Australia’s recycling rate has risen to 60 per cent, up two per cent, in the past two years, according to the latest National Waste Report.
Australia’s National Waste Report 2020 summarises Australia’s waste and recycling data for 2018-19 and measures trends since 2006.
While the data precedes the significant investments in recycling and resource recovery the Federal Government has made since the 2019 election, it will be used as baseline data to measure Australia’s progress against the National Waste Policy Action Plan’s 2030 targets.
“The release of the leading report on waste management and recycling data in Australia, the National Waste Report 2020, shows that Australians are reducing their waste and increasing their recycling,” Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans said.
“This is a great outcome. We can all be proud that our efforts are paying off, to take care of our own waste and to do the right thing by sorting our recycling and diverting more waste away from landfill.”
The report shows that Australia generated an estimated 74.1 million tonnes of waste in 2018-19, including 22.9 million tonnes of masonry materials, 14.3 million tonnes of organics and 12.5 million tonnes of ash.
In 2018-19 there was roughly 61.5 million tonnes of core waste – wastes managed by the waste and resource recovery sector – generated, or 2.44 tonnes per capita.
Core waste comprised 12.6 million tonnes of MSW, 21.9 million tonnes of C&I and 27 million tonnes of C&D.
“Our growing population means that the overall amount of waste Australia is generating continues to increase, up five million tonnes since 2016-17,” Evans said.
“So we need to continue to work hard to reduce the amount of waste we create, and to recycle more of it, if we are to achieve Australia’s ambitious national target of recovering 80 per cent of our waste by 2030.”
TRENDS IN RECYCLING
The National Waste Report 2020 maps trends in recycling by source stream from 2014-15, with overall recycling rising by roughly 50 per cent on a tonnage basis and by 23 per cent per capita.
“C&D waste recycling rose markedly from 2014-15, partly due to larger amounts of material generated but also better recovery,” the report reads.
“These materials tend to be homogenous and their management is sensitive to landfill prices.
“Demolition waste recycling is a success story in most jurisdictions, providing an alternative source of materials for road base and construction aggregates.”
C&I recycling levelled off and declined slightly over the 13-year period, with the report suggesting the “easiest-to-recycle” materials are dealt with and future gains in recovery may be harder to win.
MSW recycling dropped sharply before rising again in the last two years.
“This trend is worth close examination as it is counter-intuitive and inconsistent with the trend shown in the National Waste Report 2018,” the report reads.
According to the report, close examination of the data suggests this is caused by two phenomena: the falling weight of domestic recyclables due to lower sales of newsprint, declining quantities of glass and lighter weight packaging, and changes to NSW data.
NSW reports that its new and more rigorous data system found lower quantities of organics and metals than previously reported.
“With organics, this was because the previous voluntary system double-counted an unexpectedly large amount of material transfers between facilities,” the report reads.
“With metals, it was because the industry did not respond to the voluntary surveys so the data was estimated.”
The report notes that NSW corrected recent historical data but not older data, which therefore may contain some double-counts.
“This is a cautionary tale for jurisdictions that still use voluntary surveys to collect recycling data.”
THE FUTURE OF WASTE MANAGEMENT
Long-term trends suggest waste quantities are likely to continue increasing slowly despite slight falls in the tonnes of waste per capita.
“As materials get lighter, we could see higher volumes even as the weight of waste levels off. Major projects and programs could stymie these trends with large quantities of soils contaminated with asbestos, PFAS and other substances,” the report reads.
The long-term trend towards increasing levels of recycling is also likely to continue, helped by government policies, targets and infrastructure investment.
“Each additional percentage of recycling can be expected to be harder than the last, but better design linked to circular economy policies may change that equation,” the report reads.
“Better recycling of food waste, e-waste and skip bin material is readily achievable. Use of waste as an energy source is likely to continue increasing, including through investment in large-scale thermal energy recovery infrastructure.”