China’s refusal last year to accept much of the world’s waste for reprocessing has badly disrupted Australia’s waste sector, leading to recyclable materials being stockpiled and fuelling calls for an expansion of the nation’s domestic recycling industry.
Since 2011, a national television and computer recycling scheme has required some manufacturers and importers to participate in industry-funded collection and recycling, leading to high recovery rates.
Consumers usually bear the costs of such schemes, which are generally built into a product’s purchase price.
Analysis by environmental consultancy Equilibrium has shown that if mandatory recycling schemes were introduced in Australia for electronic waste, tyres and mattresses, they would comprise about 2 per cent of a product’s price.
The estimates, commissioned by the Australian Council of Recycling, include the cost of collection, transport, processing and recycling, as well as compliance and marketing.
The findings were based on the cost of mandatory schemes overseas, mostly in Europe and the United States, as well as existing Australian schemes.
The analysis found that mandatory recycling of electronic waste – any appliance with a cord or battery – would cost up to $242 million a year, adding about $1.85 to a product’s cost for every 750 grams of product weight.
Roughly, that means a consumer would pay an extra $3.20 – about the cost of a takeaway cup of tea – to ensure a 1.3-kilogram kettle was recycled at the end of its life.
A tyre recycling scheme in Australia would cost up to $176 million a year, adding about $4 to the cost of a tyre if passed on to consumers. Tyres can be reused in playground equipment, matting and road asphalt.
A mandatory mattress scheme to recover textiles, timber, plastic and metal would cost up to $33 million a year, adding up to $16.50 to the price of a standard double mattress.
The recycling council’s chief executive Peter Shmigel said the results showed such schemes would barely affect consumers and should be adopted as policy by the major parties.
“Recycling of these items is a well-established practice overseas, including in much less developed countries, and it is difficult to understand why it is not here too,” he said.
A federal review of the Product Stewardship Act was expected to be completed last year, but the Department of the Environment and Energy is yet to present a report to the government.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price said the review would be finalised this year, and the government was considering feedback on new schemes to be developed.
Commonwealth, state and local officials will meet on Thursday to devise an action plan for the Morrison government’s National Waste Policy – the first meeting since a spat broke out in December after a meeting of environment ministers.
The states had refused to endorse the policy because it failed to outline how new waste and recycling targets would be achieved, prompting accusations from Ms Price that they had “walked away” from the targets.
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the waste problem required a national approach but the Morrison government was “missing in action”.
NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton also cited the need for “national co-operation and Commonwealth leadership”.
As well as developing targets for recycling and waste reduction, NSW would push for further investigation into developing a national waste levy to prevent waste being transported across state borders.
ACT Minister for City Services Chris Steel has written to Ms Price to warn that China’s new waste policy was badly hurting the sale of recycled plastics, and “measures to build the circular economy in Australia to improve recycling here are of national importance”.
Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.