Morrison Government fails to ensure Commonwealth purchasing supports recycling

Published on Wed 27 January 2021 6:39am

The only waste policy change this Government has delivered is the straightforward framework that formalises the ban other countries have imposed on Australia’s waste exports. Yet in the absence of both the infrastructure for increased recycling and the end market for recycled material Australia’s growing waste will inevitably need to be stockpiled or landfilled.

For all the talk of building a circular economy that would address Australia’s waste crisis and create new jobs in innovation and manufacturing, the Morrison Government has failed to deliver on its promise to ensure that Commonwealth purchasing power would help build end markets for recycled materials through improved procurement policy with solid procurement targets.

The existing Commonwealth sustainable procurement guidelines were updated two years ago and have achieved nothing. It is unbelievable that there is no Departmental reporting of procurement that has supported recycled material or products. It’s safe to assume this hasn’t occurred.

In July 2019 the newly appointed Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction Trevor Evans made the right noises when he told Guardian Australia:

“I would like to see all of the states and the commonwealth agree that by X date, X percentage of their significant procurement programs will be made of recycled materials. I am very ambitious when it comes to the targets I would like to see government adopt [and] I think there are some very big opportunities that will drive some big steps forward.”

But it has been silence ever since, even though the Government promised to deliver a new and effective procurement framework with targets by 2020 as part of the National Waste Policy Action Plan.

In March 2020 the Prime Minister used the media op created by the shiny and carefully-packaged National Plastics Summit to announce a review of Commonwealth sustainable procurement practices. Almost a year later the Morrison Government’s “new and improved” Commonwealth Sustainable Procurement Guide was released quietly over the Christmas period. The brown paper wrapping and lack of fanfare is no surprise considering the Guide makes no meaningful change to existing arrangements and doesn’t include the promised targets for the purchase of recycled materials by Commonwealth agencies, or any targets as a condition of Commonwealth funding for major infrastructure projects in partnership with states and territories.

The only waste policy change this Government has delivered is the straightforward framework that formalises the ban other countries have imposed on Australia’s waste exports. Yet in the absence of both the infrastructure for increased recycling and the end market for recycled material Australia’s growing waste will inevitably need to be stockpiled or landfilled.

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 Morrison government has neglected both these vital aspects of reform.

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.

But if the Morrison Government can’t even keep its promises then Australia’s waste management and recycling performance will continue to struggle, with impacts on our environment, and missed opportunities when it comes to innovation and jobs.

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