Later in this newsletter you will be able to read our update on the recent Victorian contamination event and AORA’s response to it. This event, and its repercussions well beyond those immediately affected, shows that contamination of feedstocks is the single greatest issue facing the industry.
There are many reasons for this contamination problem: a generation of community members trained to co-mingle recycling streams; an unusual reluctance by some governments to move more quickly on banning single use plastics and pervasive chemicals; a “race to the bottom” with the continual awarding of short term, price-based contracts by councils; a lack of product stewardship; and a failure to invest in long-term, national or state based community education programs about waste management.
Whilst testing and processing technology can address a fraction of the contamination problem, it is expensive and does not necessarily remove all contaminants consistently. Contaminated feedstock leading to contaminated products is anathema to the industry and would quickly destroy community trust in the industry and its products. Unless the feedstock contamination issue is addressed, it may be economically unfeasible to significantly improve on current organics recycling rates.
Some contaminants – notably metals, glass and durable plastics – are likely to remain in the market well into the future. This type of contamination will have to be dealt with through a combination of community education, stronger product stewardship models, and improved processes and systems.
Others, especially non-compostable single-use plastics and persistent chemicals, pose an environmental threat well beyond the organics recycling industry, and are replaceable or able to be eliminated from the market.

AORA believes that they must be expeditiously banned across all Australian jurisdictions.
This is why we welcome the National Plastics Plan which was released on 4 March (download here)
Key measures include:
  • banning plastics including non-compostable plastic packaging and PVC packaging labels by December 2022
  • a stronger focus on whole of life product stewardship for manufacturers of plastics
  • national consistency in kerbside collections
  • a Plastic Design Summit to encourage easier to recycle products
  • Commonwealth Government procurement rules will now make the use of recycled materials part of the value for money assessment across all Government purchasing.
The plastic plan follows some other positive announcements:
  • the National PFAS Position Statement, last updated on 21 October 2019, agreeing to a phase out of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) nationally
  • the South Australian banning of PFAS firefighting foam from 30 January 2020
  • the first tranche of single-use plastics was banned in South Australia from 1 March 2021, with more to be banned a year later
  • the first tranche of single-use plastics to be banned in Queensland from 1 September 2021
  • PFAS firefighting foam will be banned in NSW except in catastrophic circumstances by September 2022
  • the first tranche of single-use plastics to be banned in Victoria by 2023.
However more needs to be done, more consistently and more quickly.
This is why AORA advocates for bans on a range of chemical pesticides and herbicides. AORA will undertake direct advocacy to key Federal Ministers and agencies, proposing full national bans on persistent herbicides and pesticides, and emerging contaminants such as PFAS.

Peter Olah
National Executive Officer