Recycling Crisis: Australia's Increasing Stocks of Waste

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Recycling Crisis: Australia's Increasing Stocks of Waste

Wastes washed up on the beach from Asia, Christmas Island, an Indian Ocean Territory of Australia / Photo by: Emma Jones via Shutterstock


For decades, recycling bins can be found in almost every location, restaurants or other establishments. But in the year 2018, where are these wastes now? In Australia, for example, about 90% of homes have turned to recycling over the last few years. However, they are currently experiencing a recycling industry crisis that may soon cause bigger problems for the country. The government, consumers, and manufacturers are then asked to provide actions and developments to save the industry.

Moreover, despite the recycling crisis, yellow bins are still being collected in some parts of the country as the wastes are stocked in piles. These are to be shipped to other countries, instead of China. The Chief Executive of the Australian Council of Recycling, Pete Shmigel, explained that Australia has been dependent on a 12-year Chinese demand, however over time, it has not changed nor seen improvement.

Over the last few years, China had been buying overseas recyclables from various countries. This includes half of the entire world’s plastic and paper waste. The country used this much to support its dramatically growing economy. Consequently, in the year 2013, they announced the “Operation Green Fence” where recyclables are now filtered depending on their contamination levels. Those that exceed 10% to 15% cannot be sold to China. Four years later, they launched the “National Sword” policy wherein China can no longer accept unsorted paper, as well as wastes with a contamination level greater than 0.5%.

This new policy has taken a toll on Australia as recycling industries have stopped exporting recyclable wastes. With China’s issued standards, these industries have failed to comply and process Australia’s recyclables. The market continues to collapse as the country is now stuck with unwanted goods. Australia also lacks domestic outlets as they highly depended on China for the export of recyclables. Executive director of the Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW, Tony Khoury, mentioned that despite the crisis, they must maintain the process of recycling and continue beyond 30 years of entrusting householders to manage their wastes.

These wastes are now placed in landfills, with city councils paying larger fees for their wastes. Each day, more and more companies are relying on landfills to contain their wastes. Queensland, on the other hand, asked their householders to reduce the amount of contamination from their wastes. Meanwhile, Moreland had recently stopped collecting soft plastics. However, their costs continue to increase, making waste management a cost generator.



Plans to Reduce 64 million tons of Wastes

One of their recent plans is to completely ban single-use plastics. According to the Senate inquiry, takeaway containers, chip packets and other kinds of single-use plastics should be removed by 2023. Other than this, they also plan to establish a national container deposit scheme wherein city councils could prevent tipping their wastes in landfills. A long-term solution includes a vision of a “circular economy,” as Australia reuses and processes its own recyclables. Moreover, this will drastically improve the quality of recycled materials, as well as decrease the cost. An existing container deposit scheme found in South Australia serves proof of the benefits, running since 1977. It has since produced glass materials that have been worth thrice compared to other states.

The Victorian state government also allotted  $13 million to support recycling alternatives and proceed to long-term solutions. Meanwhile, the South Australian government provided $12.4 million to be used in a state of emergency. Not only that, they also gave $5.8 million worth of infrastructures to their waste industries.


Large pile of empty cans taken at Kulnura, NSW, Australia on December 2017 / Photo by :Nigel Jarvis via Shutterstock


What Can You Do at Home? columnist Lisa Mayoh claims householders can start using tea towels, baby wraps, pillowcases and more materials instead of plastic. As mentioned in the article, a resident from NSW began using baby wraps instead of normal gift wraps to help improve their environment and reduce waste. It also only cost her $3 to wrap a bunch of gifts for her friend. The resident then influenced social media users after seeing the pictures she has posted.

About 8,000 gift wrappers are used during the holidays, leaving tons of crumpled and torn pieces into bins and landfills. This also amounts to 150,000 kilometers of gift wraps during the festive season. Other alternatives for wrapping paper includes fabric, which is also called “Furoshiki” in Japan. Gifts can be simply placed inside pillow cases, costing for about $1 each, and perfectly sealed with a knot. These simply projects also save a large amount of money.

These simple steps are certainly vital to the country’s waste crisis. This message was also emphasized by Khoury. He addressed the householders and stated, “Make sure you’re giving your recycler the cleanest possible product you can, now more than ever.” He also advised householders to place their waste in the red bin if they have had doubts on whether it should be recycled or not. 



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