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Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, the Chairperson for the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications Inquiry into waste and recycling, provides the following comments on the release of the report ,“Never waste a crisis: the waste and recycling industry in Australia”.

The Inquiry was established in August last year following the expose by Four Corners, “Trashed”, into the then emerging waste and recycling crisis, that was later aggravated by China’s recyclables import ban.

Senator Whish-Wilson said, “In a rare display of political consensus, all parties have come together to issue a clarion call for how the nation needs to respond to our recycling crisis. Australia’s complacency in relying on China to buy our recyclables has exposed the vulnerabilities in our current approach and the Senate has laid down a clear pathway for Australia to create a circular economy and stop piles of plastic, paper and glass being stockpiled or heading to landfill.

“For the first time, all parties have come together in a report like this to call for a phase-out of single-use plastics – plastic bags, takeaway containers, plastic-lined coffee cups and chip packets – by 2023. We urgently need to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is ending up in landfill, in stockpiles and in our oceans.

“The Report also recommends an urgent shift of focus from the bulk export of low-grade, high-volume recyclables to creating multiple streams of high-quality, low-contamination material for domestic re-use through better sorting.

“The Inquiry found that Australians themselves have been good at putting material into the recycling bin, but as a nation we have failed to reduce the overall amount of waste we produce and our co-mingled recycling bin approach produces low-quality and contaminated streams of material.

“This contaminated bulk stream of recyclables has been at the heart of the failure to create a domestic manufacturing sector and end-markets from our waste and has made it harder to ride the shocks of changes in commodity prices and China’s ban on importing contaminated recyclable waste.

“To change this will involve the Federal Government providing policy leadership to ensure all levels of governments work together to transform how we sort waste at the household end of collection right through to the recycling depot to make sure that our waste streams can be recycled or repurposed or made into feedstock for domestic manufacturing. We can’t continue having pieces of broken glass contaminating our recycled paper waste streams and multiple types of plastic all being lumped in together.

“The most critical recommendation to develop a cleaner stream of waste is regarding the establishment of a national Container Deposit Scheme. This brings all states into line and allows them to follow the success of South Australia in being able to better generate high-value markets from their waste streams.

“Finally, the Report calls upon the Federal Government to set mandatory targets for inclusion of recycled materials in its procurement process. Without incentivising domestic markets for the end-use of these waste streams it will keep piling up at rubbish tips around the country.

“Never before have I seen every stakeholder, from right across the economy, call for national leadership on an issue. This Report lays bare that the need for Federal Government action and underlines why it can no longer sit on the sidelines. There are concrete steps the government must take and without them doing so, the states and local government will be left to create stopgap measures,” he concluded.

Recommendations ...

Recommendation 1
The committee recommends that the Australian Government prioritise the establishment of a circular economy in which materials are used, collected, recovered, and re-used, including within Australia.
Recommendation 2
The committee recommends that the Australian Government shows leadership through the urgent implementation of the 16 strategies established under the National Waste Policy.
Recommendation 3
The committee recommends that the Australian Government prioritise waste reduction and recycling above waste-to-energy, and seek a commitment through the Meeting of Environment Minsters of all levels of government to the waste hierarchy.
Recommendation 4
That the Commonwealth and State Government agree to a phase out of petroleum-based single-use plastics by 2023. The scope of this commitment would require careful consideration and should be developed through the Meeting of Environment Ministers.
Recommendation 5
That the government establish a Plastics Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) to lead Australia’s research efforts into reducing plastic waste, cleaning up our oceans and finding end-markets for recovered plastic.
Recommendation 6
That the government commit to implementing the recommendations of the Senate References Committee Inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia, particularly in light of the need to improve plastic resource recovery.
Recommendation 7
The committee recommends that the Australian Government work with state and local governments to assist recyclers to increase the diversion of material from landfill; improve the quality of materials recovered through collection programs; improve the sorting of materials at recycling facilities; and assist manufacturers to increase the amount of recycled material used in production.
Recommendation 8
The committee recommends the Australian Government set mandatory targets for all government departments in relation to the recycled content of materials bought directly or provided by private contractors.
The committee recommends that state and local governments also pursue sustainable procurement policies to ensure strong domestic markets for recycled material.
Recommendation 9
The committee recommends that the Australian Government implement the 65 agreed improvements to the National Waste Report, and the data collection and analysis practices, as established by Blue Environment’s Improving national waste data and reporting report.
Further, the committee recommends that the National Waste Report be published at least biennially.
Recommendation 10
The committee recommends that the Australian Government support state and territory, and local governments in ensuring effective education programs are available to assist the public in understanding how best to undertake recycling.
Recommendation 11
The committee recommends that the Australian Government implement a national container deposit scheme.
Recommendation 12
The committee recommends that product stewardship schemes established under the Product Stewardship Act 2011 be mandatory schemes.
Recommendation 13
The committee recommends that mandatory product stewardship schemes be established for tyres, mattresses, e-waste, and photovoltaic panels.
Recommendation 14
The committee recommends that the Australian Government extend producer responsibility under product stewardship schemes to ensure better environmental and social outcomes through improved design.
Recommendation 15
The committee recommends that the Product Stewardship Advisory Committee be re-established and that they be tasked with recommending products for listing under the Product Stewardship Act.
Recommendation 16
The committee recommends that the Australian Government assist state and territory governments to ensure that landfill levies in proximate jurisdictions are such that there is a no incentive to transport waste for levy avoidance purposes.
Recommendation 17
The committee recommends that the Australian Government support state and territory governments fully hypothecating landfill levies towards measures that reduce the creation of consumption and waste, and that increase the recycling of waste materials.
Recommendation 18
The committee recommends that the Australian Government work with state and territory governments to ensure the implementation of harmonised, best-practice landfill standards.

*Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson is the Chairperson for the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications Inquiry into waste and recycling