At Zero Impact issues regarding waste and landfill are constantly at the forefront of our minds. We decided to give you an overall picture of the landfill waste and recycling landscape in Australia.
Some quick facts:
According to a report published in 2018, during 2016-17 Australia generated over 67 Million tonnes of waste. Australian households and local government activities accounted for 13.8 million tonnes, this works out to be roughly 560kg per person per year. 1 tonne of plastic waste gets produced by Australian households every minute.
The good news is that our overall waste output is, in fact, decreasing, with household waste decreasing by 10% over the last decade. Furthermore, recycling rates in Australian households increased by 31%. We currently recycle 51% of our household waste, which is on par, if not slightly better than, the majority of the western world (the mean recycling rate in the EU is 42%)
Throughout Australia, our buying behaviors are causing a big societal shift. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the phasing out of plastic bags being sold in Coles and Woolworths, the replacing of plastic straws with paper straws, a 400% growth in reusable coffee cup sales and a 260% growth in the purchasing of reusable shopping bags.
However, there is some bad news, in January 2018 China stopped accepting our recycled waste, which accounted for the removal of roughly 600,000 tonnes per year. Furthermore, other nations throughout Asia have also followed suit, turning this 6000,000 tonnes into 1.2 million tonnes of unprocessed recycling.
This collapse of the exporting of our recycled waste has led to more than 20 councils within Victoria stockpiling waste in warehouses, or even worse, sending it to landfill. Some of Victoria’s biggest councils are affected, including Melbourne, Port Phillip, Hume, Cardinia, Whittlesea, and Wyndham.
One of the primary factors in our waste no longer being accepted abroad is the quality of our recycling waste in Australia. Planet Ark’s Brad Gray lists the most common recycling mistakes as the throwing in of soft plastics including plastic bags, food packaging or any other “scrunchable” packaging, and the failure to remove small lids from bottles. Gray’s number one piece of advice for recycling “if in doubt, leave it out”.
Recently, the Victorian government provided a $10 Million loan to KordaMentha to repair and maintain the machines sorting waste to prevent it from landfill. We could also see the implementation of an extra kerbside recycling bin as early as 2021, to attempt to improve the quality of our recycling waste.
Hopefully, soon we’ll see infrastructure or facilities put in place to properly deal and process our own recycling and a long term plan for our landfill.
What can we do?
Ensure we’re recycling correctly:
Overall messaging on what we can and can’t recycle can be rather confusing, however, Sustainability Victoria has a great online checklist to help identify what is and isn’t recyclable:
The less contaminated, the quicker it can be processed and recycled.
Encourage responsible business/governance with our buying behaviors:
If we continue to buy recycled products and prioritize it’ll further incentivize governments/businesses to set up more recycling production facilities.
Using reusable products such as KeepCup’s and Beeswax Wraps are a great way to get your waste output down considerably, with minimal effort.
Furthermore, buying products that divert waste from landfill (like our Zero Impact briquettes!) is a great way to further cut down on your individual landfill impact.