Plibersek threatens circularity laws

Canberra warns if businesses don't step up it will revise legislation surrounding product stewardship and the circular economy to boost investor confidence.

But environment minister Tanya Plibersek concedes that sometimes threats are as effective as action.

The comments were made at the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence's Australian Product Stewardship Forum, where panelists discussed waste and responsibility across the product lifecycle.

The Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 will undergo a five-year review at the end of this year - but the minister said the law may not be the last.

"Get on board or we will regulate," Plibersek warned.

"It's one thing to set targets... actually delivering on those targets is really important.

"Targets haven't had the backup of investment, and... new regulation. And without those two additional levers the targets on their own have not been successful."

Industries have told Canberra they are happy to be regulated, Plibersek said, but she concedes that the threat of regulation is often the best tool, and that this threat may drive the private sector towards an industry-led circular economy scheme.

"Regulation can unlock private investment," Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence director John Gertsakis commented.

Labor has earmarked $1 billion towards national recycling infrastructure as part of the Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) which is hoped to crowd in private investment.

The National Reconstruction Fund also earmarks an additional $15 bn of which a large part is tipped for circularity.

The Circular Economy Ministerial Advisory Group released its first interim report in April. It recommended a Productivity Commission Inquiry into resource efficiency, a National Circular Economy Framework, a national 'recycled content first' policy, and sector-based circular economy targets.

There is also a new report out from CSIRO on developing circular economy standards for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation region.

Canberra is setting up Environment Information Australia to streamline education for the private sector.

The resource will provide a "national accounting" system of environmental impact in Australia and be considered one of the measures of success for the nation - alongside the government's Measuring What Matters, the first national wellbeing framework.

"GDP is a classic measure of economic activity that takes no account of resource depletion or environmental impacts," Plibersek said. "Economic activity is a very clumsy measure of standard of living."

Read more: Product Stewardship Centre of ExcellenceTanya PlibersekEnvironment Information AustraliaAustralian Product Stewardship ForumCSIROJohn GertsakisNational Reconstruction FundProductivity Commission InquiryWaste Reduction Act