Waste Management Australia: Is The Recycling Industry In Crisis?
You may have read in our recent blogs how the changes in legislation by the Chinese Government are having real impacts on waste management Australia practices.
In today’s blog – we want to look at the topic in a bit more detail. This issue is going to have very large impacts for Australian waste and recycling services – covering both residential and commercial collections.
The adjustments required by the industry will happen over many years – and will require a lot of thought by Government, local councils, the waste management Australia operators and discussion with China.
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Why is this an issue for waste management Australia?
To give a short summary – China has clamped down on the importation of lower grade recycling commodities for processing.
In recent years – much of the world has sold or sent recycling commodities and waste to China. This low cost outlet has been the basis of much of the recycling programmes in Australia.
For this reason – Australia has limited recycling plants. As manufacturing is also greatly reduced, the local outlets or offtakers for recycling commodities is also low.
Quoting from Business Insider Australia:
“Australia produces about 64 million tonnes of waste, or about 2.7 tonnes for each person, according to government estimates for 2014-15. About 60% of that is recycled in some form.”
“China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection in July last year filed a notice to the World Trade Organisation advising that recovered mixed paper, textiles, plastics and some metals would be banned from import.”
“The ban, an extension of China’s Operation Green Fence policy to prohibit the importation of unwashed and contaminated recyclable materials, came into effect in January, barring 24 categories of solid waste, sending already weak prices for recyclable material to rock bottom and making some materials unsaleable and ultimately destined for landfill or for stockpiling.”
Why is China putting in place controls and what is the impact in Australia
The basic reason is that years of this practise has led to pollution of the Chinese environment – and the market for low quality (i.e. contaminated recyclable commodities has fallen).
The impact on waste management Australia operators will be huge. In many instances council recycling bins (and commercial bins if low quality recycling) will be almost worthless – and hence contractors could face large losses.
In many instances – for low quality recycling such as dark plastic wrap, contaminated commingled (such as council collections) will have no real off-taker.
This will lead to renegotiation of council and municipal contracts, potential cost increases or even contractors walking away from multi-year collection agreements.
It will also potentially lead to more waste going to landfill or a re-examination of incineration as a solution for Australian waste.
See our update here on the Australian waste recycling plan.
Where we go from here is really an open question at this point in time. We quickly need to find a solution that is politically as well as environmentally responsible.
Australia has benefitted from the China boom in many ways in recent years – but now we need to find a solution that is a bit more Australian focused.