A council in central Victoria is asking people to cut down on how much paper and plastic they put in their yellow bins, after recycling giant Visy said it couldn’t accept any more reusable rubbish from several councils.
Meanwhile, another council is planning to find a site to stockpile the recycling it collects in the hope the situation changes.
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The recycling industry has warned that curbside recycling may not be viable for much longer, after China banned imports of Australian paper and plastic waste from January 1.
It is understood that Visy told at least two council contractors last week it would stop accepting recyclable material from February 9 because it could no longer find anyone to sell it to.
One of the contractors, Wheelie Waste, services 11 councils in Victoria’s west. The councils, including Greater Shepparton, Macedon Ranges, Horsham and Ararat, are now scrambling to find somewhere to dump their recycling.
“We’ll certainly be calling on our community to until we get a solution, to try to think very carefully about purchasing things in recyclable containers – plastic bottles, for example,” Macedon Ranges Shire Council mayor Jennifer Anderson said.
“We need to minimise what’s going into recycling bins. It will have to be an effort from everyone.”
Meanwhile Horsham Rural City Council plans to begin stockpiling the recycling it collects, in the hope that China “changes its mind”, Mayor Pam Clarke said.
She said the council was looking to find a site to store the material for the time being.
Australia’s recycling industry, including Visy, relies on China as a major market for recycled paper and plastics. About 30 per cent of all our recycling is sent there, the industry estimates.
But the Chinese government has recently banned the import of recycled materials in an effort to prop up the domestic recycling system.
The local industry has been warning for some time that this move would have a devastating impact.
It leaves recyclers such as Visy with nowhere to send waste, even as homeowners keep doing the right thing and filling up their yellow bins.
A high-level industry source said Visy had been pulling out of kerbside recycling programs across the country over the past year. The company has been contacted for comment.
“The council’s kept giving it to them, and the recyclers have no recourse. It’s like throwing the rubbish over your back fence – ‘it’s not in my backyard’,” says Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Victorian Waste Management Association.
“The councils are dumping their rubbish on the providers. And when the commercial process breaks down, there is no recourse for those providers.”
Mr Anderson says the industry has reached a point where it cost more to recycle a plastic bottle than that plastic could be sold for.
But unlike a commercial business that is subject to the laws of supply and demand, recyclers cannot turn away council waste.
If they cannot sell it, it ends up building up on-site – which can lead to fires. The industry believes stockpiling led to several recent fires at recycling centres; insurance brokers are so concerned, they warn the industry will soon become uninsurable.
“When that market collapses, they’ve got nothing to do but stockpile. And we don’t want that stockpiling to continue, as happened with SKM Recycling at Coolaroo recently,” Mr Anderson says.
“The offshoot of that is we end up with a fire risk, which is exactly what happened. It wasn’t SKM’s fault. The councils kept giving it to them, and they have no recourse.”
SKM say there was no link between a lack of demand and stockpiling at the Coolaroo site.
Mr Anderson is calling for the Victorian government to urgently work with the industry to make sure recyclers can continue to accept waste.
“At the moment, the cost of us recycling a product might be 10 units, but the sale price is nine. From a commercial perspective, you’re not going to do that as a business unless you’re going to make a margin. If the government wants to give us support, you’re now making a margin.”
Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio will be meeting with Visy later this week.
“I have asked for a meeting with these businesses to seek an explanation into what’s happened and will be discussing these matters with local government,” she said in a statement.
“I will be seeking assurances from all relevant parties to ensure this will have no impact on Victorians.”
Wheelie Waste declined to comment.