18 September 2023

Legislation to give new Circular Economy Strategy teeth

| Ian Bushnell
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two men in front of timber stack

Thor’s Hammer owner Thor Diesendorf and Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel discuss recycling in front of the stacks at the business’s Fyshwick premises. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT Government wants to work with industry to expand recycling opportunities under its Circular Economy Strategy and action plan but it is also prepared to wave a stick if businesses won’t get on board.

Transport Canberra and City Services Minister Chris Steel launched the Canberra-first strategy on Monday (28 August) at an ACT recycling success story, bespoke timber supplier and furniture maker Thor’s Hammer in Fyshwick.

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Mr Steel said the focus would be on incentivising industry but the government would use all the levers it had to achieve the strategy’s goals, including legislation to mandate certain requirements, such as food reduction plans.

He said accompanying legislation introduced this week would force food businesses to separate waste, have a recycling collection and send food waste to organic waste recyclers.

“So we’ll be working with local food recyclers to make sure that they’re connected in with those food businesses to take that material,” he said.

Mr Steel said the ACT would also be lobbying the Commonwealth to take national action on product stewardship schemes and ensure manufacturers, retailers, users and disposers share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products.

It is a bugbear of recycling advocates that industrial sectors won’t take responsibility for the products they produce.

Mr Steel said if the Commonwealth did not come to the party, the ACT would take action itself.

“There are currently product stewardship schemes for a range of different products, but there aren’t enough covering things like the emerging waste stream for larger batteries,” he said.

“We’ve also outlined that if the Commonwealth fails to act in some of these areas we may look at establishing our own product stewardship scheme legislation.”

Hume recycling facility

Recycling waste can still be sorted at the destroyed Hume Recycling Facility until June next year. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Mr Steel said the government wanted manufacturers to adopt circular economy principles, which for example would be embedded in the planning system to encourage greater recycling in the building and construction industry.

The government would also be looking at providing land for new circular economy businesses.

Mr Steel said recycling not only was good for the environment but also for creating jobs.

“More jobs are created when we recycle products than when we reuse products, and it’s estimated that for every 10,000 tonnes of material produced 9.2 jobs are created if we recycle, that material compared to just 2.8 jobs when we send it to landfill,” he said.

Mr Steel said the strategy would also cover the growing amount of new material that was going to landfill, such as battery products, photovoltaic cells and other electronic waste.

“Part of the actions under the plan include how we tackle that new and emerging waste stream, making sure that we’ve got opportunities to recover the valuable materials in that waste, making sure that there are places to drop it off for the community so that it can be safely disposed,” he said.

The strategy identifies six areas of focus – food and garden organics, the built environment, emerging and problematic waste streams, consumer goods, a circular economy innovation precinct and procurement, skills and governance.

This will be backed by a series of individual action plans, which outline specific objectives for government, industry, business and the community.

The government is still grappling with the setback of the Hume Material Recovery Facility (MRF) fire, which has also delayed the establishment of a food and organics composting facility for the ACT.

Mr Steel said it would likely be 2026 before both were in action.

A tender for the new $24 million state-of-the-art MRF was released on 29 August, following a tender for an interim recycling solution so the ACT would not have to keep transporting waste for interstate processing.

The interim solution will need to be in place by June next year when the Hume site, where some sorting is still being done, will close for work to start on the new MRF.

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Thor’s Hammer has been operating for 28 years and has grown into a major operation employing 30 people, doubling its size in the last four years.

Founder and owner Thor Diesendorf said the business recycled more than 1500 tonnes of timber a year.

“Making higher quality products and keeping materials in circulation as long as possible is really important for creating a circular economy,” he said.

Mr Diesendorf said the building industry produced about 40 per cent of Australia’s waste, so there was a lot of room to do more.

“I’m looking forward to seeing an ACT Circular Economy strategy that will give help for innovative businesses and community organisations as well, and also put in place incentives for people and consumers to purchase high-quality products or products that can be easily reusable or recyclable,” he said.

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