Australia passes first ever national waste legislation

By Rachael Ridley 14 December 2020

The new waste and recycling laws will ensure Australia takes greater responsibility for its waste by banning its export to other countries and boosting onshore recycling.

Under the newly passed Recycling Waste and Reduction Act 2020, the export of waste including plastics, glass, paper and tyres will be progressively banned over the next four years commencing 1st January 2021. Instead, the waste will be processed for recovery and recycling onshore, supporting our local recycling industry and providing more green jobs. 

“The export ban sends a strong message that it is time to take responsibility for our waste, to seize the economic opportunities of transforming our recycling industry and to stop sending problem waste overseas,” said Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley.

The act will also support the recovery of materials that cannot be recycled through kerbside recycling, such as e-waste, soft plastics and coffee pods. The Government’s Recycling Modernisation Fund will help build the infrastructure, facilities and programs needed to recycle these materials so that they don’t end up in landfill. 

Manufacturers, retailers and industry groups will be encouraged to take greater responsibility for the end of life or their products by providing recycling options for their customers (these services are often referred to as product stewardship schemes). The legislation included a review of the Product Stewardship Act, with $20 million in funding announced earlier this year to expand existing stewardship schemes or develop new ones. Planet Ark will be one of the recipients of the grants, tasked with establishing a recycling scheme for coffee pods. 

Planet Ark’s CEO, Paul Klymenko, said the Recycling Waste and Reduction Act will help Australia reduce its environmental impact, as well as provide economic benefits. 

“Not only will this boost our economy, it will make sure we’re not losing valuable resources to landfill,” Mr Klymenko said. He continued:

“What we need to throw in the bin is our current ‘take-make-dispose’ economic model. We need a ‘circular economy’ that mimics nature, where there is no such thing as waste. This legalisation will help ensure we see our ‘waste’ as resources that should be kept in circulation for as long as possible.”

The act reflects the latest step taken under the National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019, which has set ambitious national targets for waste by 2030. These include:

  • Progressively banning the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, commencing January 2021

  • reducing total waste generated in Australia by 10% per person by 2030

  • an 80% average recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030

  • significantly increasing the use of recycled content by governments and industry

  • phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2025

  • halving the amount of organic waste sent to landfill by 2030

  • making comprehensive, economy-wide and timely data publicly available to support better consumer, investment and policy decisions

A thriving local recycling industry will have important economic and societal benefits that will hopefully assist Australia in its economic recovery. For every 10,000 tonnes of waste recycled, 9.2 full-time jobs are created compared with just 2.8 jobs when the same amount of waste is sent to landfill. The waste export ban is expected to see the Australian economy generate $1.5 billion in additional economic activity over the next 20 years.

Rachael Ridley
Rachael manages the Business Recycling and Recycling Near You websites. Rachael joined Planet Ark in early 2019 after eight years working in media and publishing as a producer, editor and writer. Rachael loves using her skills in content creation and communication to instigate positive environmental behaviour change. Outside of work, Rachael enjoys spending time in nature, listening to music and patting dogs.