If someone knew little about the recycling industry in Queensland, watching ABC’s Four Corners program in early August might have given the impression the industry is in chaos.

In fact, Queensland’s waste and recycling industry provides an essential service by protecting the environment and public health. It employees more than 15,000 Queenslanders and investment in the sector exceeds $2.0 billion.

The industry recovered more than 4 million tonnes of resources from waste streams in 2015-16. The recovery of secondary resources and efficient management of waste in Queensland results in a variety of tangible environmental benefits including energy savings, avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, water savings as well a reduction of emissions to air, water and land.

These recovered resources are also a significant contributor to the substitution of raw resources used in manufacturing. Clearly, some recycling markets are not working and require investigation and appropriate intervention.

Waste and recycling enterprises are subject to regulation by both local and state level authorities. These regulations vary enormously across jurisdictions, and this variation produces no economic, environmental or social benefit. It is also adding substantial business costs to the sector. WRIQ supports the establishment of a simple, integrated national system for the identification, classification, treatment, disposal and monitoring of waste materials.

Disharmonious landfill levies create the most significant market distortions. It is this regulatory distortion which is causing waste to flow from NSW to Queensland, although some of this waste is coming to be recycled, and some is captured from local government regions just south of the border. Levies on their own will not drive a circular economy, and only work when they are part of a clearly articulated long term strategy and subject to regular performance review.

Queensland does not, nor ever has had, a fully comprehensive and agreed waste and recycling strategy. In response to this, in 2015 WRIQ published its Economic and jobs growth roadmap for Queensland from the waste management and secondary resources industry.

Internationally peer reviewed, industry’s roadmap has largely been overlooked by all levels of Government – although in defence of the current Government the regulatory reforms industry has long advocated for are being realised and elements of our plans have been considered.

WRIQ’s plan clearly articulates the strategic direction Queensland could adopt that will deliver the ’circular economy’. Industry’s roadmap includes recycling targets, detailed regulatory actions and comprehensive evidence offering confidence that positive outcomes can be realised if it is adopted by Government. Approaches proposed at the time included a;

1. Landfill Product Restrictions Plan,
2. Construction and Demolition Waste Plan,
3. Waste Management and Market Development Plan,
4. Queensland Based Product Stewardship Schemes, and
5. Disaster Waste Management Plans.

If implemented these plans would;

• Reduce where possible and recover waste produced by significant generators,
• Make the best use of waste materials through the adoption of ‘secondary-resource’ thinking,
• Minimise the risks of environmental pollution and harm to human health,
• Increase the proportion of waste managed by options further up the hierarchy.

The waste management and recycling sector is committed to:

• Provide integrated, efficient and dependable services to all waste producers,
• Extract value from wastes generated where this is economically practical and viable,
• Enter into partnerships with waste producers and all other service providers, and
• Assist government and its regulators to oversee delivery of these important policy initiatives.

WRIQ’s plans support a market driven system providing solutions for Queensland’s waste and recycling industry. With public and political interest now heightened as a result of the recent media attention, it is timely industry’s plans are considered in earnest. Queensland must adopt a waste and recycling policy that provides real job opportunities, incentivizes investment and gives confidence in the waste and recycling industry.