Comment: Paying extra to prop up Australian industry

Maitland City Council should be commended for their efforts to address the nation-wide crisis of excess glass waste.

For those who missed it, Maitland Council voted last week in favour of lobbying the state and federal governments to act on the failure of glass recycling in Australia. 

It’s a significant move given that the recycling industry is on the verge of collapse in Australia.

This stems from Aussie companies purchasing glass from overseas, a cheaper option than glass recycled internally. 

Cheaper glass has a knock-on effect all the way to the supermarket, with Hunter Resource Recovery CEO Roger Lewis summing it up by saying that “mums and dads want affordable groceries”. 

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However, it’s creating man-made mountains of waste glass around our country. 

Maitland, Singleton, Cessnock and Lake Macquarie together produce about 18,000 tonnes of waste glass a year. That’s 50 tonnes a day.

The vast majority of this is currently ending up in storage in giant sheds in Victoria, while the waste management companies who put it there wait for an economic, and environmentally friendly, solution. 

Council’s call to the higher levels of government includes a request to consider the implications of the continued importation of foreign glass. 

If the federal government were to take the drastic step of clamping down on that, several things could happen. 

Feasibly, the demand for recycled glass in Australia would rise from the dead overnight.

If we can’t bring any in, then we need to reuse what we already have. 

Great news; no glass would be forced into landfill.

However, the nature of knock-on effects is that if they’re not going one way, they’ll go the other way. What that means is the cost of propping up our recycling industry will come home to roost at shopping time.

The price of using recycled glass will likely result in a bump to the price of beer bottles, pasta jars and so on. We’re spending less than we ever have on groceries (as a percentage of our total wage). A change in import laws could change how much we spend at the shops each week. 

But it’s a question Australians need to ask themselves: to prop up national industries, are you willing to pay more? 

Lachlan Leeming is a journalist at Fairfax Media.