Blue Environment has released the 2018 National Waste Report, showing China still remained Australia’s biggest destination for exports of recyclables in 2017-18 despite tightening restrictions.
The latest report is the culmination of two years of work by Blue Environment in obtaining data from the states and territories.
A chart in the latest report shows significant declines in scrap metal (23 per cent), plastics (79 per cent) and paper and cardboard (39 per cent) in 2017-18.
The report shows Australians generated 67 million tonnes of waste in 2016-17 with 37 million recycled.
The numbers are largely similar to the 66 million tonnes generated in 2014-15 and 36 million recycled.
Prepared for the Department of the Environment and Energy, the report looks at the waste management method, including the infrastructure that treats it (landfill, compost, alternative waste treatment) and waste fate (disposal, recycling, energy recovery and long-term storage.
In terms of waste stream data, hazardous waste comprised 6.3 million tonnes generated in 2016-17, with 27 per cent recycled, 59 per cent landfilled and 13 per cent sent to a treatment facility. From 2006-07 to 2016-17, hazardous waste generation increased by about 26 per cent, while the recycling rate decreased from 34 to 27 per cent. More than half of this increase is attributed to greater quantities of materials, including contaminated soil.
It also shows 30 million tonnes of organic waste was generated in 2016-17, remaining fairly stable over an 11-year period while Australia’s population increased. The recycling rate over this time increased from 39 to 52 per cent.
The report details data and information on numerous industry issues, including National Sword and waste stockpiling.
“Waste stockpiling is a significant concern and has resulted in several recent major fires. Substantial stockpiling of C&D waste and glass is understood to occur,” the report says.
“Reporting on stockpiles is limited by lack of data. Ideally, this report would account for additions to and removals from stockpiles in the reporting year.”
“Unrecorded waste in stockpiles leads to underestimates of waste generation. Recorded waste in stockpiles (e.g. at a glass recycling plant) leads to overestimates of recycling.”
The report also displays exports of waste materials for recycling during the 12 years to 2017-18 and shows a long-term increase in exports, except for a decline between 2013-14 and 2015-16 which it attributes to a scrap metals decline.
It shows two charts that suggest that exports of waste materials for recycling were strongly affected by the Chinese restrictions, but the displaced materials mostly found new export destinations. The breakdown shows this occurred for paper and plastics and in both cases increased to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
“Despite its restrictions and reduced Australian imports, in 2017-18 China remained Australia’s biggest destination for exports of waste materials for recycling.”
In a later section on China’s restrictions, the report acknowledges many companies have been forced to absorb financial losses and remain financially stricken, with local governments and ratepayers facing higher costs.
“The Chinese restrictions have been closely watched by other major importers of waste materials, and this year Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have each announced tighter controls over imports of waste materials.
“It is likely that export markets for waste materials for recycling will become more constrained globally, and Australia will need to increase on-shore recycling of the major export commodities of metals, paper and cardboard and plastics.”