4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 10/11/2006   
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November 10, 2006
Embargoed: 11:30 AM (AEDT)
Environment snapshot: recycling up, but e-waste a looming issue

Australians are recycling nearly half their waste (46%), but are facing a major electronic waste (e-waste) challenge, according to the latest national snapshot of environmental issues and trends released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today.

Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends presents a range of statistics from both ABS and other sources on trends in environmental issues of concern. Each year, a particular environmental issue is addressed in detail - this year the issue is solid waste.

The publication's feature article on solid waste looks at the emerging issue of e-waste, a popular name for electronic goods nearing the end of their "useful life". E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste types and the problem of e-waste is global. Australians are some of the highest users of new technology in the world. Ecorecycle Victoria figures show that each year, Australians buy more than 2.4 million personal computers (PCs) and more than one million televisions. However, the stockpile of used, obsolete electronic products keeps growing.

It has been estimated that in Australia, in 2006, there will be around 1.6 million computers disposed of in landfill, another 1.8 million in storage (in addition to the 5.3 million already gathering dust in garages and other storage areas) and half a million recycled, according to the "Advancing Australia" report from the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

E-waste in Australia is estimated to be growing at more than three times the rate of general municipal waste (domestic waste from households and other council waste such as park and street litter bins). The total amount of waste Australians generated increased from 22.7 million tonnes in 1996-97 to 32.4 million tonnes in 2002-03, of which just over one-quarter was municipal waste.

Recycling for all types of waste in Australia has grown over the past 20 years, increasing by 825% between 1996-97 and 2002-03. Recycling was most popular in the Australian Capital Territory where rates of total waste generated for recycling were 69% in 2002-03, followed by South Australia (63%) and Victoria (51%).

The feature article also looks at the issues of household hazardous waste, plastic bags, tyres and used oils disposal.

The publication also includes statistics on environmental issues of concern.

State/territory trends
  • Despite recent environmental issues such as drought and climate change, public concern about environmental issues dropped by 5.1% between 2001 and 2004. The Northern Territory had the lowest level of concern in 2004 (46%) while people in the Australian Capital Territory reported the highest level of concern (69%) followed by South Australia and Western Australia (63%).
  • In 2002-03, people in New South Wales generated more than 12 million tonnes of solid waste, of which nearly half (almost 6 million tonnes) was recycled.
  • New South Wales was the largest irrigating state in 2004-05, representing nearly 40% of Australia's total area irrigated and just over a third of Australia's total irrigation water used.
  • In 2004-05, Western Australia had the highest application rate of irrigation water of all states, with 6.0 megalitres per hectare applied.
  • Victoria reported the highest number of agricultural establishments irrigating at 9,828 and accounted for about one-quarter of Australia's total irrigated area.
  • Victorians generated 8.6 million tonnes of solid waste in 2002-03. Of this, 51%, or 4.4 million tonnes, was recycled.
  • Queenslanders recycled about one-third of the 4 million tonnes they generated in 2002-03.
  • Of the 3.5 million tonnes of solid waste generated in South Australia in 2002-03, 63% (2.2 million tonnes) was recycled.
  • Although solar energy was used by 4% of Australian households in 2005 (primarily for heating water), 42% of Northern Territory households used solar energy (the highest of any state or territory).
Further details can be found in Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends (cat. no. 4613.0).