The 2019 AWRE Industry Whitepaper is an exclusive report, compiled directly with the industry, outlining the concerns and optimism facing the waste, recycling and resource recovery sector.
As a young, energy-rich country with plenty of space, Australia has never prioritised recycling household and industry waste very highly. For many years it was simply easier – and more cost-effective – to export reusable material such as plastics, paper and metals to other countries that had more efficient facilities.
But China’s decision in 2018 to close its doors to low-grade waste from countries such as Australia forced the federal government, and others, to rethink how to handle the nation’s waste and whether we could do more to divert recoverable material from our ever-expanding landfills and warehouse stockpiles.
In the lead-up to the Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo (AWRE) at Sydney’s Darling Harbour in October 2019, Diversified Communications Australia, the organisers of AWRE conducted a wide-ranging survey of stakeholders to identify the key issues (and opportunities) the waste and recycling sector faces.
While the results are not definitive, the survey reveals the sheer diversity of Australia’s waste and recycling sector – representing everything from retail to aged care – and an overarching sense of optimism about the future, despite the short-term challenges following the loss of export markets.
Respondents, who came from every state and territory, pinpointed several opportunities for the home-grown industry, especially in the areas of energy generation and smarter recycling practices to prevent so much valuable material ending up in council landfills.
Indeed, 54 per cent of those surveyed said they were confident that new recycling technology, especially in energy generation, would transform the sector over the next one-to-three years.
Asked to nominate the main drivers for bringing about radical changes to Australia’s waste and recycling sector, respondents nominated government policy, technology and international trends with some also identifying climate change as a major influence on public policy and community attitudes.
Not surprisingly, there is still widespread concern about China’s National Sword policy, which dramatically cut Australia’s export of plastics, paper, metal and other waste materials to that market. A majority of respondents said neither federal nor state initiatives had helped their business navigate the challenging new recycling and waste-recovery landscape.
Looking ahead, most of those surveyed said they were only expecting moderate growth in demand for their products or services over the next 12 months. Very few expected substantial growth.
Despite this caution about 40 per cent of businesses and organisations surveyed said they expected to make a significant investment over the next few years in response to shifting waste and recycling demands; the same percentage were uncommitted.
Organisations cited research and development, technology and innovation, and product development as their major investment priorities over the next three years – and they also expect to hire extra staff during the same timeframe.