CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian government leaders on Friday agreed to set a timetable for banning exports of waste plastic, which is now shipped to regional neighbors including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Federal, state and territory leaders agreed at a meeting at the Great Barrier Reef city of Cairns to task their environment ministers with setting a timetable to end the cross-border disposal of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires. Waste disposal has become an increasingly pressing problem since 2017 when China, previously its main destination, barred imports of almost all foreign plastic waste.
Australian leaders agreed their strategy must seek to reduce waste, especially plastics, decrease the amount of waste going to landfill and maximize the capability of Australia's waste management and recycling sector to collect, recycle, reuse, convert and recover waste, the meeting's communique said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said only 12% of waste that Australians place in recycling bins was recycled.
"There will be no exports of plastics and paper and glass to other countries where it runs the risk of ending up floating around in our oceans whether off the Great Barrier Reef — which we know there's strong evidence of that — or anywhere else," Morrison said.
Morrison said he wanted the export ban implemented as soon as practicable and did not expect the change to take years.
Australia spends 2.8 billion Australian dollars ($1.9 billion) a year exporting 4.5 million metric tons (5 million US tons) of recyclable waste, 80% of which is shipped to Asian ports.
Environmentalists have protested outside the Australian consulate in the Indonesia city of Surabaya against tons of Australian waste plastic and paper that they say is shipped to Indonesia, burnt and dumped in waterways.