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Reviewing the Review From Rubbish to Resources – Building a Circular Economy

Karinne Taylor critically reviews the House Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources report “From Rubbish to Resources: Building a Circular Economy”.

By: Karinne Taylor, MRA Consulting Group


If you want some ‘light’ reading over the break, then the recently released 216 page Parliamentary Review report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources will provide you with a good snapshot of the state of waste in Australia at the moment. 

The inquiry was looking into innovative solutions for Australia’s waste management and recycling industries, focussing on “opportunities presented by waste materials, including energy production, innovative recycling approaches and export opportunities, and to also consider current impediments to innovation”.

It is refreshing to see the continued level of engagement at a Commonwealth level and understanding of the challenges facing Australia. In particular the report acknowledged that technology is not a barrier, solutions are available domestically and overseas and that what is actually needed are policy and systemic changes to support innovation, and upscale and commercialise resource recovery facilities and operations.

“Changes to Australia’s waste management and recycling landscape have combined to create new opportunities for industries to innovate with waste. A national ban on many waste exports, the global shift to a circular economy and the redefining of waste as a resource has highlighted the potential of industry to do more with what people discard as rubbish.”

Unsurprisingly there was a focus on a few targeted waste streams. Textiles and medical waste featured strongly, as did waste into waterways, hazardous waste from mining, the impact of end of life for renewable energy infrastructure (solar panels and wind turbines) and opportunities and barriers for FOGO.

MRA welcomes a better articulation of the Circular Economy as not just an end of pipe solution, but the relationship between product design and recovery systems:

“To better manage waste there is a need to better manage what happens to products before they become waste – that is, before a product is thrown out. This path commences well before deciding in which bin to discard rubbish. It starts from when a product is manufactured. It refers to rethinking all of the resources and materials that are used to make a product, including the components, parts and packaging. It starts with transitioning to a circular economy. “

We also appreciate the report’s strong focus on the role governments can play in supporting rural and regional Australia, in increasing FOGO and in harmonising a Energy from Waste policy to provide clarity, certainty, and regulatory consistency.

Recommendations

The report contained 24 recommendations; here’s our take on how they align to support change. 

Integrated policy reform:

  • harmonising policies and legislation across the country. This includes a national waste to energy policy;
  • developing a pathway to a national circular economy. Paying attention to:
    • the design and composition of products for recycling;
    • a national textile waste policy; and
    • regulation and incentives to encourage repair, reuse, recycling and recovery of materials; 
  • update the National Waste Policy Action Plan to include measures focused on transportation and infrastructure to manage waste across regions, state and territory borders;
  • responsible Minister report annually to Parliament on the progress of targets and actions and add a standing item on the National Federation Reform Council agenda to monitor progress.

Programs and Funding to address identified issues:

  • measures for rural, regional and remote communities to invest in local infrastructure. Including a mobile waste management and recycling program;
  • develop a national methane-to-power program for landfill sites in cities and larger regional centres; and
  • improve access to container deposit facilities and to clothing recycling bins.

Calling for further research and data to establish the nature of specific issues:

  • assessment of Australia’s infrastructure capacity to manage waste and develop potential end-markets;
  • stakeholder consultation to align funding programs with industry’s needs;
  • opportunities for better recovery of Commercial and Industrial waste and Construction and Demolition Waste;
  • models for rural, regional and remote communities to establish a local waste management and resource recovery industry;
  • research into improving recovery options for textiles and for the medical sector; and
  • grant funding recipients to report on project outcomes to improve data.

Targeted waste streams:

  • a variety of recommendations related to policy reform and research for specific wastes (covered above);
  • the Product Stewardship Act should include emerging or complex waste streams such as e-waste, solar panels, medical waste and textiles; and
  • exploring options for better FOGO recovery, and that a business plan be developed to identify opportunities for reprocessed FOGO waste to be sold in rural and regional markets.

What next? 

As with all inquiries it remains to be seen whether the House Committee Review From Rubbish to Resources – Building a Circular Economy will result in action or sit on a shelf. 

Moves towards harmonising legislation will take delicate negotiation between the various jurisdictions. Delivering the research and data recommendations, and ensuring those findings are publicly available is achievable and will reduce some of the barriers identified in the report.

In the immediate term, there are a number of Circular Economy Grants open, which support this policy direction. MRA can provide a one-stop shop to maximise your chances of success. To date we have submitted more than 200 grant applications, winning more than $70m in funding for our clients.


Karinne Taylor is a Principal Environmental Consultant at MRA Consulting Group.



 

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