Federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, recently announced the Australian Government will commit $190 million to a new Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) to help create infrastructure to sort, process and remanufacture waste materials.
In August 2019, the former Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG) established a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia's capacity to generate high value recycled commodities.
The announcement of the ban was followed by commissioning of an Inquiry into Australia's Waste Management and Recycling Industries by the Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources in October 2019. The National Waste Policy Action Plan was also released in November 2019.
COAG released a Response Strategy in March 2020. This outlined a timetable to roll out the waste export ban. It also identified system-level and material-specific challenges and actions needed by all levels of government and industry to support transition to the ban and drive broader long-term change in Australia's waste and recycling sector.
Investment in new technologies and infrastructure was identified as a key system-level challenge, which is now being addressed by the RMF.
New Recycling Modernisation Fund
The Federal Government estimates that the RMF will generate $600 million of private recycling investment, create more than 10,000 jobs, and divert over 10 million tonnes of waste from landfill by 2030.
Funds from the RMF will be invested in new infrastructure to sort, process and remanufacture materials such as mixed plastic, paper, tyres and glass. A further $35 million is to implement Commonwealth commitments under Australia's National Waste Policy Action Plan, plus $24.6 million on Commonwealth commitments to improve national waste data to assist in tracking progress against recycling targets.
However, importantly, the Federal Government's $190 million commitment to the RMF is contingent on 1:1:1 co-funding from industry, and State and Territory governments. Minister Ley justified the co-funding arrangement in the following way: "... we need manufacturers and industry to take a genuine stewardship role that helps create a sustainable circular economy".
Funding will be provided to the States and Territories through National Partnership Agreements. Also the allocation of funding to specific projects will be the responsibility of State and Territory governments, who will assess their jurisdictions major gaps in local reprocessing capacity.
It is unclear what happens if industry or States and Territories do not match the Federal Government's $190 million commitment to the RMF.
Furthermore, the projects or infrastructure that will receive funding is presently uncertain.
However, the funding announcement is a positive step towards better waste management in Australia, which has long needed investment and co-ordination.
Commonwealth waste legislation will be introduced next, which is expected to formally enact the waste export ban and encourage product stewardship.
Again, a positive step on the country's journey to a more responsible system for handling its waste.
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