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Australia's recycling industry is getting a $20 million boost, but at least one environmental group says the government is all talk

Sharon Masige
  • The Morrison government has pledged $20 million to boost Australia's recycling industry as part of its plans to reduce waste materials such as plastic, paper and glass.
  • The Australian Council of Recycling has warmly welcomed the spend, explaining it will be used for research and design.
  • However, environmental group The Total Environment Centre told Business Insider Australia the allocation was not enough and more needs to be done.

Australia's recycling industry is set to receive a $20 million boost from the Morrison government, but at least one environmental group believes much more can be done.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $20 million for projects designed to grow Australia's recycling industry — part of the government’s broader plan to ban the country's export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres overseas.

Pete Shmigel, CEO of the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) — who was in Canberra for the government's announcement — told Business Insider Australia that to his understanding, most of the funding will be used for research and design.

“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?'

"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 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 even doing it through 3D printing is totally possible. It's that kind of innovation we'd like to see [and] support.”

Shmigel added that investing in the recycling industry would create jobs in regional areas and in the manufacturing industry. And it could help reduce greenhouse gasses.

“It's actually one of the most affordable ways to reduce greenhouse gasses compared to, for example, renewable energy," he said.

However, Jeff Angel, executive director of Sydney-based environmental group The Total Environment Centre, told Business Insider Australia that more needs to be done.

“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 business adopt," he said.

"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. 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."

Angel added that this is "too small a step" by the government.

"It's not enough," he said. "The government’s talking big and needs to deliver big on recycle content and new investment in actual factories processing the material."

The announcement comes after the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Cairns on Friday August 9, where leaders agreed that Australia should establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

Daniel Tartak, CEO of waste management group Bingo Industries told the AFR that the ban was a step in the right direction, however, harmonised state waste levies should be introduced to further address the issue.

The export ban follows the tough stance developing nations are taking to prevent waste being transported to them from developed countries.

In May 2019, Malaysia announced that it was sending 3,000 metric tons of contaminated plastic waste back to their countries of origin, including Australia, Canada and the US, Associated Press reported. The Philippines followed suit, by sending 69 shipping containers full of illegally exported rubbish back to Canada, Reuters reported.

Shmigel said that with these countries declaring their sovereignty from a recycling standpoint, it makes sense for Australia to also ban waste exports.

"It makes absolute strategic sense that Australia also says, "Why don't we stand on our own two feet, when it comes to recycling?" he said. "We're really good at collecting the material for councils and businesses et cetera but now we just have to get a lot better at actually reprocessing it and making it into new products.”