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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2007  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2007   
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Contents >> Environment and Heritage >> Managing waste

MANAGING WASTE

One of the by-products generated by human activity is waste. Almost everything that people do creates waste and society is producing more waste than ever before. In recent decades there has been a large increase in the number and diversity of products available to Australian consumers. Associated with this has been an increase in waste diversity, toxicity and complexity. This can create threats to public health, the environment and urban amenity. The extent and nature of environmental or health threats from waste depends on the type of waste and the way it is managed.

The three major categories of solid waste in urban regions of Australia are municipal (including household waste), construction and demolition, and commercial and industrial wastes. Most solid waste generated in Australia ends up in landfill sites. Poor waste management practices at landfill sites can lead to land contamination and pollution of surface and groundwater resources. Landfill sites also generate methane, a major greenhouse gas.

The generation and disposal of waste is an environmental issue of increasing importance. Minimising wastes through more efficient production and increasing reuse and recycling of materials has been an objective at all levels of government in Australia for many years. There has been some success towards achieving this. This section outlines some of the issues and achievements in the area of waste management.

WASTE GENERATION AND DISPOSAL

Both government and non-government organisations frequently describe Australia as one of the highest producers of waste in the world. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports Australia as the third highest producer of waste in the OECD countries (after Iceland and the United States of America (USA)).

In 2002-03, Australians generated more than 32 mill. tonnes of solid waste, in excess of 1,600 kilograms of waste per person (table 24.10). Of this amount, approximately 27% of solid waste came from municipal sources, 29% from the commercial and industrial sector, and 42% from the construction and demolition sector.


24.10 SOLID WASTE GENERATION - 2002-03

Municipal
solid
waste
Commercial
and
industrial
Construction
and
demolition
Total
Per
person
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t
kg

New South Wales
3,326
4,196
4,649
12,171
1,820
Victoria
2,291
2,743
3,575
8,609
1,751
Queensland
1,742
959
1,166
3,973
1,046
Western Australia
833
744
1,945
3,522
1,804
South Australia
600
677
2,156
3,433
2,248
Australian Capital Territory
111
150
250
674
2,087
Australia(a)
8,903
9,469
13,741
32,382
1,629

(a) Excludes Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Source: Productivity Commission, 2006, 'Waste Management', Draft Report, Canberra, p.17.


Growth in waste generation

Growth in the amount of waste generated per person has been driven by a number of economic, demographic and geographic factors. A consequence of Australia's fast growing, materially intensive economy is the production of large quantities of waste. In general, the data in table 24.11 shows increasing waste generation per person, and a decline in waste to landfill achieved through a large increase in recycling.


24.11 WASTE GENERATION, Selected indicators(a)

1996-97
2002-03
Change from
1996-97 to
2002-03
tonnes
tonnes
%

Waste to landfill
21,220,500
17,423,000
-18
Waste recycled
1,528,000
14,959,000
879
Waste generation
22,748,500
32,382,000
42
Waste to landfill per person
1.15
0.87
-24
Waste to landfill per $m GDP
41.76
23.47
-44
Waste generation per person
1.23
1.62
32
Waste generation per $m GDP
44.77
44.07
-2
Recycling per person
0.08
0.75
838
Recycling per $m GDP
3
20.37
579

(a) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 4.5% in the 5-year period; total population grew by 7%.
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, 'Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency '.


Australians are tending to live in smaller household groups, with the average household size shrinking by 14% over the 20 years to 2001. At the same time homes are becoming more luxurious with the ownership of more durable goods per person and an increase in the consumption of smaller-serve goods (which have higher packaging-to-product ratios than larger-serve goods). Similarly, the increasing dispersal of settlement (urban sprawl) and changes in lifestyle may have also contributed to an increase in per person waste generation. Increased distances between home and work (and rising incomes) and increased travel time may reduce the amount of time spent on domestic tasks, such as cooking and cleaning (and increase the purchase of prepackaged food and time-saving devices, such as dishwashers).

The Australian population is ageing which changes consumption patterns, influencing the quantity and quality of resources used and waste generated by the community. For example, expenditure on personal travel and health is increasing in Australia, as is the purchase of second homes. Consumption related to housing is expected to increase and the 'life-time' of products will continue to shorten, particularly for electronic and communication goods.

Waste disposal

In 2002-03, of the total waste generated (32.4 mill. tonnes), almost 54% was disposed to landfill, the remainder was recycled. In 2002-03, 70% of municipal waste (6.2 mill. tonnes), 56% of commercial and industrial waste (5.3 mill. tonnes), and 43% of construction and demolition waste (5.9 mill. tonnes) went into landfill (table 24.12).


24.12 SOLID WASTE DISPOSED TO LANDFILL - 2002-03

Municipal
Commercial
and industrial
Construction
and demolition
Total
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t

New South Wales
2,170
2,831
1,340
6,341
Victoria
1,547
1,003
1,630
4,180
Queensland
1,297
747
678
2,722
Western Australia
741
420
1,535
2,696
South Australia
365
208
704
1,277
Australian Capital Territory
82
98
27
207
Australia(a)
6,202
5,307
5,914
17,423

(a) Excludes Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Source: Productivity Commission, 2006, 'Waste Management', Draft Report, Canberra, p.28.


RECYCLING AND RE-USE

Recycling has increased over the last 20 years to the point where it is a widely accepted part of waste management activities in Australia. Recycling in 2002-03 accounted for 57% of construction and demolition waste generated (7.8 mill. tonnes), 44% of commercial and industrial waste generated (4.1 mill. tonnes), and 30% of municipal waste generated (2.7 mill. tonnes) (table 24.13). Waste recovered for recycling in 2002-03 was approximately 15 mill. tonnes.


24.13 RECYCLING - 2002-03
Municipal
Commercial
and industrial
Construction
and demolition
Total
recycled
Diversion
rate
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t
%

New South Wales
1,156
1,365
3,309
5,830
48
Victoria
744
1,740
1,945
4,429
51
Queensland
445
212
488
1,251
31
Western Australia
92
324
410
826
23
South Australia
235
469
1,452
2,156
63
Australian Capital Territory
29
52
223
467
69
Australia(a)
2,701
4,162
7,827
14,959
46

(a) Excludes Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Source: Productivity Commission, 2006, 'Waste Management', Draft Report, Canberra, p.22.


Recycling rates

The amount of waste recovered for recycling has increased over time both in absolute terms, and as a proportion of total waste generated. For example, in the Australian Capital Territory in 1993-94, about 22% of the total waste generated was recovered for recycling. In 2002-03, this had risen to 69%.

There are a number of reasons why recycling rates have increased over time; access to kerbside recycling has greatly improved in urban regions since the 1990s. Collection methods have become more sophisticated with the provision of 'wheelie bins' almost the norm. The increased provision, and ease of use of 'wheelie bins', have increased yields of recyclable materials; commodity prices for many of the materials recovered, including recovered metals, have increased in recent years creating incentives for more material to be recovered. Also, landfill levies have increased and many states and territories have created incentives for the commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition sectors to find alternatives to landfill.

Recycling in households

The proportion of households that recycle and/or re-use waste has increased from 91% in 1996 to 98% in 2003. In 2003 about 95% of all households recycled waste, 83% re-used waste, while only 2% did not recycle or re-use at all (table 24.14). Households in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia had the highest rates (99%) of recycling and/or re-using waste. The Northern Territory had the lowest rate of recycling and re-use (93%).


24.14 RECYCLING/RE-USE OF WASTE IN HOUSEHOLDS - March

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT(a)
ACT
Aust.
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

2003

Households that recycle waste
94.5
98.7
94.5
96.8
91.1
95.4
86.8
98.4
95.4
Households that re-use waste
79.5
81.2
87.9
86.6
83.3
86.8
76.4
88.2
82.8
Households not recycling and/or re-using waste
3.7
0.8
2.1
1.4
3.4
2.9
^7.3
^1.3
2.4

2000

Households that recycle waste
93.6
97.3
94.0
93.7
89.4
91.9
86.0
99.3
94.2
Households that re-use waste
75.8
81.9
86.3
79.6
80.8
83.7
85.3
82.6
80.5
Households not recycling and/or re-using waste
4.1
1.4
2.3
3.2
5.6
4.7
8.8
0.5
3.2

1996

Households that recycle waste
88.5
89.4
89.3
88.8
83.6
86.3
71.8
98.9
88.4
Households that re-use waste
32.3
32.0
45.2
42.6
36.8
41.9
54.9
40.9
36.5
Households not recycling and/or re-using waste
10.1
8.7
7.9
8.2
12.6
10.0
20.4
1.0
9.4

(a) Northern Territory data refers to main urban areas only.
Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2003 (4602.0).


The most common items recycled and/or re-used by households in 2003 were paper/cardboard (88.4% of all households), plastic bottles (87.3%), plastic bags (86.5%), glass (85.2%), and old clothing or rags (82.4%) (table 24.15).


24.15 ITEMS RECYCLED AND/OR RE-USED IN HOUSEHOLDS - March 2003

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT(a)
ACT
Aust.
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Paper/cardboard
90.0
93.8
85.1
82.5
81.7
84.0
74.0
97.3
88.4
Glass
85.6
92.5
82.0
81.8
75.3
84.3
65.3
95.7
85.2
Aluminium cans
72.9
86.2
74.8
79.9
70.7
75.7
60.0
83.8
77.0
Steel cans
60.8
78.5
62.8
61.1
54.9
67.6
45.6
77.2
65.3
Plastic bottles
87.5
94.6
84.0
87.5
75.5
84.9
66.6
96.2
87.3
Plastic bags
83.9
87.2
89.0
88.9
85.6
87.5
78.1
92.4
86.5
Motor oil
11.0
9.5
16.2
11.7
10.7
14.1
12.1
18.0
11.8
Kitchen or food waste
41.2
50.9
48.3
46.8
46.5
61.3
40.6
55.3
46.7
Garden waste
60.3
66.3
60.8
65.7
50.3
65.2
51.6
71.7
61.6
Old clothing or rags
80.7
81.3
86.0
84.3
82.2
83.3
68.9
87.9
82.4

(a) Northern Territory data refers to main urban areas only.
Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2003 (4602.0).


Household waste recycling occurred mostly through a regular kerbside collection service (87% of all households), with the highest use of this method made in the Australian Capital Territory (97%) and Victoria (95%) (table 24.16). Two-thirds (66%) of all households recycled by taking some of their waste to central collection points. South Australian households (81%) practised this recycling method more than households in other states or territories, while households in the Northern Territory practised this method the least (53%).


24.16 METHODS USED TO RECYCLE AND/OR RE-USE WASTE - March 2003

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT(a)
ACT
Aust.
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Collection from the house
88.8
94.7
83.1
74.4
76.3
82.1
69.3
97.3
86.6
Special area/s at dump/waste transfer station
8.7
9.5
11.9
11.1
7.9
24.2
19.5
26.2
10.4
Central collection points(b)
67.2
58.2
67.1
80.5
66.1
61.4
52.8
75.1
65.8
Compost or mulch
45.0
51.9
56.2
48.3
43.2
58.5
49.6
60.4
49.6
Re-use within household
82.6
81.8
89.8
87.8
86.2
89.4
82.5
89.4
84.9
Other methods
12.3
13.1
11.6
13.1
11.6
17.3
15.5
12.7
12.5

(a) Northern Territory data refers to main urban areas only.
(b) Other than dump/waste transfer station.
Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2003 (4602.0).


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