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Despite the crisis, don't lose faith in recycling

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China’s "National Sword" policy, last February, to restrict imports of some recyclables set off a chain reaction that exposed how vulnerable our system is, and should have delivered an important wake-up call to governments. Unfortunately, 12 months on, we are in the midst of another recycling crisis.

The recycling crisis in Victoria has spread to more councils.Credit:Eddie Jim

Victoria’s largest recycler SKM, which receives more than half of the state’s kerbside recycling, has temporarily shut its three materials recovery facilities for safety reasons.

In the immediate short term, a number of councils have been able to divert their recycling to other processing facilities. However, with limited reserve processing capacity at other facilities, land-filling is sadly the only option for many councils. Unsustainable levels of waste generation and market failure are the primary causes.

This crisis runs much deeper than councils’ contractual arrangements. About one third of the councils affected are already party to collaboratively procured contracts developed in partnership with Victorian government agencies.

Households should not lose faith in recycling. We want communities to continue recycling but to also think carefully about consumption habits. As consumers, we have a tendency to view recycling as a panacea that can make any level of consumption sustainable. We need to keep the focus........

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