4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2007  
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Image: Wind turbinesWASTE


Waste generation

Australians generated approximately 32.4 million tonnes of solid waste or approximately 1,629 kilograms of waste per person in 2002-03.

Of this amount, 27% came from municipal sources, 29% from the commercial and industrial sector, and 42% from the construction and demolition sector. Municipal waste includes domestic waste and other council waste (e.g. beach, parks and gardens, streets).

WASTE GENERATION, SELECTED INDICATORS
1996-97
tonnes
2002-03
tonnes
Percentage change
from 1996-97 to 2002-03

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

Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, February 2006, Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency.


Solid waste generation by source, Australia(a), 2002-03
Graph: Solid waste generation by source, Australia(a), 2002–03
(a) Excludes Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Source: Productivity Commission, 2006, Waste Management, Report no. 38, Canberra.


Growth in the amount of waste generated per person in Australia has been driven by a number of economic and demographic factors. A consequence of Australia's fast-growing, materially intensive economy is the production of large quantities of waste. International evidence suggests that economic growth contributes to growth in waste generation per person (Endnote 1).

Some of the growth in waste generation, especially in per person terms, has been driven by changes in population demographics. Australians are tending to live in smaller household groups, with an associated increase in the ownership of more durable goods per person and an increase in the consumption of smaller-serve goods that have higher packaging-to-product ratios (Endnote 2).

In general, the data show an increase in waste generation per person, but a decline in waste to landfill achieved through a significant increase in recycling.

Solid waste per person, Australia(a), 2002-03
Graph Solid waste per person, Australia(a), 2002–03
(a) Excludes Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Source: Productivity Commission, 2006, Waste Management, Report no. 38, Canberra.

Waste disposal

Australia has a strong dependence on landfill for waste management with more than half (54%) of all solid waste, some 17 million tonnes, deposited in 2002-03 (Endnote 3) It is estimated that 70% of municipal waste, 56% of commercial and industrial waste, and 43% of construction and demolition waste went into landfill in 2002-03.

Of the total amount of waste deposited in landfill in each state or territory, commercial and industrial was the largest component in New South Wales (45%) and the Australian Capital Territory (47%); whereas construction and demolition waste was the largest component in Victoria (39%), Western Australia (57%) and South Australia (55%).

The chief environmental concerns associated with modern landfills are emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly methane, and the possible long-term pollution of the environment through leaching of heavy metals, household chemicals, consumer electronic products and earlier generation rechargeable batteries, such as ni-cads.

Solid waste disposed to landfill by source, 2002-03

Graph: Solid waste disposed to landfill by source, 2002–03
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005, Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency

Recycling of waste materials reduces the volume of waste disposed in landfills. The amount of waste recycled in Australia has increased both in absolute terms and as a proportion of total waste generated.

Overall, the recycling rate is estimated to be 46%, which represents the amount that has been reprocessed into a usable production input and not just the amount collected for recycling.

Recycling, percentage of total, by state, 2002-03
Graph: Recycling, percentage of total, by state, 2002–03
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005, Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency.

Of the 15 million tonnes of waste recycled in Australia in 2002-03, 39.0% was in New South Wales, followed by 29.6% in Victoria and 14.4% in South Australia. Less than one-third (30%) of municipal waste was recycled, compared with 44% of commercial and industrial waste and 57% of construction and demolition waste.

Recycling/reuse of waste in households

The recycling activities of households have grown extensively in the past decade. In March 1996, 91% of Australian households said they practised some form of waste recycling and/or reuse activity. By March 2006, almost all households (99%) reported that they recycled and/or reused. There is a disparity in recycling between rural and urban areas, which may be due to limited implementation of kerbside recycling schemes in rural areas due to higher costs.

Recycling/reuse of waste in households
Graph: Recycling/reuse of waste in households
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, 2006 (cat. no. 4602.0).


Waste items recycled and/or reused by households
Graph: Waste items recycled and/or reused by households
(a) Includes cardboard and newspapers.
(b) No data available in 1996.
Source: ABS, Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices, 2006 (cat. no. 4602.0).

In 2006, paper product was the most common material recycled/reused by Australian households (92%), followed by glass, plastic bottles (both 90%) and plastic bags (89%). Only 12% of households recycled motor oil.

There has been greater involvement in recycling of organic waste (e.g. garden waste and kitchen or food waste). Two-thirds (66%) of households recycled garden waste in 2006, up from 62% in 2003 and 51% in 1996.

Australians are some of the highest users of new technology in the world. There are approximately 9 million computers, 5 million printers and 2 million scanners currently in households and businesses across Australia (Endnote 4).

However, with the constant drive to have the newest and latest products comes the inevitable wastage of the “old” products they supersede. Obsolete electronic goods, or “e-waste” is one of the fastest growing waste types and the problem of e-waste is global.
Endnotes
  1. Productivity Commission, 2006, Waste Management, Report no. 38, Canberra, p.20. <back
  2. ABS, Measures of Australia’s Progress, 2006, (cat. no. 1370.0) Canberra, p.84. <back
  3. Productivity Commission, 2006, Waste Management, Report no. 38, Canberra. <back
  4. Department of Environment and Water Resources, Electronic Scrap - A Hazardous Waste, <http://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/publications/chemicals/
    /hazardous-waste/pubs/electronic-scrap-fs.pdf>, last viewed 17 September 2007. <back


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