Calls for NSW government to act as recycling crisis deepens following China export ban

CONCERN: A meeting will be held on Thursday for Hunter councils to discuss the deepening recycling crisis amid calls for the NSW government to step in and take the lead on the Australian-wide problem. Picture: Simone De Peak
CONCERN: A meeting will be held on Thursday for Hunter councils to discuss the deepening recycling crisis amid calls for the NSW government to step in and take the lead on the Australian-wide problem. Picture: Simone De Peak

A BATTLE has broken out in the Hunter on how the region should deal with the Australian-wide crisis that is threatening the future of kerbside recycling collection.

The Newcastle Herald understands there is “considerable disagreement” over the region’s approach to the recycling crisis as councils face the dilemma of stockpiling thousands of tonnes of recycling or sending it to landfill.

A meeting was scheduled last week for Hunter councils and the NSW government to discuss the deepening crisis sparked by a China export ban, but it was postponed.

It’s understood some councils are arguing against local government being forced to spend money on deciding how to deal with the Australian-wide issue and are calling on the NSW government to take the lead.

Several people told the Herald they did not agree with the initial approach taken by Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils and said the region should be pushing for the NSW government to follow Victoria’s lead.

The Victorian government announced last month that it was injecting $13 million into helping ensure the future of its kerbside recycling collection industry. It has also set up a taskforce to help the industry adapt to the new landscape, which doesn't include sending rubbish to China. 

Victorian Minister for the Environment Lily D’Ambrosio said while recycling was “ultimately a matter for local councils”, it was time for the state to help. “This is about protecting jobs and ensuring Victorians have confidence to continue recycling,” she said. 

A spokeswoman for NSW Environment and Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton said she was “determined” to help councils and the recycling industry in NSW.  “The Minister has already reached out to the Hunter JO [Joint Organisation of Councils] and they are planning a meeting soon when the JO has reached a position,” she said.

The joint organisation’s chief executive Roger Stephan said a delegation had been appointed to represent the region and would meet on Thursday to formulate a plan.

Recycling giant Polytrade informed Hunter councils last month that its Gateshead recycling plant was operating on a “week-by-week basis”. Already recycling from the Hunter is being stockpiled in Sydney. 

Last year China announced it would stop taking what it called “foreign garbage” — millions of tonnes of low quality recyclable materials from a range of countries, including Australia. Any rubbish that is exported to China needs to be processed and uncontaminated. Experts warn any solution would be expensive, with ratepayers likely to be slugged.