Recycling industry hits back at 60 Minutes report

Recycling groups say the industry is making some of the most advanced recycling investments in the world.

Australia’s recycling industry has hit back at comments made by news program 60 Minutes that majority of plastic waste is not being reused or recycle, claiming the industry is “currently making some of the most advanced recycling investments in the world”.

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), Waste Management & Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR), Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW (WCRA) and National Waste & Recycling Industry Council, said in a joint statement the program’s report ‘Plastic, Not so Fantastic’ misrepresented the $15 billion sector.

“Australia’s recycling industry is concerned that Sunday’s 60 Minutes program didn’t paint the full picture of Australia’s recycling efforts and didn’t highlight the industry’s contribution of some 50,000 jobs and $15 billion in value, with real potential for more benefits.

“The report included: a false claim that much of Australia’s plastic waste is being disposed of incorrectly in south-east Asia; didn’t sufficiently highlight recycling’s many upsides, and; should not discourage the vast majority of Australians who regularly recycle to keep doing so because their efforts matter.”

ACOR CEO Peter Shmigel, said: “Australian recycling is highly successful, despite some ill-conceived claims in the broadcast. In fact, up to 90 per cent of material collected for recycling is made into new products.”

WMRR CEO, Gayle Sloan, said: “Australia’s industry is aiming to get even better through investment, innovation and community education to build a stronger domestic recycling system, and is therefore advocating a new labelling scheme for community confidence.”

National Waste & Recycling Industry Council CEO, Rose Read, said: “The community votes in favour of recycling through its very strong participation. We encourage householders to continue to separate and sort their recycling correctly to reduce contamination and realise the environmental and economic benefits of recycling.”

The program claimed the majority of plastic waste is not being reused or recycled at all. Instead it is ending up dumped, buried or burned in illegal processing locations in Southeast Asia. The report stated 71,000 tonnes of recyclable plastic was exported to Malaysia.

“If the claim that all these materials are not being properly processed is accurate, this is very concerning, as there are also legitimate processors in Malaysia. 71,000 tonnes represents less than 2 per cent of the 4 million tonnes of what is actually exported and less than 0.2 per cent of the 37 million collected for recycling,” Shmigel said.

According to the National Waste Report 2018, undertaken by the Commonwealth Government, plastic exports from Australia decreased last year by 25 per cent.

It also found Australians generated 67 million tonnes of waste (including 13 million from kerbside collections), 37 million tonnes of waste was recycled (5 million from kerbside collections) and 33 million tonnes of the recycling was undertaken in Australia.

It is estimated between 10 and 15 per cent of kerbside recycling cannot be recycled because it is contaminated with nappies, soft plastics, garden hoses, bricks and batteries.

Tony Khoury from WCRA said the community want and support kerbside recycling.

Recycling groups including ACOR, WMRR, the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA), WCRA and National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) have been urging greater investment, regulatory reform and policy support from Governments.

A recent Reachtel survey commissioned by ACOR found almost 93 per cent of people said reducing waste and recycling products into new products is important to them and 87 per cent supported increasing recycling and reducing landfill by processing food and garden material from rubbish bins into useful products.

“There is not a shred of doubt that the industry wants to see maximum resource recovery.  Our local industry is investing heavily and working collaboratively to upgrade local processing capacity which in the past were, to some extent, built to meet China’s previous specifications,” said Sloan.

WMRR is calling for an “Australian Recycled Content” label to highlight and support the use and purchase of Australian recycled material. The initiative is in conjunction with the association’s five-point plan, released ahead of the federal election.

“We need a Made with Australian Recycled Content label which will do two key things – empower the community to take action and ownership of the materials they consume and incentivise manufacturers and brand owners to include recycled content in their packaging and products,” Sloan said.

“This will create new markets for recycled materials and ensure a sustainable future for kerbside recycling, local resource recovery, and remanufacturing. Developing any industry is a collaborative effort and one that takes time. As we move forward, the industry is seeking leadership from all levels of government.”

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