We already know that plastic is being stockpiled around the country, which presents a fire risk – as we’ve seen in Western Australia – and in some cases it’s being sent to landfill.
The closure of the second largest recycling facility in Sydney shows that market conditions are getting worse and our existing system is getting weaker when it needs to significantly expand.
A 2019 report commissioned by the government has concluded that Australia will need a 400% increase in recycling infrastructure. It found that just 9.4% of plastic was recycled in 2017-18 and that the plastic recycling sector is smaller now than in 2005.
The report concludes: “State and federal governments are being challenged to play a strong role in procurement of recycled content product, particularly in road and parks agency works. There are also calls for funding assistance to support new reprocessing infrastructure and modifications to sorting and collection systems.”
Yet so far the Morrison Government has been late in delivering its own recycling investment fund (which in any case is made up of repackaged and existing CEFC loan capacity), has failed to deliver the long overdue review of the Product Stewardship Act, has not shown leadership on banning single-use plastics or microbeads, and has made no commitment in relation to federal government procurement of recycled material.
The Prime Minister was also forced to cancel the December meeting of COAG after his government failed to have an adequate recycling plan ready for discussion.
The government’s decision to hold a National Plastic Summit in March has all the appearance of a talkfest when action is required. Australia’s recycling and resource recovery industry has participated in numerous inquiries and reviews. It is well past time for the government to act on the needs and recommendations identified through these processes. What good is a set of roundtable conversations when the sector is crying out for an urgent and substantial coordinated policy response?
If next month’s National Plastics Summit is to have any meaning it must be the occasion on which the Morrison Government finally delivers a clear and properly resourced plan to address the waste crisis that is getting worse with each passing month.
So far, they only have a plan to market themselves, not a plan for waste and recycling or to govern the nation.