Aus Government’s $20-Million Recycling Package Explained

Figures cited by the government show that just 12% of the 103kg plastic waste generated per person each year is recycled; and most of that was overseas.

Scott Morrison has pledged $20-million to boost Australia’s recycling capacity, hoping the industry will grow rapidly to process increasing plastic, paper and glass recycling waste that can no longer be sent overseas.

As we reported last week, Scott Morrison confirmed at the conclusion of a meeting of the Coalition of Australian Government (COAG) summit that Australia would no longer ship waste overseas to countries like Bangladesh, India or China.

Now, the government is moving to spur Australia’s domestic recycling capabilities with the latest pledge of $20-million. You can read the official statement here put out in joint by prime minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews. “We are committed to protecting our nation’s environment while also building our capacity to turn recycling products into products that people want and need,” Morrison said.

“By engaging an industry and researchers we can make sure we’re seeing these changes introduced in a way that cuts costs for businesses and ultimately even creates jobs,” he said.

Karen Andrews said that “this funding will strengthen Australia’s recycling industry and help us achieve higher recycling rates,” she said.

“Boosting our onshore recycling industry has the potential to create over three times as many jobs as exporting our plastic waste, ensuring a more sustainable and prosperous future,” Andrews concluded.

Industry figures are divided about the announcement however, with some in the debate calling it tokenistic, while others, like the CEO of the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), Peter Shmigel welcome it.

“There’s a lot of good work to be done to determine: ‘Can we establish, for example, micro plants for taking back this material and cleaning it up in regional areas, rather than having to establish major capital city plants?’” he told Business Insider.

“Another good R&D question is what other applications can we put plastic into. We know that we can put it into road base - we know that we can put it into furniture, we know we can put it into packaging… But for example, there are construction applications that it might be able to go into - building houses out of recycled plastic is totally possible. Even doing it through 3D printing is totally possible… It’s that kind of innovation we’d like to see [and] support,” Shmigel said.

He also explained that the investment will contribute both to the growth of jobs in the industry, as well as reducing Australia’s environmental footprint. “It’s actually one of the most affordable ways to reduce greenhouse gasses compared to, for example, renewable energy,” he said.

Jeff Angel, executive director of The Total Environment Centre sits on the other side of the debate, calling it “too small a step” from the government. Angel told Business Insider that “we don’t need to do more research… we need to create markets for recycled plastic that can be easily done with recycled content requirements for products that government and businesses adopt,” he added.

“We need more action on the ground to mainstream the recycling. No more boutique exercises in academia, let’s start using the plastic now and we can because there are already existing plastic recycling facilities in Australia.”

“I think Australians over the decades have made a clear choice between landfill and recycling… they want to recycle.” Angel said.

“They’re astounded that we recycle so little of our plastic in Australia and now the export market is closing down, I’m sure the offshore consumers will appreciate knowing that when they recycle, that material is being used for new products and creating jobs in Australia.”

“The government’s talking big and needs to deliver big on recycle[d] content and new investment in actual factories processing the material.”

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