High cost of recycling leads to more landfill waste

The high cost of recycling in Australia has seen many local councils abandoning recycling schemes and sending all their waste to landfill, an industry white paper says.

Prior to 2018, China was a large importer of recyclable materials, accepting waste from all over the world every year, including Australia.

However, at the beginning of 2018, China began to enforce restrictions on the importation of recycled materials under its National Sword policy, and closed its doors to low-grade waste from countries such as Australia.

According to a white paper from the Waste and Recycling Expo, titled Waste and Recycling: Crunch Time, councils in Victoria and NSW are ditching their recycling schemes, with LGNSW president Linda Scott declaring it “a really urgent, big problem” for the state. There are concerns councils in other states will follow suit, the paper warns.

“The high cost of recycling, following China’s decision to restrict imports of Australian waste, means that many councils are now abandoning their own recycling schemes and sending everything to landfill, adding further pressure on municipal dumps,”  it says.

Statistics compiled by the Department of the Environment and Energy show that Australia generates more waste than the average Western economy, and is also recycling less than average.

Peter Shmigel from the Australian Council of Recycling said Australia should focus on reducing the volume of kerbside waste that is being generated.

“We have to remember that the pressure is only on one aspect or slice of the pie of Australian recycling and that’s kerbside recycling,” he said in the paper. “The other parts of the recycling scene are actually doing fine.”

Public education is needed to change community attitudes towards recycling, the paper says.

Recycling mistakes

According to a survey by environmental not-for-profit Planet A cited in the paper, the most common recycling mistake made by Australians is throwing non-recyclable soft plastics into the recycling bin, with 46 per cent of councils surveyed highlighting this as a problem.

The survey also revealed that residents are making also wrongly putting recyclable waste into plastic bags, with 41 per cent of councils surveyed citing this as problem. All waste in plastic bags is transferred to landfills.

Other common mistakes identified by the survey included throwing food waste into recycling bins as well as nappies, clothing and non-recyclable plastics, such as meat trays and bottle tops.

Planet Ark is campaigning for better recycling labels on household and consumer products to better inform residents on how to recycle products and what to do with different parts of packaging.

Mike McConnell, national product manager for Wastech Engineering in Victoria, is concerned about the lack of support from local government and manufacturers in educating the community on recycling.

“You need to spend a bit of money to put these systems into place to produce materials that can be used in manufacturing,” he said in the paper. “So there’s obviously got to be a payback period.”

Optimism for the future of recycling

However, the paper, which surveyed stakeholders from around the country,  also found signs the waster and recycling sector is planning to invest in jobs, planning and technology.

The survey found 85 per cent of respondents were planning investments of up to $500,000 while 12 per cent planned to invest more than $1 million. Fifty-four per cent said they were confident that new recycling technology would transform the sector over the next one-to-three years.

The results reflected general optimism about the future despite short term challenges, AWRE Event Manager, Andrew Lawson said.

“Not surprisingly, there is still widespread concern about China’s National Sword policy, which dramatically cut Australia’s export of plastics, paper, metal and other waste materials to that market,” Mr Lawson said.

“However far from throwing Australia’s waste and recycling industries into crisis, most believe this presents an opportunity to develop homegrown solutions to the growing problem of waste.”

The Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo (AWRE) will be held at ICC Sydney Darling Harbour on October 30 and 31.

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3 thoughts on “High cost of recycling leads to more landfill waste

  1. Australia is looking at the wrong problem here. The circular economy starts at production – Reduce, Re-use then recycle. Reduction is the key to waste minimization. Take a look at the local supermarkets and its evident that you can hardly find sustainable products, produce or anything that’s not wrapped in some form of plastic or excessive wrapping. For goodness sake, why wrap a banana in plastic??

  2. Until householders are really sure of what can and what cannot be recycled then recycling will never be viable. Mainly the problem starts with the packaging and supermarket industry. Cans, metal and aluminium, are a valuable recyclable items and easily identified. Glass products are the same. But plastics are a minefield and the cause of more pollution because they are difficult to sort and do not seem to be reused in Australia. We cannot rely on overseas markets so should be sure to re-manufacture from recycled items. All rubbish including unsortable Recyclables should be incinerated and used for power generation. The CO2 produced would no more than that generated from landfill.

  3. I believe there are many recyclable items but not all can go into the kerbside recycling bin as an accepted item. For e.g. plastic toothbrushes can be recycled but not by kerbside collection. Nor is soft plastics. Save this for the Coles/Woolworths recycling bins. Surely we could make it easier to recycle a range of items without having to travel long distances. We just miss the point of trying. A Deposit Scheme? Yes please! But make it within walking distance please.

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