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Australia urged to move towards a circular economy on recycling

Rich Bowden

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Recycling

Australia should take its cue from the circular economy on recycling, reusing its waste rather than sending it to landfill, says a recent report by business advisory firm EY. It added that Australians need to have confidence in their country’s recycling system and should look upon it as a resource rather than waste.

The accounting firm affirmed a combined approach to waste which included households, local councils and the private sector is needed to “restore faith” in the country’s recycling system. This would lead to the start of a win-win circular economy. 

Such an economy can be achieved when “people minimize waste and make the most of resources. Shifting to a more circular economy will grow the economy, increase jobs and reduce impacts on the environment,” according to the Victorian State Government.

China recycling ban

Australia’s strategy of dealing with its waste by sending it to China for processing was thrown into confusion in 2017. It was then when China decided to tighten the restrictions on contamination for accepting foreign waste. The new standards effectively banned all Australian paper, plastics and textiles because of their high contamination rate. 

Before the Chinese ban, it had been sending 619,000 tonnes of recycling waste to China every year.

A “lost opportunity”

Terence L. Jeyaretnam, an environmental and sustainability expert who is also a partner at EY in Melbourne, described the present methods as an example of a “lost opportunity”.

“Through better sorting of recyclables, reducing contamination and developing markets for our recycled waste, Australia could take advantage of this lost opportunity sitting in our kerbside bins,” he said.

He added that Australians were missing out on up to $324 million of value in our waste bins and needed to change to adapt to the future. 

“The old way of sorting our waste is not the right fit for 21st century Australia,” he said in the study, adding that “not only does it lead to poor environmental outcomes, it’s preventing us from grasping an opportunity worth hundreds of millions per year.”

Restoring belief in the system

The report underlined the need for Australia to view waste as a valuable resource saying it  “will only be realized if households take a more diligent approach to sorting, councils assist though education and infrastructure and there is a greater focus on waste as a resource.”

It points to a lack of confidence currently amongst households with the country’s recycling methods.

“Instead of ‘waste’ we need consumers to see a tradable asset, a commodity with a market value. The first step in changing consumers behavior is restoring their belief that what they are putting in the recycling bin is actually being recycled,” said the discussion paper.

Restoring the customer’s faith in the broken recycling system would be the first step towards creating a viable circular economy and finding a solution to the recycling crisis in Australia, summarized the report.

Politics

Climate Inaction: Prime Minister Morrison’s Negligence Sparks Backlash As Bushfires Rage

Rich Bowden

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Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction

The smoke blanketing the NSW capital of Sydney has highlighted the severity of the state’s bushfires — and climate inaction isn’t helping.

With the city’s air pollution reaching eleven times the hazardous level, and over 700 homes destroyed in the state, public pressure has mounted on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to link the bushfire emergency and climate change.

The Prime Minister is also facing a barrage of criticism from his ruling party.

NSW Liberal Energy Minister Matt Kean told the Smart Energy Summit that the bushfire tragedy had been foretold by scientists and fire emergency professionals.

In a strong rebuke of his own party’s climate policies, Kean told attendees weather conditions were abnormal. Yet at the same time, climate inaction continues to rage on.

“Not Normal” Weather, Yet No Action Taken By Prime Minister Morrison

“Longer drier periods, resulting in more drought and bushfire,” he said. “If this is not a catalyst for change, then I don’t know what is. This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution.”

“We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, and we need to adapt our practices to deal with this kind of weather becoming the new normal.”

Kean elaborated on his extraordinary broadside on the ABC’s Radio National the next day.

“We’ve got a problem. [The emergency] is not changing my view – before the bushfires, my view was a very strong one… we need to be doing our bit to protect our environment.”

Viral Blog Post Signals Dissatisfaction With Morrison’s Climate Inaction

As well as causing divisions in his own party, Morrison has taken heat from ordinary Australians. It is partially due to climate inaction. But additionally, his refusal to assist volunteer firefighters has struck outrage among Australians.

An example of the outrage was the reaction to a powerful and engaging blog post written by author-educator Meg McGowan. In the post, she criticizes the PM’s statement that volunteer firefighters “want to be there” and therefore wouldn’t receive government assistance.

Meg’s husband Graham King is Deputy Captain in the local Central Coast brigade. He has been fighting fires in the region while making do with poor protective equipment to battle the thick smoke.

Such was the power, elegance, and timing of the article that it went viral with hundreds of thousands of views. This prompted national TV show The Project to ask Meg and Graham to film a segment with them.

Author Meg McGowan Shares That Morrison Adds To List Of Leaders Who Exhibit Climate Action

I asked Meg on behalf of theRising what she thought caused the post’s incredible popularity. Meg conceded that the answer wasn’t straightforward. She added that “Morrison is just the most recent in a long line of leaders that have failed to act”.

“Small changes two decades ago could have had a huge impact by now. The problem is now so severe that we need urgent action on a much larger scale.” 

Climate Action Fueled By Governmental Arrogance

She added that people are upset at the government’s arrogance towards firefighters and its inability to enact meaningful climate policies.

“Based on the comments I’m reading his seeming lack of empathy made a lot of people very angry, so I would say it was a major contributor, but you can never really know. It might be that people’s general frustration with the lack of action over climate change was the driver, or their frustrations at [environmental party] The Greens being blamed, or their sudden realization that firefighters are not superheroes but ordinary people doing a tough job,” she told me.

The bushfire crisis will continue as the Bureau of Meteorology predicts more dry weather over the next few months. And climate inaction won’t make that any better.

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Politics

30 States Cut Their Environmental Budget This Decade. Did Yours?

Ari Kelo

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Climate refugee

A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project found that 30 US states have cut their environmental budget since 2008. Another 40 states have also reduced the size of their environmental agency’s staff. These cuts come as a great shock, considering the rising threat of the climate crisis in the past decade. And, with every state that slashes their environmental budget, the consequences sky-rise even more. We encourage you find out if your state is one of the culprits.

The Consequences Of A Reduced Environmental Budget

The consequences of reduced spending on environmental protections seem limitless. These state agencies protect public health, limit the harms of pollution, and even enact pollution control programs. They are vital to the health of both our communities and our planet at large.

And although many states have chosen to limit funding for environmental agencies, the demand for them has only grown. With sea levels on the rise, pollution expanding by the hour, and extreme weather events becoming more and more frequent, environmental protection programs have never been more needed.

Sadly, this trend of reduced funding goes beyond state-wide environmental agencies. In the same decade, Washington cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on pollution control and science by 16%. They reduced the EPA’s staff size by 16% as well.

The consequences of inadequate environmental funding go on and on. Understanding these future threats, it becomes even more necessary to know where your state stands.

So without further ado, here are the statistics regarding US environmental agencies between fiscal years 2008 and 2018. (Warning: they’re infuriating.)

The report shows that from 2008 and 2018:

  • 31 states cut funding for pollution control programs. In 25 of these states, those cuts amounted to at least 10%. And 16 states imposed cuts above 20%.
  • 40 states reduced the workforce of their environmental agency. Of these, 21 states cut their workforce by at least 10%. In 9 states, their environmental agencies lost at least 20% of their workforce.
  • Combined, the US lost 4,400 positions at environmental agencies from these budget cuts. (Excluding the 2,700 positions lost at the EPA.)
  • Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin cut the most funding from their environmental agencies.
  • In terms of cutting their agency workforce, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Tennessee did the most damage.
  • 3 states in particular cut far deeper into their funding. Texas cut its agency’s funding by a whopping 35%. North Carolina follows closely with 34% cuts and Illinois trails behind with a still alarming 25%. These states ironically cut environmental funding despite allowing general government spending to grow.
  • Alaska and Hawai’i were not included in this report.

To see where you state stands, check out this map, or access the full report here.

It goes without saying that apathy towards the environment plagues the United States’ governmental institutions. What’s worse, this chronic lack of concern for our planet within US politics will have disastrous impacts on the whole globe. It’s time to ensure better environmental policies across the US. A good first step? Starting with your own state.

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Politics

New Zealand Steps Up To The Plate On Climate Action As Australia Lags Further Behind

Rich Bowden

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Australian progressives have long looked in jealousy across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand on its commitment to climate action. There, New Zealand leads the South Pacific in attempts to resolve these divisive problems. Additionally, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has become a beacon for progressive government policies. It’s less so in Australia.

There, action on meeting emissions targets has stalled. Also, government support for renewable energy and the protection of the environment have been secondary concerns.

A Stark Contrast In Climate Action Between NZ And Australia

Australia is currently suffering under the worst drought for decades. Moreover, bushfires in a number of states have destroyed property and continue to threaten towns and cities.

In contrast to his NZ counterpart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seen criticism for a Trump-style “thoughts and prayers” approach for bushfire victims as opposed to real climate action to reduce the effects of the climate crisis.

This approach has (unsurprisingly) caused anger among some bushfire survivors.

Further, while Australia has seen inaction on the climate emergency, New Zealand has stepped up to the plate. Its government has declared that climate will be central to all future policy decision-making.

Positive Climate Action Sentiments At NZ’s Governmental Level

The New Zealand parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act earlier in the year. Additionally, Environment Minister James Shaw announced that all major decisions made by the Ardern government would keep the climate emergency in mind.

“Cabinet routinely considers the effects of its decisions on human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, rural communities, the disability community, and gender – now climate change will be a standard part of Cabinet’s decision-making too,” Shaw said in an announcement.

He added that an impact assessment on climate will be central to the government’s decision making.

“A climate impacts assessment will be mandatory for policy and legislative proposals that are designed to reduce emissions, or which are likely to have consequential impacts on greenhouse emissions greater than 250,000 tonnes a year.”

Climate Action Lags In Australia

A roundtable representing a diverse range of groups including environmental organizations, businesses, farmers and unions has warned that a “business as usual” approach to the climate emergency “would have serious economic, environmental and social impacts on Australia.”

The statement coincided with the Madrid climate talks with the Australian Climate Roundtable calling on the federal government to take climate action and adopt policies that would achieve deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions.

“Our overarching aim is for Australia to play its fair part in international efforts to achieve this while maintaining and increasing its prosperity,” said the media statement.

“Achieving this goal will require deep global emissions reductions, with most countries including Australia eventually reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below.”

Takeaways From The Roundtable

The roundtable believes government policy should be instrumental in achieving change. From the group’s joint principles released in May 2019: 

“Policy instruments should: be capable of achieving deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions in line with our overall goal; provide confidence that targeted emissions reductions actually occur; be based on an assessment of the full range of climate risks; be well designed, stable and internationally linked; operate at least cost to the domestic economy while maximizing benefits; and remain efficient as circumstances change and Australia’s emissions reduction goals evolve.” 

Australia definitely has the capacity to commit further to climate action, but will it? And how?

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