Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC Breakfast, Brisbane

6 July 2020

NEIL BREEN:
Australia is about to change the way it deals with rubbish. Half of our waste has typically been sent overseas, if you can believe that, mainly to South East Asia. In 2018 though, China, Australia's major export destination for waste, announced a crackdown. Since then, India, Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand have either announced or foreshadowed similar restrictions. It's forced the Federal Government to find a fix to our waste problem. Now it's hoped that a new $190 million recycling fund being announced today will be that solution.

On the line is the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction, he's also the Federal Member for Brisbane, Trevor Evans. How are you Trevor?

TREVOR EVANS:
Good morning Neil. I'm great.

NEIL BREEN:
That's good. Tell us about this initiative.

TREVOR EVANS:
Yeah. Thanks Neil. So, today, very excitingly is the day that recycling here in Australia is getting turbo-charged. You're right, today's announcement by the Federal Government are centred on a new fund that will help to build new recycling facilities across every single state and territory in Australia, and it means that total funding on the table for recycling investments now tops $1 billion. So, with this fund, we want to invest in things like plastic sorting and processing plants, processing facilities for things like tyres and glass, and new fibre industry facilities for things like paper and cardboard. We estimate that these investments will support up to 10,000 new jobs across the country and very pleasingly, I think we're likely to see many of these jobs being created in exactly the parts of the country we need to see them the most - that's in regional Australia and the outer suburbs. And I guess for the environment, we believe that we can divert about 10 million tonnes of waste, keeping it out of landfill, stopping it from being dumped, and recover it as a valuable resource that can be turned into the next generation of products. 

And so, you're right, the genesis of these announcements is that we saw so many reasons for Australians in previous years to lose confidence in how recycling was actually occurring. Australians, I think, were devastated to see how much of our waste was being shipped overseas - sometimes with disastrous environmental consequences. And I think many Australians, including locals in Ipswich, in recent years were horrified to see that their recycling bins were being entered into landfill right alongside their general rubbish. So this is about re-empowering Australians, I guess, as they build their confidence and so they know that when they make those little decisions, when they do the right thing and put the right things in their recycling bins, those products are going to be recovered. They're going to be recycled. They're going to support jobs and they're going to create great new products.

NEIL BREEN:
Yeah because people go to a lot of effort. Like, people really go to a lot of effort to recycle things. They're disappointed when those things happen. Does this mean we're going to have some new super dumps, Assistant Minister? What does it mean?

TREVOR EVANS:
Well actually, this is likely to mean that the pressure on landfill diminishes over time and the need for Australia to keep opening up new landfills will decrease. We think, in total, about 10 million tonnes of waste can be diverted away from landfill and be turned into valuable commodities, which can be traded, which can be value-added and which will support jobs. Overall, we're hoping, over the 10 years to 2030, to reduce the amount of rubbish that's not being recovered down to about 20 per cent of total rubbish streams, total waste streams.

NEIL BREEN:
So what's happening in the seat of Brisbane?

TREVOR EVANS:
Well, the people of Brisbane are pretty well served by the Brisbane City Council in terms of their rubbish collection. I've got to say, as I travel around the country and I see the different outcomes that are being achieved by different councils in different states, Brisbane has pretty good results and generally tends to lead the way. But having said that, we're not immune from some of these nationwide and international trends that we're trying to move aside here. Some of Brisbane's plastic wastes have traditionally gone overseas - some of our tyres, some of our paper and cardboard, some of our glass. And so, by building these facilities in Queensland and in other states and territories, the people of Brisbane can have extra confidence that their waste is turning into a resource and not going into landfill as well.

NEIL BREEN:
Okay. Trevor Evans, he's the Federal Member for Brisbane. I lived in the Brisbane electorate for a long time until they changed the boundary and suddenly I was living in the electorate of Griffith. I couldn't believe that when I was living in East Brisbane. I could've been voting for you.

TREVOR EVANS:
I'd have you back in a heartbeat, Neil.

NEIL BREEN:
[Laughs] Well thanks very much. He's the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction. That big $190 million recycling fund, over $1 billion will be spent. Amazing about, though, the stat in that story that really took my attention was how much of our waste was going overseas.