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Article Australia: Bill Banning Export of Unprocessed Waste Enacted

(Jan. 11, 2021) On December 15, 2020, Australia’s Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 (Cth) received assent. The act implements an export ban on waste plastic, paper, glass, and tires agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in March 2020. At the same meeting, the Commonwealth (i.e., federal) government, state and territory governments, and the Australian Local Government Association also agreed to a national response strategy that “presents a coordinated and ambitious package to implement the COAG waste export ban.” In line with the strategy, “governments will expand on work with industry to invest in growing the Australian recycling industry and build markets for recycled products.”

Upon the introduction of the relevant bill in August 2020, the chief executive of the Australian Council of Recycling stated that, “[t]aken together with other reforms, this unprecedented legislation marks a new era of environmental and economic achievement in recycling through Government leadership and industry partnership and innovation.” The acting chief executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council said: “Our sector welcomes this Bill as a significant leap in the right direction to reduce waste and increase access to high quality packaging with high levels of recycled content for Australia’s manufacturers. The Bill balances the needs and responsibilities of all industry sectors to collaborate and improve their management of end-of-life material recovery and recycling.”

Some environmental groups, such as Sea Shepherd and WWF, expressed disappointment that the bill did not include a ban on single-use plastics or mandate any packaging targets.

Export Ban

Under the act, bans will be implemented on the export of unprocessed plastic, paper, glass, and tire waste, and a license will be required to export certain types of processed waste. In particular,

  • from January 1, 2021, only glass waste that has been processed in certain ways may be exported by licensed exporters, including glass that has been processed into “furnace-ready or non-furnace-ready glass cullet or fines”; new rules made under the Act set out the specific requirements with respect to glass
  • from July 1, 2021, only plastics that have been either “sorted into single resin or polymer type” or “processed with other materials into processed engineered fuel” may be exported; from July 1, 2022, only plastics “that have been sorted into single resin or polymer type and/or have been further processed into, e.g. flakes or pellets” will be able to be exported.
  • from December 1, 2021, license holders will be able to export only
    • “bus, truck and aviation tyres for re-treading to a verified re-treading facility”
    • “tyres that have been processed into crumbs, buffings, granules or shreds”
    • “tyres that have been processed into tyre-derived fuel”
  • from July 1, 2024, license holders will be able to export only “paper and cardboard that is processed or sorted to specific requirements”

Each type of waste will be regulated under separate rules as the relevant ban comes into effect.

Product Stewardship

In addition to the export ban, the new legislation “also incorporates the existing Product Stewardship Act 2011 with improvements to encourage companies to take greater responsibility for the waste they generate, including through better product design and increased recovery and reuse of waste materials.”

In a press release, the assistant minister for waste reduction and environmental management said that “the new laws shift the dial in Australia on product stewardship as we change our mindset to thinking about waste as a resource and move towards a more circular economy.”

Recycling Modernisation Fund

A Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) has been established, “which will generate [AU]$600 million [about US$466 million] of recycling investment from Australian Government, state and territory governments and industry investments.” According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment,

[b]y mid-2024 when the full waste export ban comes into effect, Australia must recycle around 650,000 additional tonnes of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres each year.

Our waste and recycling industry will need to capture more materials for recycling and to do so cost-effectively.

Australia must futureproof and resource its domestic waste and recycling sector to deliver the waste reduction and recycling outcomes that the community expects.

It is important that we take a national and strategic approach to finding these infrastructure solutions.

The Australian Government is working with states and territories and industry to deliver this.

The Australian Government will invest $190 million [about US$147.6 million] into the RMF. This will leverage $600 million of recycling infrastructure investment and drive a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity.

More than 10,000 jobs will be created and over 10 million tonnes of waste diverted from landfill.

The RMF will support investment in new infrastructure to sort, process and remanufacture materials such as mixed plastic, paper, tyres and glass.

The RMF process will see state and territory governments allocating grants to projects, with jurisdictions providing funding through National Partnership Agreements. Several states and territories have made announcements with respect to areas of investment that will utilize the RMF.

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