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Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates

Waste generation, management and economic response by industry and household in alignment with System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA).

Reference period
2018-19 financial year

Key statistics

  • Australia generated 76 million tonnes of waste, 10% increase since 2016-17
  • $17 billion spent on waste services, 18% increase since 2016-17
  • Construction industry spent the most on waste services ($2 billion), 35% increase since 2016-17
  • Exports remain steady since 2016-17 at 6% of total waste

This Waste Account is released under the Common national approach to environmental-economic accounting in Australia. It has been developed in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) to help inform Australia's National Waste Policy. For more information on total waste generation and management in Australia refer to the National Waste Report, produced by DAWE.

Generation and management

Australia generated 75.8 million tonnes of solid waste in 2018-19, which was a 10% increase over the last two years (since 2016-17).

Over half of all waste was sent for recycling (38.5 million tonnes), while 27% was sent to landfill for disposal (20.5 million tonnes).

Sectors generating the most waste were:

  1. Manufacturing: 12.8 million tonnes (16.9%)
  2. Construction: 12.7 million tonnes (16.8%)
  3. Households: 12.4 million tonnes (16.3%)
  4. Electricity, gas and water services: 10.9 million tonnes (14.4%)

Waste materials

Plastic waste:

  • 2.5 million tonnes generated
  • 3% of total waste, down from 4% in 2016-17
  • Only 9% was sent for recycling (227,000 tonnes), while 84% was sent to landfill (2.1 tonnes)
  • 32% of plastic waste was high density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Households were the largest contributor, supplying 47% of all plastic waste (1.2 million tonnes); second was manufacturing at 15% (380,000 tonnes)
  • Plastic waste tonnage decreased by 3% since 2016-17

Organic waste:

  • 15.3 million tonnes generated
  • 20% of total waste
  • 42% was sent for recycling (6.4 million tonnes), while 45% was sent to landfill (6.9 million tonnes)
  • 37% was food organic waste
  • Households were the largest contributor, supplying 42% of all organic waste (6.4 million tonnes); second was manufacturing at 14% (2.1 million tonnes)
  • Organic waste tonnage increased by 10% since 2016-17

Hazardous waste:

  • 8 million tonnes generated
  • 11% of total waste, up from 9% in 2016-17
  • 24% was sent for recycling (1.9 million tonnes), while 58% was sent to landfill (4.6 million tonnes)
  • Tyres were 6% of hazardous waste
  • Manufacturing industry was the largest contributor, supplying 24% of all hazardous waste (1.9 million tonnes); second was construction at 21% (1.7 million tonnes)
  • Hazardous waste tonnage increased by 23% since 2016-17
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  1. Tyres are included in hazardous waste.
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  1. Landfill refers to waste sent to landfill for disposal only.
  2. Recycling refers to waste collected with the intent of being recycled.
  3. Energy recovery includes waste sent to landfill for energy recovery.
  4. Other includes waste subject to treatment and other disposal.

Recovered waste

Recovered waste refers to waste materials sent for recycling, used for energy production or exported. Higher recovery rates represent more reusable materials and a more circular economy.

Nearly 60% of products became recovered waste:

  • 45 million tonnes
  • 48% of all waste sent for recycling was masonry materials (18.5 million tonnes)
  • 59% of all exported waste was metals (2.6 million tonnes)

Waste categories with the highest recovery rate were:

  1. Masonry materials: 81%, driven entirely by recycling
  2. Metals: 76%, driven by exports and recycling
  3. Paper and cardboard: 65%, driven mostly by recycling

The single material with the best recovery rate was aluminium, at 90%.

Waste categories with the lowest recovery rate were:

  1. Plastics: 19%, due to high proportion sent to landfill
  2. Textiles, leather and rubber: 26%
  3. Hazardous waste: 27%

All plastic types had the worst recovery rates of around 15%. Of 2.5 tonnes generated, 84% is sent straight to landfill.

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  1. Recovery rate refers to waste sent for recycling, used for energy recovery or exported as a proportion of total waste.
  2. Tyres are included in hazardous waste.

Imports and exports

Imported and exported waste proportions have remained steady since 2016-17:

  • 3% of total waste was imported (2.5 million tonnes)
  • 6% of total waste was exported (4.4 million tonnes)

Economic insights

Total expenditure on waste collection, treatment and disposal services was valued at $16,989 million.

Highest spending sectors were:

  1. Construction: $2 billion
  2. Manufacturing: $1.2 billion
  3. Households: $595 million
  4. Agriculture: $507 million

Waste intensity

Waste intensity measures the amount of waste generated per million dollars of value added to the economy. It is calculated as the total waste generated (tonnes) divided by the gross value added ($m) for a given industry, or divided by the final consumption expenditure ($m) for households.

Industries with the highest waste intensity were:

  1. Electricity, gas, water and waste services: 253 tonnes/$m
  2. Manufacturing: 116 tonnes/$m
  3. Construction: 87 tonnes/$m
  4. Agriculture: 23 tonnes/$m

High waste intensity of electricity, gas and water services was driven by the largest supply of ash from coal-fired power stations (10.5 million tonnes), which was 96% of the industry’s waste.

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  1. Expenditure refers to the intermediate use of waste collection, treatment & disposal services at purchasers' price.
  2. Waste intensity is the total waste generated (tonnes) divided by the gross value added ($m) for a given industry, or divided by the final consumption expenditure for households.

Waste services industry

  • Contributed 0.3% of GDP
  • 36,000 people were employed by the waste collection, treatment and disposal services industry, up from 31,000 in 2016-17
  • Total compensation of employees was $3,161 million
  • The industry contributed $4,866 million to the economy (gross value added)

Note: Waste collection, treatment and disposal services are a subdivision of the overarching electricity, gas, water and waste services division.

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Industry insights

Half of all waste was generated by the manufacturing, construction, and electricity, gas, water and waste services industries.

Manufacturing

  • 16.9% of total waste (12.8 million tonnes)
  • Largest supply of hazardous materials (1.9 million tonnes), 24% of all hazardous waste
  • $1.2 billion spent on waste services
  • Manufacturing waste increased by 14% since 2016-17

Construction

  • 16.8% of total waste
  • Largest supply of masonry materials (8 million tonnes), 35% of all masonry material waste
  • $2 billion spent on waste services
  • Construction waste increased by 22% since 2016-17

Electricity, gas and water services

  • 14% of total waste
  • Largest supply of ash (10.5 million tonnes), 84% of all ash from coal-fired power stations
  • Electricity, gas and water services increased by 3% since 2016-17
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  1. Electricity, gas, water and waste services refers to ANZSIC division D, including subdivision 29 (waste collection, treatment and disposal services).
  2. All other industries incorporates all ANZSIC industries, excluding divisions C, D and E.

Household insights

Households generated 12.4 million tonnes of waste:

  • 5% increase since 2016-17
  • 16% of total waste
  • $595 million spent on waste services

Households continue to contribute the highest proportion of plastic and organic waste:

  • Over half of household waste was organics (6.4 million tonnes)
  • 55% of all food organics (3.1 million tonnes)
  • 70% of all garden organics (2.7 million tonnes)
  • 47% of all plastics (1.2 million tonnes)
  • 72% of all glass (1.2 million tonnes)
  • Nearly 90% of all textiles (247,000 tonnes)
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  1. Textiles, leather and rubber excludes tyres.

E-waste

E-waste is waste electrical and electronic equipment, which depend on electric currents or electromagnetic fields to function. 

539,000 tonnes of e-waste generated:

  • Around 40% contributed by households
  • Half was recycled

Data enhancements

Methodology updates were applied to improve accuracy of the waste account experimental estimates. Continued improvements and developments are an important feature of statistical accounts, due to new and emerging data sources and industry intelligence, which often result in revisions and enhancements. 

Additional data source:

  • The ABS Environment Indicators Survey provided new waste generation data to better inform industry proportions, specifically for the mining, manufacturing, construction, and electricity, gas, water and waste services industries.

Key data source revisions:

  • Updates to the latest National Waste Report, implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment or Blue Environment, were incorporated in this methodology.

Three-year time series:

  • Previous 2016-17 data revised to align with enhanced 2018-19 data, and 2017-18 estimates included to introduce a preliminary time series for the account. Any inconsistencies between financial years are due to backcast assumptions and imputations derived from new data sources. 

Waste product allocations:

  • Better informed assumptions were used to allocate waste types through the categories and across industries.

Changes in inventories:

  • Balanced supply and use values for waste products are included in use tables.

Tyre exports:

  • Exported tyres have been reclassified as tyres instead of other hazardous waste.

Data download

Tables 1-12 Waste account, Australia, experimental estimates