This month’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will see a significant milestone reached when Federal Government, State and Territory leaders and ALGA President, Mayor David O’Loughlin representing Local Government, finalise the national ban on the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

As a precursor, the National Plastics Summit in Canberra on 2 March, hosted by Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, was a timely reminder that the detail missing from the original announcement at the 9 August 2019 COAG meeting, will need to be decided soon.

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, charged the 200 plus representatives from government, industry and community sectors in the room to help solve the problem.

The Summit resulted in some new targets under the National Waste Policy Action Plan for example McDonald’s will phase out plastic cutlery by the end of 2020; the Pact Group will have 30 percent recycled content across its product portfolio by 2025.

LG NSW used the summit to renew the calls made by most, if not all, local government associations for the states to reinvest the waste levies into initiatives that will close the loop on waste.

President, Linda Scott, said the Prime Minister’s funding announcement for new waste and recycling infrastructure should be matched by state government and industry funding to secure a more sustainable future.

Meanwhile, on 4 March, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) celebrated UNESCO’s inaugural World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, by bringing together expertise from industry, universities, and the public sector to ‘build the keys to turning waste streams into income streams’.

In their own words, ATSE is leading a critical and timely major national initiative to pave the way for the digital revolution to supercharge Australia’s new circular economy.

ATSE CEO, Kylie Walker, said, “With technology and systems approaches that already exist, we can create nine or 10 jobs for every 10,000 tonnes of repurposed rubbish.

“Imagine how we could build on this growth as we start to create products designed for multiple iterations, create smart waste management systems, and invent advanced recovery technology.

“We’re also proud to be the Academy for engineers – whose work supports the safe growth and development of the essential infrastructure that underpins modern life, whether it’s energy and digital networks, waste management, water supply, or transport and freight infrastructure.”

We note numerous communities are tackling the issue at a community level including Noosa, Cairns and Townsville in Queensland, Byron Shire in north eastern NSW, the Perth suburbs of Bassendean and Bayswater, and Adelaide, that are working with the Boomerang Alliance and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation to end the use of single-use plastics.

These and many other communities are working directly with food retailers, event organisers, markets and other organisations to make the switch from water bottles, straws, coffee cups and takeaway containers to reusable or compostable alternatives.

Kurrajong Recycling, a social enterprise in Wagga Wagga, NSW, has been recycling the district’s waste since 1962. Nearby Albury is home to Plastic Forests, a plastic film recycling plant.

As the World Wildlife Fund says, “So yes, we have the technology … now we just need to step it up to the next level, countrywide”.