Residents of Ipswich have been informed that their recyclable waste will be dumped in landfills as it is too costly for the council to recycle.
This is due to Australia’s current recycling industry crisis. Australia exported 600,000 tonnes to China last year.
This could not have happened in Queensland at a better time. Queensland will soon be launching its container refund program to increase recycling rates. Unfortunately, Ipswich Council’s case is likely to be repeated across Australia.
Use a second, different stick
The proposed policies so far have concentrated on the problems in the recycling and landfill industries. But we must look at the root cause of the problem: the production of waste.
Companies can reduce packaging waste by adopting effective policies that encourage companies to rethink product delivery.
One could tax product packaging just like policymakers did with successful plastic bag taxes. Their use dropped by 85% in six months.
Use a carrot
It is difficult to estimate how much recycling is done in Australia as there is no national database. However, a government report from 2011 estimates that Australia produces approximately 50 million tonnes of waste per year. Around 50-60% of this is recycled.
The domestic market is too small to grow the amount of recycled material it handles. Subsidising the cost of recycling would also be a simple solution.
Local recycling plants would be given incentives to use the subsidies immediately to improve their material processing. In the long run, this may result in more investment in local recycling infrastructure essential to cope with the volume of waste.
Subsidies are not a new concept in Australian environmental policy. We already subsidise greenhouse gas reductions using the A$2.5billion Emission Reduction Fund.
A smart policymaker could create a recycling subsidy that is entirely funded by revenue from a waste tax. This would eliminate the need for additional taxpayer funding.
We have many options to deal with our recycling. China has stopped offering cheap solutions to our waste problems. Combining sensible policies with great results for the environment could make this an important opportunity for our local recycling sector.
We need strong, consistent leadership from policymakers capable of envisioning a low-waste Australian society.