Did you know that the era of the disposable product has come at a huge price?
For many decades used products and materials were just dumped on land and in the ocean, and some were burnt. It was only after significant community concern began to make clean air and water, and then recycling a priority, that landfilling became unpopular and incinerators were shut. And as our standard of living increased and we consumed more things, we began to waste an enormous amount of resources as well as the energy used to mine and manufacture them. To know more, check out the “History of Waste” at WasteNot.
Today every Australian produces about 2 tonnes of waste a year (from our total economic activity) including packaging, food, construction, manufacturing. Only about half is recycled. Which means the rest ends up wasted, and contaminating the environment.
Yet some governments want to build more landfills. Queensland for example has seen imports of waste from NSW to its landfills. It is cheaper for the waste generators and collectors to send it there than recycle it. This is appalling.
We want all states to take action to massively reduce this wasteful dumping. Recently Asian countries have rejected our waste exports as being too contaminated for recycling and causing pollution. Australia will be banning such exports in coming years. We are campaigning for more investment in reuse and recycling in Australia, and to encourage corporate and government preference for recycled products. Mandatory product stewardship for packaging will be important - with redesign of packaging so it is recyclable and high targets for recycled content.
We want some items like e-waste banned from going into landfill. And we believe high landfill levies imposed at the dump gate will make sure landfilling cannot out-compete recycling.
Naturally recycling costs more as the waste has to be separated, necessitating new and expensive technology. Then it has to be reused to make new products. But the environmental, employment and resource conservation benefits are well worth it.
Incineration making a comeback?
A new threat to recycling is on the horizon however, and it’s called “waste to energy”. It is not recycling, just a one-off energy supplement. Nor is it part of the 'çircular economy'. PET plastic can be recycled indefinitely, but it can only be used for energy once. While the old incinerator technology with its gross air pollution is no longer allowed, major companies are now pushing for ‘modern’ waste to energy plants. They may have better emission controls, but the use of mixed and contaminated municipal waste means there is a real risk of toxic pollution spikes affecting local communities.
Another very concerning issue is that these facilities require long term waste contracts and as a result they lock in poor recycling practices to obtain their resource. These contracts will prevent improved resource recovery in the future. Unfortunately the City of Sydney Council is embracing this approach (ironic given its good environmental and sustainability record), and recently a massive plan to burn 500,000 to one million tonnes of ‘waste’ a year has been proposed for the Sydney metropolitan region. Waste to energy plants have also opened in Western Australia, and industry is pushing for installations across Australia.
It is not waste. It is a resource!
Check out our recent submissions to Qld on incineration and Victoria advocating new circular economy policies.