Let's Close the LoopNewsletter
One of the issues I’m passionate about is reducing waste and effectively recycling that waste into new products and creating new jobs for our region.
Recently I was pleased to initiate a new Parliamentary Friends of Waste and Recycling, an official parliamentary interest group made up of federal MPs across the political spectrum. My co-chair is Bridget Archer, the Liberal MP for Bass in Tasmania. The key aims of the parliamentary friends group are to interest and excite other MPs in the issues, share information and best practice and to help to address the crisis we currently have in waste recycling.
It seems to me that we have been very good at some parts of the waste and recycling cycle, but pretty deplorable at others. Since China and other countries stopped taking our plastic and other waste in 2018/19, the failures in our system have been exposed for all to see. Now thousands of tons of waste is simply going into landfill, undermining confidence and trust of the public in recycling
We’ve been good at:
- collecting waste
- developing mission statements and strategies (I note the City of Greater Geelong has just issued a new draft strategy which is great)
What we haven’t been very good at is:
- recognizing (despite councils naming their waste depots as ‘resource recovery centres’) that waste is a valuable resource that can be re-used
- developing our own industrial hubs to clean and sort waste as well as manufacture new products out of the recycled materials
- making the makers of plastics and packaging ‘stewards’ of that material throughout its life, with responsibility for what happens to it after it is sold and used
- finding markets for recycled materials. This requires not just the collection and processing of materials but actually finding buyers to create demand for the recycled products.
On the last point, we really need to ‘close the loop’. We need to make it easy for companies to conduct full audits of the waste they produce as well as the things they buy, so they can be persuaded to buy some of those products back in a recycled form.
We need to have stronger laws about procurement, so that governments at all levels, as well as contractors undertaking government work, must purchase a certain proportion of recycled products and use recycled materials. Creating demand and buyers for recycled products – from road materials to planking for sand dunes to covers for hospital meals – is hard work and needs leadership. Perhaps some arm-twisting even.
A real problem as I see it is that the collection of waste currently is the province of local government. By and large they do a good job with collection. However, they have contractual arrangements with particular private companies and they lack the resources or scale to do something substantial to recycle the materials. And Councils are constrained by financial realities. They must always consider the cost to ratepayers and sometimes this leads to the cheapest solution being regarded as the best solution. That is why we got the SKM scandal which affected many councils.
On the other hand, investors and those who might want to put in place cleaning/sorting technologies or place manufacturing facilities in a recycling hub, need certainty around volumes of waste. The volumes required to guarantee continuity of work are usually much bigger than one council alone can provide.
In Corangamite, we have five local governments and numerous collection contractors. Getting co-operation across the councils is difficult, but I’m hopeful that their umbrella organization G21 will make this issue a priority over the coming months. We also have the Barwon South West Waste and Recovery Group, which also has representatives from all of the Councils as members, which has a key priority of creating a recycling hub.
We also have some exciting suggestions on the table in the Geelong region. Polish based cleaning and sorting technology provider Bioelektra is very keen to establish a plant here in the region. Their cleaning and sorting technology is leading edge and has been adopted by Shoalhaven council in NSW. Bioelektra is working with a range of companies including Rob Pascoe from Closed Loop.
Closed Loop works with a up to 20 different manufacturers who make recycled products – like Pearl Global which recycles tyres. Bioelektra and Closed Loop want to bring a number of plastics and other manufacturers together in one recycling hub close to Geelong. Ultimately they see many of these manufacturing hubs around the country, reusing these recyclable materials.
I am really excited by these prospects. I’m not plugging for particular technologies or companies. But it makes absolute sense that councils in the region should pool their waste and we should process it here. Recycling manufacturing will create jobs and give residents confidence that their efforts to recycle waste are not wasted.
Whatever we do we need to stop waste going into landfill – like the Drysdale quarry site – or being trucked hundreds of kilometres away to be processed. This is simply unacceptable.
We have along way to go and there needs to be large scale investment – whether from the State Government which is holding hundreds of millions from the waste levy collected by Councils or the Federal Government through platforms like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We simply aren’t getting the right signals from government to either create demand for recycled products or provide incentives to invest in manufacturing of recycled materials.
The Parliamentary Friends group is one vehicle to raise these issues. I urge all of you to raise these problems with your local Council and demand we do better on this important issue.
This story was originally published in Libby's July Newsletter. Please click here to subscribe to the email newsletter.Share Tweet