Australia to ban export of recyclable waste beginning next year

Starting July of next year, Australia will begin phasing out the practice of exporting recyclable waste—including plastic, paper, glass and tyres. The policy shift was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in August following a Council of Australian Governments meeting.

Today, a concrete timetable was agreed upon by officials representing federal, state and territory agencies. The process will be staggered to limit confusion and disruption. From the agreement:

“Ministers will further test the timetable with industry and local government, while also developing response strategies and undertaking independent market analysis.” And:

“This timetable reflects the unique challenges of each jurisdiction, and the preparedness of some jurisdictions to complete the phase-out ahead of schedule. All jurisdictions acknowledged resourcing, from Commonwealth, states and territories, and industry will be required to effectively implement the ban.”

News.com.au reports that only 12 percent of recyclables end up being processed in Australia—the rest is exported to other countries. Most of the waste was shipped to China and Indonesia, but last year China stopped importing the materials while Indonesia has begun to send some back to Australia.

Glass will be banned for export first, followed by plastics and tyres and, finally, paper, cardboard and any other recyclable materials. Per the agreement, exports will be zeroed out by 30 June 2022.

The agreement also includes a new National Waste Action program that officials say will make Australia among the world’s leading countries in waste management:

“All ministers have committed to identifying any significant procurement opportunities over coming months such as major road projects that could use significant amounts of recycled material. The Commonwealth agreed to take a leading role. This reflects a wider commitment from the Commonwealth and states to drive procurement strategies for recycled material.

“The Commonwealth Government will prioritise work with states and territories and relevant industry and standards bodies to develop engineering specifications and standards to support the use of recycled materials in building, construction and infrastructure development, for use across all jurisdictions.”