Australians believe recyclables going to landfill: research

Most Australians across all states and demographics believe the recyclables they put into their council bins are ending up in landfill, according to new research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The series of surveys has also found that 49 per cent of people believe that green and eco-friendly efforts will not have an effect in their lifetime, with 63.8 per cent of those older than 65 seeing no benefits being realised.

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Key findings also report that 72.4 per cent of people would recycle more of the material if it was reliably recycled.

Confusion also surround which level of government is responsible for residential waste and recycling services, with some people thinking industry instead of government is responsible for waste management.

UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Director Veena Sahajwalla said rising stockpiles and increasing use of landfill, in the absence of a coordinated government solution to a waste problem, had not been lost on consumers.

“Each council is fending for themselves right across Australia and while the meeting of federal and state environment ministers earlier this year made an important announcement about a new National Waste Policy stating that by 2025 all packaging will be re-usable, compostable or recyclable, we don’t have to wait another seven years for this decision to come into effect,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“It is clear on this issue that people want action, and they want governments to invest and do something now.

“A number of councils and private business are interested in our technology but unless there are incentives in place, Australia will be slow to capitalise on the potential to lead the world in reforming our waste into something valuable and reusable.”

UNSW’s SMaRT Centre launched a demonstration e-waste microfactory in April, which is able to recover the components of discarded electronic items for use in high value products.

UNSW is also finalising a second demonstration microfactory, which converts glass, plastics and other waste materials into engineered stone products, which look and perform as well as marble and granite.

“Rather than export our rubbish overseas and to do more landfill for waste, the microfactory technology has the potential for us to export valuable materials and newly manufactured products instead,” Dr Sahajwalla said.

“Through the microfactory technology, we can enhance our economy and be part of the global supply chain by supplying more valuable materials around the world and stimulating manufacturing innovation in Australia.”

NWRIC calls for mandatory product stewardship scheme

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has welcomed last week’s Meeting of Environments announcements, calling for a mandatory product stewardship across all priority products.

E-waste, batteries, tyres, used machine lubricating oils, paint and chemical drums were highlighted by the NWRIC as products that could fall under a proposed scheme.

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“Only mandatory product stewardship will give investors the confidence to build the capital-intensive infrastructure necessary to process and recover these complex and hazardous products,” the NWRIC said in a statement.

The NWRIC has released action plans to address the issue of the National Sword issue, with short term solutions focused on local governments renegotiating recycling contracts to ensure services continue, despite the drop in commodity prices. It highlighted that long-term actions are needed to reduce contamination in bins and infrastructure to improve the quality of export materials.

The NWRIC said that the review of the National Waste Policy could provide new opportunities to harmonise waste and recycling regulation, pointing to the jurisdictional differences in landfill levies that incentivise interstate transport of waste.

“Other regulatory disparities between states and territories create a cost to business without any economic, social or environmental dividend. Through COAG and the Heads of EPAs (HEPA) group, these anomalies can be resolved,” it said.
It follows the announcement of six action points from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting of Environment ministers.
The six points are:

·      Ensuring all Australian packaging is suitable for recycling by 2025

·      Working with states to find a market for material that would have once been sent to China

·      Advocating for government procurement of recycled materials

·      Improved product stewardship

·      Advancing the review of Australia’s National Waste Policy

·      Prioritising energy recovery projects through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation

The NWRIC also highlighted the manufacture of fuel from unrecyclable materials is a useful step forward.

“This technology is used and recognised globally by countries with more sophisticated recycling systems than Australia. The council welcomes investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation into fuel recovery.”

NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards said kerbside recycling is an important service that all Australians value.

“We welcome the state government assistance offered to protect this critical service, and we are ready to work proactively with all levels of government to maintain and enhance this service into the future,” he said.

The NWRIC also supports the rollout of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation’s Australasian Recycling Label. They noted this label provides clear guidance on which materials should be directed to materials recovery facilities.