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November 3, 2009

Inside Waste Weekly

Waste issues to dominate EPHC meeting

The nation’s environment ministers will gather in Perth on Thursday for the biannual Environment Protection and Heritage Council meeting. Waste issues will dominate discussions, with a several streams –drink containers, e-waste and tyres – singled out for special attention. Ministers will also be considering the broad draft National Waste Policy, which could well signal the most significant policy direction change for the industry in 20 years.

The draft framework for the NWP, which was released in July, set the tone for the policy itself to have a strong focus on reducing waste disposal and enabling greater recovery of resources.

The aim of the policy, “will be to avoid the generation of waste, to reduce the amount of waste (including hazardous waste) for disposal, to manage waste as a resource and to ensure that waste disposal is done in a safe, scientific and environmentally sound manner”.

“The national waste policy is the most important of the lot [of issues being considered at Thursday’s meeting], but it’s a first step – there will be another 12 months in developing that and turning it into real [action],” said Dave West from the Boomerang Alliance of councils and green groups.

Another area where resource recovery advocates are expecting to score a win at this EPHC meeting is on container deposit legislation: both industry and green groups tip the ministers will commission a Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement, the first steps to establishing a national scheme.

Victoria has long been considered the industry stronghold against CDS, but in recent weeks Environment Minister Gavin Jennings publicly stated he would back a consultation RIS; he expects the detailed investigation of benefits and costs will prove his state is right and CDS is too expensive.

West said green groups too are looking forward to some more detailed modeling on costs and benefits: “we don’t want something developed that’s not the right scheme either.”

“If someone came up with an [advanced disposal fee] option that was cheaper and got better results, we’d be rapt,” he said. “We don’t have an attachment to [CDS] – we’ve got an issue with container recycling rates… [and] we’re pretty convinced [CDS] is the cheapest way to get upwards of 75-80% recycling.”

The beverage industry certainly does not share this view. Last week it launched a last minute lobbying campaign, claiming CDS would cost nearly $500 million a year and the price of canned and bottled drinks would rise by 14 cents (because 4 cents in administration costs would be incurred). There’s plenty of debate over those figure too.

Fraser Brindley from Environment Victoria said suggestions people would pay 14 cents more for a can of drink were “misleading and wrong” and the beverage industry was “frothing at the mouth”.

West tips the biggest win from this week’s EPHC meeting, however, will be on the issue of e-waste, with progress on take back schemes for computers and televisions expected.

“Long term packaging is more important, but it’s not decision day, where for e-waste it is,” said West.

“We’re expecting we will have a 70% [recovery] target over a 10 year period, that it will be properly funded, and that the computer scheme will share the best practice characteristics that we’ve seen in the TV scheme.”

Inside Waste understands progress on a national tyre recycling scheme will go right down to the wire, potentially a major concern for green groups – which are in a rage about revelations 65% of used tyres are exported, with many used as substitute fuels for power generation in China.

“It appears this means nothing to the assessors of proposed regulations,” said head of the Total Environment Centre, Jeff Angel. “Because landfill volumes are down, that’s enough for them. Forget about resource conservation and ending the toxic tyre trade.”

“Can the ministers craft a responsible scheme despite this barrier? We will see if they have the gumption to act and defy the narrow economics that has trapped regulatory impact assessment.”

There’s little doubt Thursday’s meeting will have big implications for the Australian waste industry. Inside Waste will be pouring over the communiqué as soon as it is released – check the website on Friday for the latest.


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