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01. Executive summary

Victoria’s recycling and resource recovery sector is under increasing pressure. The amount of waste being generated is growing while our resource recovery rates have stagnated. Simultaneously, changes in international markets, combined with weak end markets in Victoria, have led to large amounts of recyclables being stockpiled or sent to landfill.

In April 2019, the Victorian Government asked Infrastructure Victoria to help address these issues and provide advice on the infrastructure required, and the role for government, to improve recycling and resource recovery in Victoria.

Our advice builds on the considerable work underway across the Victorian Government and supports the state’s move to a circular economy, where we all minimise waste and make the most of resources. Shifting to a more circular economy will grow the economy, increase jobs and reduce impacts on the environment.

In this report, we have identified Victoria’s specific infrastructure needs in the sector. We have also developed the most comprehensive and up-to-date data of current and projected waste generation in Victoria and infrastructure capacity and capability. The data and methodology developed for this report can support infrastructure investment and network management across Victoria.

We make 13 recommendations to the Government on infrastructure, supporting actions and governance, all of which have been tested against a set of outcomes developed with stakeholder input. Our work shows there is not one single approach to achieve these outcomes. All levels of government, business and households will need to work together if we are to realise the huge opportunity before us.

We estimate about $1.21 billion worth of resources was recovered in Victoria in 2018/19. While highly dependent on commodity prices, this figure demonstrates the potential that higher rates of resource recovery could deliver to the state every year, particularly if these materials are processed and used in Victoria.

Victorians are passionate about recycling but some have lost confidence in the system, with around a quarter of people we polled thinking the contents of their recycling bins ends up in landfill. However, the community also has a high level of willingness to help improve recycling outcomes, with 92% of people saying they are willing to change the way they sort their rubbish. This indicates a strong desire from the community to do the right thing and an opportunity to rebuild trust in the system.

The Victorian Government is already working hard to address these challenges. It has provided funding of $135 million since 2015 for waste and resource recovery initiatives. The recently released Recycling Victoria: A new economy provides the overarching policy framework and long-term focus the sector needs if it is to meet Victoria’s growing recycling and resource recovery needs.

Our advice focuses on six priority materials:

  • plastics
  • paper and cardboard
  • glass
  • organics
  • tyres
  • e-waste.

This is because some materials we dispose of and recover are more problematic, or present greater opportunities than others. Our evidence shows that improving recycling of these six materials has the potential to deliver the greatest benefit to Victoria.

The infrastructure we have identified in this report supports improved resource recovery for priority materials and enables more to be reprocessed and re-used in Victoria. We have identified 87 potential new or upgraded facilities – 52 in regional Victoria – to ensure Victoria has the capacity and capability to meet our needs, now and into the future. While this will require significant initial investment from both government and business, it should be viewed in the context of value that can be captured from increasing resource recovery on an ongoing basis.

We have identified 87 potential new or upgraded facilities –  52 in regional Victoria –  to ensure Victoria has the capacity and capability to meet our needs, now and into the future.

Expanded infrastructure is just part of the solution. High-performing jurisdictions, like Wales, Germany, South Korea and South Australia, have used a mix of policy, regulatory and financial interventions. These include targets, taxes, incentives and investments over the long term to achieve their current high levels of resource recovery. This is a clear lesson for Victoria about what can be achieved with the right mix of policies.

Improving the quality of the materials going into the recycling and resource recovery system is another key focus as it impacts the quality of the materials produced, and the cost of processing these materials. At the same time, it is important to ensure that there is enough demand for these resources to meet supply.

Making it easier for Victorians to recycle correctly is one of the keys to cleaner materials streams.

We recommend a clear and consistent approach to kerbside collections across the state, supported by greater separation of materials –  including organics, glass, paper and cardboard. This should be accompanied by an ongoing behaviour change campaign to ensure Victorians understand what they need to do and are assured that their efforts are not wasted.

The Victorian Government can play an active role in stimulating demand and supporting markets for recovered resources. Research and development funding to identify and test new uses for recovered materials can create new markets. As Recycling Victoria recognises, Government can demonstrate its commitment to greater recycling and resource recovery by buying products made from recovered materials.

The Victorian Government can further demonstrate its leadership in the recycling and resource recovery sector by reviewing and updating its own governance arrangements. Implementation of Recycling Victoria will be an opportunity to provide greater clarity of the roles and responsibilities of different agencies. This can make it easier for other players to navigate the sector and empower local governments in their delivery of waste services. Also, a clearer position on the role of waste-to-energy, to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill as the state transitions toward a more circular economy, could encourage greater investment in this technology. These efforts can be further supported by improving the collection and sharing of quality performance data to support ongoing policy development and measure progress. Consistent with other high performers around the world, we support the introduction of targets to drive performance.

Funding for these initiatives will come from both Government and the private sector. The Victorian Government has committed $300 million to deliver the

Recycling Victoria policy. The Victorian Government has several additional funding streams available to support the necessary transition through annual budget allocations, the Sustainability Fund and other economic development programs.

The Australian Government also has a role to play by supporting transitional infrastructure investments and through encouraging producers to take greater responsibility for the products they create when they reach their end-of-life. Extended Producer Responsibility schemes are in use internationally and are particularly effective in managing hard-to-recycle products and reducing problematic materials.

Our advice represents 12 months of evidence gathering and development, as well as significant stakeholder and community engagement. With the right settings in place, investment in infrastructure for collections, processing and energy recovery, we can not only meet the growing need for resource recovery but also support our long-term transition to a circular economy and better outcomes for all Victorians.

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