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SOLID WASTE GENERATION, 2002-03
Both government and non-government organisations frequently describe Australia as one of the highest producers of waste in the world. Despite Australia's lack of comprehensive reliable waste information, this would still seem to be the case.
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, more than a quarter (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).
Of the total waste generated in Australia in 2002–03 (32.4 million tonnes), more than half (54%) of waste is disposed to landfill. The remainder was recycled (except for minor amounts of waste disposed through illegal dumping and export).
Australia has a strong dependence on landfill for waste management with more than 17 million tonnes deposited in 2002–03. 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. The overall landfill disposal rate is estimated to be 54% (2).
Landfills generally have lower operating costs compared to waste reprocessing systems. In the past, they were traditionally located relatively close to the urban centres they served. Increasingly, waste is now being transported longer distances to landfills, resulting in higher operating costs.
Landfill siting must take into account soil conditions, hydrology and topography, climate, local environmental issues, hauling distances, land use patterns, public opinion and other issues.
The principal environmental concerns associated with modern landfills are emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly methane (landfill gas) and the possible long-term leakage into the environment through leachate of heavy metals, household chemicals, consumer electronic products and earlier generation rechargeable batteries, such as ni-cads. Some of these materials are persistent and can become concentrated at higher levels in food chains.
Recycling is the recovery of used products and their reformation for use as raw materials in the manufacture of new products, which may or may not be similar to the original.
Recycling in Australia has grown over the past 20 years to the point where it is a widespread accepted part of waste management services. It is estimated recycling in 2002–03 accounted for 30% of municipal waste generated, 44% of commercial and industrial waste generated and 57% of construction and demolition waste generated.
The amount of material recycled fluctuates from year to year. It is affected by changing economic factors such as growth and consumption as well as the price of the raw materials and recyclables. Changes in recycling programs, industry commitment and public awareness may also affect the amount of material recycled.
Recyclable materials are collected from households via kerbside collections, public recycling bins, or are delivered directly by the household to recycling depots. Large producers of waste in the commercial and industrial and construction and demolition sectors normally arrange for the private collection and delivery of recyclable materials to be reprocessed.
The reasons why recycling rates have increased over time include:
ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT TYPES
Australians are some of the highest users of new technology in the world. In Australia we have seen rapid uptake of new technology, from VCRs to personal organisers to DVD players. Australia is currently one of the top ten countries using information and communication technology, ranking fifth in the world for spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (3).
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.
E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their “useful life”. Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, photocopiers, fax machines and mobile phones are common electronic products. Many of the materials in these products can be reused and recycled and some items can be refurbished for a second life.
E-waste in Australia is growing at over three times the rate of general municipal waste. Very little of the increasing amount of electrical and electronic equipment being used in Australia is being recycled, with most of it ending up in landfill, representing a loss of non-renewable resources.
Australian governments have been working with the electrical and electronic equipment industry to facilitate the establishment by industry of product stewardship schemes to collect and recycle used equipment.
It has been estimated that in 2006 there will be around 1.6 million computers disposed of in landfill, 1.8 million put in storage (in addition to the 5.3 million already gathering dust in garages and other storage areas and 0.5 million recycled in Australia alone) (3).
1. ABS, Measures of Australia’s Progress, 2006, (cat. no. 1370.0) Canberra, p.84.
2. Department of the Environment and Heritage, Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Waste Generation and Resources Efficiency, February 2006, p.28.
3. Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, ‘Advancing Australia – Highlights of the Information Economy Progress Report 2002’, http://www.dcita.gov.au, last viewed 19 October 2006.