Australia's Tanya Plibersek drops contentious ‘recycling tax’

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has revealed that next week’s budget will scrap plans for the introduction of what has been dubbed a world-first “recycling tax” after warnings the impost would have directed more recyclables to landfill.

The Australian revealed in February the recycling industry was waging a campaign against the government’s proposed cost recovery model for administering a new waste exports licensing scheme.

The proposed July 1 changes included a new quality standard limiting the allowable prohibited content in each shipment of recyclables to 5 percent before reducing it to 3 percent over time, meaning this limit could no longer be negotiated between businesses.

To cover the costs of enforcing the new standard, the Albanese government said it would impose a fee of nearly $4 on every tonne of recyclables exported overseas.

On Wednesday, Ms Plibersek revealed the government would not pursue the $4 levy, citing her consultations with recyclables exporters.

“Labor listened to industry and will not be introducing a levy on waste exports,” Ms Plibersek said. “We want to see more recycling, and avoid waste going into landfill, which this levy would have caused.”

“We’re catching up on a wasted decade to supercharge recycling and make sure more products can be remade in Australia.”

While there will be no levy introduced, the government’s July 1 changes will still require recyclables exporters to pay application fees for the assessment of new licenses, license variations, license renewables, and exemptions.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) provided an update on Wednesday saying the application fee for a license was $19,090 while a license variation or renewal would cost $13,540.

Australian Council of Recycling chief executive Suzanne Toumbourou said she was informed of the changes today but welcomed the decision to scrap the levy.

“What this means is that we are part way there in terms of meeting the priorities of the sector in relation to export regulation,” she said. “The dropping of the levy per tonne on the export of recycled commodities was the right thing to do.”

“But there is still a licence fee required, an exemption fee, a variation fee, and a license extension fee. Those fees are being applied as of July 1,” Ms Toumbourou said. “Depending on the scale of your operation and volumes exported, they would remain an inhibitor to the trade of recycled commodities internationally.”

National Waste and ­Recycling Industry Council, Rick Ralph, told The Australian that the announcement was welcomed but the “core regulatory issues remain in terms of export permitting and trading commodities.”

“Core details of regulation pending remain unresolved and overkill to a problem that does not exist,” he said

Veolia welcomed the backflip, with Australia and New Zealand chief executive Richard Kirkman saying that taxes could “hamper progress.”

“We need to ensure the viability of the waste sector hitting current national targets,” he said. “It’s important to encourage stronger action on recycling.”

In March 2020, all levels of government agreed the export of waste glass, plastic, tyres and paper should be regulated by the government. The idea was to prevent these materials from being dumped overseas and reduce harm to the environment and human health.

The Morrison government passed the Recycling and Waste Reduction bill later that year, introducing a licensing and declaration scheme for waste exporters with licenses to last up to three years.

But, after taking government, Labor delayed the cost recovery model for the waste export licensing scheme from July 2023 to July 2024 after receiving strong feedback from the industry. It has now been delayed again.

Opposition spokesman for the environment, Jonno Duniam, said the industry was blindsided by news Labor would scrap its waste export levy.

“A tax, levy, and license fee are the same thing – a disincentive for the industry to recycle paper and cardboard in the way that they know best,” Senator Duniam said. “Tanya Plibersek needs to do more than gaslight industry with a supposed good news story but secretly plan to clip honest businesses with thousands of dollars in extra costs through an impending license fee.”

“The tokenistic consultation by Minister Plibersek has left a communication void with industry which is leading to kneejerk ideas that don’t hit the mark. She needs to actually listen to what stakeholders are saying.”

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