Federal government drops plan for recycled content purchasing targets

Published on Wed 27 January 2021 3:21pm

Labor has accused the Morrison government of missing a major chance to boost take-up of recycled content in government contracting by opting not to set new rules for procurement.

Written by Tom McIlroy, Political reporter. Published in the Australian Financial Review on 27 January 2021

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Environment Minister Sussan Ley focus on lifting recycling rates and the use of circular economy products in Australia, an update to the government’s sustainable procurement rules failed to include mandated standards for public service departments and agencies.

Josh Wilson, Labor’s assistant spokesman for the environment, said government purchasing power could help build major end markets for recycled content and ease pressure on the environment and reduce waste going to landfill.

‘‘Procurement has always been a critical piece of the puzzle, alongside producer responsibility that sees companies design for recycling and for the incorporation of recycled material,’’ the Fremantle MP said.

‘‘The Morrison government has neglected both these vital aspects of reform.’’

In July 2019, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction Trevor Evans raised the prospect of percentage targets being included in government procurement rules, suggesting the moves would drive big steps forward for the industry.

The latest guide, published before Christmas, has detailed information about sustainable procurement strategies and the use of recycled content, including to provide greater value for the use of taxpayers’ funds. Departments are encouraged to purchase products made with recycled glass, paper, tyres and plastics.

But Mr Wilson said government would not effectively lead industry without mandated percentage targets for take-up.

‘‘The Australian waste and resource industry have been loud and clear for some time in saying the federal government must show leadership in creating demand for recycled materials.

‘‘This will underpin investment in the necessary infrastructure and innovation, and as the necessary scale is achieved and producers move to take responsibility for the life-cycle of their products, Australia could become a leader in circular sustainable production.’’

Ms Ley has nominated reducing textile waste, including the disposal of clothes, as well as construction waste as among her key priorities for federal government environmental progress this year.

Circular economics seeks to minimise or phase out waste and pollution in product life cycles and promote systems of reinvention, reuse and sharing.

Ms Ley said the Morrison government was driving ‘‘unprecedented reform in Australia’s recycling infrastructure and the creation of a circular economy’’.

‘‘Under the Commonwealth procurement rules, officials must consider whether they can make every procurement contain recycled product,’’ she said.

‘‘These rules mean that recycled content needs to be considered for all purchases of goods, not just the number required to meet a target.’’ She said baseline data from across all areas of government was being developed to establish benchmarks for future procurement strategies.

‘‘We are also investing in infrastructure to grow Australia’s recycling capacity and create new recycled product options,’’ Ms Ley said.

Last week, Ms Ley and NSW Energy and the Environment Minister Matt Kean announced a $35 million grant round for recycling companies working to transform the state’s waste industry.

It followed about $40 million in similar plans for recycling systems in Victoria and South Australia announced earlier this month.

Written by Tom McIlroy, Political reporter. Published in the Australian Financial Review on 27 January 2021

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