Date: 26 Apr 2018
"Waste to energy" incineration needs to be part of Australia's response to its recycling crisis, says Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, who will also push the packaging industry to ramp up its use of recycled materials over the next seven years.
At a meeting of the nation's environment ministers on Friday, Mr Frydenberg will open the door to a range of short-term and long-term efforts to help the recycling sector, which has been plunged into a state of chaos by China's decision to restrict imports of foreign waste.
"We are seized of this issue," Mr Frydenberg said. "We think it’s urgent and important. And we want to tackle the supply and the demand side. We want to work co-operatively with the states."
Mr Frydenberg has also announced promising results out of a nationwide scheme to phase out the use of microbeads in cosmetics, with 94 per cent of relevant products now rid of the minuscule plastic particles that pollute waterways and enter the food chain.
At Friday's gathering, Mr Frydenberg will push "environmentally sustainable" incineration as one option to help alleviate the glut of 1.3 million tonnes of recyclable waste now barred from China.
"I think it’s one of the options. We need to take a sort of holistic, broad approach to this where we will need a series of measures tackling various aspects," he told Fairfax Media.
With the recycling industry calling for long-term solutions, the energy ministers' meeting will canvas how they can boost recycling in Australia.
Mr Frydenberg has directed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Australian Renewable Energy Agency to prioritise waste to energy incineration projects that burn residual waste to generate electricity.
The environment ministers will also discuss a proposal to "get everything recyclable and reusable by 2025" with industry body the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation.
"And I think that is something that we really should commit to at the meeting tomorrow and focus on delivering that because not all pieces of packaged material are actually recyclable so we’ll go a long way towards doing that," he said.
The minister wants governments at all levels to look at boosting the use of recycled materials in their procurement contracts, ranging from office supplies to major infrastructure projects.
"That is an issue for further work to be done but my sense is there is scope for improvements at a government level to be more proactive with procurement policies around recycled material," he said.
The federal government will be pushing for a stocktake of recycling infrastructure to see how the capacity of existing plants can be expanded and whether new plants can be built.
Two years ago, the nation's energy ministers introduced a voluntary scheme to phase out microbeads. According to an independent assessment conducted for the federal Department of the Environment and Energy, 94 per cent of the 4400 relevant products are now rid of the particles.
Mr Frydenberg said the results demonstrated the scheme had been a "very successful collaboration" between governments and industry, which would now push for 100 per cent eradication.
Historically, a significant proportion of Australia's recyclable material has been exported to China for processing. China's decision to ban imports of low quality and highly contaminated materials has caused a glut in Australia's waste system.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the government needed to act before more councils sent recyclable waste to landfill.
“Josh Frydenberg knew this crisis was coming a year ago," he said. "He needs to emerge from tomorrow’s meeting with more than just a commitment to keep talking. Anything less than real policies and real money on the table will mean the crisis will only worsen."
By Fergus Hunter
Source: Sydney Morning Herald