Liberals talk rubbish on waste

An e-waste dump in Guiyu, China.

Federal minister for the environment Greg Hunt faces two big threats to waste reduction in Australia, but appears not to be aware of the problems.

Hunt boasted on March 6 about the effectiveness of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme.

Australia had recycled “the equivalent of four Eiffel Towers in weight” of used televisions, computers and other electronic waste, he said.

However, growing piles of e-waste on the ground in Queensland show that Hunt is out of touch with reality. Australia is amassing e-waste with no plan for recycling it.

Inside Waste magazine, an industry journal, has published photos of the stockpiles.

Rick Ralph, CEO of the Waste, Recycling Industry Association of Queensland, told Inside Waste he does not believe the minister is aware of what is going on in the market, particularly as e-waste continues to accumulate in his state.

The problem is a classic example of bean counting: processing of materials has stopped because the government's collection arrangements have hit their targets.

So Hunt’s “record results” conceal a huge crisis. TVs, computers and peripherals continue to pile up at the cost of recyclers, which are now sacking workers.

On another front, the closure of Alcoa’s Yennora aluminium rolling mill means Australia will lose 55,000 tonnes of aluminium scrap processing capacity.

Recycling of aluminium cans economically underpins a large proportion of kerbside recycling collections in Australia. Local councils can cross-subsidise the profits of aluminium sales to cover the cost of recycling other, less profitable materials.

Creating aluminium out of bauxite is environmentally destructive, whereas recycling aluminium cans is one of the most environmentally sustainable forms of manufacturing.

The Yennora mill’s importance was that it aggregated cans for recycling and its processing capacity served as a buffer against global market forces.

Now local councils will be forced to limit recycling and materials will go to landfill.

A national container deposit scheme would reverse the situation. However, Hunt shows little enthusiasm for this. Coca-Cola, the big player in the market, is using its legal muscle to bully state governments that consider container deposits.

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