Victorian Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management

BEAM Mitchell Environment Group laments the distinct lack of progress in advancing a widespread government-supported recycling and waste management industry in Victoria. We made a submission to this enquiry:

China’s decision to refuse to take Australia’s dirty and unsorted waste is a wake up call for Australia, and should encourage us as a society to travel the road we could have been on for decades already.

Victorian householders give strong support to recyclables collected at the roadside. Local Government has been active in promoting this scheme as a responsible action to minimise waste being lost to landfill, and for recyclables to be recycled. But industry skill and support in recycling has faltered. Clearly, we have a toxic problem that deserves a serious effort to change how we do business in packaging, and our public expectations of packaging.

BEAM is of the view that

  • We need to promote alternatives to plastics across the full ranges of packaging and manufactured goods. Single use plastic bag banning is just a start.
  • Packaging must be manufactured to be re-usable. Difficult to re-use packaging should be banned. Recycling for re-usable packaging must be efficiently developed, and the State Government should play a leading role in this.
  • We need to REDUCE waste, with public education, industry action and government support for practices that only use recyclable packaging, and less packaging.
  • our collection system needs to be reviewed to educate householders to become more engaged in sorting their recyclables at source. Programs in schools, public places and events are a good place to start.
  • manufacturers of packaging material and retailers of packaged goods should have more obligation to take responsibility for the downstream re-use of their packaging;
  • Minimum levels of recycled material to be introduced into packaging feedstock mandated by Government;
  • Manufacturers should be supported to develop products using recycled materials.
  • Government to be a leader in the purchase of the products of this minimum mandated recycled material content;
  • All beverage containers attract a container deposit like most of Australia. Victoria has a pathetic record in this successful initiative pioneered by South Australia;
  • Single use packaging should be outlawed (fits with packaging must be recyclable, and industry established to efficiently DO the recycling, as above), in conjunction with a Statewide education initiative to encourage shoppers to bring their cloth bags with their wallets, always.

Further, the timber industry needs to recognise the higher value uses of timber (for buildings, furniture, craft) rather than downgrading to meet outdated pulp and paper targets. This has particular significance in how we view and conserve native forest areas. Regional Forest Agreements must give way to smarter practices in valuable native forests.

Drinking water fountains and refill facilities should become widely available, like in public places.

The Victorian Government must also work in partnership with other States and with the Federal Government to design and structure a national recycling industry.

Resource recovery should be at the forefront of how we treat our recyclable and waste material. BEAM sees that waste material generation suggests an incomplete manufacturing process. Getting material back into the user stream must become our goal, and with a level of urgency.

Landfill is expensive and not a modern response to recyclable and waste material. The time for a smarter and more resource efficient solution to packaging beyond its first life is now.

BEAM welcomes this inquiry and challenges the State Government to give the inquiry the substance to create a change in our way of doing things that sees recyclables back into the packaging stream, that a packaging stream has only recyclables, and the very generation of waste material is challenged. Such a changed attitude and practice will be of great benefit to our society, to our economy and to our efforts to address Climate Change. This is the challenge for the 21st century- being smarter and more efficient, and more appreciative of a quality of life that is built on better education being greater commitment to efficiency.

Peter Lockyer, President, BEAM Mitchell Environment Group Inc.

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