Can Australia’s recycling industry woes be fixed?

June 15, 2019

Last month, we had a look at state of Australia’s beleaguered recycling industry, the problems it faced in the wake of amended agreements with China and their refusal to take a big portion of our recycling for landfill, and as well, we put a spotlight on a few companies making great strides to drastically reduce their company-wide waste and the re-usability of products in the future.

Unfortunately, however, the industry is still in the throws of an incredibly tumultuous period, the end of which is not clear…

Its no secret that our country’s recycling industry is in a serious crisis. And according to industry experts, it could be about to get even worse.

Australians are unaware

China- which previously took nearly half of the paper and plastic stuff that we Australians put in our yellow recycling bins, stopped doing that earlier this year, in favour of taking only our most highly sorted, clean and processed recycling waste for landfill.

This is a huge problem. Not just in that we now have truly massive amounts of recycling building up at landfill centres all over the country, but also that the Australian public were largely unaware that their recycling was being shipped to China for a price, to be processed like any other form of rubbish.

When this scandal broke earlier this year in an expose aired by ‘Four Corners’ on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Network), it caused a public outcry to the extent that civil action groups and industry analysts were attempting to involve the Federal Government to find an immediate solution.

This has not happened.

Furthermore, all those in the industry top to bottom are now feeling the previously unseen impacts of China’s move to block unprocessed recycling waste.

China’s sudden change of policy has sent shockwaves through the entire waste processing and recycling ecosystem, sending the global price for recycling waste plummeting, and leaving our recycling plants and companies in Australia at serious risk of going broke.

Everything’s not lost

Despite the current dire state of the recycling industry, many in Australia see this as an opportunity to build back up, what has been long–inefficient method of collecting and recycling reusable materials in Australia.

The fragility of the recycling market to the whims of changing foreign policy has, to many in the know, signalled a need for a revamp of the entire industry, with many claiming that not only should we have a better system for dealing with our recycling and waste, but that it should not be reliant on international shipping away in order to cope with consumption and the amount waste produced.

The need for the right infrastructure to deal with our own waste has been highlighted as a national concern, with the Greens Party proposing that the Australian Federal Government invest roughly $500 Million over five years as concessional loans to the industry, but the recycling industry itself says it can be done for a much cheaper amount- some where around the $150 Million mark, and according to a recent piece published by the ABC, ‘the Australian Council of Recycling (AACOR) has even laid out a road map of how a reboot of Australia’s recycling industry could work’.

The ACOR roadmap to getting the industry back on its feet and more self sufficient, involves a variety of seemingly simple steps and ways to dramatically increase the autonomy of the industry and decrease the reliance on shipping unprocessed waste overseas.

Australia-wide rubbish and recycling bin conformity;

China ceased taking our recycling due to the fact that they only now wish to process waste that are 99% uncontaminated with other materials.

That’s a big issue, because according to rough estimates, roughly 10% of what we put in our recycling bins is not actually recyclable material, so that already creates a serious problem.

Once this problem is fixed and adjusted to a national rate of roughly 1-2%, then the things to concentrate on are;

-Harmonisation of the collection systems

-Producing clear and identical information for all Australians

-Running a wide-spread and digestible information campaign

Upgraded sorting centres:

Contamination is a serious problem with our recycling industry and one that is currently costing taxpayers an incredible amount of money.

The inefficiency of the current industry has led to Australia having to sell its unprocessed waste overseas, sometimes at great cost. Upgrading the recycling and waste sorting centres will mean less contamination, and will make the job of identifying re usable materials much easier for those on the sorting line.

Many in the industry have suggested investments in robotic sorting machines, which are far quicker, more efficient and cheaper.

Use raw recycled materials to build infrastructure;

Many have suggested the use of ground plastics, destined for landfill, to be ground up, cleaned and sold on the international market for use as makeshift tarmac or gravel, however- this idea has been met with some criticism, as it will still essentially mean that we are shipping our waste overseas-the very problem and outsourcing that many industry experts are reticent to support.

There are several other ways that the growing piles of recyclable waste could be dealt with, not all of them viable when posed with the immediate problem of what to do with all our waste.

While we wait for government and the connected industries to figure out exactly what to do with our huge issue of recycling, perhaps all we can do is try the best we can to ensure we are only recycling what is recyclable, and keeping those bins as uncontaminated as we can.


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.