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Victoria commits to “recyclables first” procurement policy

The Victorian government will use its own purchasing power to drive demand for recycled products as part of a $37 million package announced by energy, environment and climate change minister Lily D’Ambrosio on Tuesday.

The package includes a number of new and existing policies and programs designed to stimulate the local recycling industry following new Chinese trade measures limiting the import of low-quality mixed recyclables. It includes the $13 million temporary relief package that was announced in February 2018.

Under the plan, Sustainability Victoria and the Department of Treasury and Finance will guide government agencies and departments to ramp up their procurement of products with local recyclable content, helping to boost the local recycling industry.

Sustainability Victoria will also head a two-year program to drive production of products made from recovered materials, facilitate standards and specifications for recycled materials, and create demand from manufacturers and other industries to used recycled-content products.

Another key initiative announced yesterday was a state-wide education program to teach households better recycling habits, designed to help to reduce contamination of kerbside recycling.

The education plan will include teaching Victorians how to recycle e-waste.

As part of the education program, the government will assess different segregation approaches to kerbside recycling, including different combinations of separating glass, paper, cardboard and plastics at the kerbside.

The Recycling Industry Strategic Plan also includes:

  • An additional $8.3 million towards the Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund, supporting  council and industry-led projects to improve the quality of recycled materials
  • An additional $2 million for identifying innovative uses for recyclables, increasing the recycling market development program to $4.5 million
  • An additional $800,000 towards the Landfill Levy Relief Program to ensure the National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations are able to process dumped and unrecyclable goods.

The plans have been well-received by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), with the national recycling body applauding the government for setting out clear directives that will give private investors confidence to support emerging recycling-related industries and technologies, such as reprocessing technology.

ACOR is also enthusiastic about the Victorian government’s commitment to buying recycled products.

“Closing the loop means opening up jobs and business growth, and this commitment to recycled content should be mirrored by more companies in the packaging supply chain too, a move the community strongly supports”, ACOR chief executive Pete Shmigel said.

However, the absence of initiatives aimed at encouraging businesses to buy recycled products has been noted by Trevor Thornton, an expert in hazardous materials management at Deakin University.

He told the ABC that the money would be better spent on developing strategies and programs for all businesses to purchase recycled material, which would boost the local market and mean Australia would no longer rely on China as the primary buyer for recyclables.

“If we can get businesses in Victoria to buy it, then we’re not going to be reliant on overseas markets,” he said.

A looming national recycling and waste problem has sparked action from all tiers of government, including the release of a senate report into Australia’s waste and recycling industry last week.

Notably, the report recommended banning single-use plastics within five years, including not just bags but potentially plastic-lined coffee cups, containers, chip packets and microbeads.

The City of Melbourne is currently seeking public comment on a discussion paper that proposes a number of adaptations to rapid changes in the waste industry, including a tax on new plastics.

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