In the wake of China's bans on recycled waste imports, the Federal Government is updating Australia's 2009 National Waste Policy and, more broadly, re-thinking our domestic waste management framework.

In the wake of China's bans on recycled waste imports, the Federal Government is updating Australia's 2009 National Waste Policy and, more broadly, re-thinking our domestic waste management framework.

The updated National Waste Policy, to be released at the end of 2018, proposes a new approach to waste based on circular waste economy principles and updates the national targets and strategies. Other initiatives to address Australia's waste problems have also been implemented. These include a new Australasian Recycling Label, officially launched in September, with the objective of alleviating confusion surrounding what is recyclable.

Re-imagining our waste economy: the 2018 National Waste Policy

Australia's proposed 2018 National Waste Policy and its related targets embody the international shift away from a "linear" waste economy ‒ where products predominantly end up in landfill ‒ towards a "circular" waste economy that promotes keeping products and materials circulating within the economy through recycling, remanufacturing and sharing.

In April, Commonwealth, State and Territory environment ministers made the commitment to reduce Australia's generated waste and increase recycling efforts. As part of this, the ministers agreed to update the 2009 National Waste Policy by the end of 2018.

The Policy outlines National targets for Australia in terms of waste. According to the discussion paper published by the Department of Environment and Energy in September 2018, its targets will include:

  • reducing the total waste generated in Australia per capita by 10% by 2030;
  • achieving an average 80% recovery rate from all resource-recovery streams by 2030;
  • achieving an average 30% recycled content across all goods and infrastructure procurement by 2030;
  • phasing out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2030;
  • reducing by 50% the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 2030; and
  • ensuring fit-for-purpose and timely data is publically available.

The Policy also proposes that action plans be prepared by 2020 to address policy priorities such as landfill levies, national energy from waste responses, and regulatory and legislative incentives. As with the 2009 National Waste Policy, it appears from the discussion paper that neither the policy nor its targets and action plans will have any legislative effect. The discussion paper states that it is primarily the responsibility of the State and Territory governments to enact laws that regulate and manage the waste and resource recovery sector. Nevertheless, it is planned that the Policy will function as a roadmap for collective action by businesses, governments, communities and individuals across Australia.

The Policy is supported by the official launch of the Australasian Recycling Label, which reduces the confusion surrounding what types of waste can and can't be recycled.