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National plastics summit set to address Australia’s growing waste problem

National plastics summit set to address Australia’s growing waste problem
December 30, 2019

The Federal Government has today announced it will convene a plastics summit next year, bringing together industry leaders and scientists to determine ways of tackling Australia’s recycling crisis.

Environmental groups are welcoming the move, but say the government needs to do its bit through greater regulation of the sector.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley has advised that consultation with states and industry will look at ‘innovative’ ways for dealing with the issue

Minister Ley noted the summit aims to bring together retailers, researchers, school children, and governments to work out how to tackle the crisis especially as Australia will no longer be able to send its mixed plastic waste overseas from 2021, and with plastic use predicted to double once again in the next two decades.

Last financial year, Australia exported close to 4.5 million tonnes of waste overseas, mainly to Asian nations, at a cost of about $2.8 billion to state and territory budgets.

Australia only recycles 12% of plastics, with the rest going into landfill.

In recent months, countries such as China, Malaysia and Indonesia have moved to ban developed countries sending contaminated rubbish in their direction.

This opposition from south-east Asian countries in continuing to accept Australia’s waste, which led to the 2021 mixed plastic waste export ban, has led to a crisis for Australia’s states and territories in dealing with growing landfill issues.

The waste industry is pushing the federal government into becoming involved in creating a national framework for a new recycling industry that could solve Australia’s waste issues. The government is being called upon to fund new domestic plants to kickstart a new recycling industry.

Minister Ley advised that was something the government was “absolutely” examining, but would need more consultation with the states, and industry, before deciding on recycling targets.

Back in June 2019 Minister Ley stated that “as part of our commitment to a $167 million Australian Recycling Investment Plan, $1.6 million is earmarked for a new Circular Economy Hub – an online market place to match sellers of recyclable materials with buyers.

The $167 million plan also includes “$20 million for a Cooperative Research Centre grant to find new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and waste….and $16 million to combat plastics and other waste in our oceans through the Pacific Ocean Litter Project – because we know that plastic litter is a global problem, as well as one we need to address here at home.”

Minister Ley notes that “there are already scientists talking about how you can clean the ocean of plastic, but we obviously can’t wait for that to be done on a large scale. What we have to do is prevent any more plastic from going into the ocean.

 “Our standards setting agencies are working on nationally acceptable proportions, if I can put it that way, national acceptable standards for the amount and type of plastic that you could have, in for example, road base, pavements, outdoor furniture, outdoor decking and so on.

“We know that plastic is incredibly strong and there are uses for it that make it a preferred proponent of our built environment and I think that is a pretty important prospective to have. We are not just solving a problem here and doing something that will cost a lot of money to save us landfill.

“This summit is about the innovative ideas that will make plastic sought after.”

Minister Ley added that the government’s work was aided by changes in people’s attitudes towards plastics, and where it ends up, something she credits the younger generations with.

“The best education I get from this subject is from primary schoolers. If I talk to grade five and sixers about this, they give me information and young people are going to be a big part of this summit – because they are leading the way.”

The summit will be held early in March 2020.

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