A hierarchy of strategies to avoid waste to landfill

A person recycling correctly from home

A balanced approach to recycling is needed in order to reduce the amount of goods going to landfill, a Sydney academic believes.

Writing in The Conversation, Jenni Downes, Research Consultant at the Institute of Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney wrote that total household waste is increasing and kerbside recycling is low by global standards.

“At first glance, Australians appear to be good recyclers: ABS figures report that in 2012 about 94 per cent of households participated in some way in kerbside recycling,” Ms Downes wrote.

“State waste authorities also report a consistent increase in the volume of materials recovered for recycling.”

However, Ms Downes argued the figures did not justify complacency, as total household waste is increasing and the kerbside recycling rate  – which measures the amount of materials collected for recycling as a percentage of the total waste generated – is relatively low by global standards, but growing slowly.

“The recycling rate increased from 45 per cent in 2007 to 51 per cent in 2011, just creeping above the average of 50 per cent across comparable countries.”

She wrote that one reason kerbside recycling isn’t higher is because people find the rules confusing, citing a Planet Ark survey which found 48 per cent of Australians struggled to figure out what can and can’t be recycled, incorrectly identifying recyclable materials.

“Much of this is likely due to the variation in rules in different places, and the extent to which recycling has changed in the 35 years since it began in Australia,” she wrote.

But councils are moving towards greater consistency, she wrote, with more than 80 per cent of people able to place the same things in their recycling bins.

Furthermore, she argued recycling needs to be considered amongst a hierarchy of other ways of reducing waste to landfill, in order of; avoiding/reducing, reusing, recycling, recovering and disposing.

“Recycling is vital to reducing resource use and waste to landfill, and getting it right is crucial. But it’s also important for recycling to take its place alongside waste-avoidance actions for a more sustainable lifestyle.”