Australian councils fear huge waste bills after China recyclables ban

24 Apr 18
Australian councils fear they face huge bills for waste disposal following China’s recently confirmed refusal to accept most imports of recyclables.

Australian councils fear they face huge bills for waste disposal following China’s recently confirmed refusal to accept most imports of recyclables.

Materials have historically been sent to China for recycling but the country has on environmental grounds imposed contamination standards that make it effectively impossible to send most waste there.

David O’Loughlin, president of the Australian Local Government Association, said: “As the fallout from China’s decision continues to spread beyond their initial customers, it is becoming more urgent that this issue receives greater attention from not only state and territory governments, but also our Federal Government. We need long-term, sustainable solutions to recycle as much waste as possible.”

His concern was spurred by the decision of Ipswich City Council in Queensland to send all its recyclable material to landfill on cost grounds.

O’Loughlin said Australia should look to greater re-use of materials but said state and territory governments should invest waste levy funds - which he called “a tax on councils” - in long-term sustainable solutions.

He said the implications of China’s decision went beyond local government and could affect other Australian exports.

“If China can turn the tap off so easily in this area, who’s to say they won’t do it in another area,” he said.

“We also have imports coming from China full of plastics that they no longer want to take back. We need the federal trade and environment ministers to come to the table and talk about possible solutions.”

Ipswich mayor Andrew Antoniolli said all waste collected for recycling would now be sent to landfill and predicted other councils would eventually find recycling unviable.

Antoniolli said recycling contractors had told the council charges would rise by some A$2m a year - 1.5-2% - were recycling to continue and Ipswich wowed instead invest in waste-to-energy plants.

New South Wales’ environment minister Gabrielle Upton has announced a A$47m package to help local governments and industry to respond to China’s move.

South Australia Local Government Association’s president Lorraine Rosenberg said: “A large proportion of Australia’s recyclables (mixed plastics and paper) have historically been exported to China to meet the country’s demand for packaging.

“China no longer accepts the types of waste products that Australia can viably export, and Australia can no longer rely on China as a destination for its recyclable materials.”

“Until Australian recyclers can find new markets for their materials, they can either stockpile their products, or accept a reduced price. Both of these options will lead to higher costs for councils and their ratepayers.”


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