Angus Livingston, AAP National Economics Writer
(Australian Associated Press)
Australian businesses believe there is no choice but to create a “circular economy”, but they need state governments and councils to make their waste and recycling laws consistent.
In the United States, Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged the circular economy as a priority for Australia, weaving together jobs, economic efficiency and the environment.
“I want Australia to be at the vanguard of leading an industry-led approach to a circular economy, not a government regulatory approach to that,” Mr Morrison said at an event in New York on Monday.
“I mean, industry has the wit and the capital to do it and to make a dollar out of it, and once we’re making a dollar out of it, you won’t stop us.”
He said while 80 per cent of recycled paper is turned into cardboard in Australia, just 12 per cent of plastics is recycled.
“We’ve got to get that number up. And that requires technology. But the other thing that’s going to require is a commercial industry that actually does it,” Mr Morrison said.
Australia’s recycling industry has been in crisis since Asian countries banned waste imports, and a number of local recyclers were forced to shut down due to dangerous stockpiling.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said businesses were ready to get started, but they need consistency from governments.
“I don’t think we have much choice. I think it will drive innovation,” Mr Pearson told AAP.
“Our members are already innovating, they’re already involved in this space, they’d love to see the red tape reduced, they’d love to see government encouraging consistency.
“They know government can play a key role as a procurer.
“For example, big infrastructure projects that are rolling out across the country, (there are) major opportunities to use recycled material there in road works.”
But Mr Pearson said the state-by-state laws were so different that a national approach was needed to bring them into line.
“The more consistency we can have across the country, then we’re more like to get economies of scale,” he said.
“We’re more likely to be able to efficiently and effectively produce different waste streams into more valuable and more useful inputs.”
A recent EY report found Australia could be $328 million better off each year if recycling was treated like a resource instead of rubbish.
It found Australia’s current co-mingled method of recycling reduced the value from a typical kerbside bin to as low as $2-a-tonne.
That could go as high as $156-a-tonne if the recycling was sorted better.