About the National Waste Policy

The National Waste Policy heralds a coherent, efficient and environmentally responsible approach to waste management in Australia. The policy, agreed by all Australian environment ministers in November 2009, and endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments, sets Australia's waste management and resource recovery direction to 2020.

Why we need a National Waste Policy

Australian governments have a long history of collaboration on waste policy and actions. The first comprehensive domestic approach to waste was agreed under the 1992 National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development by the Council of Australian Governments. Governments committed to improving the efficiency with which resources are used, reduce the impact on the environment of waste disposal, and improve the management of hazardous wastes.

However, waste generation has continued to grow, and our increased efforts at recycling and reuse are not keeping up. Waste generation has increased by 31 per cent to 43.8 million tonnes over the period 2002-03 to 2006-07. Hazardous waste generation (as defined under the Basel Convention) has doubled from 0.64 million tonnes to 1.19 million tonnes per annum over the period 2002-03 to 2006-07 and now appears to have stabilised. Resource recovery from waste has increased over this period to 22.7 million tonnes.

The nature of waste has changed, with more complex goods now a significant component of landfill. The changing nature of the waste stream is affecting our capacity to recover materials from discarded products.

This National Waste Policy builds on earlier commitments and responds to the new waste environment, the policy covers wastes, including hazardous wastes and substances, in the municipal, commercial and industrial, construction and demolition waste streams and covers gaseous, liquid and solid wastes. Radioactive waste is excluded.

Aims of the National Waste Policy

The aims of the National Waste Policy are to:

  • avoid the generation of waste, reduce the amount of waste (including hazardous waste) for disposal
  • manage waste as a resource
  • ensure that waste treatment, disposal, recovery and re-use is undertaken in a safe, scientific and environmentally sound manner, and
  • contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation and production, water efficiency and the productivity of the land.

Key areas and strategies

Six key areas

The policy sets directions in six key areas and identifies 16 priority strategies that would benefit from a national or coordinated approach. These strategies will provide focus to the work across individual jurisdictions, build on current directions and complement existing activity. They will also provide clarity and certainty for business and the community.

The six key areas are:

  1. Taking responsibility-Shared responsibility for reducing the environmental, health and safety footprint of products and materials across the manufacture-supply-consumption chain and at end-of-life.
  2. Improving the market-Efficient and effective Australian markets operate for waste and recovered resources, with local technology and innovation being sought after internationally.
  3. Pursuing sustainability-Less waste and improved use of waste to achieve broader environmental, social and economic benefits.
  4. Reducing hazard and risk-Reduction of potentially hazardous content of wastes with consistent, safe and accountable waste recovery, handling and disposal.
  5. Tailoring solutions-Increased capacity in regional, remote and Indigenous communities to manage waste and recover and re-use resources.
  6. Providing the evidence-Access by decision makers to meaningful, accurate and current national waste and resource recovery data and information to measure progress and educate and inform the behaviour and the choices of the community.

The policy will also complement other government action to deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions, reduce energy and water use, support jobs and invest in future long term economic growth. It will provide the basis for collaboration between the jurisdictions to deliver effective and efficient approaches to national waste issues and ensure that waste management remains aligned with Australia's international obligations.

Priority strategies

The policy contains sixteen strategies and the role of relevant jurisdictions:

  1. Product stewardship framework legislation to allow the impacts of a product to be responsibly managed during and at end-of-life. (Australian Government).
  2. Sustainable procurement principles and practices across and within government operations. (Individual jurisdictions).
  3. Better packaging management. (Collaboration).
  4. National definition and classification system for wastes (including hazardous and clinical wastes) that aligns with international conventions and has provision for items that have ceased to be classed as waste. (Collaboration).
  5. National principles, specifications, best practice guidelines and standards to remove impediments to effective markets for potential wastes. (Collaboration).
  6. Access to knowledge and expertise in sustainable procurement and business practices. (Collaboration).
  7. Continued government focus to reduce the amount of biodegradable material sent to landfill. (States and territories individually).
  8. Management of safety and health risks arising from landfill gas emissions. (States and territories individually).
  9. Strategy for emissions from landfills and other waste activities not covered by the operation of a future Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. (Australian Government led collaboration).
  10. Improvements in waste avoidance and re-use of materials in the commercial and industrial waste stream. (State and territory led collaboration).
  11. Continued government encouragement of best practice waste management and resource recovery for construction and demolition projects. (Individual jurisdictions).
  12. Responsibility to meet international obligations; reduce hazardous materials entering the waste stream; dispose of and move transboundary waste in an environmentally sound manner in appropriate facilities. (Australian Government led collaboration).
  13. Adoption of a system that aligns with international approaches to reduce hazardous substances in products and articles sold in Australia. (Australian Government led collaboration).
  14. Identify actions to build capacity and ensure an appropriate suite of services is available to regional and remote communities. (States and territories individually).
  15. Audit of existing waste infrastructure and local capability in selected remote Indigenous communities as part of essential services audit under the COAG National Indigenous Housing Partnership. (Australian Government).
  16. Publish a three yearly waste and resource recovery report, underpinned by a system that provides access to integrated national core data on waste and resource recovery. (Australian Government led collaboration).

National Waste Policy Working Groups

In July 2010 eight working groups were established in order to achieve commitments outlined in the National Waste Policy Implementation Plan.