Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Waste, recycling and reuse (continued)

Solid, liquid and hazardous wastes (continued)

Resource depletion and recycling

High levels of waste disposal in some ways indicate a failure to effectively recycle materials that we consume. However, there are positive trends in Australia indicating increasing success in waste recovery and recycling efforts. In the five-year period from 1993-94 to 1998-99, the amount of waste disposed of at landfills in the Australian Capital Territory was reduced by 40%, while the amount of wastes that were recycled almost tripled, from 118 000 tonnes to 331 000 tonnes (ACT Government 2000). In Victoria, the quantities of wastes that were recovered and recycled have also steadily increased, from 1.4 million tonnes in 1993 to 3.2 million tonnes in 1998-99 (EcoRecycle Victoria 2000).

There are uneven rates of recycling between waste streams and between states and territories. For example, in the ACT and Queensland the rate of recycling and recovery of plastics ranges from 2 to 3 kg/capita/year, while in Victoria the figure is about 9 kg/capita/year. The recovery and recycling rate of glass in Victoria and the ACT exceeds 25 kg/capita/year, but in Queensland it is about 18 kg/capita/year. In Victoria, more than 3 million tonnes of solid waste are recovered and recycled each year, with concrete, steel, paper and food waste being the major contributors (EcoRecycle Victoria 1998b). The amount of concrete that is successfully recycled (900 000 tonnes in 1998-99) is more than 2.5 times that sent to landfill (340 000 tonnes), while the kerbside recycling rate of plastics (PET and dairy HDPE) exceeds 70%. Australia consumes more than 3 million tonnes of paper each year. Half of this is recovered for reuse, with approximately 15% recovered through kerbside collection programs (EcoRecycle Victoria 1998b). Food and garden wastes constitute up to 45% of the domestic waste stream, and there are a range of potential markets for green organic products made from this waste, including horticulture, agriculture and landscaping (e.g. mulches, soil/conditioners and potting mixes).

The early successes in recycling initiatives are exemplified in kerbside collection programs that dealt with domestic wastes, garden refuse, plastic, paper, cardboard and glass. Paper, cardboard and glass make up over 90% by weight of the estimated 800 000 tonnes of kerbside collected wastes that are reprocessed annually (see photograph below). The overall environmental and financial benefit of kerbside recycling over landfilling is estimated to be equivalent to $266m per year nationwide in Australia (NPCC 2001). The development of the National Packaging Covenant and its adoption in late 1999 by ANZECC is a significant new initiative aimed at improving the management of used packaging materials.

Kerbside separation of waste streams

Domestic waste: kerbside separation of waste streams.

Source: CSIRO.

There are signs that recycling rates are, in tonnage terms, catching up with disposal rates. The trend in waste recovery and recycling shown in Figure 86 indicates that the per capita rate of waste recovery and recycling up to 1998 is similar in the ACT and Victoria, ranging between 0.8 and 1 tonnes/year. More importantly, by 1998-99 the per capita rate of solid waste recovery and recycling in tonnage terms exceeded the waste disposal rate in the ACT. Similarly, in the same period, the amount of solid waste being recycled in Victoria was 44% of the total solid waste stream, meaning that the recycling rate is approaching the disposal rate.

Figure 86: Per capita waste recovery and recycling rates in the ACT and Victoria. [HS Indicator 10.3]

 Per capita waste recovery and recycling rates in the ACT and Victoria.

Source:ACT Government (2000); EcoRecycle Victoria (1998b, 2000).

Table 70 summarises information on the current potential for recycling and reuse as assessed by EcoRecycle Victoria. The table indicates that there is significant variability between the different waste streams in relation to current and likely future levels of recycling and reuse, because of factors ranging from economic and behavioural barriers to appropriate and available technologies.

Table 70: Potential for recycling and reuse of various wastes.
Waste Barriers to recycling
and reuse
Estimates of current rates
of reuse
Best practice, new approaches to
value-adding and increasing reuse
Paper Oversupply, low demand, low price of virgin fibre, cost of collection, need for sorting Estimated 50% recovery rate in Australia New recycling plants, e.g. Fairfield Recycling Centre for processing recovered paper to pulp, Visy's new Kerbside Sorting Line; value-added product, e.g. RECOPLAS by Repeat Plastics. A timber alternative made from liquid paperboard and recycled plastic
Concrete Perceived lower quality and hence price, potentially high transport and crushing costs, need to separate mixed wastes Estimated potential national recycling rate of 2-3 tonnes/year, currently almost 1 million tonnes/year in Victoria Mobile crushing technologies, new separator technologies, research on value-added reuse in municipal engineering, precast concrete noise barrier panels and high strength concrete
Timber Collection logistics, need for denailing, toxicity of wood preservatives - New applications for offcuts, sawdust and remachined structural timbers
Glass Limited buyers for recycled glass, relatively high price (but falling) Estimated 44% national recycling rate New research on reuse of crushed glass in building products
Plastics (HDPE) Oversupply, low demand, contamination from pigmented plastics About 44% nationally, over 70% from kerbside recycling in Victoria New sorting technologies, washing plants to improve processing of bottles and film, value-added products, e.g. recycled plastic pipes, recycled plastic boards
Plastics (PET) - About 34% nationally New barrier coatings for beverage containers

Source: Summarised from EcoRecycle Victoria (1998).