Australian government may restrict scrap exports

Government claims it is targeting “unprocessed waste” shipments.

The Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020, on track to be approved in Australia, has been designed to ban the export of waste glass, plastics, tires and paper. The bill’s authors seek to establish a system to classify some materials as exportable, while trade in others will be banned.

The bill’s explanatory memorandum document says it will “replace the framework in the Product Stewardship Act 2011” regarding “the shared responsibility for reducing the environmental, health and safety footprint of manufactured goods and materials across the life cycle of a product stream (including material streams).”

The memorandum adds, “The intention of regulating the export of waste material is to stop the export of untreated and unprocessed waste [that] is likely to have a negative impact on the environment or human health in the receiving country.”

As outlined, the law seems likely to introduce layers of regulation to recyclers, secondary commodities traders, and the freight companies that serve them. “Under the Bill, the export of ‘regulated waste material’ will be prohibited unless the prescribed export conditions set out in the rules are met,” states the explanatory memorandum.

That memo’s authors say “regulated waste materials” will be regulated via “rules [that] will set out the requirements for the export of certain waste material from Australia. For example, the rules may require that a person must hold an export license and for each consignment of regulated waste material, an export declaration has been given.”

The same memorandum defines “waste materials” broadly enough to potentially include scrap metal or old corrugated containers (OCC). The memo’s authors define “waste material” as “any substance or thing that is: discarded, rejected, or leftover from an industrial, commercial, domestic or other activity; surplus to or a byproduct of an industrial, commercial, domestic or other activity; or prescribed by the rules.”

The memo, “The definition of waste material is intended to be sufficiently broad to capture all types of waste. However, the bill will only regulate those kinds of waste materials that are prescribed for the purpose of clause 17 and which are referred to in the bill as regulated waste materials.”

Clause 17, however, does not include listings of any materials but instead states it “will allow the [Environment] Minister to make rules to prescribe kinds of waste material for the purposes of the bill. Allowing the Minister to use the rules to set the kinds of waste material that will be regulated will give the Minister flexibility to regulate different kinds of waste material as appropriate from time to time.”

Despite the reach, breadth and the seeming potential for shifting enforcement inherent in the bill, an Australian recycling association says it is supportive of the measure.

“Our industry is making unprecedented investments in collecting, sorting, cleaning, and manufacturing from recyclate from homes, businesses and construction sites,” says Pete Shmigel, the CEO of the Kelvin Grove, Australia-based Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

Shmigel says aluminium used beverage containers (UBCs), as one example, “are not subject to the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) decision, as they are widely considered a legitimate recyclate commodity. OCC is also permissible,” and deemed unlikely to get caught in the new bill’s net. He adds, “Having said that, the government’s clear intent – generally supported by industry – is for Australia to become more self-sufficient in recycling markets in response to global trends that are essentially already limiting the flow of previous materials.”

Shmigel says the government and the private sectors have been engaged in extensive consultation delineating legitimate recyclate commodities from material that has not been value added. That definitional process will be ongoing with each material as its deadline comes forward. “While our members are closely monitoring this, we are generally optimistic that government is truly listening in order not to create perverse outcomes. Enshrining aspects in law also makes them less likely to be altered by future administrations.”

Concludes Shmigel, “Having the law, policy and governments backing is awesome and will unlock huge intergenerational value – whether it’s keeping stuff out of wasteful landfills or creating jobs in country towns. The government deserves full credit for its proactive, positive and purposeful agenda, and industry looks forward to its full implementation.”