CHINA’S refusal to accept Australian recycling has exposed a Pandora’s Box of Australian government failures for a sustainable Australia.
Aspirations for a better future have gone down the gurgler while governments either focus elsewhere or are simply sitting on their hands.
At the turn of the century ACT Urban Services Minister Brendan Smyth was a Liberal who set a goal of “No Waste by 2012”. Ironically, the aspiration for waste to be an absolute minimum as recycling became the norm lost priority under Labor-Greens governments in the ACT.
China has blown Australian recycling objectives to pieces with 1.3 million tonnes of recyclable waste being barred from that country. The Australian National Waste Report 2016 identified that 60 per cent of total waste in 2014-15 was recycled. But where? Who even knew our recycling was being shipped overseas?
The Greens have used the opportunity to push their agenda for more sustainable systems.
The really frustrating part is that governments have had the National Waste Plan in place for more than a decade. They know what to do.
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson claimed his party had identified appropriate funding pathways that would target plastics and boost funding and technology. A serious investment by governments in supporting the recycling industry is long overdue.
Senator Whish-Wilson also tackled local, state, territory and the Federal government over the last 10 years.
The National Waste Policy 2009 identified “16 policies that they wanted implemented. Virtually none have been implemented by any Federal government in the last 10 years. The ones that have been implemented have been poorly funded or a couple of them have been scrapped.”
The Federal government has been caught napping. However, Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg attempted to get on the front foot claiming the Federal government was tackling issues in the waste industry. He cited “the product stewardship program, the phasing out of microbeads, the National Market Development Strategy for Used Tyres and the National Food Waste Strategy”.
As part of the solution Frydenberg has also floated the idea of “environmentally sustainable” plastics incineration. An idea as tenable as Tony Abbott’s notion of “clean coal”.
The reality is that the success of the kerbside recycling scheme has been dependent on China.
In Senator Whish-Wilson’s words: “We actually need to look at how we make recycling sustainable in Australia and that’s going to take significant investment and some time. But if we get it right, then we will be self-sufficient, we will have a resilient recycling industry and create thousands of new jobs.”
Australians are renowned for their ingenuity. However, guidance and support is needed from government. The cliché “out of adversity comes opportunity” needs to be embraced.
Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio claimed her state was already investing in keeping the industry afloat. However, she pointed to the lack of action on the part of the Federal government which “can play a very significant role if it chooses to and thus far it has been absent”.
The Federal government’s billion-dollar loan to schemes such as the Adani Carmichael coal mine needs to be redirected. It is time to stop investing in redundant systems while throwing crumbs to sustainable, forward-looking industries.
Contrast Australia’s approach with that of China. McKinsey Global Institute report “China’s Renewable Energy Revolution” identifies the 2017 commitment to invest $360 billion in renewable energy by 2020 including “scrapping of plans to build 85 coal-fired power plants”.
They add: “China is already investing more than $100 billion in domestic renewables every year. That is twice the level of US investment in domestic renewable energy and more than the combined annual investment of the US and the European Union.”
Despite Australia’s natural advantages in terms of recycling and renewable energy, we have a government hell bent on leaving decisions to the private sector. Thanks to such ideology Australia has failed to grasp the opportunities and, instead, has allowed China to take the high moral ground.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.