The need for business engagement
Australia differs from Scotland and most other countries in that the primary environmental regulators are state-based agencies, but there are some commonalities.
In a similar manner to Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the New South Wales EPA runs business-government partnership initiatives. In fact, business engagement is embedded in NSW EPA’s vision of a ‘healthy environment, healthy community, healthy business’, as well as in its purpose, to “work with business, government and the community to reduce pollution and waste, in order to mitigate adverse impacts to the environment”. Innovation is one of its core values.
The five-year, $465.7 million Waste Less, Recycle More program aims to “modernise the waste sector in NSW, deliver waste and recycling services to the community and ensure a clean environment”. It does so via a holistic approach, targeting different stakeholders such as councils, individuals and businesses, and providing funding for business recycling, organics collections, market development, managing problem wastes, new waste infrastructure, local councils and programs to tackle illegal dumping and litter. One of these programs is called Circulate. It focuses on industrial ecology, which studies the flow of materials and energy in a system, aiming at minimising waste generation.
Circulate’s purpose is to engage industry in diverting waste from landfill and into productive reuse. To date, according to the NSW EPA website, it has led to 19,550 tonnes of used timber being recycled rather than going to landfill. The starting point of Circulate was to give facilitators a grant to engage industry and achieve a diversion target. As one of the grantees, Edge Environment started by visiting companies and asking them two key questions: what their waste bill was and what they were disposing of.
We have experienced – and been an active player in – how seriously the NSW EPA takes innovation in waste management practices. We found individual companies that were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars sending resources that could be recovered to landfill.
Large companies, with multibillion-dollar turnovers, are focused on their core business. They don’t necessarily recognise the opportunity to remove resources from their waste stream and find other companies to send them to. They are caught in the status quo of the waste industry as they perform on their key business metrics.
The Circulate program introduced motivated facilitators to intervene and demonstrate the business opportunity to decrease industry partner bottom line costs and make a win for the environment. Soon, several companies with the same persistent problems were identified. Issues included corporate uniforms going to landfill, waste timber (pallets and gluts) and building refurbishment waste. Each of these has yielded opportunities to establish industry-wide schemes that will hopefully evolve into product stewardship programs. Examples include used textiles being used to produce partitions, waste pallets becoming MDF boards and building refurbishment waste being reused in schools. The expectation is that this will frame the market for new industry and business to process these resources.
The NSW EPA Waste Less, Recycle More program is a good example of how a government body can address issues as complex as waste management across an entire state, with its various stakeholders and drivers. By taking a holistic approach and employing well-selected facilitators, it is innovating and, hopefully, successfully addressing the whole industry. The NSW EPA programs also report their achievements and savings annually, which is a great way to demonstrate the outcomes and benefits.
Tati Guedes is communications manager for Edge Environment.
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