current “leave it to the states” approach means that we aren’t protecting our environment or giving the waste industry the opportunity to expand and grow jobs to reach the scale needed for a modern recycling industry with matched manufacturing capacity.
 
Just this week the Australian Beverages Council called on the Morrison Government to implement a national container deposit scheme that would see the harmonisation of rules and national standards across the country. That is precisely the kind of national leadership Australia needs on this issue.
 
It simply doesn’t make sense to have states and territories tackling such reforms one by one without the coordinated support of the Federal Government. It took 35 years before Australia had more than one state with a national container deposit scheme and it has taken more than a decade for the ban on single-use plastic bags to occur in all state and territory jurisdictions. Without serious national leadership Australia will continue to be a laggard on 21st century waste management and recycling.
 
The Morrison Government’s hands-off approach means that we will make slower, less strategic, and poorly coordinated progress. That in turn means we will continue to see harmful waste affect our environment and we will miss opportunities to grow new resource management and manufacturing jobs. It also makes life hard for businesses that want to respond to the strong community demand for greater sustainability – especially small and medium businesses, for whom a lack of scale and a lack of consistency is a real killer.
 
It’s hard to take this Government seriously on waste when their signature election commitment of a $100 million Recycling Investment Fund is nothing more than a re-packaging of existing Clean Energy Finance Corporation funds. More than a year after it was first committed, this signature funding pool remains untouched.
 
There is no doubt that in the absence of leadership and responsibility from the Morrison Government the 2025 targets will not all be met, and the progress being made across Australia will be slower and more inconsistent than it should be. As we make the long-belated shift to a serious and sustainable approach to waste it requires national leadership to ensure it is timely, strategic, and harmonised across Australia.

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