12 July 2019

Owen Espley: “The early visionary days of recycling heralded a different future. Cooperatives sprang up, who had a strong vision for locally sustainable economies. However, as recycling grew, these organisations had to compete on the market with large multinationals. The industry has since been subject to the horrors of neoliberal profit-driven practice.” In Victoria, we have seen this in a series of toxic fires as cost-cutting puts safety of workers and whole communities at risk; nationally, the countries we have used as dumping grounds have begun to reject our waste. We need to treat recycling as an essential public utility, and demand governments take control of the system. Peter Smigel, the head of the Australian Council of Recycling, says there are some promising opportunities: “If the federal government decided tomorrow that the 27km of roads and tunnels required for Snowy Hydro 2.0 was to be built out of recycled products you wouldn’t have an export problem.” That might work for some types of plastic, but other waste is not so easily dealt with — but one thing’s for sure, outsourcing it to criminal gangs is not a sustainable solution.