1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2002   
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Contents >> Environment >> Environmental attitudes and behaviour in Australian households

Environmental problems: ranking among social issues

In 1999 around 9% of adult Australians ranked environmental problems as the most important social issue (table 14.1). The proportion of people choosing health as the most important social issue increased for older age groups, while progressively fewer Australians chose environmental problems as their most important social issue as their age group increased in years (graph 14.2).

14.1 MOST IMPORTANT SOCIAL ISSUES, Adult Australians - 1999


Environmental problems
Interest rates
Can't decide/don't know

Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices (4602.0).

Australians who did not nominate the environment as their most important social issue were asked if they were concerned about environmental problems; in 1999 some 69% indicated that they were. The proportion of people expressing concern for the environment has declined slowly since 1992 (graph 14.3). People with higher incomes and more education are more likely to express concern for the environment (ABS 1996). However, higher household incomes can also increase environmental pressures because of the link between affluence and increased consumption of resources and waste production (Yencken and Wilkinson 2000).

Donating time and money to environmental protection

A study of the proportion of households donating time or money to environmental protection between 1992 and 1998 found an overall decline in the proportion in every State and Territory (graph 14.4). States and Territories that showed the largest falls were the Northern Territory (by 16%), the Australian Capital Territory (13%), Queensland (12%), and Western Australia (11%). New South Wales showed the smallest fall (5%) (Alle, Aravena and Henty 2001).

The study also compared households located in the capital city of each State with those in the rest of the State (the comparison could not be done for households in the ACT and NT). It found that there were no large differences, in 1992 or 1998, in the proportions of households in the two categories donating time or money (graphs 14.5 and 14.6).

Household waste management

Household recycling

Household solid waste is defined as waste from domestic premises; it includes household refuse, garden waste and other discarded materials, such as disused furniture. An important response to household waste is recycling. Household recycling has increased in Australia during the nineties: in 1992 around 85% of people recycled some items of waste; by 2000 this had risen to about 97%. Paper, old clothing, plastic bags and glass were the items most commonly recycled (graph 14.7). Only a small proportion of Australian households (just under 7% in March 2000) recycle all the waste items that can be recycled.

While recycling rates have improved, more household waste still goes to landfill than is recycled; an audit in 1997 found that the average Australian household produced 15.7 kg of waste for collection each week (Beverage Industry Environment Council 1997). This comprised 11.9 kg of garbage, 3.1 kg of recyclables, 0.2 kg of contaminants and 0.5 kg of green waste.

Recycling behaviour in Australia is different for different types of households. For example, one person households recycle less than all other types of households (graph 14.8). The most common reason provided by the 93% of Australian households that did not fully recycle in 2000 was a lack of recyclable materials in their waste (around 73% of the households not fully recycling). The next most common reason cited by households was the absence of recycling services or facilities; households from the Northern Territory were the most likely to select this reason for not fully recycling (graph 14.9).

Only a small proportion of households (around 3%) in Australia recycled no waste items at all in 2000; this proportion has fallen in every State and Territory since 1992 (graph 14.10).

National targets for minimisation of solid waste

While recycling of solid waste by households is important, waste minimisation by all sectors has been seen by policy makers as the key to reducing the environmental pressures arising from solid waste going to landfill. In 1990 the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council set a national target of a 50% reduction in waste going to landfill by the year 2000, based on 1990 per capita levels. This target has not been met, and it is possible that the levels of waste going to landfill have not been reduced at all (the uncertainty stems from a lack of consistent national data) (Chalkley Consulting and Global Environmental Consulting 2000). Estimates of household waste produced in Australia in the early nineties were around 400 kg per person per year (OECD 1999). Total solid waste going to landfill in Australia in 1996-97, however, was around 1,100 kg per person per year (total solid waste includes waste associated with councils servicing residential areas as well as commercial, industrial, construction and demolition waste) (ABS 1998). As the construction and demolition industries are thought to generate up to 40% of all solid waste going to landfill in Australia, businesses in these industries, in partnership with government, have initiated and funded their own improvements to solid waste management (Environment Australia 2000). Assessing the performance of the household sector in waste minimisation remains problematic.

Household hazardous waste

Households accumulate hazardous waste, such as garden chemicals and paint products. In 2000 a smaller proportion of households (21%) took their household hazardous waste to a dump or central collection point than in 1996 (30% of households). This decline was despite an increase in households' awareness of the availability of facilities in their area for the safe disposal of household hazardous waste (37% awareness in 2000 compared to 31% in 1996).

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