Recycling save energy and resources and reduces greenhouse emissions. Recycling also means that we can conserve our landfill space. It can help keep harmful items like plastic out of the environment.
But it all only works if what we collect for recycling can be reused or recycled. You might be surprised to learn that some of what you’re putting into the recycling bin is currently ending up in landfill.
Why recycling goes to landfill
A lot of recyclables are exported. Contaminated waste is often rejected by major recycling markets around the world. Contamination could mean material that is dirty (such as greasy pizza boxes), or even just recycling that is sorted incorrectly such as a glass bottle in the paper bin.
China, the world’s largest market for recyclables, say 0.5% of contamination is the maximum allowed in their facilities. This is likely to get even stricter, and many other countries have set similar goals.
Impact of changes to recycling standards
The good news is that clean materials can and are being recycled. Uncontaminated metal, cardboard and paper are in demand and profitable.
The Australian Government has backed up the international call to stop the export of waste under the guise of recycling. Countries importing recyclables are enforcing quality standards that now encourage more responsible environmental outcomes and promote more efficient recycling.
Local processing of recyclables that improves quality is a key. Local markets for recyclables will also add to demand for quality and developing these is the second step.
What we can do: collect recyclables in a better way
The first and most important step in ensuring our recycling future is to collect what can be recycled in a way that does not degrade materials by contamination.
Here’s what Australians and Australian companies can do to reduce the chance of your recycling ending up in landfill.
Other things we can be doing include investing in better sorting and establishing and growing markets for recyclables.
Australia’s waste and recycling industry
Australians are great recyclers. In some areas, such as newspaper recycling, we’re among the best in the world.
Overall, we recycle 62 percent of the 54 million tonnes of waste that are handled directly by Australia’s resource recovery and waste industry (Source: National Waste Report 2018 for 2016/17). Of this waste generated households make up 13.8 million tonnes, the lion’s share coming from Commercial and Industrial (20.4%) and Construction and Demolition (20.4%).
Altogether some 21 million tonnes of waste ends up in landfills. Some spectacular reductions in waste-to-landfill have been achieved over the last 11 years in Victoria (-25%) and Western Australia (-42%). Some states like South Australia are achieving outstanding recycling rates of 78%.
Now is the time to consider what and how we collect for recycling to ensure that our efforts can continue to make a significant environmental benefit.