As I hope we are all good recyclers, it is disappointing that the Coalition federal government sets such a bad example. I'm referring to new recycling exports legislation, coming into effect next January.
In what at first appears to be good news, recycling will be subject to sweeping national powers in an imminent federal law that threatens companies with levies, product recalls and other penalties if they breach targets to reduce waste. The draft law imposes criminal penalties, including jail terms, for those who defy the Morrison government's bid to halt waste exports in a staged plan that starts within six months.
However, as Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said, though the government had "finally" chosen to act it really should back the tougher measures in a Greens bill already before Parliament. And of course, as ever with this environmentally lacklustre government, compliance is voluntary, not mandatory. The controls are a response to a policy shift in China to turn away shipments of our waste product.
The government has opened talks with industry to back the bill so it can be put to Parliament in the first week of August, but the Greens are attacking the plan for doing too little to stop waste exports.
The controls are a response to a policy shift in China ...
The draft bill, seen by The Sydney Morning Herald, is the first commonwealth power to control recycling and is being watched closely by companies that will have to submit to new licenses, duties and fees.
"A person may be subject to a criminal offence and civil penalty if export operations that are covered by the suspension are carried out after the suspension took effect," says a confidential guide to the draft bill.
The jail terms could be for up to three or five years, depending on the provision breached. As well as imposing export bans, the Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill will update "product stewardship" rules that expand existing rules to recycle products such as televisions and computers.
But a fight is looming in Parliament when the bill is introduced, with the Greens arguing for mandatory recycling targets and stronger powers to force companies to take responsibility for their products and packaging.
Labor recycling spokesman Josh Wilson has accused the government of "repackaging" money from previous measures in its $167 million Recycling Investment Package in March, suggesting more spending is needed.
"The government has a valuable opportunity to do right by our oceans and our environment in putting forward strong legislation that will properly tackle Australia's waste crisis. The Greens will make sure they do," Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
Sadly, but predictably, the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction, Trevor Evans, said Australians would not accept the intervention being sought by the Greens.
"This is the first time a federal government has stepped so heavily into the waste and recycling sectors," Mr Evans said.
"Some alternative proposals rely on an ethos of heavy intervention and regulation which, to be frank, Australian businesses and households just won't bear in the current circumstances."
Also, and disappointingly the government does not support the Greens' call for a national container deposit scheme, arguing states are doing this already and does not want to impose a national ban on plastic bags.
While environmental groups want a mandatory ban on plastic micro-beads used as thickener in cosmetics, the government argues a voluntary code is enough because 94 per cent of products no longer use the beads.
Mr Evans and Environment Minister Sussan Ley announced a $20 million Product Stewardship Investment Fund last week to pay for schemes that return old products.
The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council said the export bans appeared "straightforward" and should include strict measures to prevent illegal operators trying to by-pass the controls," said the council's chief executive, Rose Read.
However, "The unknowns are still what are the costs for the industry in complying, but the intent is that this will be kept to a minimum," she added.
Consumers can use existing schemes such as "Mobile Muster" to recycle mobile phones but Ms Read said the government had to make sure this was extended to all products with electrical cords and batteries. She backed the Greens' call for mandatory rather than voluntary schemes.
"That will give us more confidence that companies would hit their targets," she said.