Australia’s recycling industry in trouble as rubbish grows

May 15, 2018

You’d think that once you place your recycling in the bin that your job is done, that the correct kind of waste will end up at the recycling plant for processing and reuse.

You’d also think that your state and federal governments would have a vested interest in taking care of local recycling programs and were making the processing of recycling a priority.

You’d think that would be the case.

You’d be wrong.

Since an expose aired on ‘Four Corners’ on the Australian Broadcast Network (ABC) in late 2017, the fog has lifted on the state of Australia’s beleaguered recycling and waste disposal industries.

Our recycling is trash

Australians have only recently become all too aware of exactly what happens to their recycling after their bins are emptied each week.

A startling fact that was first uncovered by the ABC on the subject of waste disposal, which detailed some alarming issues in the industry, namely- the fate of roughly 30% of our total national recycling tonnage.

This is all due to a deal made between the Australian and Chinese governments a number of years ago, which allowed Australian waste to be shipped to China for processing and landfill.

In the years 2016-2017, it is estimated that approximately 1.2 million tonnes of recycling were sent to China for processing.

Why is this happening?

Many industry analysts put this down to the cost of the recycling process as a whole, stating that the cost of manufacturing cheap new products is less /unit to recycle old items and prepare them for new use.

Tim Youe– CEO of Perth’s waste processing body (the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council), stated recently to the ABC;

“People have been looking for the highest dollar return for the raw commodity and haven’t invested in the infrastructure to [reprocess waste] within the confines of Australia,”

The issue comes, in part, because of a Government decision which has made the use of recyclable materials by manufacturers only voluntary. To put it bluntly, companies are under no legislative obligation to use recycled materials’.

Consumer Watch-Dogs and environmental groups have been calling for a change in government mandate on recycling, closing back door options for large companies allowing them to get away with not utilising the recycling process and environmentally friendly schemes for their packaging, in favour for cheaper alternatives which usually involve producing a new product entirely.

Unlike the EU, there are few Federal Government programs which determine a business’s obligation to adhere to a certain set of standards. As a result, companies have no obligation to implement recycling schemes that will benefit the consumer and the environment.

Big Business needs to lead

Many consumer and environmental groups are urging local, state and federal governments to make the proper processing of recycling materials a necessity for big businesses. As well, there are calls to make use of already recycled materials for new product packaging.

Supermarket giant Coles appears well on the way to making this a reality; after their ‘home-brand’ water bottles appeared on the shelves in early 2017, they have since sold roughly 233 million units and in the process, saving nearly 3000 metric tonnes of recycling waste.

Above is a representation of some major companies and their partners, in response to consumer requests to change their companywide policies on using recyclable materials.

What can we do?

It’s no surprise that Australian’s take recycling very seriously.  According to the ‘National Waste Report’, Australian’s recycled approximately 60% of the total waste produced in 2016-17. This is good news, but there’s more that can be done.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation is also working with industry leaders and government officials to implement a product labelling system which can not only notify consumers which product packaging is recyclable, but also which materials are made from recycled material, which will help in creating a circular economy around the industry that, after time, can sustain itself.

There are many more things which need to happen on a state and federal government level in order to affect real change, and here’s to hoping these changes happen sooner rather than later.

But above all, keep recycling.


For more information on recycling in Perth or for assistance with commercial rubbish removal or residential skip bins, contact the team at Perth Bin Hire. We work hard to ensure we’re constantly maintaining high waste management standards and that all the waste we deal with ends up in the right place.