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Waste Management in Australia

Waste Management Australia

Australian waste management systems match its unique global economic position. 

As a relatively modern and dynamic nation, Australia produces a great deal of both business and household waste. In fact, according to a 2018 National Waste Report, Australia “produces more waste than the average Western country.”

This is both alarming and understandable, given the makeup of the country’s industries. As a major producer of manufacturing goods like steel and industrial waste, Australia is expected to exceed that of other non-steel producing Western countries. 

Many of them, in fact, import goods due to a move away from industrialisation in their economies. 

It’s worth examining waste management. Australia does have effective waste management systems in place that work in tandem with both government and businesses.

Waste management in Australia

Waste management in Australia involves attending to produced waste and implementing measures to reduce it.

The waste management industry works to address all types of waste. It deals with solid waste, electronic (e waste), hazardous waste, garden waste, and organic waste. Solid waste and liquid waste are two of the most common forms.

As a developed country, the capacity for waste production needs to match Australian waste management systems.

Waste management industries are involved in all sectors of the economy. Australia’s large construction industry, for instance, has a world-class infrastructure, with an equally significant waste management aspect.

Australian Recycling infrastructure continues to be a world leader. This is part of a global effort to reduce the amount of waste that is left to rot in landfills. Plastic recycling is a typical example.

In fact, the removal of problematic and unnecessary plastics is part of Australian waste management efforts, as stipulated by the Australian government

Waste management involves increasing product recycling capacity. Recyclable plastic is better because it can be reused, therefore lessening the effects of climate change.

This speaks to the overall efforts of resource recovery. New resources should consider their afterlife as part of sustainable management methods. This is part of waste reduction efforts.

However, landfills and dumpsites still litter – excuse the pun –  most communities. It is a type of waste management infrastructure that services the end life of products. That being said, investment needs to be made in more sustainable practices of creation so that more recyclable products are created.

How does Australia manage their waste?

Approximately 26% of waste in Australia gets managed directly or through contractual agreements by the 537 local councils. If local governments fail to collect waste, they are fined per ton and per type of waste. 

Most local governments have communication waste education initiatives that teach their citizens about illegal dumping, like the City of Moreton Bay’s “Waste Education and Community Engagement Plan.” 

illegal dumping, abandonment, contamination

Many investments have been made to improve the country’s recycling infrastructure through the Australian Government Recycling Modernisation Fund.

The government spends approximately $3.5 billion on waste management systems each year. This section has seen a steady increase in funding and profits over the last decade.

What is the problem with waste management in Australia?

Many of the faults of Australia’s waste management systems have to do with the product of goods that are difficult to recycle, like certain plastics.

According to Clean Up Australia, their plastic waste production reaches 2.5 million tonnes each year. Worse, “only 13% of the plastic is recovered and 84% is sent to the landfill.”

This is a systemic fault with the Australian waste management system. 

Why? Because systemic waste management functions best when a decreased waste output is the goal from the beginning. 

Why good waste management is not just about disposal

Waste management streams attempt to encourage reuse, not obsoleteness. Even hazardous waste can be recovered.

Australia’s national strategy for waste management considers this. One method of dealing with this is through product stewardship, an environmental management strategy in which “whoever designs, produces, sells, or uses a product takes responsibility for minimising the product’s environmental impact throughout all stages of the product’s life cycle, including end-of-life management.”

Good waste management then creates a circular economy. When a product is made, its final destination is considered. Emphasis is on reuse, not destruction. 

An example of this is how waste plastic can be recycled into plastic bags. 

This illustrates that managing waste effectively is more than just disposing of it all. In fact, increasing plastic recycling is a goal of Waste Management Australia’s council.

Australia’s Biggest Waste Producer

Despite the high levels of plastic waste, the most significant contributor to Australia’s waste is building and demolition materials waste. Its figure sits at 75.8 million tonnes. 

Given the economy’s reliance on mining, building, and manufacturing, this is to be expected. The issue, however, is that other similarly ‘Western’ countries have been decreasing their waste in these sectors. 

Australia’s Recycling Figures

The extent to which Australia recycles reflects the country’s interest in creating a clean planet for future generations. It remains at 60%.

The recycling sector contributes $5.1 billion in industry value to the Australian economy.

bundle, jute rope, newspaper

High tonnage of metals, glass, and other building materials are some of the highest waste recycled. This is in line with what the country’s biggest waste producers are, so it is not much of a surprise. 

While the stagnation in the recycling rate might suggest that more can be done, it should be remembered that the world average for recycling sits at less than 20%. Much of this is found in overflowing landfills or in pollution-causing sites. 

Australian waste management companies boast some of the most impressive recycling infrastructure in the world. They’ve also helped to make recycling a common practice, with recycled materials, like plastic and paper, being appropriately reused.

Waste Management in Australia Compared to the rest of the world

Australia’s waste management systems align with those of other Western countries, even if there is a lag in how it can be scaled. It is a national framework that considers global environmental standards, with ambitious targets to decrease the total amount of waste produced.

Many of the issues that waste management services face are systemic due to the economy’s reliance on certain workplace practices. 

Ultimately, it is a sector with high-level infrastructure, good government investment and quality services. Currently, the Australian government is investing $250 million in recycling infrastructure. 

Food Waste in Australia

In Australia, over 90% of household food waste ends up in a landfill. The rotting organic waste converts into a gaseous form, which contributes to climate change by becoming a greenhouse gas.

Household waste contributes to the majority of food waste in the country.

Food packaging is known for unnecessary plastics, which are often part of the food waste that people dispose of in a landfill.

Waste and Resource recovery

Resource recovery involves separating waste materials so that some can be recycled and others can be used as alternative energy.

Resource recovery aims to minimise the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It is an integral part of effective waste management.

Waste plastic recycling is the most common form of resource recovery. Recycled content can be reused and helps curb the environmental damage done on landfill sites.

National waste policy

Australia’s National Waste Policy serves as a comprehensive framework for waste management and resource recovery across the country.

waste management, scrapyard, junkyard

The policy is anchored in five fundamental principles that guide waste management toward a circular economy:

  1. Avoid Waste: Encouraging practices that minimise waste generation, such as reducing consumption, reusing materials, and designing products with longevity in mind.
  2. Improve Resource Recovery: Focusing on efficient collection, sorting, and recycling processes to maximise the recovery of valuable resources from waste streams.
  3. Increase Use of Recycled Material: Promoting the adoption of recycled materials in manufacturing and construction, thereby reducing reliance on virgin resources.
  4. Better Manage Material Flows: Ensuring that waste management practices benefit human health, the environment, and the economy by optimising material flows.

The 2019 National Waste Action Plan complements the policy by driving implementation through ambitious targets. Here is a quick recap of what the action plan states:

  • Regulate Waste Exports: Addressing the global waste trade by regulating exports.
  • Reduce Total Waste Generated: Aiming for a 10% reduction per person by 2030.
  • Recover 80% of All Waste: Enhancing resource recovery efforts.
  • Increase Recycled Content Use: Encouraging governments and industries to incorporate more recycled materials.
  • Phase Out Problematic Plastics: Targeting a reduction by 2025.
  • Reduce Organic Waste to Landfill: Halving organic waste sent to landfill by 2030.

Can Australia recycle more?

A country should want to recycle more. Not only will it decrease the burden of overflowing landfills, but it will lessen the effects of climate change.

Recycling as a form of waste management is just a sustainable and effective way to dispose of waste.

And the Australian government wants to increase its recycling rate. The National Waste Policy stipulates that by 2030, 80% of all waste produced should be recyclable. This means 80% of both household and commercial waste will be recycled.