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Category Archives: Environment

National Plastics Plan maps longer term approach

The Australian Government last week launched the National Plastics Plan to reduce plastics waste through a multi aspect approach, looking at both the upstream and downstream methods to limit plastic waste. The plan aims to help ensure Australia meets its waste targets, prompting government to work alongside essential industry and other supply chain holders. The plan outlines wide ranging initiatives, acting on five different fronts;

  • > Prevention: Addressing plastics at the source, phasing out packaging products that do not meet the relevant compostable standards, plastic free beach initiatives, prompting industry shift to easily recyclable plastics and national packaging targets.
    >Recycling: Introduction of waste export bans, product stewardship programs, enforcing material performance standards and national packaging targets.
    >Consumer education: Achieve consistency in kerbside bin collections, container deposit schemes and better recycling information for consumers.
    >Plastics in our oceans and waterways: Take actions to reduce plastics leaking into the environment, such as pursuing a global coordinated action on marine litter and micro plastic pollution and initiating industry led cigarette butt litter stewardship schemes.
    >Research: Investment into new data systems and plastic technologies, designed to track how plastic flows through our economy. Develop a circular economy and roadmap and distribute cooperative research centre projects grants.

To read the plan in detail, visit The National Plastics Plan.

Considerations for Victoria’s single use plastic ban

Earlier in March, the Victorian Government announced a phase out ban of single use plastics by 2023. This includes products such as polystyrene containers, straws, plates, cutlery and cotton buds, with departments starting their phase out in 2022. Single use plastic items make up approximately one third of Victoria’s litter per annum, with many of the single use items classified as economically unviable or difficult to recycle. The government is encouraging reusable items instead of single use plastics, such as metal, paper or bamboo alternatives. Emergency services, scientific and medical activities that may require single use plastic will not be affected.

The government proposes to work with communities and stakeholders to finalise the delivery and design of the ban, emphasising the importance of education and behavioural change as a key aspect in achieving a phase out.

Equilibrium has worked extensively on packaging and problem wastes, leading a similar project with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to improve the environmental impacts of packaging. Through exploration of this sector, there is a need to consider the following when delivering and the designing the ban:

> What is the evidence of defining single use plastic and prioritising any phase out? It is paramount to ensure an evidenced-based approach to definitions, criteria setting and identifying potential approaches to phasing out materials.
> Have the potential subsidiary outcomes been considered? For example, the reduced access to products for vulnerable sectors of the community? In this case, the hospitality industry has already cautioned that the ban may place the cost of the alternatives on the consumers.
>Whether there are appropriate viable alternatives, and what are the environmental impacts of using and or producing alternative products such as metal and bamboo cutlery?
>The scope of the ban, will support range from innovation right through the supply chain? To achieve genuine environmental improvement, support needs to start with manufacturers, brand owners and product retailers.

Manufacturing Strategy Targets Clean Energy and Recycling

Manufacturing is set to receive a boost in certain sectors and industries as part of the Australian Government’s recently released Modern Manufacturing Strategy.

Designed to support and drive ‘economic recovery and future resilience’ the Strategy aims to establish Australia as a nation capable of high-quality production underpinned by science and research.

Creating jobs and scaling-up to become more competitive internationally, are key elements of the strategy, as is the effective use of R&D to achieve applied industry outcomes.

The centrepiece of the Modern Manufacturing Strategy is the $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which will see the Government strategically invest in projects that help manufacturers to scale up and create jobs.

Priority industries

The Modern Manufacturing Initiative will support projects within six National Priorities:

1. Resources technology and critical minerals processing
2. Food and beverage
3. Medical products
4. Recycling and clean energy
5. Defence
6. Space

Roadmaps will be prepared for each of the priority industries in collaboration with industry.

The Strategy will also address the competitiveness of individual manufacturers in the priority sectors, with a $52.8 million expansion of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund.

The Strategy is in part a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and aims to provide a plan to better address identified supply chain weak-spots and vulnerabilities.

Creating internationally competitive manufacturing industries in Australia, necessarily requires attention to environmental  management, as well as informed sustainability advice. There are significant opportunities across the six priorities when it comes to exploring commercially relevance sustainability outcomes.

If your business or association is looking to better understand the Modern Manufacturing Strategy and the associated support programs, please don’t hesitate to contact the Equilibrium team on BH  (03) 9372 5356.

More details about the Strategy can be found here.

The Industry Minister’s media release can be found here.

Productivity Commission Inquiry into Repair

According to MobileMuster, 33 per cent of Australians have repaired their mobile phones and it is expected the number of people reusing devices will increase over time as younger Australians are more likely to opt for repairing or purchasing second hand phones.

Right to Repair is a consumer’s ability to restore faulty goods, or access repairing services, at a competitive price. This can include repairing by a manufacturer, a third-party, or self-repair.

The inquiry will consider a range of issues impacting the Australian repair market, including potential barriers and enablers of greater competition.

It will draw on international experience and examine Right to Repair mechanisms that support consumer rights, promote competition in the repair market, and encourage product design requirements to extend product life and reduce e-waste.

The Productivity Commission will undertake broad public consultation, including with state and territory governments. The inquiry is due to report to Government within twelve months.

The terms of reference can be found at the Productivity Commission website.

Repairing a product can be a strategy for waste avoidance and reduction in some product classes, including vehicles, consumer electronics, IT equipment and appliances.

If your company, industry association or local council is looking to explore and understand the relevance of repairing a product as part of the waste management process, please don’t hesitate to contact the Equilibrium team on BH  (03) 9372 5356.

Setting up an Environmental Management System (EMS)

An Environmental management system (EMS) can be a powerful tool to not only monitor and manage environmental impacts but also as an instrument for overall organisational improvement.

When well developed, implemented and used to full effect, an EMS can of course reduce environmental risks and harm, but can also:

> leverage efficiencies and cost reduction;

> facilitate cultural change and engagement; and

> support competitive advantages and brand differentiation.

Like any business system, whether for safety or quality or other businesses elements, the effectiveness of an EMS is ultimately a function of the effort and commitment that goes in to executing and employing the system.

As a guide to getting started, the basis of an EMS is often about getting data right. Tracking key environmental impacts such as energy, water, waste and greenhouse emissions forms the foundation to understand an organisation’s environmental footprint, issues and opportunities.

An EMS then establishes a framework to guide decisions that have a material effect on those impacts. Policies and procedures then provide guidance and instructions on how people are expected to operate, day to day requirements and what is the desired outcome.

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a structured framework to manage the environmental performance of a company’s activities while helping to ensure environmental compliance. An EMS provides a structured approach to identifying and managing environmental impacts, targets, responsibilities, priorities and actions.

As with many systems there is of course an international standard for EMS, ISO14001. The standard is a great framework whether an organisation seeks accreditation or not. With or without that standard, a good EMS covers off on:

Regulations and compliance

> Does your organisation have an environmental strategy and policy and is it compliant with environmental laws and regulations?

Roles and responsibilities

> Does the company have an Environmental manager or someone responsible for environmental issues and conduct environmental training and induction?

Monitoring and Reporting

> Do you currently measure and record key environmental impacts and is there an Environmental Risk Assessment?

Environmental control

> Are you aware of your organisations environmental risks, impacts and significant aspects relating to activities and operations?

As the following shows, an EMS can be developed and implemented in a relatively short time and then the on-going benefits accrue and drive on-going benefits.

It has been noticeable that there is an increased take up of EMS. In the last 12-18 months Equilibrium has fielded increased inquiries from organisations seeking advice and support to det an EMS and gain greater control of their environmental impacts.

The stated reasons are many. Some are motivated by their customers, clients or the market generally and want to be seen to be doing the right thing, others recognise the need to measure so you can manage, and others are on a longer journey where environmental management is a foundation piece in a values driven approach to overall sustainability.

Whatever the inspiration, a good EMS is a solid approach to organisational and reputational improvement.

If your business is interested insetting up an EMS, please contact the Equilibrium team on (03) 9372 5356 or at info@equil.com.au

Visit our Case Studies page to see some prior EMS projects.

Government Funding for Energy Projects

The Commonwealth and State Governments currently have many programs to support businesses in improving their power usage and efficiency. The following grants provide either direct funding or credits for energy audits and programs to reduce emissions.

The Emissions Reduction Fund is open for all eligible Australian businesses wanting to reduce their carbon emissions. Participants in the scheme can earn Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent they store or avoid emitting by using new practices and technologies. These ACCUs can then be sold to generate income for your business.

New South Wales’ Energy Savings Scheme provides businesses with financial incentives to reduce their energy consumption by installing new equipment or modifying a current system. Savings will be converted into Energy Saving Certificates (ESCs) which are sold to an electricity retailer.

South Australia offers businesses and not-for-profit organisations the Resource Efficiency and Productivity (REAP) Grants. This program provides a 50% subsidy for resource efficiency and productivity assessments to consider circular economy options including electricity efficiency. An additional $10,000 is available on successful completion of an assessment to kick-start implementation of the recommendations.

Funding of $150,000 is available for Tasmanian Businesses to carry out energy audits on business operations and buildings in the state through the Power$mart Businesses program.

ACT has two grant programs: The Next Generation Energy Storage (Next Gen) Program and ACTSmart Business Energy and Water Program which provide businesses with rebates when installing battery storage systems or upgrading to more energy-efficient and water-efficient technologies and equipment.

The Smarter Business Solutions Program offers grant funding incentives of up to $20,000 for Northern Territory enterprises to adopt efficient, innovative technologies and best practices that will reduce their energy, water, waste and material costs.

If your business is interested in further information on any of these grants, or would like assistance completing an application, please contact the Equilibrium team on (03) 9372 5356 or at info@equil.com.au

Be sure to stay up to date with our blog posts to get updates on Government grants.

Virtual Site Audits in Covid-19 Restrictions

With Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) disrupting businesses on a number of levels, Equilibrium has been working with our clients on bringing back businesses’ normal activities and maintaining a presence in state lock-down situations and travel restrictions.

Many compliance systems rely on physical site visits to audit a company or facility to assess if it is meeting any specific environmental management requirements and is operating in a way that protects its workers’ health and safety. While restrictions make it difficult to undertake these audits in the traditional sense, Equilibrium has developed a protocol for performing remote virtual audits.

The procedure has been developed rapidly over the past 4 months to ensure our clients are still able to participate in an audit program. It closely aligns with existing audit methodology, covering all the same aspects, such as environmentally sound practices, regulation safety, and legitimacy but is flexible enough to be expanded and altered for many other applications.

The audit utilises smart phone live stream applications to enable a virtual walk through of operational areas. Through the app, Equilibrium directs the site representative to live stream areas of potential concern based on previous audit reports and the most recent satellite imagery.

This process does not require any new technology or substantial equipment as it simply uses the site representative’s mobile device. There is potential depending on the app for the audit to be recorded as well, further adding evidence to the audit findings.

As per previous developed protocols, the audits are undertaken in combination and in parallel with data analysis and documentation reviews, allowing for much of the preliminary assessment to be completed online.

Unsure of when restrictions will ease or increase in any region, developing a protocol and capability to effectively carry out virtual audits is crucial to ensuring companies maintain compliance requirements, upholding the safety and sustainability of their operations.

If you are interested in discussing virtual audits, please contact the Equilibrium team on (03) 9372 5356 or at info@equil.com.au

Recycling Bill enters Parliament

Recycling and waste reduction continue to receive unprecedented attention in Australia as governments seek to build a thriving industry that is better equipped to transform waste products and materials into value-added resources.

The Australian Government has today introduced new  legislation that sees Australia take greater responsibility for its waste and establishes a national industry framework for recycling.

The Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 will phase in the end of the 645,000 tonnes of unprocessed plastic, paper, glass and tyres that Australia ships overseas each year.

At the same time the reforms to the regulation of product stewardship will incentivise companies to take greater environmental responsibility for the products they manufacture and what happens to those products and materials at the end of their life.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the Bill will see the implementation of the export ban on waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres agreed by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments in March this year.

“This is about tackling a national environmental issue that has been buried in landfill or shipped offshore for far too long,” Minister Ley said. That is why the Morrison Government is the first federal government to place waste firmly on the national agenda.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to remodel waste management, reduce pressure on our environment and create economic opportunity as we move to a circular economy with a strong market for recycled materials.

“Our $190 million Recycling Modernisation Fund and our actions under the National Waste Policy Action Plan will create 10,000 new jobs over the next 10 years – that is a 32 per cent increase in jobs in the Australian waste and recycling sector.

“We are introducing legislation; we are driving a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity and we are investing in new technologies and new ideas to transform recycling and reprocessing.”

Accelerating product stewardship activity

Product stewardship has also received a boost through specific adjustments and enhancements under the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill.

Assistant Minister Evans said the legislation will improve the existing framework for product stewardship by encouraging companies to take greater responsibility for the waste they generate through the products they design, manufacture or distribute.

“We are making it easier for industry to set up and join in product stewardship schemes. Yet where voluntary product stewardship schemes are not effective, or where they are not created in priority areas, the government will have new tools to intervene and regulate,” Assistant Minister Evans said.

“Our legislative changes will transform our waste industry, meaning increased recycling and remanufacturing of waste materials which will create new industry and generate more jobs.”

The Bill and associated package of funding and investment heralds a new era in Australia’s approach to waste management. It reflects a more considered approach aimed at improving our ability to process and manage waste in-country while also maximising the business opportunities resulting from industry-led product stewardship schemes.

Effective implementation across all levels of government and industry will be key to measurable success, as will an informed public demanding environmentally improved products and services built around circular economy principles.

The future of waste reduction, reuse and recycling in Australia is forging new territory based on nationwide collaboration, innovation and the need for manufacturers to take greater responsibility for their products and materials across the the supply chain from cradle to cradle.

The Australian Government’s media release can be viewed here.

The Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill 2020 can be downloaded here.

 

Effective Labels Crucial for Better Recycling

Consumers are well placed to make better decisions about how and where to recycle their packaging.  Ensuring that the public is well informed will help reduce contamination and improve overall recycling performance.

An independent national audit of recycling information on consumer products and packaging has revealed a situation that is confusing for consumers and does not support better recycling, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

The audit – conducted by  Equilibrium – took place across supermarkets, take-away outlets, and convenience stores in two capital cities, found 88% of the packaging components sampled were recyclable through either kerbside recycling or a supermarket-based return program, but that only 40% of these products had a recycling claim present on them.

Additional findings are:

> 55% of imported products and 64% of Australian products sampled displayed a recyclability claim of any kind;
> 23% of products had the Australian Recycling Label (ARL) promoted by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation;
29% of products had the “Mobius Loop” recycling symbol;
> 29% of plastic products had a resin code symbol which is often mistaken for a recyclability symbol;
> The Tidyman logo appeared on 15% of products sampled, including both recyclable and non-recyclable products; and
> There was no consistent style, placement, or sizing of recyclable labels.

The audit indicates that recycling rates that aren’t as high as they could be and contamination  is too high, and it’s harder to achieve national targets such as 70% plastics recycling (from our current 12%).

ACOR fully supports the report’s recommendations, including:

> Labels need to be specific about the management methods of all components, and also include instructions to avoid contamination;
> There needs to be a clear, concise and evidenced-based label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market;
> The preferred label should be made mandatory and be flexible enough to incorporate new technologies and systems as they come online to recycle more products;
> The “Mobius Loop” could cause consumer confusion, and a short cut to achieving greater clarity and consistency is to remove these and plastic resin codes from packaging; and
> There is a role for authorities such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in driving and ensuring clarity and consistency in environmental claims and labels pertaining to recycling.

The ACOR media release published on 20 August 2020 can be viewed here.

The audit report can be downloaded here.

NSW Grants for Solar Panel Reuse and Recycling

The NSW Government is investing $10 million to help improve environmental performance by diverting end-of-life solar panel systems from landfill, with the first round of grants now open.

Although current waste volumes are relatively low, this emerging waste stream is expected to rapidly increase over the next decade as installed systems reach their end-of-life. In NSW it is forecast that this waste stream could generate up to 10,000 tonnes per year by 2025 and up to 71,000 tonnes per year by 2035.

EPA Director Circular Economy Kathy Giunta said the investment in recycling through this Circular Solar grants program would help NSW meet its commitment of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

“While current amounts of waste are low, now is the time to invest in developing systems for collecting and recycling these valuable resources like scarce and rare metals, including lithium batteries.

“We want to recycle and re-use the materials in solar panels and battery systems as NSW transitions towards cleaner energy and this program is an important step in building a productive circular economy in NSW.

“It will see NSW well placed to manage waste solar systems over the coming years and will stimulate much needed job creation in the solar power and recycling sectors,” Kathy Giunta said.

The NSW Government is now inviting Expressions of Interest for grants to run trial projects that increase the collection, reuse and recycling of solar panel and battery storage systems. Applications for projects that trial whole of supply chain approaches to collecting and reusing and/or recycling can be made until 17 September 2020.

$2 million is available in this funding round, with the remaining funding to be made available following evaluation of this EOI process.

Scoping study

As part of the background to establishing the the circular solar trials fund, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment commissioned a scoping study (PDF 3.8MB) to assist in development of the EPA’s end-of-life solar programs. It contains information that may help organisations preparing EOIs, including:

> projected waste generation volumes
> materials that can be recovered from solar panels and batteries
> reuse and recycling technologies
> end-market opportunities

The study was conducted by the UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures and Equilibrium.

Don’t hesitate to contact the Equilibrium team on BH  (03) 9372 5356 if you need support or help in preparing an EOI for the grant program.

Be sure to stay updated on our blog page for future grant opportunities.

For more information visit https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/working-together/grants/infrastructure-fund/circular-solar-trials-expression-of-interest