Statement on Indonesia shipping back waste
In response to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age today of Indonesia’s plan to ship 100 containers of contaminated plastic waste back to Australia, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) acknowledges and agrees that Australia should be managing its own waste and resources and reiterates that the country does recycle millions of tonnes on-shore – though Australia needs to grow its demand and use of recovered resources.
Australia’s recycling challenges are well known, exacerbated by the closure of global markets for our recyclable materials, which until two years ago, were in high demand by the world’s largest manufacturer, China. Many of the products that end up in household yellow bins are not made in Australia and export back to the place of manufacture had been important in the past to ensure these materials are actually reinjected back into the global circular economy, being used as raw materials by those who make new products.
“These global shifts have resulted in Australia needing to find homes domestically for our recyclables and this is certainly a positive aspiration. Industry does not want to export these materials and we know that there are many good reasons to sell these materials right here in Australia and turn them back into packaging. Doing so will close the loop on the products we consume, and it will boost local economies and grow jobs,” WMRR CEO, Ms Gayle Sloan, said.
“Waste management and resource recovery is a shared responsibility and there is no quick or easy fix. As industry continues to work closely with all levels of government on the solutions, including policy and regulatory frameworks, we urge the community to continue recycling by putting their empty and dry household packaging into the yellow bin as we have many MRFs and remanufacturers who are processing these materials.
“We note that the contamination, which is a concern for international importers of recycled materials, is primarily a result of people using their household bins incorrectly. Of course, industry and government can and should do more, but so can every citizen by being more diligent about what they put into the yellow bin.
“What is still lacking in Australia, which is the fundamental reason material has been exported in the past, is greater certainty of remanufacturing pull. In August, COAG said it will ban the export of paper, glass, plastic, and tyres but for this ban to work, we need to build a sustainable, long-term remanufacturing sector in Australia. Material has been flowing offshore because international manufacturers wanted to use it in their products, and they were prepared to buy it from Australia – now we need more local manufacturers to buy it right here in Australia.
“The obvious solution is to require waste generators and producers to take responsibility for the materials they design and to pay the cost of managing these materials, just as they already do in Europe. Significant national action on product design and material selection is required now, not in 2025,” Ms Sloan said.
“The Federal government has to address packaging nationally, strengthening the laws and framework around extended producer responsibility, and urgently move to a mandatory scheme that includes mandated percentages of Australian recycled content within the packaging, and designing out problematic plastics.“
“We also need to move now to buying recycled materials: we know that right now – TODAY - we can put recycled glass into roads, recycled plastics into street furniture, recycled tyres into playgrounds – all of which reduces the need for new materials and creates viable markets for more of our recycled materials. We just need government to mandate this, creating market certainty and Australian jobs!
“WMRR is hopeful that market development, mandated product stewardship and harmonised national Container Deposit Schemes are all on the agenda for the Meeting of Environment Ministers in November as it is the only way we can move towards better outcomes, because we know that business as usual will not get us there!”