You are here
Australia recycles to get more from resources
Australia Day, yesterday, was devoted to its flood victims as the country was wracked by a flood crisis that began in November, killing 35 people, damaging up to 30,000 homes and businesses. In a Sunday Guardian interview with Ira Mathur, Australian High Commissioner Philip Kentwell said his government takes environmental management very seriously: “Our arid flat lands and desert will be severely impacted by climate change. The prospects for Australia are horrifying. We already suffer from fires, droughts and flooding. Our government is actively working to minimise the greenhouse gases impact, and protect our environment through efficient use of resources, and reduction in emissions and waste including reuse and recycling.” In this first of a two-part guest column Kentwell tells why and how Australians recycle.
Australia through the 18th and much of the 19th century had little regulation of waste disposal. Wastes were dumped in public places or near houses, creating public health problems of odour and disease. Regulation of waste disposal through the late 19th and early 20th century in Australia was mainly about these public health issues, with some recycling of valuable or reusable materials also taking place. As we understood more about the need to protect the environment from pollution, practices like backyard incineration of wastes were phased out, and household collections of waste and recycling improved. In recent times, as well as protecting the health of people and the environment, Australia has embraced recycling as a way to get more out of our resources.
Recycling has become an issue of sustainability. In response to domestic and international environmental concerns, Australia first developed a comprehensive, national approach to waste and recycling in 1992. This committed Australia to improving the efficiency with which resources are used, reducing the impact on the environment of waste disposal, and improving the management of hazardous wastes (including avoiding their generation and addressing clean-up issues). At the national level, Australia has implemented a number of international instruments on hazardous wastes and substances, including the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.
In Australia, local government provides or manages most collection of waste and recycling, particularly from households. Some State Governments support recycling through levies on waste disposed of in landfill.
These levies make landfill more expensive than recycling. The revenue from those levies can also support the provision of recycling facilities and services, as well as education initiatives. Our national government also has a role in waste and recycling, with issues such as the export of hazardous waste. Why do Australians recycle? Partly this is because Australian governments have encouraged active community programmes such as Keep Australia Beautiful and Cleanup Australia which started locally, later becoming national programmes.
These have raised awareness of the impact of waste on the Australian environment and encouraged millions of Australians to participate in local programmes. Businesses have also established recycling facilities. Some industry associations have developed voluntary product stewardship programmes to increase the recovery and recycling of specific products. Landfills and transfer stations are also being transformed into “resource recovery centres” which provide drop-off facilities for a wide range of recyclable materials such as garden organics, timber, concrete, batteries, gas bottles, tyres and whitegoods.
So what are the results of this effort? Australia recycled 52 per cent of the waste it generated in 2006-07. Of the 43.8 million tonnes of waste generated in that year, 38 per cent came from construction and demolition, 33 per cent was commercial and industrial waste, and 29 per cent came from households. In per person terms, Australians produced 2080 kilogrammes of waste, recycled 1080 kilogrammes of that, and sent the remaining 1000 kilogrammes to landfill. Reducing that amount of waste to landfill remains a challenge, and one that recycling and reuse will help us meet. But growth in waste generation, including problem wastes like electronic equipment, or wastes that produce greenhouse gas emissions such as food wastes, is our most significant waste challenge.
Waste generation in Australia grew by 31 per cent between 2003 and 2007. If this growth continues to happen, and happen faster than our population grows, recycling by itself will not be enough. Recognising this challenge, Australia developed a new national policy on waste and recycling which was launched in November 2009. The National Waste Policy: Less Waste, More Resources will drive further improvement in Australia’s management of waste and recycling over the next ten years. This national approach will include supporting further expansion of opportunities to recycle and recover resources, but also help address the challenge of reducing our generation of waste.
Continues next week
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.