CEO's column: Our last Sustainability Conference and the recycling waste crisis

By intouch posted 17 April 2018 00:37


Has the industry lost interest in sustainability and resilience or is it now just a tick box line item in all developments? We don’t know.

China’s proclamation this week of “manage your own recycled waste” is at odds with the apparent lack of interest in sustainability in Australian local government. 

One thing we do know is that despite an outstanding line-up of excellent speakers discussing contemporary issues of Resilience for our Communities at the upcoming Sustainability Conference (14-15 May at Brighton Le Sands, Sydney), our number of delegates registered is low.

To keep faith with both those who have registered (thank you), and with our speakers (including keynote John Mauro from Seattle, and now Auckland Council) we are still going ahead with this conference, but it will be our last in the sustainability series.  

China has announced that will stop importing recycled waste from Australia. It’s an indictment on our lack of business ingenuity that we had to pay another country to take our waste and turn it into a value added product just so that we and others could buy it back in new finished products. Now, Australia has to find a solution in the next three to four months of how we will manage our recycled waste into the future.  

If there is no viable business model for a circular waste economy, then why should councils incur the expense of recycling? Australians are reportedly amongst the most proficient recyclers in the world, in the belief that we’re all doing our small bit to help the planet and conserve resources. However, if all that local government, or their contractors, are doing is stock-piling sorted waste to only later be relegated to landfill, then maybe the time has come to say that this recycling model has failed.  

But has it really failed? Perhaps it is more about business and government specifications failing to allow, or even mandate, for recycled products in new developments? Maybe our bureaucracy hasn’t adapted to incorporate recycled inputs as mainstream. Maybe there has been insufficient start-up investment from governments to achieve critical commercial mass for private sector recycling innovators.

There are many recycled products, notably glass and tires, that can be used in road construction, and even kitchen cupboard shelving has been made from recycled plastic bottles. If we’re so good at recycling the raw inputs, then why aren’t we good at adapting them for commercial use as input replacements instead to insisting on new resource inputs?

This is exactly what the IPWEA Sustainability Conference is all about – finding solutions. Maybe local government will have a re-think and send more key staff to this conference - if only to try and work out what to do about their recycled waste crisis.     

Robert Fuller 



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