Australia's recycling crisis or amazing opportunity? - Part 3 – Medium to long term options

May 09, 2018

Australia's recycling crisis or amazing opportunity? - Part 3

All reports detailing Australia’s major medium to long-term options appear to fall under a couple of categories.

Increasing the quality of our recycling to enable continued export to China

One option is changing patterns of behaviour to discourage unnecessary landfill and increase recycling (while reducing recycling contamination). If China wants less contamination, let’s all work together to recycle ‘properly’ and ensure we put the right stuff in the right bin.

Some councils are taking the step of monitoring the contents of residents’ bins. They are either sending employees to physically inspect bins, or fitting garbage trucks with cameras to check what’s dumped into their trays. Some parts of Perth (WA) are trialling clear bins to encourage homeowners to reflect on what they’re putting in them.

If we all take ownership and responsibility for our recycling content (quantity and quality), composting food waste and thereby reducing our general rubbish, – we could, as a country, be extremely effective and efficient in this area.

Investing in Australian recycling markets and facilities

As there is no coherent national database of facilities, we can only guess at how much recycling is processed in Australia. But, according to a 2011 Government report, Australia generates roughly 50 million tonnes of waste a year, around 50-60% of which is recycled.

However, we do know that Australia doesn’t currently have the capacity to handle the volume of recyclable waste we produce.

The Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) has been lobbying for a A$150 million action plan to invest in infrastructure and improvements in recycling quality, and for governments to buy recycled products. Gayle Sloan, the chief executive of the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA); ‘The real opportunity in Australia is to create that circular economy…and that's what China is moving towards, where they're saying we produce that material, we actually want to recycle that material and reuse it back in the economy’.

South Australian data suggest that 25,000 jobs could be created if we process recycling onshore.

Others are touting investment in waste-to-energy approaches (incineration) as per the European model.  (studies suggest that this is actually less useful in terms of environmental impact than recycling).

In all cases, we must be careful of the direction we take – once facilities are built, they need to be kept running. If we change our minds because we find a ‘better’ way down the track, it’s not easy to change course and political arguments ensue.

Thank you to Government News for the photo.