1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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Contents >> Environment >> Environmental views and behaviour

Household waste management

Households generate wastes, some of which are hazardous, and the recycling of household wastes and the proper disposal of hazardous waste are important environmental issues. Recycling conserves resources, reduces environmental pollution and reduces the volume of garbage going to landfill, while the proper disposal of hazardous waste prevents toxic materials from entering the environment where they can potentially impact on ecosystems and on humans.

Household recycling in Australia has increased during the past decade. In 1992 around 85% of people recycled at least one item of their household waste and by 2000, nearly all Australian households (97%) were doing this. Paper, old clothing, plastic bags and glass were the items most commonly recycled (graph 24.1).

Graph - 24.1 Households involved in recycling, Items recycled - March 2000

A collection service from dwellings was the most common means of recycling household materials for paper (87% of households), glass (88%), cans and plastic bottles (both 89%) (graph 24.2). For plastic bags, reuse was the most popular option. Around two-thirds of Australian households composted or mulched their kitchen or food waste (67%) and garden waste (71%). Old clothes or rags were usually taken to a central collection point such as a charity depot (73% of households).

Graph - 24.2 Methods of recycling - March 2000

The percentage of households disposing of hazardous waste via the usual garbage collection service has increased from 62% in 1996 to 85% in 2000. Fewer households took their household hazardous waste to the dump or a central collection point in 2000 (21%) than in 1996 (30%). These changes were despite the fact that households were more aware of the availability of facilities in their area for the safe disposal of household hazardous waste (31% in 1996 and 37% in 2000).

Transport use

The majority of Australia's workforce and students (72% in 2000) drove a car, truck, or van on their journey to work or study (graph 24.3). About 12% used public transport to get to work or study, mainly on trains and buses (7% and 4% respectively). Use of public transport was highest in New South Wales (17%) and Victoria (12%), and by people between the age of 18 and 24 (23%). The three main reasons given for using public transport to travel to work or study were: not owning a car (34%); parking problems (32%); and proximity of home to public transport (29%).

Graph - 24.3 Main form of transport to work or study

The two main reasons for not using public transport were a lack of access to public transport (30%) and the non-availability of transport service at the right or convenient time (26%) (graph 24.4). Other reasons given were excessive travel time (20%) and the need for a vehicle before, during or after work or study hours (12%). Personal safety (1%) was hardly an issue in the non-use of public transport.

Graph - 24.4 Reasons for not using public transport - March 2000

Energy conservation measures

There has been widespread adoption of some energy saving measures in Australian households (graph 24.5). These seem to have been motivated by lifestyle choices and a desire to reduce energy costs, rather than any environmental benefits. For example, there has been a modest increase in the use of insulation in dwellings, from 52% in 1994 to 58% in 2002, but the main reason given for insulating dwellings was to achieve comfort all year round (84% of people who were responsible for insulating their dwellings). Saving energy was not high on the list of reasons for installing insulation and only 3% of the respondents said this was a factor. The main obstacle to installing insulation was cost and this was reported by 24% of dwellings without insulation.

Graph - 24.5 Households responsible for insulation, Reasons for installing

Almost half of all Australian households (49%) used at least one measure to regulate heat through windows (graph 24.6). Outside awnings and/or shutters were the principal form of window protection applied in over 30% of dwellings in Australia, with the highest rates of use in South Australia (42% of dwellings) and Victoria (39%). Boxed pelmets were most used in Victoria (22%) and Tasmania (21%), while tinted glass or solar guarding were mostly applied in Queensland (17%) and Northern Territory (10%).

Graph - 24.6 Window applications, Main type

Fluorescent lights were used in at least one room of a dwelling by close to 60% of Australian households (graph 24.7). This represented a marginal increase from 1999, although there were notable declines in usage in the Australian Capital Territory (from 55% in 1992 to 48% in 2002) and Tasmania (from 49% in 1992 to 42%). Around 23% of Australian households had at least one room illuminated by compact or energy saving lights in 2002.

Graph - 24.7 Use of fluorescent and energy saving lights - March 2002

More households in Australia used cold water in washing machines in 2002 than in 1994 or 1999 (graph 24.8). In the most recent survey (2002) two-thirds of the respondents (68%) reported they usually use cold water in washing machines, an increase from 61% in 1994 and from 65% in 1999.

Graph - 24.8 Dwellings with washing machines, Temperature of water used

Solar energy was used mainly for heating water and was utilised by 4% of Australian households in 2002. The Northern Territory was the largest consumer of solar energy with more than half of its households using it to heat water. Western Australia was the second largest user of solar energy (16%), although there was a decline of five percentage points between 1994 and 2002. Around 92% of solar water heaters were boosted by electricity.

Household appliances

Almost all households in Australia have a refrigerator (99.7%) and a washing machine (94.2%) (graph 24.9). Since 1994, there has been a rise in acquisition of almost all types of household appliances in Australia, except for separate freezers which have declined from 45% in 1994 to 38% in 2002. The most significant rise was in the possession of air-conditioners, from 33% in 1994 to 48% in 2002.

Graph - 24.9 White good appliances in dwellings

Cost, energy rating efficiency and capacity were the three main factors considered by households across Australia in buying or replacing appliances (49%, 40% and 30% respectively) (graph 24.10). Through the years, more emphasis has been placed on energy rating when buying appliances but environmental considerations were hardly a factor in buying appliances (it ranked tenth of the eleven categories in the survey; availability being the last ranked category).

Graph - 24.10 Factors considered in buying appliances

Water supply, quality and conservation

Water supply

Over nine in ten (94%) Australian households received their domestic water supply from mains or town water suppliers in 2001 (graph 24.11). Mains water was connected to all households in the Australian Capital Territory. In Tasmania, 87% of the households were connected to mains water supply, the lowest level of any state or territory. Rainwater tanks and bottled water were the next most important sources of water (both 16%). South Australians were the most likely to depend on these sources of water (rainwater 52% of households and bottled water 27%).

Graph - 24.11 Water sources

Water quality

Water quality can be affected by a number of factors including bacterial contamination and physical or chemical changes such as turbidity, colour and acidity. Treating water with chlorine can affect its taste. In 2001, over a quarter (27%) of Australians were not satisfied with the quality of tap-water for drinking (graph 24.12). South Australians were the most dissatisfied (42%), to the extent that 10% of people indicated they did not drink any tap-water at all. This was four times the national average. Dissatisfaction with the quality of tap-water for drinking has declined in most states and territories, the exceptions being South Australia and Tasmania. People in the Northern Territory were the most satisfied with the quality of tap-water for drinking (90%).

Graph - 24.12 Dissatisfaction with tap-water quality for drinking

Several problems affected the quality of mains tap-water for drinking. Half of those who expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of drinking water (52%) nominated taste as the reason for their dissatisfaction (graph 24.13). About a third stated chlorine as a problem (32%). Other common complaints included: dirty water (16%); odour (16%); colour (15%); and microbial or algae contamination (14%). Since 1998, the proportion of Australians concerned about the different problems associated with water quality declined, except in relation to chlorine, which registered a small increase in concern (30% in 1998; 32% in 2001).

Graph - 24.13 Quality problems with mains tap-water for drinking

South Australian households registered the highest levels of dissatisfaction with taste (65%), followed by Western Australian households (58%). Northern Territorians were the most likely to complain that the tap-water was salty (5%). About 4% of South Australians also mentioned this problem. This corresponds with research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation which found that salt concentrations in several Adelaide Hills catchments periodically exceeds Australian drinking water guidelines (Newton et al. 2001).

Water conservation

Australian households used 1.8 million megalitres of water in 1996-97, making households the second largest user of water after the agriculture sector (Water Account for Australia (4610.0)). As such, water conservation methods in homes can make a significant contribution to reducing the total amount of water consumed.

Household water conservation can be achieved through both the use of devices such as dual flush toilets and reduced flow shower heads, and behavioural practices like having shorter showers. Use of water conserving devices has increased, with 64% of households having a dual flush toilet in 2001 (up from 55% in 1998) and 35% of households having a reduced flow shower head in 2001 (up from 32% in 1998) (graph 24.14). Just over a quarter of Australian households (27%) did not have either of these items.

Turning off or repairing dripping taps was the most common water saving practice reported by Australian households in 2001 (20%). The second most common practice was having full loads of washing (16%), followed by having shorter showers (14%). The overall commitment to saving water in the household by behaviour modification has slipped slightly over the years, with 56% of households reporting that they did not adopt any behavioural practice to conserve water in 2001. This compares with 53% in 1998 and 54% in 1994.

Graph - 24.14 Water conservation methods, Devices and behavioural practices

Just over half (58%) of Australian households with a garden reported that they regularly conserve water in the garden, with a further 3% reporting that they sometimes use water-saving measures. The main method used by Australian home gardeners was to water either early in the morning or late in the evening when it was cooler (graph 24.15). The next two most common practices were to water less frequently but for longer periods (20%), and to use recycled water (18%). Around one in ten households with a garden reported that they did not water the garden at all.

Over two-thirds (69%) of Australian households with a garden used mulch in 2001. Nearly three-quarters of those using mulch in the garden did it to conserve water (74%), while over a third mulched to reduce weeds (36%). Around 58% of households with gardens planted native trees or shrubs, however, only around 18% of households planted natives for their water conserving attributes.

Graph - 24.15 Water conservation methods in the garden

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