Morrison government all bluster but no action on tackling harmful waste

Published on Mon 9 August 2021 10:24am

If you were a free marketeer and you looked at the circumstances worldwide and in Australia when it comes to waste and recycling, you’d run through all of your hankies, having a very bitter weep, because this is a profoundly broken market, where companies produce items according to a linear model, resources get used once, they get turned into things that are often disposed of after very brief use and then they get left in our environment, and the cost falls on all of us.

Mr Wilson (10:43am) – [by video link] I’m glad to speak on this motion. The issue of waste and recycling is very important. The problem of waste in Australia, and in our world, is massive. It’s also a big opportunity. We can move towards a more sustainable set of arrangements, and, by doing so, we can see new industry and new manufacturing created.

It’s a big problem because it’s a fundamentally broken market. We heard the member for Goldstein spout his credentials as a free marketeer. If you were a free marketeer and you looked at the circumstances worldwide and in Australia when it comes to waste and recycling, you’d run through all of your hankies, having a very bitter weep, because this is a profoundly broken market, where companies produce items according to a linear model, resources get used once, they get turned into things that are often disposed of after very brief use and then they get left in our environment, and the cost falls on all of us. Until we address that broken market, we’re going to see more of the same.

We’re going to see a continuation of the eight million tonnes annually of plastic that goes into the ocean that accumulate in fish and birds and that is finding its way into us. We’ve seen nanoparticles of plastic in rainfall. We are finding plastic in species that live in the deepest ocean trenches on the planet. Until we do something about that, it’s going to keep getting worse.

A circular economy is a sustainable economy. It means we use the limited resources that we have better, and we need to do more of that.

The government’s made a big song and dance about waste and recycling, essentially as a fig leaf to cover its failures in other areas of environmental stewardship. The member for Goldstein talks about environmental stewardship, but we’ve seen precious little of that from this government after three terms, three prime ministers and nine years. It presides over a failed environmental protection framework that sees more and more Australian species pushed to the edge of extinction, and it has taken no action on climate change. Along it comes with this zeal for waste and recycling, but, sadly, despite sprinkling money here and there and making announcements and talking a good game when it comes to the circular economy, it’s failed when it comes to waste and recycling too. The numbers don’t lie, as is always the case. Australia barely recycles 10 per cent of its plastic. That has not changed under this government.

You think about the big pieces that need to be addressed—infrastructure on the one hand, product stewardship on the other—and there’s been literally no new infrastructure created under this government to deal with processing material and recycling material for reuse. The $100 million Recycling Investment Fund that the member for Goldstein mentioned didn’t advance a single dollar until just recently, and then it only advanced funds for a project that was already going ahead. None of the new infrastructure facilities that have been agreed with the states and territories have been delivered. There have been no new co-regulatory product stewardship schemes. If you look at something like APCO, a voluntary scheme, it hasn’t even been accredited yet. It has targets, like trying to achieve 20 per cent incorporation of recycled material into plastic packaging by 2025. Twenty per cent is its target, and where we sitting now? We’re sitting at four per cent.

We are doing abysmally when it comes to these things, because the government has essentially been late to the game. It’s taken a hands-off approach. Its initiatives have failed. The funding mechanisms have not seen a dollar landed. We’ve switched off the exporting of mixed plastics, which is a good thing, but it was forced on us by the decision of other countries that they would no longer take our low-quality waste. The reality is: we’ve got nowhere for that 75,000 tonnes of mixed plastics to go. If you talk to people in the industry at the moment, they will tell you quite openly that those mixed plastics are going into landfill.

This is the government that crows about what it’s done when it comes to waste and recycling. What it’s done is recognised the realities internationally when it comes to not being able to send our low-quality contaminated waste to be burnt or thrown into rivers in other countries. It hasn’t introduced one operational piece of infrastructure yet, and mixed plastics will be going into landfill. We need less talk, fewer fig leaves, less of the tricked-up self-congratulation and more whole-eyed focus on the failures of this government when it comes to waste and recycling.

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