9 July 2018

Image of landfill

China’s national sword policy to ban contaminated recyclable waste has exposed the fundamental flaws in Australia’s approach to waste management, which for too long has relied on the existence of cheap, overseas labour to process our low-quality mixed recycling. Now that the convenient solution of exporting waste is no longer available, Australia must confront the reality of the waste we generate every day.

Many in the waste management industry have been calling on the government to support onshore waste processing facilities and create local markets for recycled material. Others have sought to promote energy from waste, an environmentally damaging and short-sighted solution that does not address the root cause of the issue. While improved recycling practices may be the solution in the short term, the best long-term solution for society, the environment and the economy is to prioritise waste avoidance, reduce consumption of disposable items, and support the reuse and repair of existing items. The current crisis gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accelerate the transition towards a top end of hierarchy approach to waste management,  an approach which has been tested and proven by many for decades. The Zero Waste Network is calling upon the Australian Government to act now to refine and adopt strategies to prioritise waste avoidance, reduction, reuse and repair. By doing so, Australia has an opportunity to create thousands of extra ‘green’ jobs, divert valuable materials from landfill, and save millions of dollars in waste management fees. This approach will also reduce our reliance on international commodity markets and help to stem the tide of illegal dumping and litter in communities.

Local, State and Federal governments must work together, articulate a vision for a sustainable Australia, and apply the necessary political and economic leverage to shift Australia towards a truly circular economy. The Zero Waste Network is calling upon the Federal Government to take the lead on this pressing issue, and to take the following actions:

Incentivise reuse and repair  

  • Reduce the regulatory burden on reuse and repair enterprises by changing the mandatory product safety guidelines, with exemptions for tested and inspected reused goods. Example: the European Economic Area single market CE marking scheme.[1]
  • Design national product stewardship schemes to prioritise reuse and repair, rather than recycling.
  • Provide tax breaks for domestic repair and refurbishment enterprises, including GST exemption for repaired goods and the ability to deduct repair-related costs from income taxes. Example: tax breaks for repair in Sweden.[2]
  • Ensure that Local, State and Federal Government grants are available for the funding of reuse and repair programs, prioritising waste avoidance over waste management.


Use financial and policy levers to phase out cheap, disposable products

  • Introduce mandatory life-cycle ratings for all local and imported household items; giving consumers a reasonable expectation of how long products will last under normal usage conditions.
  • Improve the import-taxation system; with consideration of product life-cycle, reparability, and end-of-life disposal solutions through relevant taxes.
  • Introduce right-to-repair legislation; requiring manufacturers to provide access to manuals and spare parts. Example: Right to repair legislation proposed by New York state in 2017.[3]
  • Require manufacturers and importers to announce how long spare parts for new products will be available, and amend existing consumer repair guarantees to quantify the ‘reasonable’ period for free repairs of new products. Example: legislation adopted by France, Germany and Norway.[4]


The current approach to recycling relies on a steady supply of disposable products, usually single-use consumer items. Until we take serious steps to address the production and consumption of these products, the threat of another crisis will remain. Australia now has an opportunity to re-focus its priorities in waste management, promoting avoidance, reuse and repair as first steps in the waste hierarchy.


For more information, contact:

Matthew Allen
Executive Director, Zero Waste Network Australia  
0432 538 827

The Zero Waste Network represents social enterprises and not-for-profits in the reuse, repair and recycling industry across Australia – for a full list of members, see www.zerowastenetwork.org.au/members.