Industry groups have been told of provisions that include a “fit and proper person” test for those who want to export waste, along with powers for federal authorities to search companies if they flout orders to suspend exports.
“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.
Exports of mixed glass will be halted from January 1, forcing waste companies to seek licenses to gain the right to export processed glass sorted by colour and material.
Exports of unprocessed plastic will be stopped from July 1 next year after concerns that “recyclers” were shipping mixed plastics with food attached and with no plan other than to dump the material in overseas landfill.
The export of tyres will be halted on December 1 unless companies gain licenses to ship the material in “crumbed” and processed form for re-use.
The controls respond to a policy shift in China to turn away shipments of waste product, a move that led Prime Minister Scott Morrison to reach an agreement with states and territories in March to process waste at home.
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 in August, 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.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government had “finally” chosen to act but should back the tougher measures in a Greens bill already before Parliament.
“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,” she said.
But 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.”
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.
“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,” said the council’s chief executive, Rose Read.
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.
Ewaste Watch Institute director John Gertsakis said he was “heartened” by the government plan and wanted it to make sure all electrical products were covered by the end of 2021.
“The simplistic definition of product stewardship is ‘you made it, you take it back’,” Mr Gertsakis said.
“The good thing is the government is being much clearer that companies must take responsibility.”
Mr Gertsakis said the next step should be to change product design rather than only asking companies to take back their products.
“Design must be central to solving the waste problem because prevention is better than a cure,” he said.
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David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.