China’s ban on recyclable rubbish imports is threatening Australia’s kerbside recycling program. In response, a Senate inquiry has recommended banning single-use plastics by 2023.
The report also has 17 other recommendations, including establishing a circular economy in Australia, mandatory targets for recycled content in materials purchased by government departments, and founding a Plastics Co-Operative Research Centre to help reduce plastic waste and clean up our oceans.
Inquiry chair and Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the report was a “rare display of political consensus”.
“The Senate has laid down a clear pathway for Australia to create a circular economy and stop piles of plastic, paper and glass being stockpiled or heading to landfill,” he told the Guardian.
All Australian state and territory governments except NSW have also announced planned bans on single-use plastics such as bags. Victoria’s recent response of 8000 submissions on banning the bag – 96 per cent positive – points to a groundswell of public support.
Effects of Chinese import ban
Before China’s ban came into force at the start of the year, around half of Australia’s recycling was shipped there, as local reprocessing facilities could not keep up with the amount of waste packed into our yellow wheelie bins.
Since China’s ban, waste contractors for 13 regional councils in Victoria have stopped accepting recyclables, and the Victorian government has pumped $13 million into local governments to keep the kerbside recycling trucks rolling.
But from July, Victorian councils will have to fund the additional costs of recycling on their own. NSW is also on the verge of a recycling crisis, NSW Local Government Association President Linda Scott told the Senate inquiry.
According to The Fifth Estate, the Chinese ban resulted from an increase in the level of recycling being produced by the Chinese population, combined with demand for a higher standard of environmental protection and a drop in the price of virgin materials, which made recycling less profitable.
China will still import recycled materials, but not in their unprocessed form. For example, plastics will need to be processed into pellets ready to be moulded into new products.
Following in Europe’s footsteps
The Senate inquiry recommendation comes just months after the European Union’s (EU) recent decision to ban single-use plastics.
While the EU has stated plastic straws, cotton buds and disposable cutlery will be prime targets, the Australian Senate inquiry report does not detail what kind of plastics will be phased out. Whish-Wilson said chip packets, plastic bags, take away containers and coffee cups with plastic lining could be in the firing line.
The Senate inquiry report stated that while Australians are enthusiastic recyclers, we need to pick up our game in terms of cutting down on the amount of waste we produce, whether it is recyclable or not.
“The increasing amounts of material generated for recycling is placing the recycling industry under pressure,” said the report.