Australia: Less Waste, More Resources - Government Moves to Tackle Growing Waste Mounds

First National Waste Policy Released for Almost 18 Years
Last Updated: 12 April 2010
Article by Claire Smith and Janice Lim

Key Points: A national product stewardship scheme will require liable businesses to consider options for end-of-life treatment of their products such as return or recycling schemes.

The first national waste policy released by the Australian Government for almost 18 years is optimistically called Less Waste, More Resources. This policy aims to combat the criticism that has developed from the lack of overarching legislative or policy framework to encourage reuse, recycling and diversion of waste away from landfill.

Key priorities

Unlike the former waste strategy, this policy sets out focused strategies, responsibilities and dates for implementing actions (in some cases) to achieve specific policy outcomes.

Key priority strategies include:

  • the enactment of Commonwealth legislation to establish a national product stewardship and extended producer responsibility framework by the end of 2012;
  • the establishment of a new national waste classification system which will be supported by national data collection and tracking systems; and
  • national principles and specifications to remove impediments to the development of effective markets for reuse and recycling of waste.

Background to the National Waste Policy

The National Waste Policy builds on the 1992 National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, which was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments. The National Strategy for ESD provided a broad strategic direction for Australian governments to improve resource use efficiency, minimise the environmental impact of waste and manage hazardous waste. In contrast, the new policy sets out specific national policy initiatives for the next 10 years with the objective of producing less waste for disposal and encouraging the use of waste as a resource through reuse and recycling.

What does the National Waste Policy cover?

The policy encompasses wastes, including hazardous wastes and substances, in the municipal, commercial and industrial, construction and demolition waste streams, and covers gaseous, liquid and solid wastes (excluding radioactive waste). It will be implemented by individual and collective actions of the Commonwealth, State, Territory and local governments, and will form a long-term agenda for resource recovery and waste management by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council of Australia and New Zealand (EPHC).

The policy has two aims:

  • to avoid the generation of waste, reduce the amount of waste for disposal, manage waste as a resource and ensure that waste treatment, disposal, recovery and re-use are undertaken in a safe, scientific and environmentally sound manner; and
  • to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation and production, water efficiency and the productivity of the land.

Key priority strategies

To achieve these aims, the policy sets out 16 priority strategies, which would benefit from a national or co-ordinated approach, to achieve eight key outcomes that the Australian Government hopes will be attained by 2020. Some of the key priority strategies are summarised below.

    Objective Strategy Results Responsibility
  1. Management of end-of life products, material and packaging. A national product stewardship framework, including " voluntary, co-regulatory, and regulatory schemes. Implementation of product stewardship schemes and enactment of Commonwealth legislation within three years.

Accreditation of voluntary product stewardship schemes and commencement of reporting under a national scheme within four years.
Australian Government to develop federal legislation.
EPHC to co-ordinate consultation regarding future regulation of additional products.

Industry sectors to fund co-regulatory schemes and regulatory schemes.

Accreditation of voluntary schemes to be funded by a cost-recovery basis through a fee for service.
  2. Avoidance, reduction, recovery and re-use of waste by addressing market barriers and red tape. A national definition and classification system for wastes (including hazardous and clinical wastes) that aligns with international agreements and provides for when a product or material ceases to become a waste. Options for a national waste classification system to be developed within four years.
National classifications and definitions of when materials cease being waste are referenced as key instruments are reviewed or new instruments are established.
Government policies and legislation use consistent classifications and are supported by a nationally consistent data collection and tracking system.
Phase 1 - EPHC to identify barriers to defining when a product ceases to become a waste.
Phase 2 - EPHC to agree on an approach within four years.
  3. Avoidance, reduction, recovery and re-use of waste by addressing market barriers and red tape. Develop national principles, specifications, best practice guidelines and standards that address barriers to effective markets for potential waste. National specifications for recycled construction and demolition wastes, fit-for-purpose use of recycled organics and biosolids to be developed within three years. EPHC to implement.
  4. Improvement of biodegradable resource recovery and reduction greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Reduce the amount of biodegradable materials sent to landfills. Re-use of compost, soil conditioners, biochar through alternative waste treatment technologies, waste-to-energy plants and bio-digesters. Encourage increased markets for beneficial use State and Territory governments to achieve as part of their existing waste management program.
  5 Improvement of biodegradable resource recovery and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Develop a strategy to address emissions from landfills and other waste activities that support the operation of a future Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). Strategies to address or offset emissions from landfills to be released by EPHC by 2011. Strategies to be developed through the EPHC.
  6 A nationally integrated system that regulates hazardous substances and wastes that accords with international obligations. Meet international obligations, reduce hazardous materials, ensure efficiency of transboundary waste movement, implement product stewardship schemes and ensure adequacy of hazardous waste facilities. A national waste classification system, labelling system and product stewardship schemes that address hazardous waste.
Streamlined policies and legislation to regulate transboundary movement of hazardous waste for treatment or disposal.
EPHC to conduct an analysis of Australia's hazardous waste treatment and disposal.
  7 A national system to reduce the availability of hazardous substances in Australia. A system that aligns with international approaches to reduce hazardous substances in products and articles sold in Australia. EPHC to assess and determine a suitable approach within three years. Phase 1 - Australian Government to consult with states and territories.
Phase 2 - EPHC to determine the most suitable approach.


  • A national product stewardship scheme will require liable businesses to consider options for end-of-life treatment of their products such as return or recycling schemes. The extent of corporate responsibility for product stewardship will vary depending on whether the schemes are voluntary, co-regulatory or mandatory and the products that are covered by such schemes.
  • A new national classification system for wastes that aligns with international standards and provides clarity on when a product or material ceases to be wastes is crucial to address market barriers and encourage investment in waste recycling and reuse projects going forward.
  • The strategies, if successful, should improve the regulation of hazardous substance movement, treatment and disposal. The generation of hazardous waste will also be reduced if restrictions similar to those already imposed in the EU and US are introduced in respect of hazardous substances contained in products sold in Australia.
  • The waste industry will have a lot of new regulation to grapple with over the next decade but also a lot of opportunities to diversify and make use of waste as a resource.

All industry is likely to be affected to some extent by one or more of the key priority strategies. If you would like assistance in understanding the implications of the National Waste Strategy or in developing consultation responses to various policy or legislative initiatives as they are released, please contact us. Our Group has extensive international experience in dealing with legal risk issues arising out of the EU regulation of e-waste, producer responsibility schemes and restriction of hazardous substances.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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