The “Waste” Industry needs a paradigm shift and the government needs to jump on board. Yes, I am talking to you, EPAs of Australia and yes, I am talking to you councils and councillors of Australia. And yes, I am talking to all the wasties, garbos, truckies and recyclers out there, who are proudly doing their job on a daily basis.
When I listen to myself, I think I sound like a broken record, mainly because I have been saying this for over 20 years. I recall sitting in a committee with Paul Howlett and Roz Hall discussing the outcome of the so called Tony Wright report (Inquiry into Alternative Waste Management Technologies and Practices, April 2000) and everyone was thinking hard about how to initiate the paradigm shift, the report was asking for, so that waste would be reduced, more would be recycled and so on, you know what I mean – we are still thinking about it today.
I suggested then to drop the term “waste” from the regulations and legislation and start with initiating a shift in thinking by using a different language. After all, how do think outside language?
By the way, just for the record, there also was the “Richmond Review” in December 2010, which asked to adopt a “new paradigm” as there was an “urgent need” to manage waste as a resource. Waste as a resource? That was obviously asking too much for in 2010.
Now, in 2021, we are talking about the latest NSW EPA “Waste Delivery Plan” to “chart our path to a safe and sustainable circular economy in NSW”. Really? Sounds like an oxymoron to me.
You want to achieve broad acceptance in the community by calling it a “waste delivery plan”? No one wants waste delivered to them. Especially not if it’s someone else’s waste. Which it always is!
The whole idea of creating a circular economy is that there is no such thing as “waste” anymore. By the way, nature would be a great example to learn from, but we can talk about that another time. I am talking to humans here. We are not good with subtlety.
If we want materials to be reused, recycled and recovered, then we should stop calling them “waste”. Please! If you want someone to buy a product, would you tell them what they are buying is “waste”? Nope, unless you are….well let’s not go there.
Let’s take a short look into history. I like history. Something to learn from. Landfills were once called sanitary landfills, because they contributed to sanitation, meaning public health.
We tend to forget these days, that proper waste management is still a matter of public health. In essence, it’s an essential service, a utility. Main difference to the other classic utilities, like water and energy, is that it has been privatised early and to a large degree.
That doesn’t change the character of the industry though, only its perception. In 2021 the EPA is working hard to keep the perception of the industry dealing with “waste”, just that it’s now “delivered”. Resources? Who needs them?
Take another look into the technologies that are employed to handle the materials we discard. Finally, after China Sword did us the favour of forcing us to deal with our own “stuff”, we have started to use optical sorters to “unscramble the egg” – that’s the yellow bin content.
And it works. Buehler’s Optical sorting has been used in the food industry to clean, say, rice from any contaminants. Nobody wants to eat little stones. Now we are using optical sorters everywhere in “waste”.
What comes out of optical sorting is for example what the relevant regulations (for waste bans) would call a “clean polymer stream”. But hold on, it’s “waste”, right? The slow moving shredders that we now see everywhere, had their ancestry (partly) in a slow moving screwmill, also from Buehler, a tool to crush raw materials like rock and ore, so they can further processed.
Now we are using them in “waste”, but not to produce another “raw material”. No way! Once a waste, always a “waste”. A lot of the other equipment used nowadays in the resource recovery industry has its origin in mining, where crushing and separation technologies were essential to do the job.
What we are in essence doing these days is “urban mining” for “secondary raw materials”, terms not proposed by myself. If we could agree on these or similar terms to explain what the industry is trying to do, it would make more sense to people.
The circular economy is about using secondary raw materials to create new products so that we can leave virgin materials in the ground or make them last longer. Hello! It’s called sustainability. Not waste management.
It seems the regulators of this world hang so much onto their old paradigm, that they cannot see the circular economy blossoming before their own eyes.
It is actually already here, and it would grow a lot faster and with less hassles if we all would sing from the same song sheet. But if we don’t, then our voices sound in discord.
Then, concerned citizens and councillors who want to score some political “cheap” points, will always say: “We don’t want their rubbish here. Let them look after it themselves”.
And who could blame them? If we would say, “we want to build a new factory in your area that creates so many new jobs and makes products which can be sold or exported (for good money)”, how would that sound then?
Suddenly the councillor would be against economic development. We would have a different conversation.
Now, we have wasted the last 20 years. Let’s stop talking rubbish. Let’s drop the term waste unless it is for materials that are either hazardous or not recyclables in the broader sense (reuse, recycle recover) and let’s start using the term resources or secondary raw materials. I am not too fussed. Let’s start talking circular economy, new products, urban mining, economic development and jobs. Because that’s what it is!
Have a good look at how many companies make good returns on the things we discard. The city is a gold mine! Got it?
By the way, while we are at it: The EPA is a regulator. That’s a good thing. We need a regulator. The best laws are useless, if not enforced.
But as all humans cling to power once they have it, the EPA shouldn’t set policies, otherwise, everything will always stay a waste so that the EPA can continue having hold of it.
The best example is the above mentioned “Waste Delivery Plan”. It is unequivocal proof that the paradigm shift that has been called for repeatedly over the last 20 years, hasn’t yet occurred in the heads of those who regulate. Sorry guys, you had 20 years, That’s enough!