APCO Responds to the China Issue

Subject: Recycling, Recoverability
28 February 2018

China’s decision to limit 24 categories of solid waste to protect its environment and public health, which has now come into effect, will undoubtedly have a real and long-term impact on Australia’s recycling and waste systems.


There has been much public discussion around the issue. What has become most apparent, and indeed most alarming, is that the changes could have a negative impact on Australian consumers’ propensity and desire to recycle. This is by far our biggest risk. 

We need to acknowledge that much of the recycled material that was previously shipped to China had high levels of contamination. Whilst this is clearly not the only factor in its decision, we have to concede that it may have had an impact. 

Creating a circular economy and end market for our own recycled materials should be our ultimate goal, and in order to achieve this we need to have clean recycling streams and reduced contamination.

The most recent Australian National Waste Report (2016) showed that in 2014-15 as a nation we produced about 64 million tonnes of waste, and almost 60% of this was recycled . Our recycling system has continued to grow and evolve, and recycling rates in Australia have similarly continued to increase leading to a reduction in waste being sent to landfill . To protect the future of our waste and recycling industries, and indeed to protect the beautiful environment that we are so privileged to enjoy, we must maintain this consumer support for recycling.

APCO is committed to addressing these recycling challenges, and is in a unique position to help both industry and government navigate the issues and find viable solutions. We are already rolling out several initiatives to address these issues.

In the long term, we have launched the APCO Packaging Recycling Label Program, which will directly contribute to delivering a smaller, cleaner packaging waste stream driven through reduced contamination and increased visibility to consumers.

In the medium term, we are reviewing the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines, to help business reduce the environmental impact of their packaging. We see this as an ideal mechanism for industry to introduce a standardised voluntary approach to recycled content in packaging. 

In the short term, we are working with Members to undertake an independent impact assessment to contextualize the “China issue” and develop both quantifiable metrics and a framework for navigating the issue for both industry and government. We are also encouraging all Members to communicate with consumers to reaffirm the importance of recycling in Australia. 

At APCO we believe that recycling is a shared responsibility – with government, industry and consumers all having a key role to play. If we’re to solve the complex local challenges recycling represents, we must all act in a coordinated and collaborative way.