Culture

How Australia Could Revolutionise Its Waste Industry

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Australia has a huge recycling issue, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.

Some experts are worried Australia simply isn’t doing enough to win our war on waste.

So why don’t our current recycling programs work and what do we need to do differently if we are going to achieve a waste-free future?

What Currently Happens To Our Waste?

Australians produce roughly 67 million tonnes of waste each year and only recycle just over half of that.

That’s partly because since exporting waste to countries like China was banned, everything from plastic, paper, glass and tyres has ended up in our own landfill.

It’s been dubbed Australia’s recycling crisis because technically all these materials can be recycled, we just don’t have enough facilities or the right infrastructure to keep up with demands.

In response to the growing crisis, the government announced a National Waste Policy last year.

One of the things they committed to was diverting 80% of our landfill by 2030, which means reducing waste by 10% per person.

They’re planning on spending $190 million to completely transform the waste and recycling industry, which they predict could create more than 10,000 new jobs.

It seems like a good plan, but a new report thinks the government’s waste targets are unlikely to be reached through recycling alone.

The report instead proposes a total rethink of our economy and habits, to focus more on avoiding waste in the first place.

So, What Should We Be Doing Instead?

Kylie Walker: “We’re actually advocating that recycling is our last resort or second last resort, rather than the first thing we do to avoid waste.”

That’s Kylie Walker, CEO of ATSE, the company who published the report.

KW: “We’re looking at creating a circular economy, which means that – instead of the taking it out of the ground, making it into something, buying it and throwing it away, we design it right from the start … to not be thrown away ever.”

What Kylie is talking about is creating products that are designed either to be dismantled into something else after their initial use, or to simply live on.

Kind of like a Soda Stream. It never gets thrown away and its canisters are replaced and resold and it goes full circle.

For this system to work, products would have to be tracked from the start of their life to the end – to really hold manufacturers and consumers accountable for their waste.

This would then hopefully stop big companies deliberately building products to fail after a few years of use, to keep the customer buying more.

KW: “It’s a massive mindset shift and it has to be driven by both regulation and consumer demand.”

But this type of tracking would involve large amounts of data, so is it even achievable?

A Circular Economy Is Achievable

According to Kylie, yes.

KW: “We’ve got the technologies and the skills in our workforce to be able to do it. What we don’t have is the regulation. We don’t have the big infrastructure to do it, we don’t have the national scale data to do it really, really well.”

Kylie thinks that if the government was to reshape their plans and adopt a more technological approach, like the one suggested in ATSE’s report. Then, not only could Australia reach its waste targets by 2030, it could also create an extra 35,000 jobs.

But she pointed out that we as consumers don’t really have to wait around for the government and big industries to make policy changes.

We can already be buying less or passing items on so that recycling (or throwing things away) becomes less and less of a first option.

The Takeaway

Australia’s recycling system is broken and the current plan for fixing it probably isn’t going to be a viable solution to our expanding waste needs.

What we actually need to fix is our consumer economy, so that we can live more harmoniously within our ecosystem, without completely destroying it.