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MAV Opinion Editorial - It's time Victorians got waste wise, otherwise our future is just rubbish

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For too long, waste has been a problem we start thinking about when choosing which bin to put something in. As the level of government responsible for collecting household waste, councils see first-hand that this is unsustainable. We need urgent action to reduce the levels of waste we produce and get the most out of our resources through reuse and recycling.

Exploring new models for kerbside collections, better labelling standards, and consistent bin lid colours are all worthy endeavours. Alone, they won’t deliver the transformational change we need.

The biggest factors in avoiding waste are decided long before a product enters the home. Durability and reusability, cutting down on unnecessary packaging, and using materials that have a strong market as recycled material are all decisions made by designers and manufacturers.

Consumers making educated choices is important but cannot fix this on its own. Even where less wasteful alternatives are available; they must compete against products that leave councils and households with the cost of cleaning up after them. The makers and retailers of a new piece of furniture don’t care whether you are filling your bin for the next three weeks with single use plastics destined for landfill.

Product stewardship is one way we can bring about this much-needed change. Product stewardship schemes mean manufacturers have ongoing responsibility for their products beyond the point of sale. Those that avoid waste through good design no longer have to compete on an uneven playing field with those that choose to instead leave the community to fix their mess.

Victorian councils, communities and environment groups have welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement that it will introduce a container deposit scheme, one form of product stewardship.

Container deposit schemes have a strong track record of improving recycling behaviour, reducing litter and improving the quality of material collected by recyclers.

By providing recyclers with an incentive for returning materials, the schemes reinforce the message that these are resources with an enduring value.

The design of a container deposit scheme is just as important as the decision to introduce one. Councils want to work with the Victorian Government to ensure the scheme maximises environmental, economic, and social benefits. Most of all, we need a scheme that ensures convenient access to drop off points throughout Victoria, not just in metropolitan Melbourne and the large, regional cities.

We need the Federal Government to take action under the Product Stewardship Act for other products. There is already a National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme that should be expanded to cover all e-waste. Voluntary schemes also exist for other goods such as batteries, paint and printer cartridges. We need mandatory schemes to make companies take responsibility for the waste their products generate and provide incentives to design out waste altogether.

We also need companies and individuals to understand that to be a good recycler you need to buy recycled. While recyclable products continue to be made from virgin material, we will remain in an endless cycle of production, consumption and waste.

There are already many examples of governments, including councils, and businesses using recycled content in infrastructure projects such as roads and furniture. To drive more of this, we need the Federal and Victorian Governments to provide specifications, certifications and pre-approval that enable producers and consumers to feel confident that recycled goods are quality goods.

Community education is also needed to help everyone understand why their individual and collective actions are important. The ABC series “War on Waste” did a fantastic job at showing viewers why their purchasing decisions matter. When millions of Victorians decide to bring their own reusable coffee cups and shopping bags, there is an impact. Communities must remember they do have power to create change.

To achieve the Government’s stated objective of becoming a circular economy, where re-use and recycling are standard practice, it’s going to require action from all levels of government, as well as the private sector and the community.

The MAV’s Rescue Our Recycling Action Plan was launched in March 2019. We stand by that plan as a roadmap for action by all three levels of government. We are excited that one of our proposed actions for the State government – the introduction of a container deposit scheme – has been committed to. There is still much more to be done.

Cr Ruth Gstrein
MAV Deputy President (Rural)

This Opinion Editorial was published on 8 February in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and Warrnambool Standard.