Since China announced the new thresholds, the global recycling market has gone into crisis mode and the immediate responses from Australian state governments have focused on short-term solutions.
Globally, oversupply has caused the average price of mixed paper scrap to fall from around AU$124 per tonne to A$0 per tonne. Scrap mixed plastics has fallen from around A$325 per tonne to A$75 per tonne.
For many recycling companies in Australia, this means that the money they can make from kerbside recycling will now be less than the cost of providing the service.
While some traders have been able to sell scrap paper and plastics to other countries in Asia, this can’t last, as these countries are likely to reach their maximum capacity soon.
Other recycling businesses are storing the materials in the hope that a better option becomes available soon. The Age has reported approximately 200 “dangerous” stockpiles of materials in Victoria. New South Wales has temporarily relaxed their stockpile limits to allow greater short-term storage.
Major recycling company Visyhas stopped accepting recycling from the contractor who collects from 10 regional Victorian councils, while other councils are being charged increased fees. In response, the Victorian state government unveiled a A$13 million rescue package to help councils meet increased costs until June, when they can increase householder rates.
In NSW where rates are capped, passing costs onto residents isn’t an option. To prevent many councils from abandoning kerbside recycling altogether, the NSW government has announced A$47 million of funding to help. However, this money is being diverted from funds already aimed at better managing waste throughout the state.
In Queensland, Ipswich residents have been told their recycling waste will now be dumped into landfill because it is too expensive for the local council to actually recycle it.
In South Australia, it appears that some recycling is still being sent to China because of the high-quality (low contamination) recycling in that state. Well done you.
In early April, the Western Australian government announced the creation of a task force to look at state solutions but, as yet, no findings have been given.
Thank you to Matthew Roberts and ABC News for the photo