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Issue 5: Talking trash

From the editorAs a general rule, one should avoid Alan Jones. But it was hard to ignore him last wee


August 18 · Issue #5 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
As a general rule, one should avoid Alan Jones. But it was hard to ignore him last week when he encouraged Scott Morrison to assault New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, something he later apologised for after a public backlash.
Yet lost in the hullabaloo was that during his Ardern rant Jones made a series of false and misleading claims about climate change and renewable energy, something he has plenty of form on. Where was the outrage about that?
Of course we should be calling people out for loathsome misogyny, but “Alan Jones says something awful” stories are almost as predictable as the tides. By allowing ourselves to be distracted by the Jones spectacle are we giving him a free pass on his relentless climate misinformation campaign?
Maybe the problem is that Jones just isn’t reading the right things. Someone subscribe him to SundayFocus!
Enjoy the issue.
Guy Mosel, Editor

Talking trash in the age of overconsumption
Credit: Javardh | Unsplash
Credit: Javardh | Unsplash
In July 2017 China, until then the world’s largest importer of trash, announced it would no longer accept 24 types of solid waste from foreign countries.
The decision caused chaos in international recycling markets. 
The following month a damning Four Corners investigation revealed that with commodity prices for recycled glass and plastic collapsing, waste companies were not only exploiting legislative gaps by moving waste interstate to avoid paying landfill fees, but also engaging in illegal dumping and burning. Worse still, some regulatory bodies tasked with policing illegal dumping were corrupt.
Over the next two years the crisis deepened, with Malaysia banning plastic waste imports and Indonesia sending back to Australia paper waste shipments contaminated with toxic rubbish. As recycling costs increased, councils began abandoning recycling programs. Across the country, warehouses swelled with hazardous waste.
But nothing is more likely to make this federal government drag its heels than a protracted crisis.
Climate change, yawning inequality, health costs, infrastructure, housing affordability – if it’s a pressing issue requiring urgent action you can be sure they’ll do nothing about it. (But watch how fast they’ll move to protect the church’s right to discriminate against LGBTQI people!)
Why the inaction? Because fixing problems like these requires systemic overhaul, which demands an acknowledgement, even tacitly, that the profiteering of the neoliberal era – in this case entrusting the ethical handling of humanity’s toxic byproducts to a private sector rife with crime and bad actors – has left the majority of people, and the planet, far worse off.
In other words, they would need to admit that the economic philosophy that beats at the very heart of the modern conservative movement is an unmitigated failure. And admitting that means political surrender and electoral death.
No time to waste
As the crisis grew, one of Australia’s biggest recyclers, SKM, whose waste stockpile in north Melbourne went up in flames in 2017, shut its doors, leaving more than 30 Victorian councils in the lurch.  
With a beloved member of the family of Australian job creators under threat, Scott Morrison finally leapt into action, agreeing with state and territory leaders at the COAG meeting in Cairns earlier this month to build “Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities” and “maximise the capability of our waste management and recycling sector”. He backed that up with $20 million in grants.
Fine words, but also kind of beside the point.
The problem is not our recycling and waste management sector per se. It’s not commodity prices or the difficult Chinese. It’s the vast quantities of waste we produce in the first place.
That Four Corners report highlighted not only the failings of the recycling industry, but just how much of the byproduct of our insatiable overconsumption has been hidden from us, packed into crates and shipped to countries too poor to say no.
Australia produced 67 million tons of waste in 2016-17, or 2700 kg per person. OECD countries – rich countries, in other words – produce almost half of the world’s municipal solid waste, and Australia is one of the worst offenders in that lot.
And according to a measure of resource consumption by Earth Overshoot Day, Australia this year exhausted its theoretical annual allocation of global resources on March 31.
In other words, if everyone on the planet consumed ecological resources at the rate Australians do, we’d need four Earths.
And that’s a problem even the most skilfully crafted COAG statement is unlikely to fix.
A dead albatross chick with plastic in its stomach
A dead albatross chick with plastic in its stomach
Read more
For a comprehensive summary of the current state of our recycling industry and what our options are this Debbie Cuthbertson deep-dive in The Age is hard to go past.
And this report in The Intercept is a damning exposé of Big Plastic and how the industry uses its power to manipulate public opinion and quash plastic-reduction legislation.
Do more
Support civil society organisations and activist groups that organise mass responses and lobby governments for change. The Boomerang Alliance is an anti-plastics and zero-waste group, while Greenpeace also has a plastics campaign.
And while we support individuals making ecologically responsible consumption and recycling choices (this guide to household waste reduction is handy), it’s important to note that the plastics catastrophe is almost exclusively the fault of corporate-driven consumerism and overproduction. See the growing Ooshie landfill disaster for evidence of that.
In other news...
Selling the family silver Michaels Sainsbury and West reveal which Liberal Party mates, former MPs and big four consulting firms are lining up for a shot at the billion-dollar privatisation of our visa system.
Bombs over Tehran As the US inches closer to war with Iran, Mungo MacCallum explores Scott Morrison’s apparent eagerness for Australia to join the fight.
The “r” word Near-record low wage growth continues [$] with the release on Wednesday of the latest wage price index statistics. With retail in a black hole and the government obsessed with its budget surplus a recession looms.
The rights stuff Former Australian Human Rights Commission president and News Corp punching bag Gillian Triggs has renewed calls for a national human rights charter, saying that recent “inhumane and cruel” laws passed by parliament are “inconsistent with Australian law and … with our international legal obligations”.
Atomic sour Following on from last week’s issue, it turns out that those very smart people at The Saturday Paper agree with our take on nuclear energy.
Black rock down John Quiggin in The Conversation reports that insurers around the world are refusing to insure thermal coal projects, worried that fossil fuel companies will be sued for climate-related damage.
Feeling the Bern US politics may not interest you, but this interview between Joe Rogan, ostensibly a conservative, and democratic socialist and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is worth a watch. If nothing else it shows what principled, passionate campaigning looks like.
Coming up this week
Canberra Writers Festival For those sick of politics, the Canberra Writers Festival is in the nation’s capital with a dose of culture and literature (and a bit of politics. It is Canberra after all.)
Faunal extinction inquiry There will be two public hearings as part of the senate inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis: on Tuesday in Sydney; and in Canberra on Friday.
The Inescapable Politics of Climate Change
The Real Story Of 2016
For your bookshelf
A Foodie's Guide to Capitalism by Eric Holt-Gimenez
Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman
Dead Right by Richard Denniss
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