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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

E-waste; national waste policy

Doorstop Interview SIMS E-waste recycling centre Villawood, Sydney
19 November 2008

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GARRETT: Terrific to be here at Villawood this morning for the opening of the Sims recycling plant with my Federal colleague, Jason Clare, the Member for Blaxland and to say to you how critical this issue is now for all of us in the community. I want to applaud the fact that Sims have taken the step of opening a plant that has this capacity. About 20,000 tonnes of computer and television waste can be generated through this plant. Very high recycling rates - up to 98 per cent. And given that we're seeing a significant increase on the volumes of e-waste generally, we understand and know that this is an issue of increasing importance to the community. It is terrific to see that we have got a facility in the western suburbs of Sydney that will be employing people and that has the capacity to deal with these volumes of waste.

I have to say that at the recent EPHC council meeting in Adelaide, environment ministers at the state level and myself agreed that the Commonwealth should begin to develop a national waste policy. This is an area that has been vacated by the Commonwealth in the past and I think it is time to accelerate our consideration of these issues, We expect to be bringing forward some material and research for Council to consider next year. We also want to bring forward a framework for the states to consider in terms of how we might better manage waste generally and have a national framework to deal with waste and on that basis it gives me very great pleasure to be able to be here this morning to open a plant of this kind.

JOURNALIST: Would the federal Government consider making the recycling of e-waste compulsory?

GARRETT: What I want to do is look at the best measures that we can agree with states and also with local councils which reduce the volumes of waste that go to landfill. There is clearly significant levels of e-waste which are growing over time. We need to act on this matter and the Commonwealth has signalled its intention to develop a national waste policy. As we develop that policy, clearly we'll listen to stakeholders, we'll listen to the jurisdictions but in the longer term we want to come up with in approach whether it has some regulation in it, some voluntary measures in it, education measures in it - all of those measures together to reduce the volumes that are going into landfill.

JOURNALIST: But no commitment at this stage to make it compulsory?

GARRETT: Well, I think the important thing for us to do is to start working quickly and urgently with stakeholders, develop this national waste policy, take it back to state environment ministers to make sure that we've done a really thorough job of considering all of the issues and then come up with the best solutions.

JOURNALIST: Do you acknowledge that Australia is a long way behind other developing countries at this stage in our recycling policy?

GARRETT: I do think we've got some to go in Australia for dealing with e-waste. We've got incredibly large volumes of e-waste coming at us now and that's going to continue over time. I can hear stuff being loaded into the machines for recycling behind me. And it is something which I think Australian's really understand is a growing and important issue and they would like to see governments to take resolute action on that. It is time for the Commonwealth to make sure that it provides additional leadership in that area and that is what I am very committed to us doing.

JOURNALIST: How much do initiatives need to be aimed at the community as well as at industry?

GARRETT: Well I think that the community awareness on this issue is pretty high and I think that business awareness on this issue is pretty high as well. What has been lacking up to this point in time is a framework operating at the state and local level which sees us driving greater volumes of recyclable materials into facilities like this one. And if you look at the presence of ferris metals, non-ferris metals, plastics and the like in things like computers and television sets, I think there is a very strong argument for saying we need to look closely as to how we can keep as much of that out of our landfills as we possibly can. Closing the loop. A facility like this shows that the technology is there to do that recycling and now, by developing a national waste policy, we'll work closely with jurisdictions to make that happen quicker.

JOURNALIST: Will that policy include a tax? Australia is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have a tax on disposal of e-waste products.

GARRETT: Well again, what we want to do is have an accelerated process as we look at developing a national waste policy...

JOURNALIST: You're not going to consider a tax?

GARRETT: Well, I am not talking about taxes at this point in time at all., What I am talking about is us working with the states to develop a national waste policy...

JOURNALIST: How can you create a financial incentive for ordinary, everyday Australian consumers to do something other than dump their waste in the tip?

GARRETT: Well, as I have said already and I will just continue my sentence, what I want to do is develop a national waste policy which maximises our opportunities to increase our recycling, working closely with state and local jurisdictions an which considers the best options to reduce the amount of waste that is going to landfill. I am not ruling anything in nor out. I am certainly not talking about a tax; I am talking about developing a national waste policy. That is the first step in this process.

JOURNALIST: All of the stuff coming into this building behind us is coming from business or manufactures or sellers here of electronic products, but they're only coming from businesses, there is no way for me, as an average person, to get my dead DVD out here and have it properly recycled.

GARRETT: Well, I am very aware that there are gaps in the system and I would have to say that, you know, we have inherited a significant public policy gap from our political opponents when they were in government. We're dealing with this issue resolutely. We do have a Regulatory Impact Statement that is due to come forward early next year. We also have the choice modelling that is due to come forward next year as well. Both of those bits of information will give us sufficient and ample opportunity to look at what a national waste policy should be and how we can ensure that we have much more contribution into the waste stream including from people and not only businesses.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] council to try and find out where I can dump my DVD and I have found that it is extraordinarily difficult. I would have to travel miles to do it or I would have to pay fees. Therefore, as an average person, I am going to stick it in my wheelie bin.

GARRETT: Well, I am not saying that every local council and every state jurisdiction has got it right when it comes to dealing with these emerging issues. That is why we want to take a role as the Commonwealth in developing a national waste policy.

JOURNALIST: Why shouldn't the technology industry pay the bill for picking up its own garbage though - every other industry does.

GARRETT: Well look there are arguments in favour of that, but again, what we announced when we met as environment ministers, with the Commonwealth, was that the Commonwealth would take up the thinking on developing a nation al waste policy and obviously in looking at that issues, we're looking at those questions which have been hotly debated in the past. I want the options to come through to us for government's to consider, working collaboratively with our state counterparts, to make sure that we reduce the amount of waste that is going into landfill and we greatly increase the amount of recycling that is happening. That is our public policy goal.

JOURNALIST: But this argument has been going on for more than a decade. Are you confident that you can change the position of the industry?

GARRETT: Well, what I am confident of is that we're serious about addressing this issue for the first time. That the former government basically let it sit there in the too hard basket - we're not going to do anything about it. We've specifically committed to working through the EPHC for a national waste policy. We're bringing a Regulatory Impacts Statement through on televisions and computers. We have specifically undertaken choice modelling to make that we're well equipped to produce in the COAG process, where these reforms are undertaken, strong arguments and have clear identification of the best options for us to take in terms of driving national policy.

JOURNALIST: Will you be looking to the OECD for any of that modelling or the inputs in terms of how those countries in Europe are doing these things?

GARRETT: Well, my expectation is that as we look at national waste policy, we'll take account of what is happening in other jurisdictions.

Thanks everybody


Commonwealth of Australia