In January 2018, China’s decision to ban the import of mixed recyclables sent the Victorian recycling industry into turmoil. The decision has had a significant financial impact on council budgets, as recycling turned from a source of revenue from the sale of recyclable material to a cost for processing services. In Bayside the impact was $1.7 million in 2018/19.
The State Government has announced a range of funding packages to address the impact of the recycling crisis, which has been limited to:
- $12 million to offset Victorian councils’ increased recycling costs to June 2018;
- $8.3 million expansion of the Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund;
- $2.5 million for market development for recycled materials;
- An education program to improve community understanding of what can be recycled and help reduce contamination.
Further investment is needed in response to Victoria’s recycling challenges.
Over $6.6 million has been collected from Bayside residents in the past six years via a compulsory levy payable to the state government for every load of household garbage disposed to landfill. The levy flows into the Sustainability Fund.
With an estimated $560 million available in the Sustainability Fund, the state government has both the capacity and responsibility for significant investment in the waste and recycling sector.
Following China’s import ban, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) participated in the State’s Recycling Taskforce on behalf of all Victorian councils. The Taskforce made recommendations to the Minister regarding priority actions to include in a strategic plan, however the recommendations have not yet been released. Council is calling on the state government to release and respond to the recommendations as a matter of urgency.
Community feedback on this issue
According to David Williams, spokesperson for the Bayside Climate Change Action Group
"Our throw away, consumer society has flourished on the availability of cheap products that can easily be disposed of. Until now, we have not had to pay the true environmental costs of this system in terms of pollution of our lands and waterways, the oceans and the air we breathe. That burden has been passed on to the next generation and in particular, to those in poor countries.
Victorians are however, becoming more conscious of their wasteful habits and will play their part in a state wide campaign to reduce waste and recycle. This is evidenced by the recent change to single use plastic bags at supermarkets.
This small step can be taken further by the introduction of legislation to phase in no plastic packaging by 2025. The packaging industry, distribution chains and retailers will need time to research, test, evaluate and put cost effective alternatives in place. This will come at a cost but fortunately, the resources are available to deal with a large part of the problem in the form of the State Governments Sustainability Fund, to which we have all contributed.
The State Government can also support and incentivise the establishment and promotion of new industries based on the processing and utilisation of recycled products which will further reduce the amount on waste going to land fill.
If we wish to preserve the delicate balance of life on our planet and provide a safe climate for our children we need to act now."
State Government funding for the recycling industry to date has related to downstream responses – solutions that focus on waste and recycling after the waste material is generated - rather than upstream interventions that change our production and consumption practices and restructure business and the economy.
To fix the problem requires a focus on less generation of waste, more use of recycled material by industry and government, and greater obligation placed on designers, manufacturers, importers, distributors and consumers of products to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of products throughout their lifecycle.
Bayside City Council is calling on the State Government to allocate a greater proportion of the Sustainability Fund to minimise the creation of waste while also investing to develop markets and boost research/development into recycling.