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Australia Warned It Must Expand Plastic Recycling By Up To 400%

Australia Warned It Must Expand Plastic Recycling By Up To 400%
By Simon Williams
February 17, 2020

The dust may have settled on the decision made by China to stop receiving Australia’s waste, but the nation is no closer to coming up with a solution that will assist the growing waste that resides on Australian soil. Following the alarming reports that found only 9.4% of plastic was recycled between 2017 and 2018, the federal government has demanded that plastic reprocessing increase by up to 400%. Let’s discuss why this lofty target is applying pressure, and how close 2020 will get to meeting and maintaining this standard.

What’s the current state of play in Australia?

In 2018, China decided to stop accepting most of Australia’s waste, of which they had previously taken 24 different types of waste. Of the very small percentage they continue to accept, they have insisted that this waste only be 0.5% contaminated (dirty, incorrectly mixed, etc). As you would imagine, Australia did not have a plan B in 2018, and still are working out and where this waste will go. In the social climate of the recycling movement, all eyes are on Australia to make the right decision and to its citizens to begin correctly disposing of their waste and reducing plastic intake. Given that China was not only accepting this waste but paying for it, the government needs to now replace that remuneration they were accustomed to receiving, and outlay a large investment into building or locating a new solution.

What else did this federal government report say?

Compared to other countries around the world, Australia is notoriously behind in waste management, plastic reliance and failure to have any plan and infrastructure in place to mitigate its climate change impact. The report included data and waste volumes from 2017-2018, and here are the key findings from the comprehensive federal government report:

  • Australia must expand its plastic recycling by up to 400%
  • Only 9.4% of plastic was recycled in 2017-2018
  • The local recycling plastics sector is now smaller than what it was in 2005
  • The new national target is to have 70% of Australia’s plastic packaging to be recycled or composted by 2025 (currently at 26.7%)
  • Environment ministers agreed that glass exports would be banned from July 2020
  • Environment ministers agreed that mixed waste plastic exports would be banned from July 2021
  • Environment ministers agreed that tyre exports would be banned from December 2021
  • Environment ministers agreed that remaining waste products, including mixed paper and cardboard exports, would be banned from July 2022

With the last four targets imposing a large amount of pressure the government, businesses and consumers alike, the report’s author said that these impending 2020 targets (set by prime minister Scott Morrisson) are not advised and a mistake. While significant action needs to take place, experts are suggesting that Australia needs time to produce an alternative and less than a year is not enough time to impart this change.

So, is there any hope?

Many have argued that these reports and subsequent targets are too little and too late, with many suggesting that there should have been a contingency plan for China pulling out of this agreement. While the targets are absolutely where Australia should be heading, to announce that the country has less than a year to find an alternative to glass exports and all the rest, is the nation shooting itself in the foot? Other optimists believe that this has forced the countries hand in owning its waste and recognising that its consumption and management of waste is irresponsible to date. Now, as a collective unit, Australia can build a sustainable solution to a problem that is not going away.

CartridgesDirect have long been supporters of the circular economy, always looking to explore another way to reuse and recycle, and highlight those who are setting an example in their own right. In June last year, a $20 million plastic recycling plant opened in Melbourne by Advanced Circular Polymers. The plant processed plastic flakes and sells them to manufacturers to use in their products rather than sourcing virgin materials. The government committed $500,000 to the building and opening of this plant, and it represents opportunity and hope for the country and encourages others to think of a viable (and even commercial) business that can assist in reaching these lofty national targets.

We can each take away what we want from this federal government report, and the issue now is rolling these results and targets out to all relevant parties who can assist in exploring solutions and changing their own waste management behaviour. At CartridgesDirect, we are proud to contribute to these principals and values, collecting used cartridges and returning them to their manufacturers for recycling. If you or your business wish to responsibly dispose of your cartridges and other print technology waste, you can contact our team today.